by Wes Viola, 3.24am November 10th 2021
“Can I have a Pleasure, please?”
Anne looked down. A girl with a vivid skull hairgrip in her zebra-stripe locks was holding up one big red coin expectantly. Anne accepted it with a smile and flicked it into the barrel in the corner of the van, where it landed with a wooden 'clonk'.
One red meant a single, so she picked up a cone, rinsed the scoop and plunged it into the soft pink creamy mass that was the 'Pleasure' tub. Two bright, strawberry-red drops oozed, either side of the metal, where it went through. The tub almost seemed to sigh. Before she'd pulled the scoop all the way round, Anne asked her,
"Do you want any toppings?"
"Are they extra?"
"Ummm. Can I have some Sadness on it, please?"
"Sure you can."
With the soft pink ball slotted neatly on top of the wafer cone, Anne picked up a jar with a nozzle and shook the clear liquid inside over the top, where it froze as little sparkling teardrops.
"There you go. Pleasure sprinkled Sad. Enjoy..."
"Thank you!". Zebra-girl had her tongue on the sweet before she'd even got past the end of the van. People loved Anne's vice creams.
A blue coin was visible through the thin white fingers of the hand on the counter – she recognised one of her regulars. She didn't speak.
"You weren't here yesterday," he said.
"No - I took the van to the Burst. Did you go?"
Answer came there none.
"You don't want to miss the Burst. Go next year."
She knew what he wanted, but she wasn't going to volunteer it without him asking. Most the time, most customers, she would - but this guy was giving her the creeps. He was starting to come more than once a day, and his stony countenance was unwavering. Also, she thought he was getting thinner.
She picked up a single cone and the scoop, only to hear,
She stopped. The van was thumping because her heart was. She squeezed the scoop tight to make the van stop thumping, and put the cone back at the same time. There is a line, she thought. And this was it.
"We don't do double Oblivions."
"Yes you do."
"No, we don't. Actually, it's just me. I don't. You'll have to find another van."
This was what she told them, although the truth was that no-one else did Oblivion at all, or most of her other flavours for that matter. The guy put his elbows on the edge of the window, put his head in his hands, and started gently rocking. There was a soft moan. Anne drummed her fingers on the counter.
He looked up and to one side and a kind of rattling sigh came out of him. Then he looked directly at her. She took in the synthetic texture of his night-black hair. His freckles, waxy skin and blue eyes.
"Can I have" -
she prepared herself to refuse him again. She'd almost started to, before he finished asking,
- "a Sense of Humour, please.”
"Course you can." She was taken aback, but tried not to let it show. "Single or double?"
"Double no wait," he said, then took a deep breath, then, "one scoop Sense of Humour, one Dreams."
The Sense of Humour was creamy, run through with a light blue ripple, and characterised by soft round balls that were like pitted cherries, only orange. Anne liked to aim the scoop at them, so that at least the one orange ball that it met would crack in half, and its hollow centre would show in cross-section when she put it in the cone. She always thought of them as little clown's noses. Dreams was navy-blue flecked with powder-blue. They looked fantastic next to each other on the cone.
He took it without smiling - but he would be, she thought, soon. This was a good thing, she thought. Good for him. Then she surprised herself by telling him, "it's on the house," and he said, "really?" and she said "yep," and he said "wow, thanks," and then he was gone. She remembered she hadn't offered a topping, but it wouldn't matter. Why didn't she take his coin? 'Getting soft, Annie,' she told herself.
The softest ice cream in the van was Lust. The scoops were coloured blackcurrant-dark, its ripple a thick plum hue. They sat glossy in the cone, looking like fresh nutmeg seeds still laced with mace, and tasted sweet and spicy - with salty zings that surprised people trying it for the first time. She'd made up extra tubs for that night, which was the after-Burst party at the Bowl Drum. It was always a fun night. 'Two double Lusts please... two double Lusts please...'. A lot of people might have found that repetition and predictability dull, but seeing the flash in the young couples' eyes never failed to turn her on too. Shy ones, bold ones, nervy ones... bold ones with shy ones, and shy ones together... Of course, no-one who came to the van for Lust ever actually needed extra helpings, but that wasn't the point. The point was the ostentatious, willful surrender. If you were tasting salty zings and the girl or boy in front of you was tasting salty zings, you both knew what was coming later. Since the first time Anne's van had rolled up at the Bowl Drum, sharing an ice cream had become the next most popular way to pass the time - after drinking.
