In a flash of revelation Lucas detached the hose from the spigot behind the trailer and duct-taped it around the exhaust of the ice cream truck. The other end he threaded through the cracked-open window and into the back, situating it next to the two KingKool chest freezers. The whole thing, this contraption, only took a few minutes to setup. He turned the key to the ignition before turning back inside to polish off the last of the strawberry vodka. By the time he stumbled out to the truck he could scarcely keep the plan straight or his legs grounded. It was as though he’d constructed a trap for himself. Only this one would save him. He threw wide the rear double-doors, stepped in, and slammed them closed in turn. The world behind his eyelids spiraled endlessly as he lay down along the rivets of the truck’s bed.
A violent force reached down and pulled him to the surface of consciousness. He burst through the doors and spewed the contents of his stomach at the base of a pine tree, holding himself up on all fours. After a minute of retching he rose to his feet and kicked sand over the mess of mostly beer and bile, dusting over the foul-smell. He stared over at his truck. It was still, the engine dead. Dark fumes escaped at the seams on the roof where he had installed a giant fiberglass ice cream cone—strawberry soft serve with a single maraschino cherry. The truck was an old school bus, a short one. He’d got it cheap after Braeburn Middle School closed; he painted it white, accented with a pink stripe, and installed the industrial-grade freezers. A cavalcade of frozen treats framed the little window cut-out of the side of the bus. The tape holding the garden hose in place had turned to tar, melted and black. He yanked it free and left the residue wherever it settled.
There was a palmetto bug sitting on the crest of the railing leading up to his little home, a cabin lined with pale blue vinyl siding. It was skittering from one edge to the other when Lucas flicked it off. The property was a half-acre, but felt much vaster and desolate given how far his nearest neighbor was, a seemingly abandoned RV, long immobile. Though some nights he thought he heard footsteps treading through the woods. Occasionally he made out bright beams cutting through the dark he took to be flashlights. On these nights he’d keep his hunting rifle cradled in his left hand and pass out with a bottle in his right.
There was an old gas can under the sink, which he grabbed before heading out. Grass grew in dry patches around the sand in the shoulder of the two-lane road. Most homes were set back from the street, only indicated by rusted mailboxes sitting atop wooden spokes. The overbearing sun warmed his perennially tanned skin. He passed a row of old Buicks across from a plot pockmarked with antique sheds, a mobile home, and scattered sun-bleached lawn furniture. Ducks and chickens meandered across the dusty soil and pecked at God knows what.
The halfway point of the four-mile stretch was a water tower emblazoned with the American flag, the property of Mossy Head Water Works. As soon as he reached Route 90 he could see the trusty Sunoco sign. “The official fuel of NASCAR®,” it read and underneath listed the price of unleaded gas and the price of Marlboro reds. The lot, covered with spiderwebs of cracked asphalt, was barren save two self-service pumps.
The first person he’d seen all day was the cashier. Neither betrayed the fact that they recognized each other. That they’d seen each other five or six times per week for the past four years. With a single twenty he put ten on pump one and bought a four-dollar bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from the shabby stock of wine in the back aisle. Normally, he had the prescience to keep a stash but last night he’d managed to drink every last drop before retiring to that cool floor. With the crumpled receipt in hand he exited the store. In the hot sun he hit the button for diesel and filled the can until the pump clicked off after a few gallons.
The sign next door was supposed to be read vertically but he would always read it as, “Simply Country / Good Cooking.” With his remaining $5.79 he bought chicken fried steak fingers with gravy and dropped the last eighteen cents into the plastic bucket with “tips” scrawled across it in black Sharpie. “Y’all take care,” he said to Abby, the hostess, as he reached out to touch her arm and she recoiled.
On the walk home he drank enough to steady his trembling hand but not so much that he couldn’t drive—about half the bottle. He poured the fuel into the ice cream truck, started it up, and drove back to the gas station to fill the rest of the tank. From there, he drove forty minutes south, towards the beach, passing through miles of pine before reaching anything resembling civilization. The bridge across the bay was a single-lane, stretched over nearly four miles of celestial blue water. A horizon of high-rise hotels sprouted from the earth as he grew closer.
He managed to find some street parking where he’d catch people as they walked from their rented condos or vacation homes to the shore, and vice versa. He poured his wine into a plastic cup and flipped the switched that played, “Turkey in the Straw,” on loop out of an old boombox.
In an hour, he sold eight SpongeBobs, five Spider-Men, four Choco Tacos, a Tweety Bird and a Big Mississippi Mud. This was a light haul, but a few more and he’d have at least made enough to get back and enough wine to get through the night. A couple passed by dragging their girl by the hand. She was crying, muttering repeatedly that she didn’t want to go in the ocean, she wanted to swim in the hotel pool. He hoped they might calm her down with some ice cream, unruly kids being a main driver of business, but no one in the family noticed him. People seemed less willing to buy ice cream from a truck these days, he thought.
He was eating a frostbitten Orange Dream Bar when a white kid asked for an Iron Man. “No dice,” he said.
“I ain’t have none of those Marvel characters.”
“That’s a double negative. That means you do have it. And Spider-Man is Marvel,” the kid said.
“Sony got the rights to Spider-Man. And they sold the ice cream rights to Popsicle. Iron Man is Big Boy Concessions,” he spit out. His left hand cut into the edge of the metal counter as he gripped it.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” the kid said.
“Buy something or quit fucking talking to me,” he said, and the kid puffed up his chest and stormed off. Satisfied, Lucas finished that last bit of the bar and licked the wooden stick clean.
The kid came back, his arms crossed tight, accompanied by his sunburned mom and a pale police officer.
“There a problem here?” the officer asked.
“No, sir,” he said.
“This kid says you threatened him.”
“No, sir, I haven’t.”
“Let me see your identification.”
Lucas turned to open his glove compartment. He tripped over the empty wine bottle and sent it clanging across the floor. The officer took notice.