One of the first kids to hear the bouncy calliope music was six-year-old Lisa Reid, who was sitting on the front porch of her house with Becky Briarwood, her best friend in the whole world. Lisa’s long blonde hair, held in place by the pink scrunchie her mom helped her with that morning, shimmered in the June sunshine. With her blue eyes and dimpled cheeks, she was, as her mother was fond of saying, cute as the day is long.
Lisa was Ellen Reid’s Little Miracle. Born six weeks premature and given a fifty percent chance of survival, little Lisa had spent nearly two months in the hospital’s neonatal ICU. But under her parents’ loving and watchful eyes, Lisa thrived and grew into the vibrant first-grader who now cocked her head toward the sound of a circus as it reached the far end of the street.
Lisa grabbed Becky’s hand. “The ice cream man!” she squealed.
Both girls leaped up and ran inside, yelling for Lisa’s mom.
Hearing the wild shouts, Ellen bolted up the basement steps, expecting to find blood all over the kitchen floor. When she saw that neither girl was missing a limb or was in any way injured, a swoon of relief nearly toppled her back down the stairs.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, struggling to catch her breath.
Lisa pointed at the front door. “The ice cream man,” she said. “He’s here! Can we get something – please?!”
Because her mind had not yet caught up with the adrenaline rush of panic that rocketed through her body, Ellen took a long, critical second inventory of the girls’ limbs. “You’re sure you’re alright? No scrapes, bruises, or bug bites?”
Becky, a ball of energy to equal Lisa’s frenetic personality, covered her mouth with both hands and giggled. “No bug bites, Mrs. Reid. We just want ice cream.” She was about two inches taller than Lisa, with short brown hair and large hazel eyes. Friends from the cradle, she and Lisa were as close as sisters, practically inseparable.
Just as Ellen and her best friend, Jackie, had been two decades earlier. That is until Jackie disappeared and her family moved away. Ellen tried to remember what happened all those years ago, but nothing came to her. She was just a kid, and everything had been sort of hushed up.
It was Jackie that Ellen was thinking about when the jaunty music from the ice cream truck drifted into the house through the open door. The familiar tune drove away the dark thoughts and at once memories of chasing the Creamy Cone ice cream truck down the street flooded her mind. She could picture her own blond hair flowing behind her as she waved a dollar bill over her head, trying to get the driver’s attention. She smiled at the memory.
“Okay. One sec. Let me get my purse.”
“Hurry!” Lisa yelled. “We’re going to miss him!”
She could see through the living room to the front door. The white truck was rolling slowly past the Reid home with a couple of kids running a few steps behind it.
Her mother came back with two dollars for each girl. As Lisa snatched the money from her mother’s hand and tossed a “Thank you!” over her shoulder, Ellen’s phone began to chirp. Lisa and Becky crashed through the front door and hurried down the steps. To their relief, the truck had stopped only a few houses down, pulled up to the curb and idling beneath the shade of a tall maple tree.
The words SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM were painted in big red letters on its side, and below the words were pictures of all the things that the ice cream man sold, like ice pops and fudge cones and ice cream sandwiches. Next to the pictures was a small window with a chrome ledge. The ice cream man was leaning on the ledge with his head out the window. He was thin and pale. The man’s skin, which was nearly as white as his truck, stood in shocking contrast to the ink-black hair that hung to his shoulders. Dark sunglasses covered his eyes.
“Come on over,” he said to the kids gathered beneath the window. “Don’t be shy!”
Lisa had already decided what she was going to get and couldn’t wait for her turn to step up to the window. She imagined herself and Becky eating their ice cream on the swings in her backyard. The two thoughts – that of the ice cream and being with her best friend – made her feel so happy that she stopped running and began skipping. Becky saw the gleeful look on her friend’s face and matched her skip for skip.
As the two best friends approached the truck, bouncing in time with the music blasting from the truck’s roof-mounted speakers, the ice cream man peered above the heads of the other kids. A wide, thin smile spread over his face like oil in water. “The more the merrier!” he said.
He leaned back inside and reached for something below the service window.
“Alright, boys and girls, who wants ice cream?”
The lackluster response from the children made the man frown. Planting a bony elbow on the ledge and tapping his temple with a long index finger, like someone searching his brain for inspiration, he said, “That was… anemic.”
Blank, uncomprehending faces stared up at him.
He placed a red megaphone, wide side down on the chrome ledge. Printed in block lettering along the side of the megaphone was the word SCREAM.
“Tell you what,” he said in a voice straining to achieve cheerfulness, “because I know you can all do better, I’m willing to give you another chance. Whoever screams the loudest into my megaphone, will get their ice cream for free.”
That caused a buzz of excitement among his young audience.
With much ceremony, he scanned the upturned faces of the children until his eyes fell upon one in particular.
