Sofía walks through the aisles of Piper’s, a gummy sound as her sneakers lift and squish on the sticky grey floor. She is magnetized by the sight of all the rows of candy in assorted bright packages. She wistfully brushes past it all, fingers gently grazing the wrappers that both entice and withhold. At age six, she is in awe of the discovery that it is possible to be in the presence of such packaged delights and yet not have access to them. There is an important difference between the interior and exterior of the wrappers, she thinks.
The rural Nova Scotian landscape seems to be continually stretching, the impossibly long distances of winding roads expanding until any excursion involves a calculation of how many chores can be accomplished. This is their chance to get some necessities. Papá pulls her around one of the aisles to a small dairy fridge from which he grabs a jug of milk for the house. He nods to the woman at the till as she peers over her glasses, dislodging a hang nail and flicking it onto the floor. She frowns as she considers the child for a moment, then she opens the small window next to her to let out smoke from the cigarette in the corner of her mouth. A greying mullet. Jeans paired with a jean jacket. Great Big Sea’s Donkey Riding playing softly on the radio beside her.
Sofía walks over to the freezer at the end of the aisle. She stands still and rooted in front of it. The metal sides are sweating enticingly and humming. She stands just tall enough to peer over the edge through the glass and down into the polar paradise below. She is hypnotized.
I want ice cream, she realizes as she says it. Then, her small hand reaches up tenderly to touch the cool condensation on the freezer. She looks back at Papá.
I want ice cream. An urgency begins to sink in.
Not today, Sofía, Papá states with a finality that only parents can summon.
Sofía begins to tear up. Please? she says in a higher pitch. The metal side is now covered with fingerprints, her territory marked. Her plump heart-shaped face gazing up through thick black hair, her dark eyes contrasting on her pale skin splashed with freckles across the nose. The very image of innocence. At least that’s what she wants you to think. In reality, Sofía is in a process of self-education that involves principles not unlike those in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, where “supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.” She wields her innocence against Papá.
I said no, Sofía. We need to eat dinner first, says Papá, using reason to teach Sofía the principle of self-control. Once he makes up his mind, there was no unmaking of it, especially when applied to situations involving sugar.
Papá tightens his grip and drags her by the arm towards the exit of Piper’s. Her other arm reaches out dramatically towards the ice cream freezer, and as the distance grows larger, Sofía’s determination grows as well.
Papá, I WANT ICE CREAM! Tears arrive in her eyes. Papá senses that a tantrum is on the horizon, so he kneels down to her level, pleading.
Please, Mama is waiting for us and you can’t behave in public like this, he says, ever the reasoner. Sometimes pleading works, but this is not one of those times. At this, Sofía’s cheeks begin to turn red as she starts to tense with rage. Why does Papá want her to be unhappy and icecreamless? She bursts out screaming and dashes in the direction of the ice cream freezer.
The sticky floor slows her down only slightly as she seizes the freezer, but she can’t quite figure out how to open it. The whites of her eyes glow as she looks back frantically at Papá as he lunges at her, her tears fall freely as she starts shrieking. As Papá lifts her up, she finally can grab the handle on the top of the fridge, benefitting from this elevated vantage point only for a bittersweet moment before Papá pries her tiny hands off of the handle. Papá picks Sofía up and throws her over his shoulder like a sack of corn, using his right hand to ward off blows from her tiny fists. Her feet spasm and make contact with the back of his ribcage, small but frenzied enough to bruise, her freckled skin contrasting against his cinnamon.
Grey Mullet Woman at the counter is now standing and staring at them, an obscure look on her face. Papá looks at her, and before he can start apologizing for the behaviour of his daughter, he is quieted by the stern look on her face. “I’m sorry about my daughter, just the milk, please,” he says and hands her a five-dollar bill. Grey Mullet Woman grunts her acknowledgement, but says nothing, handing him back his change.
Papá carries Sofía out behind the store, as her mess of limbs, tears, and boogers turn his shirt into a rumpled mess. Instead of going to the car, Papá keeps walking towards the ocean, the silhouettes of the mountains across Saint Anne’s Bay glowing multicoloured in the warm summer evening. Sofía is writhing, screaming and crying so hard that her tears begin to mix with sweat from the exertion of her tantrum. Papá looks down at her, noticing her face is now the shade of a tomato, and he starts laughing. As he approaches the shoreline, he kicks off his shoes as he steps into the ocean.
Papá’s oldest trick of parenting involves freezing cold water. A trick that had constituted most of the “parenting” that had happened in his childhood, and that he is proud to perpetuate, to pass down like an heirloom to the next generation. The gift of a harmless physical shock that scares away the demons.
