‘Clare from the rooms above told me that,’ she paused struggling for breathe, ‘that ice cream used to be a once thing.’
‘A treat?’ questioned her mother looking anxiously down the queue of people in front of them. Each person sighed heavily in turn, with painful short sharp intakes, shuffling slowly forward towards the vendor at the end of the street. The midday sun beat down and each faded mass dripped with milky sweat.
‘Like for fun?’
‘Kind of, we would have it after meals or as something for a special occasion on hot days,’ she looked up at the rooftops and the oncoming shade it would bring.
‘I don’t think I would have liked it as a treat,’ said the child through blue lips. Her black sunken eyes, stunted height and a slender frame hid teenage years.
Her mother smiled a toothless grin, ‘me neither baby, me neither.’
At the front of the queue the vendor sat in his faded van. He leaned forward and squinted slightly as a familiar face hobbled slowly to his window.
‘Long time no see Mickey,’ coughed the Vendor, ‘you look like shit mate, to be honest I thought you’d died. You didn’t look well the last time I saw you and that was months ago.’
‘Been away on business,’ said Mickey forcing a smile. Every movement and word took effort, his frame filled the vendors window and hid the snaking queue that twisted behind him. A death was on him, his bluish-grey skin was thin and covered a gelatinous fat, each fold pitted, stretched and scarred.
‘You looks as though a blue would be up your street today Mickey,’ said the Vendor realising he wouldn’t make it through the week.
Painfully raising his head through tortured breathes, Mickey scoured the price list attached to the side of the van. His eyes fell and he shook his head, ‘It’ll have to be green I’m afraid, monies tight you know’.
‘I understand,’ said the Vendor nodding. Pulling out a paper bag in the shape of a cone, he poured a curl of blue in the bottom before filling the rest with green to the top. ‘Sixteen credits,’ smiled the Vendor, ‘take it easy Mickey, don’t let this shit get the better of you. You hear me.’
‘Thanks,’ said Mickey smiling. He handed the small plastic discs to the vendor and forced a slow walk back away through to the alley opposite. The blue might give me a week, he thought scooping the ice cream to his lips with his bare hands.
‘What?’ he replied, distracted by the upper levels view of the snaking vendors queue that wrapped around the block and into the sun killed streets.
‘A meeting with the higher ups,’ said the man at the door, hidden by the shade.
‘Okay, I’ll be through in a moment.’ Terrence looked down at his emaciated frame, the veins pulled up to the surface and dead patches, calluses of forgotten skin littered his arms. Better they’re on the outside, he thought as his stomach rumbled.
‘How can I help gentlemen,’ said Terrence walking through to meeting hall four and taking a seat in the large empty room.
‘You’re in charge?’ asked the taller of the two. His skin was white and pale but not covered in death, his breathing was slowly and easy.
‘Yes, in the district,’ replied Terrence admiring the clean whites of his eyes.
‘Good, we have a problem,’ said the Blue Suit, turning to face Terrance for the first time, placing an expired cigarette in the empty ashtray at the centre of the table.
‘You smoke?’ asked Terrence amazed.
‘Yeah I guess,’ he replied smiling a thin slither.
‘We need your help, there are decisions being made at a high level and we need your input,’ said White Eyes returning the conversation to the matter at hand.
‘We need to get a general quick understanding of the district. How are people? The people on the street. How are sales?’ asked the Blue Suit.
‘Nobody’s buying blue or yellow, even I can only afford green and I’m on a decent wage. It’s all that people can get themselves these days you know.’ Terrence smiled a grimace and opened his hands expecting to be berated.
The suits looked at each other uncomfortably and then focused back on Terrence. ‘You shouldn’t buy green, we would strongly advise against it.’
‘Yeah sure, I would prefer yellow you know, it’s more to my tastes but we had a shortage a few months back and it’s still not getting up to standards. How’s the liquid storage coming along I thought that might become something. In the news they said that we might get drinks again, shakes and cream.’
‘Stop,’ interrupted the Blue Suit, ‘just stop, that isn’t a consideration anymore.’ White eyes saw the colour fade from Terrance and nodded Blue Suit into an explanation. ‘You’re pretty high up in this,’ Blue Suit waved his hands about, ‘and you should know the origination of the ices available.’
Terrance nodded slowly, looking lost.
‘The algae that contaminated the food, it still attaches to the liquids, all liquids including the melted stock. If we don’t freeze the milk as soon as it’s collected algae grows and causes the problems that meats and cereals got. Green is a result of low level algae in ice cream from milk not frozen or adapted quickly enough, it’s not as deadly as with the others but it’ll still kill eventually.’
Terrence dropped his hand below his sides and sighed. Tears welled up and his lip shivered with a desperate loss of any function. The last remnants of colour left his face and he gagged dry bile onto the floor beside him.
‘Keep yellow for yourself, that’s the reason for the shortage’.
‘The blue is good though right, you add nutrients, that will make it better, if I can just get some to have, get it returned from the vendors. Say it’s contaminated. Oh God, I gave green to my family, we had it so many times. I just couldn’t afford yellow,’ sobbed Terrence.
‘It’s not nutrients that’s in blue, we add pills to blue. Painkillers and intolerance rejecters, it only prolongs the affects of daily intake. It’s nothing that can help you now.’ White Eyes stiffened up and looked to the door, ‘We’ve heard enough, I think we can report this’.
‘I didn’t want to believe, I didn’t. We’re all going to die,’ said Terrence, his head in his hands. Blue Suit walked slowly past and placed a soft hand on Terrence’s shoulder as he threw up more black bile.
The corridors of the central building smelt of dried milk and damp. The linoleum floor squeaked as a man with bright white eyes followed slowly a man in a blue suit.
‘Do you think he knew?’ asked the Blue Suit.
‘Yeah probably, the rumours have been making the rounds. That was the last stop. It makes sense if he knew.’
‘The world was so normal, before this, before the contamination.’
White eyes smiled broadly, stopped and turned to face his partner. He checked the corridor was empty before talking. ‘You’ve made a decision?’ asked White Eyes in a controlled forgiving tone.
‘I think so.’ Blue Suit looked to the square plasterboard tiles above him and pulled his last cigarette from an open pocket.
‘I think we’d made our minds up long ago, there’s not enough to go around.’
‘And what there is, is not worth the lives it creates,’ interrupted Blue Suit.
White eyes nodded and swallowed the realisation, he shuffled anxiously waiting for the conclusion.
‘Do we have enough nukes to cover the world in one go?’ asked Blue Suit.
‘More than enough.’