The Devil in the Ice Cream Truck.
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Saturday, April 2006
I woke up this morning feeling a bit dizzy, cause I’d slept with a pillow over my head for a good part of the night. I did it as a precaution to keep my hair from standing on end in case the devil came back.
In the early hours of the morning, he’d driven an ice cream truck onto my street and blared a cloying jingle that felt like sugary lobsters clawing at my ear drums.
Being half asleep, I roll around in my bed until the music went away. But the truck returns for another round of candied disruption. I’m about to get up and scream out my window that this devil turn off the jingle. Then the music disappeared on its own. All I can say is, I’m sure it wasn’t a dream.
The pillow I used to cover my head is coloured beige.
When I was a child, a beige coloured ghost named Jill would occasionally visit me while I was alone in my bedroom. She knew everything about the kids that lived in my neighbourhood, and she’d give me advice about them. She’d tell me which kid to play ball with, which one wanted to steal lunch money, and which one was going to kick and bite until a shopping mall had to be evacuated – yes, something so drastic did happen, but that’s another story for later.
Jill disappeared when I was seventeen, and since then I’ve learned about people through trial and error. Most of my friends and associates turned out to be decent, so when I met my wife Zelda, I thought I was a good judge of character.
That was until she ran off with her fitness club instructor. I suspect this had happened, because she was pregnant with his baby. They had a child, about eight months after she left me.
Anyway, I had another morning to live for on my hands. So I got out of bed, strolled past my mahogany chest of drawers, and over to my 150 gallon fish tank.
I bought the fish tank, the day the after Zelda signed the divorce papers.
I have a better friend than her now, a foot long Clown Loach named Buddy. He’s the Chuck Berry of aquarium fish. Every time I play old fifties rock on my vintage turn table, I swear he undulates to the rhythm. It’s like watching one of those cartoon movies made with computers, but Buddy’s moves are as real as the grooves on a record.
I discovered my orange and black pal, while searching through online ads for exotic fish. A retired man who called himself Donny Dutch was giving him away for free because he was moving to a old folks community in Florida. I’d planned to stock the tank with more beautiful fish, but Buddy had such a warm personality that I couldn’t imagine taking the spot light away from him.
So, I have a grumbling stomach already. I put on a night coat over my baggy pjs and go down stairs to grab a bite. I need some quick energy before my stroll to Becky’s Coffee Shop. It’s the spot for casual conversation with locals, and on Saturday morning I don’t deserve to be alone in my monster home.
Mind you, being alone at home doesn’t seem so bad when it gets busy in my Queen St antiques store. I’ll jump between clients, selling them furniture and other goodies every which way but loose, then the dream of a day off will slip into my mind. But really, who can escape themselves when they’re lonely at home?
Anyway my assistant Jeeves is taking care of business for me today. So if I need a reminder to appreciate my time off, I’ll call him to hear about how busy the store is on Saturdays.
My kitchen was a dream come true for my marriage. It’s large and bright, has dark grey marble counters, and first rate appliances, including a stainless steel stove from France. Also, the house cleaner visited the day before, so it smells fresher than the dinners my ex wife and I would cook together when we first moved in.
I put coffee on, then make myself a cream cheese sandwich on five grain bread. When everything is ready, I sit down at my oak wood table, which seats six with an knack for close conversation, or one with a weakness for elbow room.
While eating my sandwich, I look out the French door, which gives view to my backyard. It’s kind of small for the size of my house, and surrounded by a tall wooden fence. Since spring is just starting, the lawn has no new grass, but at least all the snow is gone. And there’s the statue of Venus de milo that my wife bought, which I haven’t gotten around to reselling at my store.
I stare at the statue and believe for some unknown reason that my life is going to reset. And along with spring in the air, I recall a promise I made myself since the divorce – to visit the most swinging golf courses in the area, and purchase a membership to the one with the best social functions. I can find new friends and new prospects for my business, and even a new side of myself – but then I have doubts about the idea.
I’d have to relegate myself to the club house, cause only a grave digger would be impressed with my golf swing. A few weeks of grass stains on my white shoes, and I’d be crossing my fingers for the owner to sell out to a condo developer so the shoes are clean when it’s about time cancel my membership.
