A WHOLE LOT OF NOTHING • by Beth Langford

I looked at my face in the smashed glass: misshapen but clear, like a moon atop waves. Glad for the opportunity to safely check my appearance before work, I wiped the sleep dust from my eyes and blew my nose before continuing on my way.

I work at Magdelina’s Ice Cream; it’s dead in winter. The donut shop across the hall is more popular, with its coffee and hot chocolate. I have to admit, their muffins are quite good.

I didn’t expect many customers before lunch, so I busied myself with inventory and cleaned the counters again. I could see through the mall doors: snow.

Thick clouds rolled across the pavement, shed fur.

A draft blew in every time someone walked in, out.

Which was becoming a less frequent event. No more customers at the donut shop; the staff disappeared into the back. The snow crept up the glass doors. When a man walked in the pile of it toppled inside, too. On his cellphone the man described the weather.

A whole lot of nothing out there.

He passed by and I freaked out a little. Nothing. No customers for the past hour; the shelves at the donut shop well-stocked with deep-fried zeros; the whole city white as zero.

But there was me, I reassured myself, and I pondered how far one was from zero, the infinity of fractions between us. I felt comforted.

“Excuse me?”

It didn’t register at first. I had my back to the front of the store, mopping.

“Excuse me?”

“Yes?” I turned. “Oh, hi!” I had a customer. She was a short woman in deep violet fleece which was certainly not sufficient against the weather.

“Could I have a double of the Xtreme chocolate?” she asked. “Is that a good one?”

“I think so,” I said blandly, but felt great relief: a double cost 4.25. I grabbed a cone and shivered as I reached my hand down into the freezer.

“Wait,” the customer said.

“Mm-hmm?”

“Could I get that in a chocolate-dipped waffle cone?” Her eyes were trained on the menu, studying it.

“Sure,” I said, but inside me a sort of quiet dread set in. The waffle cone cost 75 cents. The thought stayed with me as I scooped the ice cream–oddly, it was melting along the side of the bucket–into the cone.

“That will be five dollars,” I said, carefully looking at the customer. Her eyes were still on the menu, as if she were still studying it, checking that she’d made the right choice.

“Thanks,” she said in a neutral tone as I shoved the cone into her weak grasp.

She left. I only had to look down for a moment at the display, $5.00, to find the menu button, press it down and delete those terrible zeros.


Beth Langford‘s flash fiction has recently appeared in Sporty Spec: Games of the Fantastic and Kaleidotrope. She works at a deserted juice bar and she shares a basement with various spiders and isopods.

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