The familiar mechanical jingle filled the park, and soon children were running, some with money and some with hope, to its source: the ice cream truck. They crowded each other, stared at faded photographs of colorful popsicles and chocolate-dipped cones, envisioned them on their tongues.
“This truck is empty,” the ice cream man told the children. He was plain, softspoken, not unkind. “There has never been any ice cream.”
The children snarled, waiting for the lie to surface.
“This is important,” the man said, growing a little flustered. “There cannot be ice cream. If there were, you would eat it and forget.” Seeing the faces of the children, he stepped out of the truck, and walked toward the back, the children following him like hungry dogs sweating under the sun. “Here,” he said, and flung open the doors. The children whimpered and cursed.
“You must learn to make your own ice cream,” he told them, though they were no longer listening. “It would taste better than mine. But,” he added, though the children were already milling, wandering, teasing each other for the unhappiness, “There is more than that. You must learn to stop making ice cream, and drive empty trucks. You must teach other children, teach them not to make ice cream.”
Not one child paid attention, but the man did not care. The word must was not an imperative, but a fact: it would happen, would always happen. He would leave the empty truck for his own son when he died, and someday the boy would know what to do, be driven to share his own emptiness. It was important. It had to be, because it was true.