“You, young lady, why don’t you come closer?” He pointed at little Lisa Reid.
Lisa’s heart, so fragile and underdeveloped at birth, skipped a beat. She stepped forward, the other children making way for her.
“That’s very good, Lisa,” said the ice cream man. He nodded at her and grinned a wide, thin-lipped grin that revealed a mouth filled with too many teeth.
Lisa turned, her eyes searching for Becky. “He knows my name!” She then looked up at the man in the window. “How do you know my name?”
“Oh, I know lots of things,” he said. “I know, for instance, that this is what you’re waiting for…” With a magician’s flourish of his long, bony hands, he lifted the megaphone to reveal an ice cream sandwich on the chrome ledge.
Lisa gasped. “That’s what I want! How did you know?” She clapped and hopped up and down.
“I know what’s in a child’s heart. And I can read minds.”
“Read my mind!” one of the other kids shouted.
“No! Read mine! I’m next!”
“Settle down, children,” said the ice cream man. “You’ll all have a turn. But, if Lisa wants her ice cream sandwich, she must…” He leaned further out the window, until the top half of his thin body hung over the street, and pointed at the large red words on the side of his truck.
Then, easing back inside, he placed the megaphone on the edge of the service window ledge. The word SCREAM printed on its side seemed to be a direct order, one Lisa felt she had to obey.
But as she was reaching up for the megaphone, she heard her mother’s voice.
“Lisa!” Ellen Reid waved from the middle of the road, a short distance from the truck. “Hi, honey!” Lisa gave her mom a big smile and waved back.
Her smile lasted only a moment, though, and then it dissolved from her face. In turning to look at her mother, Lisa noticed four older children standing on the sidewalk down the street. They huddled together and stared at the truck and the man inside the truck with wide, frightened eyes. From them she felt an icy wave of fear, which settled in her chest like the phlegmy congestion of a cold. She didn’t like that feeling and took a step back from the truck, no longer interested in the sandwich.
“Where are you going, Lisa? Don’t you want your treat?”
She shook her head.
“But you’re so close to getting it for free!” He slid the megaphone to the very lip of the chrome ledge.
He then looked down at the other children.
“Let’s give little Lisa some encouragement,” he said. “Come on, Lisa, take the megaphone and scream as loud as you can! Scream!”
The other kids encircled the six-year-old and began chanting that word, repeating it over and over. Even Becky joined the chorus, her voice rising above the others.
In her small, narrow chest, Lisa’s heart fluttered like a frantic bird in its cage, leaving her short of breath. Her lungs burned. Tears spilled from her eyes. She wanted her mommy. She wanted to go home.
She didn’t want the stupid ice cream sandwich anymore.
But the kids had formed an impenetrable wall around her, all of them shouting –
Above her, the ice cream man, sneering, handed Lisa the megaphone. “You’d better scream, my dear, or they’ll never stop.”
She took the red funnel-shaped object from him and held it in her small, trembling hands.
“Look at me, Lisa. Look up here.”
The little girl obeyed the deep voice and stared, mesmerized, into the reflected, slightly distorted image of her own face staring back at her from the black lenses of the man’s sunglasses. Her bottom lip quivered.
“Allow me to give you a little… inspiration.” The man’s thin lips pulled back to reveal needle-like teeth jutting from swollen gray gums. Slowly, he lifted the glasses up off his eyes.
Ellen Reid remembered suddenly where she was and why she was standing in the middle of the street. She looked around, eyes tracing the faces of the children as they strolled placidly back to their own houses.
She spotted Becky walking alone, holding a vanilla and chocolate swirl cone in one hand.
“Becky!” Ellen stepped in front of her daughter’s best friend. “Becky, where’s Lisa?”
The tall skinny six-year-old’s hazel eyes, clouded over with a strange and distant drowsiness, considered Ellen without interest or recognition.
“Becky!” Ellen repeated. She grabbed the girl’s arms and shook her. “What’s the matter with you? Where’s Lisa?”
After a moment Becky’s eyes drifted lazily up from the ice cream, which was beginning to melt onto her hand, and came to rest on Ellen’s face.
“Lisa screamed for ice cream, Mrs. Reid.”
“I don’t understand.”
“We all scream for ice cream.” Becky giggled and continued on to her house.
Ellen was suddenly dizzy, and she stumbled drunkenly across the street, zig-zagging her way to where the ice cream truck had been parked. Her limbs felt heavy and boneless. Her eyes welled with tears and she let out a strangled moan. Like Jackie, Ellen Reid’s Little Miracle was gone, vanished, taken from her. On the ground was a knotted pink scrunchie, a few strands of blond hair wrapped around the small fabric ring. She picked it up and clutched it to her chest, screaming her daughter’s name.
In another part of the neighborhood bouncy calliope music filled the summer air and another child held a red megaphone to her mouth.
Credit : MADDwriter
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