Ice Cream Social

Vanessa Ogle
PineappleSixteen

It started in April. Of course, Lola hadn’t known it was April, hadn’t seen the cherry blossoms bloom, their pale pink a loveliness engulfing the sidewalks so completely that people stepped sideways, looking up. She missed the jackets tied around waists, the skirts and sandals, the children on scooters zooming past their mothers, then waiting, looking back before beginning again. She missed the warmness that made people flock to grass, blankets covering the park. Everything glorious, thawed.

No, Lola—blinds shut at two in the afternoon—didn’t watch this renewal. Instead, she heard the ice cream truck. At first, the jingle made her stir. Was it spring already? She shivered in her sweatshirt while she lay in bed. It was a curious sound. Though she had never heard this variation—this jingle so much higher, a different tune entirely and louder so that it seemed to echo in her apartment—she knew what it was, instinctively. The ice cream man in that godawful truck. Later, when she became consumed by the noise, the very thought enough to make it play in her head over and over again until she hid in the bathtub with her ears covered, she would deny it, claim it was impossible, but the first time, she had enjoyed it. It made her remember the outside.

April became May and Lola swore the ice cream truck was increasing its frequency. While she had only heard it in the afternoon at first, now there was also a distant echo she heard in late morning. That wasn’t unbearable: it was so faint that it wasn’t even down her street, she thought when she pushed her ear to the wall. It was probably stationed at the playground. It was the evening route that really drove her mad. The ice cream truck man began circling her block, trying to entice people in their stuffy apartments to bring their children down.

Doesn’t he know I have to rest, Lola wanted to scream. She fantasized about sticking her tongue against the screen, ripping holes with her teeth so she could shout clearly at him, holes large enough to stick out her fingers, her fists. She wanted to mock him, to rage. She was angry enough to chew, to devour. She wanted to destroy any barrier that kept her from destroying him.
Why, oh why, couldn’t he play a different song? Didn’t he know her entire day now revolved around this? The waiting that she endured—the misery! Didn’t he care? Didn’t he know what he was putting her through? Her shoulders were perpetually tense, her body ready to lunge. But she wanted to simply be depressed. She hadn’t realized what she had until it was gone! She wanted her apa- thy back. She wanted to sleep the days away again. Instead, she was on edge, waiting, waiting.

One evening, as the jingle echoed down the street, into her apartment, even though she ran every faucet trying to drown out the noise, she thought about leaving. For real this time. SHUT UP! SHUT UP! If not to the outside, at least she could go to the hallway, go door to door. Yes! That was it. She’d ask the neighbors what to do. She’d confide in them. She’d knock and knock until someone answered. They’d suffer together. They’d come up with a plan.

She threw her robe over her nightshirt and stuffed her feet into worn pink slippers. She would do it! She would leave! She just had to find her key. It had been so long since she had last left the apartment, the door perpetually locked from the inside, that she misplaced her key.

Lola lifted balled up socks and wrappers and half-drunk water bottles, shifting everything around, looking for that glimmer of the key she knew was somewhere. She grabbed books, shaking them, waiting for a clink, watching to see if anything fell. Maybe she had used a key as a bookmark. She sifted through her old paintings, her drawings, and her colored pencils, throwing everything down, waiting for the sound.

“Where is it?” she screamed. It felt good to feel the burn of her throat, her body responding to her anger. It felt red, raw. Pure rage. Her heart was beating fast. She heard a bird outside, a bird or a child, a high pitch that sounded like song or terror. Think, think! She had to calm down. She kicked everything aside and laid on the floor. She looked at the wood very carefully. The polyurethane was unpeeling. She shifted so it covered her like glitter.

Lola held her breath and counted to ten. Then she sucked up air and held it, again. It didn’t calm her. It made her heart beat faster. Maybe it was low blood sugar. Or pressure. She needed to order some food. But first, she needed to do this. She spotted her oximeter, her charger, the laminated library book that she was supposed to return months ago. She looked down, trying to consciously focus on her nose, then up, trying to find her eyelashes. If I was a key, where would I be, she thought.

Suddenly, she sprung up. She didn’t need a key as long as she didn’t lock her door! She had control. She grabbed her yoga mat and unrolled it, placing it diagonally, slightly askew, that way if anyone broke in—if it was too straight or too messy—she’d be able to tell.

Lola opened the door. That was the easy part. She did that all the time for takeout. Now she had to step out. Maybe someone would come to her! People walked in and out all the time, surely. Not her, not now, but other people. They had to. People coming home from work or coming back from the basement laundry room. She’d see someone. Then Lola could just ask casually–say, hey, did you notice the ice cream truck? Did you notice how loud it’s been? Did you? Did you?

