they lied about the ice cream

They Lied About the Ice Cream by

I was seven when I had my tonsils removed. The children’s ward was full, so they put me on an adult ward. The sister said I’d need to jump over the bed before I’d be allowed home, and an adult patient in the next bed, Mr O’Donnell, confirmed this with a wink. Mr O’Donnell winked a lot. Over the years people have assured me that they were teasing me, but at the time I believed it: I thought adults didn’t lie.


Following the operation it felt like I had nails in my throat, but I didn’t get the ice cream everyone promised me. I also found that they’d removed my adenoids along with my tonsils. This unsettled me, even though I didn’t know what adenoids were. I’d been admitted for a tonsillectomy, which was scary enough, but no one mentioned other parts of my body. It felt like they’d stolen them, and that I’d been lied to. I couldn’t complain to anyone as it was too painful to talk – all I could do was listen to Sister and Mr O’Donnell, both of whom enjoyed reminding me that I’d soon need to jump over the bed if I wanted to get out. 


The second night on the ward I woke in the early hours to see Mr O’Donnell standing beside my bed, looking weird in the hospital half light. I tried to ask him something about ice cream and whether he thought it would ever arrive, but it was still too painful to talk. When he saw that I was awake he looked troubled, and mouthed the words I’m sorry. Eventually I fell asleep again, and in the morning his bed was empty.


For years I’ve relished telling people that Mr O’Donnell died in the night, and that his spirit spoke to me before moving on to hell. Of course people are dismissive: they assure me that he was probably just moved to a different ward while I was sleeping. But my version feels right. Folks roll their eyes when I tell it, and become dismissive when I insist that it’s true. I hate them for this, and I point out three things: a) the hospital staff discharged me without having me jump over the bed; b) they stole my adenoids after pretending they just needed my tonsils; c) the ice cream they promised me never appeared. So they are the liars, not me. And now here I am back in yet another hospital, quietly waiting for them to remove my restraints. I know they won’t let me out this time no matter how many beds I offer to jump over. I often wonder if my life would have been different if I’d accepted Mr O’Donnell’s apology.




Paul McDonald taught at the University of Wolverhampton for twenty five years, where he ran the Creative Writing Programme. He took early retirement in 2019 to write full time. He is the author of twenty books, which cover fiction, poetry, and scholarship. His most recent flash fiction related books include Enigmas of Confinement: A History and Poetics of Flash Fiction (2018), Lydia Davis: A Study (2019), and a collection of flash fictions: Midnight Laughter (2019).


Paul McDonald’s Amazon Page



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