At the park, there was a break in the queue. The guy who took the dreams and the sense of humour had probably put a few people off with his rocking and moaning earlier. Anne decided to close up and make for the party.
The Burst was a natural event that came round once a year and which no-one in the city missed if they could help it. The forest on the outskirts put on all of its best shows at once, in one huge 24-hour colour-riot. Flowers and cocoons cracked open on thousands of trees. Clouds of orange pollen and yellow blossom started forming at dawn, and the bright swarms of beetles and butterflies - for which those clouds were food - followed from their chrysalises, under leaves and underground, by noon. Soon after, several different species of bird, including double-rainbow lorikeets and harlequin flamingos, would arrive in huge flocks from overseas - their timing invariably perfect - and set to getting fat on the beetles and butterflies that had in turn gotten fat on the blossom and pollen. After sundown, a galaxy of glowflies, survivors of the feast, hovered above the canopy; twinkling and flashing and buzzing, in turquoise and scarlet and sodium, against the thick liquorice backdrop of the night sky.
And the after-Burst was the party that the Burst was an excuse for.
Anne took the van home and had dinner – actual food, not emotions – and then put a dozen extra tubs of Lust in the van and set off. When the van was moving and the wipers had begun their tireless job of shifting every conceivable hue of bug from the windshield, she clicked the radio on.
“...AND HERE’S ONE FOR EVERYONE GOING TO THE AFTERBURST PARTY TONIGHT”
“WHICH IS EVERYONE!”
“WHICH IS EVERYONE, AS MARCELLA SAYS. YOU GOING, MARCIE?”
“YEP. EVERYBODY’S GOING, MARCO. YOU’RE GOING, RIGHT?”
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NOPE? EVERYBODY’S GOING. NOT YOU?”
“NOPE. I’M GETTING TOO OLD FOR ALL THAT GUN AND FAMES.”
“MY GREAT-GRANDMOTHER’S GOING, MARCO.”
“THIS IS FOR CISSY’S GREAT-GRANDMOTHER, AND EVERYONE ELSE WHO’S GOING TO THE AFTERBURST.”
“IF THAT INCLUDES YOU - OH, WHAT AM I SAYING - SINCE THAT INCLUDES YOU, GIVE US A CALL ON 111-111-1112, LET US KNOW WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FORWARD TO AT THE PARTY TONIGHT”
“THIS IS FOR YOU, GREAT GRANNY! HERE’S ONE TRACK I KNOW YOU’LL BE RUSTLING YOUR HUSTLE-BUSTLE TO AT THE BOWLDRUM IN, OOH, A COUPLE HOURS FROM NOW...”
...and the bombastic pomp-pop of Glitch Trial’s ‘Bonbon Firefire’ started up. Anne had been struck by an impulse that she thought she would probably kick herself for in the morning. She pulled over. As she picked up the phone, she gazed over at the barrel full of wooden tokens in the middle of the van - and it was full, almost. She sold it to herself as a practical consideration, then. No good taking money if she had no room for it, she kidded herself. Why, I’d be knee-deep in the things by midnight, otherwise. She turned the radio off and dialled the station. 111-111-1112.
The researcher was positively brimming with excitement and patched her through in two heartbeats. Before she knew it, the presenters were introducing her -
“...AND WE’VE HAD A CALL IN FROM SOMEONE YOU’LL ALL BE PLEASED TO HEAR IS ALREADY ON HER WAY TO THE AFTERBURST TONIGHT - VICE CREAM ANNE..”
“SHE DOES THOSE ICE CREAMS!”
- Anne took a deep breath in -
“YES, SHE DOES, MARCO. WE’LL BE TALKING TO HER RIGHT AFTER THIS FROM PAPPY MACHETE”
- Anne exhaled again, as the distressed harpsichords of ‘Church Puma’ introduced the song. She couldn’t resist bouncing in her seat to the music, and had almost forgotten she was on the phone when Marcie and Marco faded back in.
“...CHURCH PUMA! HE GOES TO THE CHURCH!” - Marco was singing along, for want of a better word.
“YES, THAT HE DOES, MARCO”
“CHURCH PUMA! HE WALKS WITH A LURCH!”
“THANK YOU MARCO. NOW WE HAVE A VERY SPECIAL CALLER WHO’S BEEN WAITING ON THE LINE...”
