The bells woke up me up. I could hear them through my open window coming from the street below. I was trying to sleep away the hot day. I forced myself out of bed. I had to get downstairs fast.
I put on a food stained tee shirt and slid on my flip flops. I rushed out the door and started down the four flights to the street.
Mrs. Robbins was trudging up the steps. She was in a wrinkled house dress, holding an ice cream bar in one hand that was melting rapidly.
"You better hurry," she said. "He's selling out fast." As she spoke she tried to catch the red cookie crumbs that were falling from the ice cream bar.
"You got strawberry shortcake?"
Always," she replied. "And lucky I got there when I did. Those kids behind me are gonna be disappointed if they want their strawberry shortcake. And I know that geezer Baskin will blame me for eating the last one. Too bad, I say. Let him eat a toasted almond for a change. Nothing wrong with toasted almond. Or chocolate éclair. Now that's a very fine ice cream bar."
Mrs. Robbins could go on, but I had no time to listen. I ran down the stairs and out into the dusk. It was still brutally hot. I heard the bells, but they were fading. I wasn't sure which direction to run.
A truck was slowly moving down the street and then stopped right in front of where I was standing. A man poked his head out. "I got ice cream here," he said.
I stared at the rainbow colored ice cream cone painted on the side of the truck. "You want a Salty Pimp?" the man asked me. "No? How about a Bea Arthur?"
I didn't know what to say.
"Okay, maybe next time." The man shrugged and drove the truck away.
I listened for the bells again. I could hear them faintly, but soon they were drowned out by something else. That song. It was coming from that other ice cream truck. I covered my ears. Stop it, I cried to myself. I can't stand it!
The loud truck parked in front of me. The music blasted. The ice cream head smiled cruelly in my direction; the source of so many nightmares.
I ran from it. Ran down the street as far away from the truck as I could get. The song faded. I turned down an alley. There it was. The old white truck. And I could hear the bells.
My flops flipped as I ran faster. I could see the man in the white suit and white hat by the side of the truck. There was a line of boys and girls waiting. I needed to get on that line. I shoved my hands into my pockets. And then I froze. "No," I cried. "No! No! No!"
I forgot to take two bits for the ice cream. Penniless, I sat down on a stoop and buried my head in my hands.
"What's the matter, kid," a gravely-voiced man asked me. "We all have bad days."
I looked up. It was Carvel. The last guy I wanted to see.
"Forgot something, did ya?"
I didn't want to hear it from him. Taunting me with his toasted coconut marshmallow sundae; his brown bonnets.
"Listen, kid, I remember that solid you did for me?"
"What solid?" Was he playing me for a fool now?
"The time you helped me with the dry ice."
I nodded. I remembered. His truck broke down and I helped get his boxes of dry ice to his new store before all his ice cream melted.
"I never forget a solid," he said.
He reached into his pocket, pulled out a fifty cent piece and flipped it to me. "Go on now. Go get yourself an ice cream.
I looked at the coin and quickly ran down the street. The line of children was gone. The man in the white suit and hat was getting into the passenger seat of his truck. He was leaving, but before he did, I could hear him clang the bells.
I ran right up to him. Sweat was flowing from my face. He smiled at me. "Just in time, sonny," he said and then slowly climbed out. "Can't say there is much left back there though. Not on a hot one like this."
I walked with him to the side of the truck. He opened the freezer. A wisp of dry ice fog drifted from the open door. He reached in. "Hmmm, I thought I had some left," he said as his hand searched the freezer.
My face contorted. The tears were close, but I forced myself to retain some dignity.
"Oh...wait..." He smiled again. "One more. But you'll have to take whatever it is."
"I'll take it," I said, nodding eagerly. "I don't care."
He pulled out the last remaining ice cream bar. My eyes opened wide. So did my mouth. The ice cream was wrapped in blue paper. I knew what it was. The one with the chocolate candy in the center. God is good, I thought.
"Well, well, from that look on your face, I guess it's your lucky day, sonny boy," he said.
I gave him the fifty cent piece. He slid it into his changer and then clicked out two dimes for me. I waited a moment.
He looked at me and shrugged. "Sorry, sonny, you ever hear of inflation? The cost of ice cream is going up. Get used to it."
I didn't know what he was talking about and really didn't care. I pocketed the twenty cents and moved away from the truck with my ice cream.
He got back in, started the truck up, and as he drove away, he pulled the string to the bells a few times.
I returned to the stoop where I had run into Carvel and sat down. I unwrapped the ice cream and methodically started to work on the chocolate icing.
The vanilla ice cream was revealed. I wanted to make it last before I got to the candy center, but in the heat I had to work fast. The tip of chocolate candy emerged. And then more until the chocolate candy center was totally exposed, clinging tenuously to the stick.
I started to lick it. I knew I had to be careful here. That it was delicate. But I was weak. I couldn't resist. I took a bite, savoring the cold, rich chocolate. I wanted more and took another, bigger bite. Just as I did, the candy crumbled, pulling away from the stick. I frantically tried to catch it with my hand but only was able to rescue a tiny portion. The rest splattered on the dirty pavement.
I looked down at the glob of chocolate. An army of ants was on it immediately. I still held the stick. I licked it, making sure I cleaned whatever chocolate remained. I stood up and tossed the stick into the garbage.
The sun had gone down but my room was still stifling when I returned. I got back into bed. Tomorrow, they said, was going to be even hotter. I closed my eyes. I didn't care. As long as I heard the bells.