Jessica Evans: An Awkward First Date on Flemish Street

       They met when the sky was dipping from purple to black, the kind of inky midsummer that gives magic and allure to everything, hazy glow of possibility, the skirting of chance. She was buying an ice cream and he was selling it to her, two scoops delicately balanced once on top of the next, hazelnut to start and chocolate to finish.

       He liked her for that right away, his favorite flavor combination too.

       Her phone rang while she was paying, three euro fifty, but she ignored the call and he liked her for that even more.

       She sat outside his shop on Calle de Gante and ate her ice cream slowly, taking small bites one at a time before moving on. Once he saw her combine a bit of chocolate with the hazelnut and he wondered if they were soulmates.

       Evening abandoned the light and soon the glow from the shops on Flemish Street were the only thing helping him see her.

       By then, her ice cream was finished, but she’d remained, a thick sketchbook open on the table.

       He liked the way her hand moved swiftly, with precision, as if in her drawings, there were no mistakes. He wondered what she was capturing, if it was possible for an artist to sketch the feeling of a long summer day coming to a close; the perfect middle stasis between knowing change is coming and loving the moment. He wondered what it must feel like to wield that power.

      Two hours to midnight, the first wave of semi-drunk tourists queued at his shop in a serpentine line, boisterous, loud, exercising the kind of freedom that comes with traipsing through another town that isn’t home, knowing that actions and thoughts and shared kisses underneath streetlamps on bridges that cross over the Danube will never get talked about once home.

       He scooped the ice cream and made sundaes, careful not to give too many peanuts, add extra syrup, pick the perfect banana. He watched her out of the corner of his eyes. Her hand never left the page, but he was pretty sure she was watching him too.

       At midnight, his wrist ached and there were still two more rounds of tourists to work through. Peddling ice cream wasn’t his first career choice, but it was enough for now, in the warm months when he kept the door open all night and the din of happiness echoed across Flemish Street.

       By the time the second queue formed and left, he was sure she was waiting for him. He pulled out a bottle of special-occasion Italian mineral water and poured it into a tall glass, added two biscotti from the fresh stash under the counter, and took his offering to her on a silver tray.

       She snapped her sketchbook closed the instant he was near enough to peek inside.

       He didn’t like her for that but then he looked at her, honey warm and kind, and he allowed his curiosity to be stymied, if only for a time.

     By then, a large crowd had gathered near his shop to watch a dancer perform capoeira, whose lithe form made it seem like gravity didn’t exist. He knew the dancer meant the last drunken tourist rush would be lost, so he pulled the keys from their small shelf next to water glasses for ordinary customers and set about closing the shop, preparing it for the next day.

       She walked in carrying the silver tray and smiled as she handed it to him. He smiled back and liked her for the way he seemed so aware of him. Tucked under her arm was her sketchbook. She asked if he’d like to see what was inside. He nodded, flipped the closed sign, and locked the door behind him. He didn’t see her gun.