In that dead hour between shifts, we'd stalk the chimes to the ice cream van. We would count out the previous night's tips in exchange for our usual-a 99, no flake, extra monkey blood, the name we gave to the imitation strawberry sauce. It made us feel dangerous, feral, like we were witches or vampires. Not just two teenagers heading to the waste ground, dodging wasps that followed like rumours.
We were safe there, sitting in our sweat-soaked, shapeless uniforms, with our shake-n-vac scent. I’d eat the sauce first, admiring how it rippled and leached into the white. We’d talk about nothing and then again, everything. We’d talk about our plan for escape, repeated so often it became a litany: save money, study, uni, leave. Our way to escape the town that had trapped our mothers. We’d dream of the day when the only sheets we’d change would be our own, and promise we’d always tip well. We didn’t talk about what happened in our homes at night. Why you needed to hide your wages in a tampon box, where your dad wouldn’t look. Where my sister went when she had left the previous month. The truths she and my mother threw like grenades. That I felt their aftershocks still.
The creamy coolness would follow, and we’d take care not to spill a drop. I'd dart my tongue into the swirls, tracing their curves, until it was numb. We’d talk about the boys we wanted to kiss, and those that wanted to kiss us, and complain that the two were never the same. We'd talk about soaps, song lyrics and the latest magazine gossip. We didn’t talk about that boy that pushed his hands down your jeans in the dark of the bus stop last week. How you let him because you were bored, longing to be loved, and knew everyone else was doing the same. The fear that you could get pregnant from that crude touch. The shame that pressed on your chest at night, suffocating you.
We’d finish the crown and move onto the cone. It tasted like soggy cardboard but we ate it anyway. We would chat about what the others were doing. Those who received more in weekly pocket money than we made in a month. Our friends who couldn’t understand why we needed to work. We didn’t mention the date that loomed over us, when our futures would hit our doormats in a brown envelope. The dread that I wouldn’t make scholarship and I’d be stuck here forever.
People would tell us that these would be the best days of our lives. Maybe they were even right. In that moment, with the sun on our skin and our best mate by our side, we could almost believe it. Until, too soon, it’s over, leaving only a sticky residue on our fingers and the taste of blood in our mouths.
Iona Rule's favourite flavour of ice cream is honeycomb but if she is being honest she actually prefers sorbet. Her work has been published in a number of places including Funny Pearls, Perhappened, Popshot and NFFD Anthology 2021.You can find her rambling on Twitter @theropachwriter and Instagram @i.m.rule