Maybe she should pull her stool over, let it prop the door for her. Then she could sit, relax, wait. Maybe it’d look like she was just airing out her place. She could pretend she was painting. Oh, yes, I’ve just been painting, she would say, painting, and getting some ventilation, yes, that’s what she’d say, yes, I’m opening the door for ventilation because I have to keep my windows shut! Because of the ice cream man! Oh, you’ve heard him too?

Lola’s robe pocket was empty. She felt around, wishing her phone would magically appear but she knew it was dead anyway, buried under her pillows and sheets. She needed food. It’d make more sense if she was doing something while she waited. Casual, that’s what she needed to be, or at least she needed to portray herself that way. Oh yes, I’m just eating, yes, I had to eat here because there are paint fumes in my kitchen, you know how tiny these apartments are, the kitchen kissing the living room, she’d say, and yes, she knew to pause, pause because they’d laugh! They’d laugh and she’d let them have that laugh because she knew she’d have to yank it away from them, that the precious laugh she’d given them would become a frown, maybe even a yelp, a terrified quivering lip—ugh, it would be terrible, she knew, she knew! But she’d have to bring up the ice cream truck. She’d bring it up to them and they’d cry, probably, cry with her, cry for her, cry because they’d understand that her window faced the street! So as bad as
it was for them, it was even worse for her, they’d know that, and they’d feel so bad for her.

Would she let them hug her? She sighed. She figured that would depend. She didn’t like hugs, but she understood that was what people did when they mourned. Together, they would mourn the loss of what was, the death of silence. Their life stolen by one selfish, sick ice cream man who only cared about himself. The world, she had learned, was unfortunately full of people like him, but that still didn’t make it easy.

She waited at least three hours. She couldn’t be sure because the windows in the hall were fogged glass so she couldn’t see the sky change, but it was definitely three hours, if not four. Not a single soul passed by, though she heard the wind rattle someone’s door at the end of the hall. Each time it shook, she waited expectantly. Each time she was disappointed. Was the inky sky sad she had missed dinner?

After her stomach gurgled for the fiftieth time, Lola stepped back inside. The stool was still wedged in the door. She’d leave it there while she retrieved her phone. She was so hungry that she wondered if she’d even be hungry by the time she ate. She plugged her phone in and immediately tried turning it on, to no avail. She counted five seconds and tried again. She hated it! Why did it always have to die? When it finally powered up, she saw it was only a quarter to eight. The night refused to tick away for her! The universe knew she needed dinner. For that, she was grateful.

She heard a delivery truck’s squeaky brakes and the whirling wind of speeding cars below. Where was everyone going without her? After she ordered her food, she grabbed her yoga mat and waited by the buzzer. For some reason, takeout places still didn’t have keys to get in. That meant every single time she made an or- der, she had to wait by the buzzer to let them in. She didn’t understand it, but that was the way it was done. Yet the post office always got in? If there’s a will there’s a way. No one seemed to care. But she was hungry. So.

While she waited for the delivery man, she hatched a new plan. She’d talk to him about it! And he could spread the word. He went door-to-door all over the neighborhood. He could be the conduit. Oh, yes! That’s why no one walked by. If someone had walked by, she’d have temporary satisfaction. She’d think, well, we’re in this together. They would have cried and hugged but nothing would be done, not really. With delivery men, especially if she could get a few of them on her side, they could speak to people in every building that was being terrorized. Oh yes, ok, universe— thank you, she thought, thank you, wow, I’m blessed beyond belief. Truly.

She was bursting with energy when the delivery man finally arrived, the door still propped so he didn’t even have to knock.

“You’ve heard it, right?” she said. “Your buzzer?”

“No, the ice cream truck man.”“This is delivery from Casa—”

“I know! I ordered it! I’m talking about the ice cream—” “No, this is one chicken burrito and nachos.”

“Oh, I see what’s going on,” she said with a cold, curt laugh. “Are you his friend?”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I really don’t understand. Total is twenty-seven—”

She grabbed five twenties, the last of her birthday money that she kept on her tiny, round dining room table.

“Please, just tell me you’re on my side. Please.”

“Of course, ma’am. Sure.”

She laughed, then gripped the money tightly.

“Actually, tell me you’re on his side. Just admit it. We had a plan. I was going to make flyers! The neighborhood deserves to have a fair fight. But if you don’t care—”

“Mmhmm. Yes, I care. I hope you enjoy your meal.”

“Damnit! I knew this was too good to be true!” she screamed, waving the money like a fan. “Just take it. Take it and don’t come back.”

“Do you want change?”

