by Jo Fisher
In the early days of lockdown, the silence of my street was broken every day at dinner time by the sound of summer.
You could hear it coming before you saw it. The slightly dated ice cream van, with peeling stickers and a faded red bottom, wobbled down the road and parked opposite the spot overlooked by the space where I sit and write in my flat, around six o’clock. The Ice Cream Van Man would turn off the engine and his out-of-tune chime, and linger for five minutes, before continuing with his daily journey. His music echoed as he looped around the neighbouring streets, before reappearing at the top of the junction and heading back in the direction whence he came.
I would watch as he sat next to an empty pavement, patiently waiting for a customer who would rarely come.
“Go on, go and buy something!” I’d implore my partner, gazing down, imagining lollies going to waste and another cashless day.
“You go, if you feel so bad for him!”
“I can’t. I’m too scared that it’s not safe. YOU go.”
This discussion would happen most evenings. As time went on, his arrival would be preempted by a yell of “Hey! Your friend is here!” as I hid in the back of the flat, too sad to watch, but evidently not sad enough to help.
“The innocent jingle – the one that would usually, in ordinary times, harmonise with excited children’s voices or eager orders from teens and adults – sounded like heartbreak. It was the score to the summer we wouldn’t have.”
The innocent jingle – the one that would usually, in ordinary times, harmonise with excited children’s voices or eager orders from teens and adults – sounded like heartbreak. It was the score to the summer we wouldn’t have. Instead of long hot days by the beach or in the park, licking dripping 99s or sickening screwballs, my mind immediately went to the immense loss going on elsewhere, behind closed doors; the lives being cut short, the families being torn apart, and the sacrifices being made.
It felt like not even the humble ice cream van was going to survive this.
Were there also no queues in other the roads he visited? Did he make no money, day in, day out, because people like me were too scared to handle cash or food?
Was he able to pay his bills? Was he watching his business which, in my mind, he inherited from his father, crumble like a flake in a swirl of soft-serve? Was he going to be another casualty of lockdown – another bust business? Another sad story?
After a few weeks, I realised that the van had stopped driving down our road.
“That’s it! It’s happened!” I thought, woefully, “The Ice Cream Van Man is no more!”
It felt like the final straw; one last symbol of this doomed summer.
Time passed. Numbers got smaller, graph-lines got lower, doors got wider, arms opened up, bubbles formed, and calendars became useful again – and I was still sitting at my seat in the window, watching the world go by.
It took me a while to realise that he was back.
Perhaps it was the lick of paint; the fresh red and white that replaced the faded, peeling veneer. It could have been the new music; the tired, unrecognisable tune had been tightened and wound up to a cheerier tune. The sad exterior and its forlorn soundtrack had given way to something brighter, and better.
The Ice Cream Van Man had not fallen on hard times; he had had a facelift and a new lease of life, and he had bounced back. He had not given up.
The summers still to come were in the air.
And while the customers were still wary, and yet to return in their droves eager for a taste of freedom and delight, it was clear that they would eventually be back, too. It was inevitable.
Faith in a better, and brighter future – the light at the end of this long, dangerous, sanitised tunnel – arrived on four wheels, sounding like summer and tasting as sweet as choc ices and strawberry splits.
Jo Fisher | @joannefisher | @jo_fisher_ | jofisherwrites.com
Jo is a poet, writer, storyteller, theatre reviewer and chronic people pleaser based in Southampton, UK. She was a 2019 Hammer and Tongue National Poetry Slam Finalist, and has recently dabbled in the world of podcasting.