“How can it possibly get this HOT!!?” Billy wiped the sweat from his face and armpits with a towel. It was late Saturday morning in mid-July. Phoenix summers were well known for the heat, and it just could never seem to stay under 110 degrees during this time of year. Even in the middle of the night, 95 degrees was a relief.
Except there had been no relief for Billy. It had been a day and a half since he called the air conditioner service company. ’Sure, we’ll have someone out there in no time’, the receptionist on the phone had said. That was the first call. Over the next several calls, enough sweat from his forehead and cheek had finally dripped into the earpiece causing any sound to be muffled, thus rendering the phone useless. He couldn’t check his voicemail, so the message informing him that the air conditioning company wouldn’t be able to have anyone over until the following Monday had been missed.
Billy, legally known as Bill Gardener, was 25 years old and a recent Arizona State University graduate. He had just bought a house that had been in foreclosure in the Glendale area on the western side of the Phoenix metro area... He had gotten a great deal, but since there were no warranties and everything was bought as is, he didn’t know that the air conditioner, a necessity in Southern Arizona during the summer, was almost ready to blow its last cool breeze.
Billy just laid there, on the floor, the coolest place in the house. The tiles were warm, but cooler than anywhere else. Every window was open because without the breeze, the heat would intensify and sit stagnant. That breeze was not very comforting though, because although it could have been worse, the flowing air was still very hot. He was watching an infomercial about an exercise machine guaranteeing massive weight loss in hours. Just as long as you don’t read the fine print, explaining that results were atypical, meaning it wouldn’t work for 99.9% of the people who used it, but you could be one of the lucky .1%. Billy was bored, hot, and getting tired of waiting.
He stood up, walked to the refrigerator, and opened it. Billy looked inside, hoping to find something cold to drink. The blast of cold air coming from inside felt like a Canadian blizzard blowing over him. He sighed with temporary relief as the surrounding heat smothered the chill from the small area. He looked inside at the withering vegetables, sauce cans with dried crust around the rims. There were open soda cans left less than half full. The smell of stale beer seeped out of the open bottles scattered on the different shelves. The Chinese take-out boxes wafted odors that had to have been no less than 3 weeks old. Yet, there was nothing cold for him to drink.
He opened the freezer hoping for some ice cream or popsicles, or even a piece of frozen meat to press up against his face. Nothing. Just an open area in serious need of defrosting. If there was anything other than ice, it was buried in frost. In the ice box on the side of the freezer was a nice looking block of ice.
Billy grabbed it, but in his excitement completely forgot to grab a bag, towel, or paper towel. He pressed it up against his face and felt the sheer ecstasy of cold relief. He began to slide it down his cheek so that he could lick some of the water from it. Billy touched his tongue to the cool ice, and it stuck. He tried licking it and his tongue didn’t move. He felt the tightening, pulling sensation on his tongue as the ice grabbed a more firm hold. Three tugs and the only results were more pain. Billy ran over to the sink and turned the hot water on. With one hand on the counter and the other in the sink full of the dirty dishes common in a bachelor’s home, he pushed his head under the faucet. The hot water gushed over his face and mouth, separating the ice from his tongue. Billy washed his hands, went and plopped down on his couch, took a deep breath, and sighed.
Billy closed his eyes, and started drifting off into sleep. He was startled awake by the sudden sound of an approaching ice cream truck. He wiped the sweat from his brow and thought to himself, ‘no way. There are no ice cream trucks in this neighborhood.’ He turned and peeked through his curtain and there, down the street, he saw the van driving slowly up the street. Strangely, there were no children screaming happily for the truck to stop.
The truck looked older. The paint was fading and peeling off the sides of the vehicle. It had a giant clown head rotating slowly on top. The light inside flickered. The nose had been broken off and there were various cracks all around. The paint was flaking off from various parts of the head. The horn playing a happy jingle, which strangely sounded like ’na na na na naaa na, you can’t catch me‘, was rusted and sat atop the cab. The music coming out was warped and scratchy, as if the recording was damaged and very old. It sounded like the fading in and out of a drunken bar singer. Each of the featured treats was written in English and in Spanish with the pricing underneath. The windshield had a crack directly in front of the driver so that the only visual of him was his clownish hair or wig. It crept closer to Billy’s house.