“Take it. I can’t buy your help but I can try to buy your silence.”

“It’s not even thirty dollars. Two twenties would be fine.” “Just take it. Please. And don’t come back.”

“If you’re sure. Thank you.”

She sighed and kicked the stool, letting the heavy door slam shut. She took one bite of the burrito and threw it down, hot tears running over her lips.

*****

She didn’t know what time it was when she woke up, her phone dead again. She stuck her ear out, listening. Was it morning? Where was he? Had he finished his first round? Really, it didn’t matter. He’d be here, the torturous melody ready to echo in her walls, in her mind. She waited in her bedroom, ear outstretched. She stayed as still as possible, sprinting in and out of the bathroom at the last possible minute, when her hand was clenched, fingers trying to hold in leaking urine, when she really, truly couldn’t wait a minute more, only washing her hands with the smallest stream of water she could muster so the faucet wouldn’t drown out anything, even if it was for just a minute.

Where are you, she thought, where have you gone?

Time passed. She remained still.

She thought she would feel relief. He was gone, obviously.

It had been days and still no sound. But how could she feel relief when she didn’t know if it was temporary or permanent? The worst thing in the world would be if she slept, took her old evening nap, and he came around, blaring that jingle, waking her up, sending her back into a spiral—no, she couldn’t stand it. Either he was a neighborhood fixture or he wasn’t. Either he was intent on destroying her life daily or he could never come back again. It was one or the other.

Unless—unless he was sick. No, because then it wouldn’t be so sudden. It’d taper, music only in the morning probably, too sick by evening time. It was just silence now. All damn day. Really, the more she thought about it, the angrier she got. How could he end their routine? Or worse, how could he think he could just drop in and out? How dare he change when he came. Now, she’d fear every second—

There was a faint clicking. No, it wasn’t a clicking. It wasn’t simply noise. She gritted her teeth together. Hmmm. She heard the gurgle of her refrigerator. She closed her eyes, trying to separate the sounds in her mind, trying to lower her kitchen’s noises like her mind was a remote. That’s it, she thought, now just crank up the outdoor noise. She heard the acceleration of a truck. Not that, she thought. Focus on the music. Focus—

Yes. She was sure of it, it was the jingle, so faint, delicate at this distance, playing so softly it almost sounded beautiful.

*****

It was strange being outside, of course. Strange but also— familiar. She occasionally felt the sun through her windows— whether her blind slats were up or down, and she never had quite figured out which way was most effective, it made no difference, light always peeked through—but it was different actually being in it, the glow so bright she curled her hand into a hat brim, not like the light she passed in and out of, pausing in like a cat before curling up again for another nap. Around her, people seemed happy. Refreshed. Despite everything! Maybe there really was something to all that talk of Vitamin D. The glow was warm but not unbearable, not so hot it was sticky, the way her comforter radiated heat in the morning, sticking to her sweaty neck even if she had been freezing when she drifted off. No, this sun on her face felt warm but healing.

Standing straight, erect and still as a tree, Lola watched in amazement at the way people moved around each other. Even if two people were heading straight at each other in opposite directions, even if they were going fast, so fast it made her dizzy to watch—none of it mattered. They would figure out a way to swerve, miss each other, one walking into the street, a bike taking a last-minute turn into a driveway, a jogger squeezing through, a father with a stroller making a wide turn to give more space to a woman with a walker. But how? There was no room! This was why she had stopped going out. It was too hard, there were too many people. And yet here, they seemed to navigate it, movements seemingly predetermined, carried with casual ease.

No one looked up at her as she watched them. 

*****

Lola knew she’d probably have to spend the whole day waiting for the song. She had put on old running shoes, knowing she’d have to be quick when the opportunity arose. Luckily, the ice cream truck went slow and parked for long stretches, idling on corners, waiting for the snaking lines to form, the music never ceasing.

Uh-oh! There was a man with a cane. The sidewalk was so narrow. How would she get by? She glanced back, but that was no better. She saw a group quickly approaching with a giant dog. She hadn’t planned for this. The man was coming closer. And closer.

“Excuse me!” she yelled. “Excuse me.”

She tip-toed by him, putting her elbow out to create more space by demanding it.

The man walked on, unfazed.
Lola exhaled and smiled. They hadn’t collided!

*****

She walked, slowly, making sure she never got too far, too deep, too distant in one direction that would put her at a disadvantage if she heard the calling. It was imperative that she stayed central, ready to dart in any direction necessary.

A few kids walked by, dribbling basketballs, not at all concerned about the germs from the sidewalk that were now transferred to their hands with every bounce. Interesting. Well, they were young. Young and dumb, she thought, young and dumb and full of—was that the ice cream truck man? She heard music, but it was just a car, windows down and radio up.

