The sound of the ice cream truck softened us. We’d had a hell of a day, my four-year old and I. A pricey plumbing issue that had somehow left a stench in my mouth, frenzied flight arrangements for my husband’s last minute business trip, and an upsetting incident with the Pre-K sociopath.
We’d spent the late afternoon on eggshells, tip-toeing around for a remedy. Thomas ran to the front window when he heard the truck — his glance darting expectantly from the street and back to me. “Oooookay,” I sighed smiling. He bounced on an invisible Pogo stick as I rooted for change in the bottom of my purse. Running to the end of the driveway, we waved our arms wildly. “Ice cream! Ice Cream!” we shouted.
It was Carla leaning out the window. Her hair had grown back — just long enough to tuck behind her ears. Matted. Dishwater blonde. The purple bruising no longer tracked her arms and she had a pinkish whisper to her cheeks.
Hoisting Thomas up with a groan, I watched as he carefully examined the faded mural of options on the side of her truck. He used to fit against me like a fleece blanket, but now his lengthening frame and sharp angles wrestled to find a fit in my arms. “That one,” he said pointing to the Fudge Delight.
I hesitated while Carla dug in the coolers. I knew that this could be a quick exchange or a lengthy medical update. “How are you feeling?” I asked locking her eyes as Thomas slid down my knee. Handing me the Fudgesicle her stare was intense. “I think I’ve cured myself of cancer,” she said. “Well, that’s good news!” I replied while tearing open the plastic and handing the fudge to Thomas.
She went on as I zoned in and out. My mind drifted to the plumbing bill and my husband’s whirlwind business trip until she waved my dollar in the air bellowing, “…[T]hat sham of a medical system! Don’t let no one tell you cancer is anything more than a virus!” I caught bits about herbs, vitamins, and some sort of citrus cocktail. “Now you tell anyone who’s got ‘cancer,’” she said with exaggerated air quotes, “exactly what I just told you!”.
I nodded dutifully but imagined myself being handed a terminal diagnosis — driving wildly around our neighborhood streets, seeking out the siren call of Carla’s ice cream truck. I scolded myself internally and handed her an extra dollar — a consolation prize for my shitty attention span. “Thanks Hon,” she said, making her way back up to the driver’s seat smiling. Even at Carla’s worst, when her friend had joined her on the route, she had never stopped driving.
Again, I lifted Thomas — his face now covered in brown, sticky drips. I forced his head into the nook under my chin and breathed out the ache of the day. For a few minutes (seconds really) the in-and-out of our chests were perfectly synchronized. The music from Carla’s truck faded as she made her way back down the street-a haunting anthem. And as my son slipped down from my arms, I buzzed with gratitude for the remedies that we find in the most unexpected places.