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30. Mr. Softee’s Song

On Thursday, the weather spiked into the mid 60’s and Mr. Softee returned to the streets of the northern Bronx. Everyone could hear the poor speakers of the ice cream truck emitting that all to familiar childhood nursery rhyme. One person who anxiously awaited behind the screen door of their house said, “That song reminds me of a jack-in-the-box.”

All of the heavy wooden doors were pulled open on 227th street. Every resident, of each house, stood either behind a cracked open screen door or on their respective verandahs with loose change and singles in hand, slippers sheltering toes. 227th’s residents, who’d barely seen each other over the course of the winter, especially because there was no snow, reacquainted themselves. The adults asked common, perfectly impersonal questions for the sake of passing the time. The children, who made friendships based upon age and summer, screamed at one another from house to house.

“I got a new bike for Christmas!”

“For real? Lucky! I got a skateboard and some rollerblades!”

“Will you let me try them out? When it gets hot enough?”

“Of course! We’re gonna race all summer!”

And those children could not wait.

It was 9pm when Mr. Softee finally turned onto 227th street. Most people only waited half an hour and all of the children who had crept to peek outside, through the legs of their parents, were not shooed to bed but allowed to of receive their first ice cream cone for the year.

The truck looked the same — as the children had remembered from the summer before; as the adults had remembered from flashes of their youth — white, boxy, a rectangular opening that could be closed by sliding glass back and forth.

The residents of 227th, rushed to the middle of the block, spilling into the street, waving dollar bills in their hands.

“One at a time, one at a time,” said the ice cream truck driver.

Parents conferred with their children, spouses double checked with each other. Everyone knew what they wanted: cones and milkshakes, sundaes and ice pops.

Mr. Softee didn’t leave the block for an hour. Not because the lone ice cream dispatcher couldn’t fulfill orders expeditiously but because he had been able to serve everyone so quickly and had some time left over (his route was complete) before having to return to the ice cream truck depot. The same neighbor who made the connection between the ice cream truck and the jack in the box, invited anyone who wanted to hang out for awhile to come sit on the stairs leading up to her house. About thirty people came, chocolate smeared around their mouths, maraschino cherries falling into laps.

Those who congregated on the steps, shared stories about how they felt when they were growing up. The wars they’d seen. The love they’d experienced. The scraped knees and sunburnt skin. They spoke of the escape from boundlessness only to fall into more boundlessness. The children who’d been allowed to stay up, remained silent and ingested these stories just as they swallowed their ice cream. The adults laughed and sometimes, when the conversation had taken an unexpected heavy turn, the adults administered respect by way of silence.

Eventually, the driver of the Mr. Softee truck said, “It’s getting late. I’ve got to go.”

“Yeah, you’re right!”

“Man, it’s way past my bedtime.”

“Kids why didn’t you tell me it was so late? You’ve got school in the morning? You need your rest.”

Mr.Softee turned off the music from the truck — which had been playing all along — although the song was unnoticeable when everyone was talking. The driver waved goodbye, all of the residents of 227th street went back into their houses, and went to sleep.

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