Sofía gasps and splutters, choking slightly as she surfaces and stands in the shallow saltwater, her tantrum lessening to a wounded whimper. She stands in the water like that for a moment, and Papá holds out his hands tenderly. “Are you ready?” She starts walking towards him, seeking his comfort. He kneels down in the sand, arms outstretched, welcoming her with a warm smile. As she nears him, the tenderness of her whimper all but disappears and is replaced by a pure resentment that clouds her face. She stops and clenches her jaw. Ice cream, she says quietly and with the weight of a grudge, her tiny hands balled into fists, now refusing to hold the traitor’s hand.
Papá sighs and starts walking back towards the parking lot, occasionally glancing back to make sure she is following. She walks behind him, though she stops in her tracks every time he glances back, gazing indifferently at the horizon. As they near Piper’s, she bolts and bounds up two of the steps before Papá swoops in again and snatches her back. She yells and kicks. The coldwater effect having worn off, she is full tilt into a tantrum again. Papá hoists her over his shoulder again, sighing as he turns the corner of the convenience store, back into the parking lot. As he approaches their red Volkswagen Golf, he sees a man out of the corner of his eye approach.
Excuse me sir, is everything alright here? The navy blue of an RCMP officer.
Oh, yes everything is fine. She just wanted ice cream, you know how they are at this age. Papá’s expression is serene, if forced. A small seed of dread knots in his belly as he tries to be as amicable as possible while holding Sofía on his shoulder. Parenting. Common ground.
The officer chuckles. Oh I do, I do, I do. Can I see your ID please?
Papá looks up and sees Grey Mullet standing at the top of the stairs, arms crossed and a pursed-lips expression on her face, her hair tousled triumphantly by the breeze. How many times had he been here with his family before? He waves at her, but she ignores it, clearly enjoying the drama in an otherwise bland, buggy afternoon. Didn’t she recognize him?
“Of course,” says Papá, his senses on full alert in the service of making this as easy as possible. As he frees his right hand to grab his wallet out of his back pocket, a newly untethered Sofía takes the opportunity to kick the jug of milk from his hand. It punctures as it hits the ground. Papá tries to laugh it off.
Kids, eh? He emphasizes the eh for good measure. The officer steps back to avoid the rhythmic spurts of milk drowning the ground around them in a swamp of milky whiteness.
The officer takes the ID. He holds the ID and looks up at Papá squarely.
What is your relationship to this child?
Papá shifts his weight. I am her father. His R’s roll unwillingly. He then smiles by accident. I shouldn’t have smiled, he thinks. Every time uniformed men are involved, he feels like he can no longer trust his ability to convey the truth with conviction. The uniform has some kind of dark magic like that, even on a skinny young man.
What is her name, sir? He asks.
Her name is Sofía.
The officer looks back and forth between Papá and Sofía a few times.
Sofía, he addresses her.
She shakes out of her tantrum at hearing her name pronounced by this uniformed stranger. Papá shifts her on his shoulder so that she can see the officer better.
Sofía, answer him, he says softly. She nods, bewildered.
Sofía, is this man your father? The officer asks, slowly, enunciating each word.
Sofía pauses, considering her options. She is not happy that she has to talk to this strange, demanding man, instead of getting her ice cream. But on the other hand she senses that Papá is uncomfortable. Outright war is on the table, and she sees an opportunity to have the higher ground. The brightly coloured candy packages flash through her mind, the insides and outsides of wrappers crinkling pleasingly. She sees very clearly an important scenario unfolding before her that quite possibly could result in a turn of events, a way back towards the freezer and its thrilling contents. A great reckoning.
Sandy looks out through a cloud of smoke, a gold filling glinting in the sun as she smiles, a shine reminiscent of the colourful packages that are within her keep.
Papá sets Sofía down. Had the cold water been too much? It had been so beneficial to quelling his own childhood tantrums, he thinks. Then he considers the police officer’s badge. He thinks of the police in his own country, where at least they acknowledged their own corruption with the simplicity of bribes.
Here he was known as The Foreigner, which at best made people think he was interesting, and at worst involved the Nova Scotians casting him as The Illegal Mexican, The Columbian Drug Lord, and now as The Latino Kidnapper, in a dramatic, police-show style reality drama. This is what’s wrong with this country, he sighs to himself. That and the food. He looks down and realizes he is standing in a puddle of milk. He steps to one side. He sighs again.
Sofía, respóndele, he says, noticing the officer flinch. Sofía blows a strand of hair from her face, her cheeks burning with desire. She looks the cop straight in the eye and says with conviction,
Dora Prieto (she/ella) is a Mexican-Canadian emerging writer and translator who writes about memory, trauma, migration, love, and the illusions therein. Born in Nova Scotia and raised between the US and Mexico, Dora is at home in central Mexico and the west coast. Her fiction has been published in Emerge 20 Anthology, and her journalistic and non-fiction work has been published in Adbusters Magazine, BeatRoute Magazine, and the Georgia Straight. She currently lives, writes, and loves in the stolen territories of the Musqueam, Sḵwxwúmesh, and Tsleil-Waututh Peoples.