Ice Cream in an Age of Entropy (Flash Fiction)

“The world didn’t end in fire, didn’t end in ice,” grumbled Chef Wallace. “Either of those, I could have used to cook. But no, we are stuck in this awful entropy, this perpetual 80 to 100 degree wilting vegetable hell.”

Darwin and Gwynn exchanged eye rolls.  The assistant cooks knew they were about to hear another lecture on “back when I was in school, it was all freeze this, set fire to that” extravagance.  Wallace shook with rage, and the assistant chefs backed up.  In this era of limited food, it was remarkable how the carbohydrates of yesteryear still padded his mighty flesh.”Back then, if our Humble Cooperative Leader would have asked for ice cream, I would have gone to the liquid nitrogen stock, and voila, deluxe ice cream, immediately. But what am I supposed to do for his birthday now? Ten years I have not had a refrigerator, let alone a freezer, let alone a proper ice cream maker.”

Gwynn shrugged, tossed her black bob, and headed towards the back of the kitchen to prep the daily stews. The window for getting them into the sun was short; if she put out the solar ovens too late, the communal meal would not be ready by one. And then everyone would have to wait around for the food to finish,  and they would lose twenty hours or more of labor. A loss they could ill afford, especially with the Humble Leader’s birthday celebration tomorrow and the tomatoes on the vines today.

She had never tasted ice cream, nor did she particularly crave it. Had she her way, they would spend all their time on solar cooking, pursuing the future, not all netted up in the glories of the ruinous age past.  But she knew that her grandparents and parents struggled with the transition. They remember the age of oil, of air conditioning and electric appliances, and the ease of doing laundry in those old days. Anyway, they chopped potatoes and carrots the night before, and Darwin already slaughtered a rabbit this morning.  This stew nearly prepared itself!

She half listened to Wallace’s monologue over at the sinks while she angled the reflectors just so and tied bags around a dozen black pots to help the sun work its magic.Darwin suggested, “How about a fine custard, fresh eggs, lots of cream, a bit of rosemary, we can pull out the sugar?”

“As if! Our leader just wants to taste ice cream once more before he dies. And I cannot do this simple thing, no, not this one task for the man who brought me here, who helped me build my home, whose sister bore my child. Barbarism.” Piles of cookbooks mounded about Wallace as he searched for any hints from the past of ice cream making when there is no ice.  “I tell them, we must build an icehouse, we must return to the ways of yore, but they do not do this, and they do not fix the fridges.  And no one thinks of ice cream until it is too late.”

Gwynn returned, and the younger ones started cleaning up, getting ready for the farm hands to come in and devour the food.  They realized that Wallace would be worthless to the kitchen effort that day, and they were correct.  He paced, even as workers ate, complimented the cooks, and the schoolchildren came in to take their places. He paced, and prayed to whatever culinary gods and patron saints of the aged he could think of. He didn’t plan the rest of the feast day meal. That fell to his assistants.

Amidst all the upset, when they went out to fetch the solar cookers, they saw something had changed.  For once, the heat deserted them–at just three in the afternoon, the temperature had dropped below scorching. Gwynn felt a momentary pang of concern. These clouds would prevent her cakes from cooking through. She checked them. No, the cakes were done.  A relief, for what was a birthday party without cake?

Cloud cover arose, and the sky pronounced strange rumbles.  That afternoon the storm bell clanged, and Darwin and Gwynn gathered the cakes and prepared to flee to the cellar. They entered the kitchen again only to find Wallace transformed, even gleeful.  “My prayers have worked! Oh, my friend will have ice cream on his birthday, or I will die in the making of it!” He danced towards the door. Darwin placed a hand on his shoulder.  “Hadn’t you better come to the shelter?”

“No, no, don’t you know that rumble? The hail is coming! Hail such as we have not seen for months or years.  Come, you cowards!  What ice does the cellar have? No, we will have ice from heaven, gods be praised!” The three ventured outside to a dark afternoon, suddenly windy, a hint of dampness. And sure enough, soon the heavens opened and poured down hail on the village.  The trees screamed at the unfamiliar weight, and Gwynn winced as she was sure the tomatoes were doing, pummeled from above by chilling needles.But Wallace had a bucket, and shoved one at her, and at Darwin.  And they picked up hail off the ground, as if it were the last ice they would ever see (which, in Wallace’s case, it was).

The next day, the bedraggled community gathered to celebrate and catalogue their losses both.  But Wallace ignored the state of the tomatoes, and brought his friend a dish of most exquisite hail cream.”Will this do?” he presented it with a bow.

The leader raised his eyebrows, surprised that someone had taken his wish for a childhood memory seriously. But one does not refuse the last ice cream in the world.He accepted it, and tasted it, and nodded, soberly.  “It is not ice cream, noble chef, but it is the essence of ice cream, and that for this world will do.  It will do very well.”

1 Comment

  • Hah! I have a whole new appreciation for hail :) Your story really made me want ice cream, by the way. I really love the sort-of post-apocalyptic world you’ve created, and the characters are fun.

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