Summer Song

(This story was written in response to the prompt:  ” Ice cream in summer,” by Lisa Vallejos)

Every brand of ice cream truck has its own unique musical signature, its siren song. A few simple notes, an easy jingle, to trigger a hunger that is set deep in human nature: a sailors knot bound to our better impulses, tugging on us until we believe that happiness is something we can grab and taste.

Those few notes, heard in the distance, cause children to come running from block to block on a hot day in Daly City, just outside San Francisco. Running until they catch the truck, barricade it still; this is its purpose. The song wants to be caught.

No “Star Pops” are served. This is organic ice cream, the truck belongs to a local entrepreneur, trying to work his way out of dead-end jobs and his family out of poverty. It is working, but he’s making it harder than it has to be: the same children would come running just as fast if he were serving bulk ice cream sandwiches and chaco tacos. The kids don’t know how good they have it. Later in life, they will not know just how much better their memories of ice cream in summer are to those of friends from other neighborhoods in other cities who use the exact same words to describe their recollections.

The children crowding around the truck are products of families whose parents do not trust each other. Masa’s family emigrated from Japan 80 years ago, and Billy’s grandfather was a guard at their internment camp in Arizona. Ed’s family emigrated here from China, and his parents tell stories about what Masa’s distant relatives did when Japan occupied their homeland. Lin’s family were native Taiwanese who were driven out of their island home when China’s army, fleeing the communists after WWII, occupied Taiwan. Masa’s people had occupied Taiwan during the war, but they think Ed’s people were worse. Analyn’s family came here from the Philippines, and have not forgotten what Ruiz’s ancestors did when Spain occupied the island, or what Billy’s people did when America took it over.

In 10 years, the children will all know these things. In 10 years, history will begin splitting them apart. Past injustices will lead to present injustices as surely as day leads to night. Could it be any other way? Could they help themselves? Or are they pulled by a sailors knot set deep in human nature, bound to our better impulses, tugging on us to believe that justice is something we can grab and take and unbend?

But 30 years from now, after the ice cream man’s son has taken over the business and his grandchild is vowing never to work in that truck again, most of them … most of them … will be asked by their own children to account for the struggles of their ancestors. And after decades spent angry and exhausted by the cruelty of the world, their minds will wander not to the oral histories of their fathers but to the heat of a summer’s day and the taste of cold treats surrounded by friends who, in hind-sight, they did not need to move quite so far away from. And they will take their children out for a favorite cuisine of an ancient enemy, and over desert will try to tell them about the memories of ice cream rather than the enmities of the dead.

Like this?  Benjamin’s collection of short fiction “A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City” is available. 

“Benjamin Wachs reveals a distinctive and highly personal flair for storytelling that will engage the reader’s total and rapt attention throughout.” – The Midwest Book Review