We drink milk by the gallon, and my mother buys eight quarts every day from Bridgeman's Creamery down on Fourteenth and Superior Street. Sometimes I go with her. She pulls into the parking lot on the side of the building, nosing the beige station wagon right up against the wall. I slide in my seat; the parking lot is on a steep hill, with my mother's side of the car now lower than my side. It always feels tenuous to me, especially the way she pulls the emergency brake so firmly: I am sure that is all that is stopping the car from sliding sideways down the hill and into Lake Superior.
She tells me don't move, don't touch the brake, don't press the accelerator, don't move. I am too short to do any of those things, so I just watch her go. She opens the back door of the car, grabs the wire carrier, and disappears into the white fluorescent light of the dairy. I try to keep my small body from sliding farther down the bench seat; I fear I will slide into the emergency brake and somehow release it. I grip the bottom of the seat with my fingers to hold myself in place.
The wire carrier holds eight bottles of milk. I can lift it, and even swing it, when it's empty, but it requires two hands when it is full and even then the rigid wire handle cuts into my tender palms and I stagger under the weight and my mother yells at me to be careful not to drop it. It's not an idle yell; one of my brothers did drop it once, and not only was there milk and broken glass everywhere but there was no more money for more milk that day and we had to drink powdered, which is thin and blue and has lumps no matter how hard you shake it.
Tonight, though, it is my father who will go get the milk. He picks up the carrier, grabs his car keys out of the monkey pod on the piano, and then notices me, sitting quietly, watching, holding a book. "You want to go to Bridgeman's?" he asks. "I'll buy you a pineapple sundae."
I scramble down from the couch and trot behind him out the door. An after-dinner car trip with my father! Me alone! And ice cream! I plan it in my head: We will go inside together, father and daughter, and sit at the counter on those red vinyl stools that twirl; a smiling girl in a checked cap and a white smock will cheerfully take our order, writing it down on a small green pad. And when she asks me what I want, I will screw up my courage and say, "a hot fudge sundae." I do not like pineapple.
Guv and I don't talk as he drives down 21st, but it's a companionable silence. The lake is a deep blue in the twilight, the lights of an ore boat twinkle on the horizon. He does not park in the steep sideways parking lot, but pulls up in front. He opens his door, and I scramble across the seat but stop as he says, "I'll be right back."
He reaches over the seat back, grabs the milk carrier, and disappears inside.
I watch him through the big front window. The red seats at the counter are empty; the dairy is lit with a harsh white light. To the left of the door is the cooler with the milk; Guv places the empties on the counter and chooses eight more quarts. I see him talking to the girl, and she nods and heads over to the ice cream. "Hot fudge," I say out loud, hoping somehow they will hear me, hear my thoughts drifting through the humid summer air. "Not pineapple. Hot fudge. Hot fudge. Hot fudge."
Guv opens my door, hands me my sundae. Crushed pineapple cascades down two hard scoops of vanilla ice cream. The sundae comes with a little wooden spoon, which feels dry and awkward in my mouth. The ice cream is so frozen I can only scrape off shards. I take a bite. The sweet ice cream makes the pineapple unbearably sour. Guv opens the back door to place the milk on the floor, and I seize the moment to push as much pineapple off to the side as I can. But the juice has permeated the ice cream, and I take another sour bite.
Guv gets in, starts the engine, does not drive. "Hurry up," he says. I try to hurry, the ice cream cold in my mouth, the pineapple dripping down the side, my hands sticky. The cardboard sides of the dish begin to collapse under my death grip. I scrape off a few more shards and take another small bite.
"Hurry up," he says again. Then he notices my puckered face. "What's the matter?" he asks.
"I don't like pineapple."
"Goddamn it." Guv takes the tub away from me, opens his door, walks over to a trash can, pitches it in. "Goddamn it," he says again, and pulls away from the curb.
The dashlights glow green in the dark. We do not talk. The beige station wagon glides up Superior Street, up 24th Avenue, turns left on Fourth Street, parks in front of our house. I have taken this lovely evening and I have wrecked it, all because I don't like pineapple. As though pineapple were important. As though pineapple were the point.
Guv gets out, picks up the milk easily, as though it weighs nothing, and walks up the front sidewalk toward the house. I stay where I am. I would have helped you, I think. If I were just strong enough to lift it, I would have helped.