The Poor Man (and his Ice Cream)

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Tom had lived in extreme poverty his entire life. His mother had lived in a makeshift plywood shack on the outskirts of a large city. She had worked in a mill, where she bashed her head repeatedly against concrete walls for five dollars an hour. She loved Tom very much and was selflessly devoted to him. That is, until he told her that he was gay, at which point she promptly threw him out of the house. Of course, he wasn't really gay, he'd just said that to see how his mother would react. Now he knew.

So Tom moved into another shack. He lived beside a muddy river, in to which he plunged every day. He plucked weeds from the river, then hung them up to dry and attempted to sell them to passing people. Of course, whenever someone asked him why they should buy dried river weeds, he could never think of an answer.

Every day was a struggle.

He got food from his only friend, an old woman named Mrs. Smack. She operated an ice cream stand, and gave him all her extra ice cream. She also gave him bags of sugar. For every meal, he'd dump a pound of sugar on top of a bowl of ice cream, then eat it. Which is kinda gross. It took its toll on his teeth. One by one, his teeth all decayed and fell out. Eventually, he only had one left. And the one remaining tooth was a nasty shade of yellowish brown. More on that later.

Tom was desperately lonely.

Sure, he had the freindship of Mrs. Smack, but Tom wanted love.

He wanted to meet a nice girl. Someone to lighten the load of his life. He wanted to tell her things he'd never told to anyone else--concerns, emotional instabilities--and have her understand. He wanted to kiss her forehead and knees. He wanted to hold her.

But alas, he only met girls occasionally, and though some were friendly, they didn't seem interested in romance. Not with him, anyway.

He sat alone in his house. He couldn't sleep. He ached all over. He tried to sleep, but he had no mattress, only mattress springs. He lay awake with tears in his eyes, thinking of the love notes he longed to write, but he had nobody to write them to. He listened to his dried river weeds blowing in the wind outside. It sounded like crinkling paper. The soft, nocturnal crinkling of unwritten love notes.

"I bet girls don't like me because my dental health is so disgusting!" he said to his reflection that morning. So he decided to save up money to buy a toothbrush.

After months, he finally could afford a toothbrush. So he bought one. A fancy electric one.

But he had no toothpaste!

"Perhaps I should save up for some toothpaste," he said to his one-toothed reflection. "But that would take too long! Perhaps there's something else in the house I could use..."

His eyes fell on some mint-flavored ice cream. He used it as toothpaste, but alas, his elderly and rotting tooth couldn't take the strain of having sugary ice cream smeared on it. It dropped out the next morning.

I'm not really sure what happened next. Maybe Tom found love. Maybe not.

I do know, however, that Tom died about a year later. Mrs. Smack bought a grave site for him.

He was buried in the middle of a field.

People walked past his grave. They kept walking.

Tom's grave was originally bright white, but it was already beginning to look worn. It began to acquire a yellowish tinge.

It stood alone in the field, like a solitary tooth.

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