I get back to my breakfast, but not for long, cause the cream cheese container is still sitting on the counter and the lid hasn’t been put on it properly.
Anyway, the cream cheese was made by a company called Jenkin’s Family Farm. Out of all the brands I’ve tried, it’s the most delicious – though the little plastic container it comes in, is shaped like a bent spaghetti squash, so the lid fits on in a peculiar way, which is a hassle if the rest of the world needs attention at the same time. The company, must have designed the container to inconvenience their customers, to say their cream cheese tastes so heavenly, that they can do whatever the hell they want. They could package it in a glow-in-the-dark casket and get away with making customers cringe before their taste buds are blessed by such appetizing flavour.
After finishing the sandwich, I have a steamy shower, get dressed in kakis, a wool sweater, urban boots, then put on my early spring overcoat, and stroll over to Becky’s Coffee Shop.
When I enter through the front door, my nose immediately warms from the nippy breeze outside, and catches the scent of freshly ground coffee beans. The shop is naturally bright from its large windows, and the chairs and couches are about half full, no more than fifteen customers in them.
Like always on Saturday morning, Denise is busily working the counter, wiping down the glass pastry display, which is full of flaky trinkets and muffins. The plump middle aged woman gives me a petite smile, then asks if I’d like the usual. That’s it, I say, putting a positive ring on the usual. She pours me a cup of Costa Rican coffee, then rings it up on the register. I ask how her two boys are doing, while I pass her a five dollar bill.
She says they are coping fine after her divorce. It’s what she always says, and with a proud voice, as though I’ve never heard it before.
So I give my routine reply to outspoken divorcees, that I’d been through a serious breakup as well, and understood how it felt, and that she should give herself a pat on the back for keeping it together in the real world. She gives me the same petite smile as always, and says she has no choice but to work.
At the condiment stand, I add coconut milk creamer and raw sugar to my coffee, then I sit on a stool, at the bar table along the front window. Nobody else is there, but someone has left a newspaper open, turned to a story headlined, A Killer on Video. Underneath those words, is a blurry picture of a man in ski mask, holding a butcher knife in the air.
It seems the paper was left open at this page for any fool to gawk at as a meaningful coincidence that had something or other to do with their life. Obviously I am the wrong guy to see this story, as it means nothing whatsoever to me. But at one time, just after my wife ran off with her fitness instructor, I would have believed fate was somehow sending me a message about my divorce.
Back then, I saw a guy eating chicken noodle soup in a restaurant and nearly was sick to my stomach. My ex-wife made us that same kind of soup the day before she ran off.
She looked so adorable at the table while she sipped from her spoon, and she pensively smiled at me every time we spoke. Her blond hair was freshly curled, and she wore a brand new jogging outfit that was seductively tight around the edges.
Being twelve years younger than me, I believed she was showing off her youth, yet I had no idea her new look meant she no longer valued our marriage.
And I hardly asked what she did with her time while I was at my store. Guess I eventually found out, and it kept me from eating chicken noodle soup ever since.
I’d still like to know if she’d given herself a makeover, so I didn’t suspect she was leaving me the next day. But we weren’t speaking terms, not to say that she’d ever opened up for me to know her plans.
Now a days, life is simpler, and the kind of things that bother me are less paltry, except that I’m sitting here in this bright, comfy cafe and the legs on my stool are a bit uneven. So, after a little shaky shaky, the first sip of gourmet coffee goes down my breathing tube, and feels like I’m choking on a jelly fish.
So I switch stools – but only to discover the new one has the same rocking motion. Becky must have got a deal on lousy furniture – no it’s not the stools because I’ve sat on them before. That picture of A Killer on Video is to blame. I look at it again, and get an eery feeling as though I’m about to ride a pogo stick in an earthquake.
I have to get out of my head, so I turn my attention,to an older woman sitting at the table right behind me. She has curly grey hair, is kind of chubby, wearing a long leather jacket, drinking a cappuccino and knitting some sort of round bag with black yarn.
Except for the leather jacket, she reminds me of my Aunt, who back in my youth had an obsession with sending us maple cookies and other home made treats. At times we’d eat them after breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we had so many.