Billy knew it was silly for a man his age to want to go out and stop an ice cream truck, especially when he didn’t have any children and there were no kids running around outside. It was just that it was so very hot! Something inside him pushed him to go out to this truck, but he didn’t know what. Inside his house it was stifling, outside it was scorching. The choice was about the lesser of the two evils. Plus he had nothing cold inside to eat or drink. He thought to himself, then looked out the window, then thought to himself, then looked out the window again. His decision was made; he was going for a popsicle.
He could already taste the icy popsicle. Anticipating the frigid refreshment running down his throat, cooling him off. Billy couldn’t wait for the red Kool Aid flavor. His judgment and his common sense seemed to be missing. No matter, he was ready to go.
Billy grabbed a t-shirt from his bedroom floor and sandals. The odor of sweat, heat, and stale deodorant wafted up from the shirt. He didn’t care; he’d be back home in a couple minutes. The music was getting closer. The ‘na na na na naaa na, you can‘t catch me’ had to be his imagination. He opened the front door and the fiery Phoenix heat blasted over his face. It felt as if he had just thrust his head into a wood oven. His skin felt as if it were suddenly on fire. ‘I hate summers here, he thought to himself. The bright sun glared into his eyes and temporarily blinded him. He blinked a few times until everything cleared and trotted down his sidewalk towards the curb. Billy looked to see the truck driving in his direction, raised his are out, and waved the driver down.
The ice cream trucks’ brakes let out a high pitched squeal as it slowed down in front of Billy’s house. Billy walked out to the truck, smiling, anticipating, and drooling. Well, he wanted to drool but his mouth was too dry. He stopped at the edge of the sidewalk as the truck appeared to come to a stop in front of him. Billy reached into his pocket and looked up. The ice cream truck rolled past Billy. Billy looked in disbelief, but laughed to himself as he walked a couple extra steps expecting the truck to stop. It didn’t. The truck kept rolling just fast enough to keep in front of Billy.
Billy stopped, raised his arms, and yelled “Hey! Stop!”
The ice cream truck screeched to a stop. Billy exhaled, shook his head, and walked up to the truck.
“It really is too hot for this,” Billy mumbled to himself.
Billy faced the side door, waiting for the driver to open it. He waited. Billy’s sandals were getting uncomfortable in the heat. His toes were getting hot and he could feel the heat from the sidewalk through the sandal’s thin soles. He raised his hand to knock on the side door, to hurry the guy inside up, the truck rolled forward, and stopped.
“Oh, come on,” Billy said as he wiped the sweat from his brow. The jingle from the speaker was sounding more like ‘na na na na naaa na, you can’t catch me. ‘He looked into the side rear view mirror and could only see the toothy grin of the driver. Billy started walking towards the truck again and again the truck started to drive, slowly. Billy’s walking turned into jogging and for the first time, not only was he breathing the hot air, but now he also had the strong smoky smell of exhaust filling his lungs.
The sandal on Billy’s left foot caught an uplifted portion of sidewalk and folded under his foot. His toes slammed nails first into the concrete and he lost his balance. He landed on his hands, the hot surface searing his palms. He held in a silent scream and immediately pushed himself back up, never losing his stride.
The truck stopped.
“Hey! Come on, I’ll wait for you!”, came a faceless voice from inside the ice cream truck.
Grudgingly, Billy stopped jogging and limp walked towards the truck. He came up to the side of the truck, leaned on it, and tried to catch his breath.
“You know, it really is too hot to be playing…”, Billy was saying when he was interrupted by the surprising jolt of the ice cream truck as it revved its engine and jerked away
“You‘ve got to be kidding me!” Billy yelled out to the truck, which had again stopped 100 feet ahead of him. “I don’t need it, I’m going home!!” Billy turned to go home.
