Charlotte Barrow


Charlotte has published life writing in ELLE UK after winning the magazine’s 2011 writing competition and has participated in projects with the Royal Philharmonic Society.

 The Courtauld Institute of Art and LA Noble Gallery to encourage crossovers between creative writing, music and visual art. She also writes poetry and fiction and is currently working on a fictionalised biography of Canadian soldiers in WWI. Her work often explores the themes of memory, love and the relationship between humans and their environment.



Twitter: @charlieabarrow

View as PDF: Charlotte Barrow - Ice Cream

Ice Cream

Desire is an ice cream counter in summer. Do you remember standing hungry before all the choices? Back when the season was new and you were wild with cravings. You found a job working in an old-fashioned ice cream parlour, just so you could be near all the flavours. You would rub the glass for hours, easing the smudges that over-eager customers left behind. Beyond the transparent surface, each individual a depth of colour so bright and attractive. You quietly worshipped their kind the way some girls fell in love with movie stars. There was so much choice that sometimes you weren’t sure what you were looking for, and anyway, how could you know without trying them all? You dreamed about the sweet flavours melting in your mouth.

So there were endless little spoon trials. At first they tasted new and exciting, caressing your buds with raspberry, chocolate, coffee. But you were never discreet enough. You were clumsy at hiding what you did, and your managers caught you, and banned you from the counter for a whole week. That irritated the hell out of you. Why did they care so much about you having a little fun? So when they were on a break out back, or doing delivery runs, you snuck out to the front and kept right on tasting. But before you’d sampled even half, without knowing exactly when, you started to confuse the flavours: which experience belonged to which little bucket? How did you feel when you had Black Cherry? Did it taste wrong because you still had residue of Key Lime in your mouth? And suddenly you realised you’d had a little too much and the novelty was gone; everything tasted the same or maybe everything was starting to taste wrong: bitter when it should be sweet, or nutty when all you wanted was smooth, clean vanilla.

So you decided to choose one, and to tell your managers and colleagues about it and get their approval. You didn’t know how to pick the right one, but there was no turning back. You’d got a large cone and there were no refunds, and so you tried to enjoy it but no, you soon realised you’d chosen wrong. It didn’t taste right; there was something sour and unripe in it. But everyone was waiting for you to say how happy you were, so instead of disappointing them with the truth, you opened your palm and let it slip away and then there was just a dirty slick on the floor and your empty hands, helpless to bring it back. So you quit your job and told everyone you weren’t eating ice cream anymore.

But the fasting didn’t last, because the craving was still there, and it was still hot outside, and you couldn’t sleep for thoughts of ice cream. You decided to try again, but maybe in less of a hurry this time. You believed you’d learned to control your gluttony. You no longer wanted to try everything available, you just wanted that one perfect flavour, the one you hadn’t had before, the one that was waiting for you all along: your ideal. So you found a shop; a grocery store because you’d learned that testing too many flavours didn’t make the decision any easier. You were looking at the rows of options from behind the glass freezer door, and checking the labels. You decided to take a chance because you liked the raspberry’s ripple, and besides, it was organic, locally-sourced and contained no artificial colours or flavours so it must be good, it had all the signs of being good so what could go wrong this time? You took it home, deciding you wanted to go slow, not rush straight into it like before, so you put it away and made yourself wait, building the anticipation. Then, when the time you’d set for yourself arrived, you turned out the lights and put on your favourite show, and reached for the ice cream, but it seemed strangely light, and when you opened it, you realised instantly that your flatmate had got there first. There was nothing left for you, and you were angry and hurt that she would take something from you without asking, but you couldn’t say anything, because otherwise she was a good flatmate, and your friend, and you wanted her to be happy, really.

You found yourself back in the ice cream shop. By now you were feeling less than optimistic. You’d realised that perfection didn’t exist, and all you wanted was one flavour that would be there when you needed it, that you could get along with, and that wouldn’t make you ill, or cry, or fat. You made a choice, hesitant. Perhaps not because it actually was your favourite flavour of the ones you knew, but because it was safe and dependable, and anyway it was the last one you saw before it was your turn in the queue, so you bought it and brought home the whole batch, a tub of epic proportions that threatened to take over all the space in your deep freeze. You had a fleeting worry that maybe you’d like to eat something else once in a while, but you pushed it down inside because it was too late; you’d brought home a lifetime supply of that one flavour and you weren’t getting any younger. You ate it every day, and it didn’t taste bad, but it didn’t excite you either. It was too predictable: uninspiring. But you’d had a realisation: maybe ice cream didn’t need to inspire. Maybe it was just about having something waiting for you in the freezer when you got home at the end of a long day.

Time went by, and you gained a little weight, and you stopped looking at other flavours. You spent weekends on the couch with your ice cream. You didn’t go out much. Then one day, you opened the freezer to find it iced over: an impenetrable block. You couldn’t get inside. So there was nothing for it but to pull the plug and let all that backed-up matter melt away.

So, your freezer was empty again. But you didn’t mind. You were happy to do without; you’d found ice cream too complicated and weren’t even sure you’d like it if you had it again. You felt older, wiser, and you worked hard and spent time with your friends and meanwhile time went by: it was winter and then spring, and then the world started to warm up and wake up and now it’s summer again.

Hot. You’re trying not to think about it, but there’s that little niggling craving. You thought you’d outgrown it. You decide you’ve earned a little treat, but it’s been so long since you tasted it, so you ask your friends for advice, and they tell you the kind of things they look for in an ice cream. You don’t want to put in too much effort; it’s just going to be a little treat and then you’ll go back to your familiar routines.

You bring home a carton of coffee Haagen-Dasz, intending to make it last a couple of days, but to your surprise, you find it’s not enough. You’re starving when you thought you only wanted a taste. So you’re shoving it in and swallowing it down faster and faster, and it tastes so fucking good because you’ve given yourself up, and you aren’t thinking about anything else or looking to the future to imagine how it will feel when you get to the bottom, and there’s nothing left, and the sweetness has settled in your belly and turned to jell-o, and you suddenly remember you were recently diagnosed with a faint allergy to milk, and you realise you’re too old for all this, and it’s all queasiness and regret, because your greed got the best of you again, you thought you knew better, and now all the flavours you ever tried come flooding back and repel you, you know it all too well, the intimacy of each walnut between your gums and you’re sorry, and you take a moment, just you and the crumpled, empty carton that you licked bare and your cold, sticky hands, and you say good-bye.

And you go buy some brussels sprouts.