The icicle tasted like nothing at all. Not at first. Then before long there was the faintest bit of boiled egg, the sulfur from the mountainside where Shepherd pulled it loose easing through the top layer of frost as it gave way to the shine and streaks of mud beneath.
Dougie hadn’t asked Shepherd to stop and get the icicle. He had only pointed them out as they sped along Route 34. A stalactite row of them lined the rock wall and Dougie pointed and said, They look like teeth, Mom.
Shepherd pulled the car to the side of the road, butting against an embankment of snow piled by the county road crew, and parked.
Shepherd wasn’t Dougie’s real dad. He drank. His real dad did not. He was stronger than his real dad. He was taller. He always smelled like beer, but there was no beer belly sagging when he stepped from the driver’s side of the bitty MG they were driving and tromped through the snow to a large icicle hanging about ten feet from the car.
Dougie looked first to his Mom, but she only stared straight ahead through the frost-covered windshield. She was looking for something. That’s how it seemed. He let her look and examined his icicle.
Once, at the Terry County Fair and Bluegrass Concert, he saw a booth with candy that looked like the icicle. Only difference was it was colored all pink and blue, and a lot smaller. He broke the tip off and chomped at it – horse to apple, dog to leftovers.
It tasted strange, like eggs left on the stove overnight. In its slender body he could see bugs caught in the ice, small ones and a large one near the thickest part. Shepherd was yelling at his Mom and his Mom was still looking ahead. He couldn’t tell now what she was looking for, but he took another bite, a larger one this time, and wrinkled his nose.
Making sure he looked away from the rearview mirror when he did, Dougie gagged. If it were blue and pink it might taste better. This wasn’t like the candy at the fair, he finally said.
Shepherd sped along the road until he jerked into Tackett’s Market’s parking lot. The MG door slammed so hard his Mom finally stole her gaze away from the windshield, turned to Dougie.
Watch now what happens, she said. Watch what happens now and see how bad it gets, she said, and Dougie knew what she meant as much as he didn’t know.
The MG door popped open fast. Shepherd tossed a pack of cherry Kool-Aid into his lap, told him to pour it over the thing and see if that helped. That’ll help, he said, and his voice has lowered and Dougie opened the pack and spread the contents across what was left of the icicle.
But soon the icicle was nearly melted. The icicle was more or less gone, a fragile thing in his lap, the raspberry sugar just bright, wet spots on his jeans and hands, the same as he saw later that night across the living room wall, the hardwood floor, across his mom’s high, proud cheekbone.
Sheldon Lee Compton is the author of The Same Terrible Storm. His work has been published widely and been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize. He lives in Eastern Kentucky.