Billy looked ahead in amazement, his house was at least 6 blocks away! He thought to himself, ‘I’ve come too far, it’s hot, and I can only feel fire where my feet used to be. I’m getting that popsicle!’ He turned to see the ice cream truck sitting idle at the corner. It’s eerie jingle, ’na na na naaa na, you can’t catch me’, mocked Billy as the rotating clown head on top seemed to be laughing at him.
Billy removed his t-shirt and wiped the steamy sweat from his face. His gag reflex almost took over when he smelled the new sweat and heat mixed with the stale sweat and heat on the shirt. He took a deep breath of fresh air and tucked his shirt into his back pocket. Billy jogged haggardly to the corner, hoping, begging, praying that the ice cream truck would stay and not drive away. Unfortunately, no one was paying attention to his hoping, begging, and praying because the truck made a u-turn and drove towards and then past Billy.
With a sad and shocked face, Billy watched as the truck passed him in slow motion. He could swear he saw the mouth of the driver contorted in hysterical laughter. Billy sprinted across the street, the thin sandals offering no support as the soles seemed to gel into the hot pavement. He jumped onto the sidewalk and tried to yell to the truck, but his mouth was too dry to make any sounds.
The truck pulled to a stop. Billy wasn’t fooled. As much as he hoped it wouldn’t drive away again, in his heart he knew that this wasn’t over. He trotted down the sidewalk, scraping the fronts of his toes constantly on the concrete. He saw the side door of the ice cream truck open, he figured it was finally his time! Billy’s saliva tried making another appearance in his dry, barren mouth.
Billy finally caught up to the truck and put his hands onto the hot makeshift counter on the side. He looked at the driver, a young chubby man who was looking at Billy with a smirk.
“Hiya doing? Wasn’t sure if you we’re trying to wave me down, or just out,” the driver said. “It sure is hot though, glad this air conditioner works. So, how can I help you?”
Many answer rushed through Billy’s mind because the look on the driver’s face told him that the driver had enjoyed every second. Behind each answer, Billy entertained visions of different ways to kill this man for what he had just gone through. The cold air from inside the ice cream truck breezed over Billy, drying his sweat. He looked around the truck. It was filled with different kinds of candy, gum, and other sugary goodies children loved to eat. Oddly, everything was covered with dust. Billy didn’t care; he was only concerned about the contents of the freezer. He looked at the different items on the side of the truck and finally found the extra-large red popsicle he had been craving.
“Give me the Bullet”, Billy said.
“One Bullet coming right up. That will be $1.50”, the driver responded.
Billy reached into his right pocket and felt around, searching for his change. He pulled his hand out and only saw lint. He reached into his left pocket, exploring for money and found nothing. He couldn’t believe this. Billy knew he had to have some money on him. He reached into his back pockets and found the same amount in his back pockets as he did in his front pockets, nothing. Billy’s eyes began watering up. He had been through madness; only find that he had forgotten to grab any money before he left home. He looked into the sky with sadness in defeat.
“Is there a problem”, the driver asked.
“I..I..uhh..I think I left my money at home”, replied Billy in a shaky voice.
The driver looked upset. He reached out and grabbed Billy and quietly said “How a free trial for just the shipping?”
“What?” Billy didn’t understand.
“You only have to pay shipping for this, and if you act now we’ll throw in 2 recipe books!”
Billy was completely confused. Then the driver’s face started getting hazy and took the form of his T.V. His voice changed into a female’s voice and Billy woke up watching the ending of the weight loss infomercial he had started watching. It had all been a dream, a terrible nightmare, but it was still hellishly hot in his house and the air conditioning repair man had not yet shown up.
Billy rose from his pillow on the floor, hoping to find something cold to drink. He walked into his kitchen, found nothing and returned to the living room. He looked around before settling onto the floor again. His craving for a popsicle came back. Suddenly, from outside his window he heard a strange familiar sound. Billy went to the curtains to see what it was. He opened his curtains and shuddered. Billy knew that sound, “na na na na naaaa na, you can’t catch me!”