Some couples walked past her arm-in-arm, some hand-in-hand. Some didn’t touch at all, just walked at the same speed, the same side of their bodies propelling forward at the same time, left then right. In unison, even their laughter. It was interesting, she noticed, the different ways people showed concern. Like the daughter that rushed to open her father’s door, double-parking but no one honking, everyone giving her space as she led his stooping body out of the passenger’s side, everyone quietly swerving by.

There were even more people out than she expected but no one bothered her, she had to admit. She felt her shoulders drop. The relief felt so glorious she wanted to laugh, but she stopped herself just in time. She still had a job to do, after all.

People stomped past her, and she was sure it was well-past dinnertime now. She looked up at all the stunningly robust trees and twirled, her arms outstretched almost as wide as the branches.

*****

Just when she was about to go back for the night, she heard it. At first, she wondered if it was real. It was that clear, that unmistakable. Surely it was her mind playing tricks on her! But no, that was it—and it was close. Just a street or two over.

It felt so good to move! Her legs burned like she was racing, but it was fun, a playground race she was pre-destined to win. Louder—louder, she was so close. Yes, this was it. Here he was—

The truck was mostly white, decorated with pictures of the array of choices he offered. But it wasn’t the sight that made her squeal, the image not what she had cared about for so long; it was the sound. The sweet, twinkling sound. For the first time in a long time, she felt truly at peace with herself and the world, relaxed, relaxed.

It didn’t matter that she was sweating and panting. She was where she belonged.

*****

She laughed the whole time she waited in line. She tried to be discreet but oh, it was so hard. There were toddlers and kids and parents and her. She was glad she was last in line, actually.
This meant they’d get the chance to really talk. No rushing. Wow, things really did have a way of working out. Her luck was back. She watched in pure shock as so many people just thrusted some cash into his hand. No small talk, barely any thanks! It was disrespectful, but that meant they were not her competition. He wouldn’t stay here. He wouldn’t tolerate the disrespect. He’d come back to her. He’d come home.

“Why’d you change your route?” she said when it was her turn. It wasn’t what she was planning but she spit it out, the anticipation brewing over so thoroughly that she couldn’t control herself.

“Boss told me to.”

“But why? You were there, on 90th, every day, twice a day. Surely you had good customers.”

“We did, but only so many people are going to come. There’s not too many repeats, at least not on weekdays.”

“But we all knew about you.”

“So? Knowing doesn’t mean buying.”

“Well, I just want to say your presence was felt thoroughly, so thoroughly that your absence was—”

“You never bought a cone before.”

“What?”

“You never bought a cone. A popsicle. Nothing.” “I, well—”

“I remember faces. And I’ve never seen yours before. So how are you gonna miss what you didn’t have?”

“Well, it wasn’t so much about the ice cream for me—it was more the ritual. I knew what time it was by the jingle. Your music. It was a call, like church bells.”

“But you didn’t buy nothing.”

“Well, no. But—”

“You want a cone? How about a swirl?”

It had been a long time since she’d had an ice cream cone, the cold sweetness, the brain freeze when she got greedy as a girl, consuming so much so quickly that she couldn’t even enjoy it, the punishment that followed her gluttony well-deserved until she went back to small tastes, licking, twirling—

“Sure.”

“One swirl. Anything else?”

“Yeah,” she said, looking at the sky. It felt so good to be back. People should not be alone. Even if they are alone. People have to go outside, she knew that now, people have to see other people—how could she ever thank him? She felt the tears in her eyes.

“What?” he said, his back turned to her as he got her cone ready in one swift motion. “What else do you want?”

“A lot. More than you could give me from your truck. In fact, your truck doesn’t have it, but you, you do—”

“I’m not sure what you’re trying to pull but we don’t do that here. Strictly ice cream, this truck.”

“No, no,” she said. “You’ve already given it to me. I don’t want anything from you!”

“You want the cone or not?”

He reached his arm towards her, the ice cream waiting for her. She tried to wipe away her tears.

“You changed my perspective. You made me see the world, reevaluate my why, my—”

She paused, taking it all in, listening to the soothing jingle, her lullaby.

“Anyway, sir,” she said, still crying. “Listen, I just want to thank you. That you would devote yourself to me, to making me understand myself again, appreciate myself—I could never thank you enough.”

He looked at her then shook his head.

“Lady, you’re nuts.”

“Do I want what?” she said. Then she smiled.

Contributor(s)

Vanessa Ogle

Vanessa Ogle is a poet, writer, and educator. She received her MFA from Hunter College and lives in Brooklyn.

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