The ice-cream van.
Published on May 2020
He thinks it’s their smiles.
When they hear the first high-pitched notes of his song, their faces light up. Like clockwork. He approaches and sees them pull on their mum’s sleeve, on their dad’s leg. He watches them drop their games to run to him. He sees every face look up to him – a hero in sheep’s clothing.
They run to him, the ultimate salvation on a hot summer’s day. Every single one is smiling. Some, he can tell, have been crying. Maybe the sun burnt too strongly or they fell on hard dirt, maybe they lost their toy or tumbled at a push on the playground. But he cures them, every time, with one scoop, two scoops, three scoops. With vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. His song plays and they run to him.
It helps him forget. Forget the one time he wasn’t there. The one time he wasn’t good enough. When he couldn’t cure her. The cold hospital room, how he felt like he was inside a freezer. The cold cup of coffee staining his hands. When the doctor uttered the words and she was gone. Lost somewhere in space and time. The way his heart dropped to his feet when he realised her tiny, grubby hands would never hold his big, rugged ones again. The way a tear fell that night when he noticed her small clothes littered across her bedroom. How he held his wife as she whispered they would never see her smile again.
So yes, he thinks it’s their smiles. He thinks it’s the way one little ball of cold flavour can cure them. Most of them, at least. And sometimes he can feel her.
In their smiles, he can almost see hers.