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The window blinds pierce into my skin. I strain to look through the parallel limitations; I’m looking outside at the ice cream truck painted all red and yellow. Bright red and yellow. Appealing red and yellow. I’m staring at the flavors of ice cream and popsicles boldly proclaimed on the side of the truck: Drumsticks, Choco Tacos, and Bullet Firecrackers. The ice cream truck picks up speed and moves down the street. I’d give a sigh of relief that he’s gone…or even that the truck is gone, but I know that he is coming back. He drives up and down the street maybe seven times and stops at my house, every time. He waits a few moments, pokes his head out the door of his truck, and then pushes the car back into gear. All the while I sit on the Afghan rug in the living room and stare; I wonder why he is still waiting outside. I wonder when he will stop. Or if he will ever stop.
It came to my attention that I know the man from inside that truck. The truck that a man is on top of. Hand open. Mouth wide. An off-kilter smile. The metal man on top of the truck reminds me of him. He sits there and waits; bald headed with an unnatural sheen that catches the light. Faded eyes that are fixed on my position hidden away in the blinds and the “comfort” of home.
It also came to my attention that I was afraid of that man.
Whenever I leapt from the blaring yellow school bus, I saw the ice cream truck stop. That was the first time I ever saw it. The first time the music deliciously hit my ears. The first time I really wanted it. The ice cream. I didn’t even see the bald-headed man within the truck—lurking. All I saw was a bullet firecracker painted smack dab onto the side of the truck. A beautiful bullet firecracker that I wanted. But I only turned and walked to my front door; I turned the key and walked in. I didn’t look over my shoulder to see if the ice cream truck had left or not, and I’m glad I didn’t. Someone told me that he stayed outside a while, waiting. Something tells me that he stayed all night, because he looks like that sort of guy. The sort of guy that can follow you home and you’d never know. He’s the background kind of guy. I’d have never noticed him until someone made a crack about the shiny bald-spot on his head. It was like a weird mixture of sweat and sun. It just showed how old he was. How creepy he was.
When I saw him I didn’t really want the ice cream anymore. Something about seeing what the ice cream man looks like takes away from the ice cream itself. You can’t eat ice cream thinking that someone sweated into it, or that their faded green eyes sucked the entire flavor out of a bullet firecracker, or that if you walked over to the truck you’d never come back. So I stopped looking at the ice cream truck from the bus and just ran inside the house. I barely took the time to whip out my keys. I knew that he was the sort of the guy that could follow you home and you’d never even know. He’d be in your bed with spit driblets all over and you’d never know until you woke up with a migraine and an empty bottle of tequila you’ve never seen before.
He scared me.
So I ran.
Everyday I hear that music; the pious strains of the ice cream truck just begging me to cave. “Why not get a bullet firecracker? You deserve it,” the song says in-between the consistent lines. I don’t typically have a response. I just run. I don’t want to give him a chance to talk to me and then tempt me into getting that bullet firecracker and never going back home. My mom might miss me, but she probably wouldn’t. She’d call the cops and put on a great show about being the wounded mother. She’d go on television, write a book about the pain she felt, and then sleep it off with a bottle of tequila she knows so well.
She wouldn’t care if I was gone. But I would.
My mom’s the sort of parent that is always in your face: complaining about crap that can’t be fixed or simply just being a bi**h. Just because she can and because dad left a long time ago. And it’s my fault because I’m too pretty or too dumb or too smart or too ugly. It doesn’t matter what she says because it changes every day. The worst is when she pretends to give a damn about me and my future. It’s only horrible because I know that she is lying. I’m fifteen; she can’t lie to me anymore. Not anymore. I’ve grown up. I’ve seen things. I watch the ice cream truck and I see the lies that hide behind the semblance of hope and innocence and truth that is just so messed up and shattered.
Just like our lives. Just like our families. Just like our love for each other that is broken and faded like those green eyes with nothing left to look at. Not even a popsicle wrapper as proof that some sort of substance was there before. We’re broken. And I’m tired of it.
And one day I got tired of running from the ice cream truck, so I walked to my door. The man called out; I can’t remember what he said. And I just shook my head and walked to my door. For a split second I thought he would leap from the truck and follow me, but he didn’t. I guess he decided to wait. I guess he realized I would crack soon and the whole house of charades would fall. He was some kind of smart because they did fall. And they fell hard.
Mom came home today from her next job, the second one this week. She’s proud of herself, working at some sort of hospital. In the background of her small talk is the ice cream truck coming around for the sixth time—getting ready to go…and come back later. She looks at her pamphlet. She skims it and then she looks at me. Her eyes become cold and faded and alive all at once. Her voice becomes high and loud and quiet simultaneously. She’s yelling at me and hugging me. Hitting me and telling me she loves me. All I hear is the voice inside my head saying go outside. Run. At least the ice cream truck is constant. At least it doesn’t change. Seven times around every day. A thirty second pause before leaving. At least that’s something you can trust. At least it’s something better than this.
And I believe these voices in my head, so I turn the doorknob and leave. I sit on the sidewalk just in front of my house and I wait. I wait for the ice cream truck to come along. It’s right on schedule and I shudder because I knew it would be. I step up to the truck when it comes to a screeching halt. I hear the music and I want to trust it, badly. I need to trust it. The music comes to a stop and he pokes his head out. The sun glints for a moment, and I cringe because he looks exactly how I thought he would look.
He’s got an off-kilter smile on his face when he asks me the question. “What would you like?”
I answer like this is a normal situation just to say something. Because I couldn’t say that I’m running away from home or that I’m tired of my mom and that I want to sink into a hole in die, can you help me? Because I don’t have the control to say those things. Because I don’t have the time.
“A bullet firecracker please,” I say. And I smile.
He smiles back and his eyes smile through the faded green.
I take a step forward and don’t look back at my house because I already know my mom is in bed with her glass of tequila forgetting what she did to me and all she’s done before. So I step toward the consistent even through the music is gone. And I knew I’d never get that bullet firecracker, but that didn’t matter anymore.
Ithaca, New York
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"You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life."
-- Winston Chuchill
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