My dad bought a deep freeze to keep up with her generosity, though the only space we had for it was in the attic. But the floor was weak and it fell through the roof, and landed on his bed – fortunately while he was away at work.
Dad threatened to sue her for the cost of the repairs, and promised he’d throw out anymore treats she brought over. She said there were plenty of good folks for her generosity, then refused to speak with us ever again.
Last I heard, my Aunt’s neighbour obtained a restraining order against her, after she tried to break into his house with a tin of maple cookies under her blouse. Of course, this was my dad’s story, and he might be exaggerating out of bitterness.
All this didn’t make the woman sitting next to me seem like an omen or anything. So I ask her what she’s knitting. She looks a bit offended about the question, then puts down her needles. She tells me that she’s knitting a bag for her husband’s bowling ball.
I ask how is yarn supposed to hold a bowling ball. She laughs in frustration, and assures me the bowling ball is weightless. I ask her if she’d heard of customers that sneak Hazelnut liquor into the coffee shop to mix with their beverages. She shakes her head, then says no fiercely, as though I’m suggesting she needs a few drinks to knit her bag.
Hmmm, so I ask her how can a bowling ball be weightless.
She says weightless means the bowling ball doesn’t actually exist. It’s part of her husband’s psychotherapy. He’s needed professional help since he’d fell off a sail boat on a stormy day in Lake Ontario. Unconscious in high waves, he dreamt that his fingers were stuck in a bowling ball that was dragging him to the bottom of the lake. He was rescued quickly by the coast guard, but from then on he feared bowling balls so badly that when he saw someone with one he ran home and hid in his bedroom closet.
Now, I had to ask why would he dream about a bowling ball in a dire situation? She told me that her father was a big bowling buff, and he’d even won a few championships in a local league.
I ask is he jealous of your dad when it comes to life or death?
She said no, her dad never liked her husband, and didn’t approve of their marriage. So her husband hated visiting her parent’s house, and used to make fun of his bowling trophies after they left.
He is disturbed, not jealous.
How often does anyone scare your husband with a bowling ball, I ask her.
Well, she says their house is near a bowling alley, so it’s too often for his own good. I can’t recall a bowling alley anywhere in the Mysterious Bluffs, so I figure she’s from somewhere else, where the folks are a little crazier than usual.
I gotta ask how the therapy is supposed to help him. She says that since he’d been pretending to own his own bowling ball, he’s getting used to seeing them in public, and spending less time in his closet. But she insists that he have a bag to make the experience authentic.
So this man is going to walk around with an imaginary bowling ball in a bag made of yarn. I tell her that he should be afraid of beef jerky. It won’t feel as heavy to pretend about.
She has a solution for the feeling of falsity by adding a round casing made of wire inside the bag. It will make up for the weight. Yeah that’s it. Shape over weight. I congratulate her on the well thought out plan. She’s good solid wife that knows how to deal with her husband’s fear of bowling balls. She picks up her needles and continues knitting. I doubt we’ll ever speak again.
I manage to get through two sips of coffee before Bill the ex Fireman and his seeing eye dog named Ram push their way through the front door. Bill had been blinded in a fireworks accident, after volunteering to oversee the Canada Day pyrotechnics in his hometown of Marathon, Ontario.
Now, every time I meet him, he’s kind of down about his disability, as though he can barely cope with being alive. He forever mentions that of all the horrendous fires he helped extinguish, this moment would come when his cigarette accidentally lit a roman candle in his hand, after he’d had six beers and four vodkas on the rocks.
I once tried to tell him that professionals have died in more foolish ways, like the astronaut who tried hand gliding at the liquor store.
Hearing this Bill’s face near burst in anger, then he insists that his accident was worse than any mistake ever made.
To describe Bill – he is a short and stocky guy in his fifties, and has a flat boxers’s nose on a rough looking face. Maybe the scotch has taken him a few stripes over his shoulders. His morning strut is worn and frustrated for a day that has hardly begun. Just inside the cafe, he removes his jacket, then folds it over his arm. He’s wearing a navy blue shirt with lapels on the shoulders. It looks like part of his old uniform, though the insignia patches are missing on it.
