In summer of 2008, before my senior year of high school, I worked at the Bahama Sno Shack, a trailer the size of a king bed with chipped concrete tables and sticky yellow umbrellas outside. We had a shaved ice machine, a hundred bottles of syrup, gallons of sugar water, a cash register, a Styrofoam cup for tips, and a radio that was always on, tuned to Top 40.
Between then and now I’ve heard these songs often — “I Kissed a Girl,” “American Boy,” “Just Dance.” At senior prom, in Nova Scotia, at Hardee’s, for nostalgic value at a house party: wherever I am I will hear the choruses and immediately taste sno cone — in particular, the blackberry one, super-saturated, fake as chrome fingers, with a marshmallow fluff and sugar water mix pumped on top.
During my first shift I ate five snow cones. It was something you learned, working there: no one was watching you. The manager came only at close to count up the money and take the trash, and so we melted little bits of ice and fructose in our cheeks. I told myself I was learning the product.
We made the sugar water in huge jugs, filling them at the spigot behind the Shell station and then heaving them back down the hill, adding heaps of sugar before shaking them with our thin high school arms. To make the syrups themselves we would mix flavor concentrates with the sugar water.
My first shot wasn’t vodka or spiced rum; it was sour apple concentrate in a little plastic medicine cup.
Sometimes A would visit, once on his way to his hosting job at a Chinese restaurant in the white polo and black pants he had to wear. That day he got a large Tiger’s Blood — cherry and coconut — and stained his lips redder. This was before we started dating but after I wanted to and I’d never needed anything so jagged and lightlike as him.
Most often I worked with M, who had just graduated. I had King Lear for my summer reading, by that time specked with food dye, and she had a red phone and long thighs and dated a few older guys at once. We were paid monthly, always on Sundays, and in August we were working with everyone’s July paychecks on top of the fridge. We were making minimum wage, and M turned up “Lollipop” and jimmied open the guys’ checks to find that every guy there made more money than us. Girlhood became curse; I was its shy knees and she its blazing shoots.
A bald man, ruddy-faced and always dressed in the same Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts, came to talk sometimes, starting with his bad friends and loneliness and segueing to sex. He came twice when I was working alone and I don’t know how long he was there each time because my ears were thin lines and I couldn’t catch the radio. I was in a vinyl box in sundresses or shorts. My hands were cold from the broken shaved ice machine, seventeen-year-old hands. I wanted a hammer or a gun or a dick. Even now he sets my teeth to drums.
When I did the night shifts my parents stipulated that I be sure to work with one of the guys. I lied, usually, too quiet to ask the manager and rationalizing that that man had only come during the day. I would work with M some nights, M who was half my size with tined elbows. She filled me in on the fights that had happened the summer before, between “rednecks and blacks,” she said, when they had to call the cops several times. Even now the rednecks kept nooses tied in smooth red nylon rope or thick twine in the back windows of their trucks when they came on Saturday night. It was better this year, she said, so far. As she talked she tied a length of string she had into that little knot, whirled coils around its base, hanged her index finger until its tip was smashed eggplants and sleet crumbed on the tile.