One A Day: Day 28: Ice Cream Van Man
The weather is so hot, it hurts to go outside. Jennifer’s mum has told Jennifer she can go and get her own ice cream today, all Jennifer’s mum wants to do is drink icy cold Fosters and fan herself with a copy of What’s on TV?
“Don’t drop that pound coin. I can’t give you another one,” Jennifer’s mum says, wiping a can of Fosters across her leopard print leggings. “And be careful crossing the road. I don’t want you getting squashed. We don’t have the money for a funeral.”
In his ice cream van, Eddie swirls, scatters and sprinkles sweet things for pound coins and fifty pence’s. He sees Jennifer crossing the road in bare feet. Ice cream misses the cone and swirls onto his wrist. He has to throw it away, wipe his wrist and start again; he has a reputation to keep in this part of town, where it’s harder to get money out parents than it is scraping chewing gum off the concrete with a plastic fork. The other kids walk away from the van, their little, red tongues hard at work, stopping soft ice cream dripping down their arms and flopping onto the hot pavement. He watches her. She looks at the board for such a long time, it irritates him a little. He wants her to talk to him. He wants to see those lovely eyes.
“What’ll it be then, lovely? How about a nice Screwball?” She screws up her pretty face.
“I want one of those ones.”
“A Twister? Let’s see if we have any of those left.” She has already reached up and put the pound coin on the counter by the time he’s turned around. “No, you can have this back. Open your hands.” They’re pink and small and delicate. It seems wrong to put a dirty pound coin into those sweet hands. So he opens his till and takes out the newish, shiniest pound coin. “Take this one.” She does, say’s thank you and looks four times each way before crossing the road. She goes into a house and three scabby, yowling cat’s streak out, between her legs and disappear into the high weeds in the garden. He slips the dirty pound coin into his pocket, grabs a Twister and starts the engine.
“Why did the nice man give you the nice, shiny pound coin, love?”
“Maybe because I’m a good girl. Can I get another ice cream tomorrow?”
Jennifer isn’t bothered that her mum orders her ice cream, or pays for it with the new shiny coin and un-wraps it for her. She does as her mum says and sits on the kerb.
“Whatever it is that you were thinking about doing to my daughter you can fuck right off. I’ll knock you to Kingdom Come, if you so much as step one foot out of this scummy van, you understand me?” Eddie keeps one eye on the fat woman, one on the child playing with chalk and licking a lolly. He wants to tell the woman such a beautiful child shouldn’t be living in squalor. She should be living in a detached house with her own bedroom and a view over fields and woods. “Get out of here before I call the police.” Eddie doesn’t need telling twice, and looks in his rear-view mirror to see loads of unhappy faces and Jennifer, chewing on her lolly stick, one bare foot scratching the back of the other leg.
Seventeen boxes, filled with dry ice and lollies are stacked on the pavement outside Jennifer’s house. Another twelve boxes of crisps, pick n mix and Panda Pop are there too. He can hear the TV from the other side of the wall and the net curtains are thick enough to conceal him. Eddie has paid a kid fifteen quid to knock on their door and run in half an hour. Since inheriting the van from his Dad, Eddie has always wanted to open his mouth under the ice cream dispenser, and in the early twilight, he does. Ice cream slowly fills his mouth. Brain freeze hits immediately. He sits down at the driver’s seat, reaches over and opens the glove compartment. The gun smells oily and is hot in his hands. He checks. There is one bullet left. Eddie just had to make sure. He puts it between his lips, ignoring the tears and the quiet sob rising from his throat and closes his eyes.