I stop Bill while he passes me on his way to the counter. He scratches his head, revealing a thick gold Rolex watch on his hand. He’d bought it for himself after twenty years of service at the Fire Dept.
I ask him how he’s doing. He stands quietly for a moment with a serious face, then answers not well.
I wander why not well, whether it’s about his blindness since the fireworks accident, or if he regrets that he never married, or if something else happened. I hold back asking him anything too personal, in case he’s looking to get angry.
Instead, I ask him what usually has in his coffee.
Bill ignores me and says that a neighbour in his apartment building, a 62 year old curling enthusiast named Lily, has been missing for a week. She’d gone to meet friends at a donut shop, had coffee with them, then after she’d left disappeared into thin air.
I was kind of used to hearing about missing person cases in the Mysterious Bluffs, after a slew of young singers had disappeared in the area. All of them were members of the Universal Harmony Choir, which held rehearsals at the local branch of the New Moon church.
Now, I’d couldn’t say much about the New Moon church, except that it’s some new kind of complicated Christianity. One day I’d found a pamphlet of theirs in my mailbox. It said they had sixteen commandments, and six kinds of washrooms, so all could live equally in the depths of their differences.
It also said that I was welcome to drop by for a free consultation on the nature of my being. I passed for the time being, and tossed the pamphlet in the poubelle.
Getting back to the missing people.
Some time ago, the police held a news conference about the disappearances, and promised there was nothing to worry about, because the percentage of missing men in Canada was climbing overall. So it was perfectly normal for them to have disappeared, according to statistics.
The community, on the other hand, had suspicions that something more sinister was going on. Many locals thought a serial killer was on the loose – one who had a preference for religious singers. But the theory was unfounded, because not a single body had been found.
Now, Bill the ex fireman believes his neighbour’s disappearance had something to do with the missing singers. During his last chat with Lily, she mentioned a man had come by to sell raffle tickets for the Universal Harmony Choir. Of course, she asked him to leave because he hadn’t buzzed at the front door, and anyway, there was a sign that read solicitors were prohibited from entering.
So I ask – the raffle ticket sales man was targeting Lily for abduction?
Bill nods to agree, then stands silent with a sharp frown of self conviction. He has nothing more to say.
So, I ask Bill if he’s seen the man any other time.
Bill reminds me that he’s blind, so he wouldn’t have seen the man period. Then he asks if I’m joking around about his blindness, and I say of course not.
He says I better not be or I’ll never hear the end of it.
I apologize to him, and say that it was only a coincidence, and that I wasn’t barking out some insult for fun.
Well, Bill isn’t impressed with that comment. He feels where the table is, then slams his fist against it so everyone can hear he’s upset. A few customers peep for a second, then quickly look away. Bill asks if I’m being a wise ass about using the word barking since he has a seeing eye dog.
I swear to him that it’s just an expression, and I’d never joke about his seeing eye dog.
Bill gives me an unsure frown, then says the only expressions he’s heard with barking in them are barking up the wrong tree and barking out an order. Something was wrong when I said barking out an insult. To him, it didn’t sound spoken from the heart. Before I could apologize again Bill and his seeing eye dog whisk off to the server’s counter.
Suddenly a question pops into my head. Is there really a raffle for the Universal Harmony Choir? If there isn’t then the salesman probably has something to do with her disappearance.
As I get up to ask Bill, a tall, well built man with long blond hair and a thick moustache enters through the rear door of the coffee shop. He is dressed in a grey business suit with a red tie, and is wearing a pair of dark sun glasses.
He calmly approaches Bill, grabs him by the arm, then pulls the Rolex off his wrist.
Bill screams at him to stop, but he’s gone in an instant.
It’s been a while since my judo chops have come in handy, but this well-dressed creep has it coming. I run after him, through the door and onto the street. While I’m closing in, I can’t help but notice he’s about half a foot taller than me, and his shoulders are bulky and rock solid. I’d have to use martial arts just to shake his hand.
I stay back and follow him as he weaves through side streets filled with suburban homes. He finally turns on to a busier street, and hustles until he reaches the modernly rectangular building known as the New Moon Church. To my total disbelief, he enters it.