“CHURCH PUMA! ... OH YEAH, I REMEMBER, IT’S MY FAVOURITE”
“I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM, WE ALL SCREAM FOR VICE CREAM ANNE!”
“HEY ANNE, CAN YOU HEAR US?”
“Yes, I’m happy to say I can, although I’m not so sure I’m happy to have heard Marco’s caterwauling...”
“YEAH, I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN...”
“CHURCH PUMA! DO-DO-DOOO!”
“SO... IF I COULD JUST FADE MARCO’S MICROPHONE OUT THERE FOR A MOMENT... AH, BLISS... SO! YOU’RE ON YOUR WAY TO THE BOWLDRUM RIGHT NOW, ANNE, AND I GUESS IT WOULD BE FAIR TO SAY YOU’RE A FIXTURE AT THE AFTERBURST THESE DAYS, AM I RIGHT?”
“Well, that’s nice to hear, Marcie, and yes, I guess that’s true. Me and the van have been going for years now. But I’ve never done this one thing I want to tell your listeners about...”
“WE’LL COME TO THAT, DON’T WORRY!”
“Okay. Just keen to get the message out, yknow.”
“I KNOW, AND WE’RE GLAD TO HELP. BUT TELL US A BIT ABOUT HOW THE AFTERBURST IS FOR YOU, FIRST. WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE THING ABOUT IT?”
“I guess I’ve been a Liverlac girl all my life, born and raised” -
“JUST LIKE ME!”
- “just like you, Marcie, and I suppose I really just love the atmosphere - everything that goes along with it, obviously the crazy colours, I dig all the music. I just love to see everyone having a good time, and I guess it’s great to be a little part of that now.”
“OH, YOU CERTAINLY ARE A PART OF IT. A BIG PART. AND I UNDERSTAND YOU HAVE A SURPRISE IN STORE FOR OUR LISTENERS, IS THAT RIGHT?”
“Yes I do, Marcie. It’s on the house tonight.”
“WELL THAT’S AN INCREDIBLY GENEROUS OFFER, ANNE. SO IS IT SECOND SCOOP FREE, OR PARTICULAR FLAVOURS, OR...?”
“Nope. Well... yes, in a way, actually. I’m only going to have the Lust flavour on the van tonight. But apart from that, no rules, just tell me how many scoops you want and so long as it fits on the cone it’s yours.”
“JUST LUST? WELL, THAT’S NAUGHTY!”
“I know. I hope people have fun...”
“OH I KNOW THEY WILL. THANKS FOR CALLING US ANNE, I’M GOING TO CUE UP ANOTHER TRACK NOW, BUT I’LL SEE YOU THERE AND MAKE MINE A DOUBLE.”
“Will do, Marcie”
“OKAY, YOU HEARD THE LADY, IF YOU SEE ANNE THERE IN HER VAN - YOU CAN’T MISS THAT ONE, EVEN AMONGST THE COLOURS AT THE AFTERBURST IT’S A VERY SPECIAL COMBINATION OF PINKS AND YELLOWS - JUST LET HER KNOW YOU HEARD HER ON MARCIE AND MARCO’S SHOW, AND YOU’LL GET A FREE SCOOP OF HER DELICIOUS LUST ICE CREAM. I’M GOING TO FADE YOU BACK UP, NOW, MARCO...”
“...CHURCH PUMA! DOOBIE-DO!”
“OH, GOD. I’LL PLAY SOMETHING TO DROWN HIM OUT, LISTENERS. HERE’S SAMANTHA FUX WITH ‘DRIP FOP RIP HOP’”
Her call finished, Annie switched her phone off. For a few seconds she was weighing things up, imagining she could pretend she’d never had that idea. Maybe she’d just drive up to the BowlDrum and trade as normal, after all. Then she reached for the radio dial and clicked it back on again, just in time to catch her own voice, saying “...just tell me how many scoops you want and so long as it fits on the cone it’s yours!” and then she recalled that this had just been broadcast to about a third of the town at the same time, and she had to go along with it.
She turned the van around and drove back home, first. What had made her decide on the spur of the moment that it would be Lusts only, she’d never know, but it did have the advantage, if her generous offer was super-successful, of simplicity. All the other flavours - Dreams, Sense of Humour, Sadness, Oblivion, Joy, Tingles, Adrenaline, Epiphany and more - came out of the back, and every tub she had of Lust went in. It filled the storage space in the vehicle almost to the roof. Then it was back to the road.
When she finally reached the party, the thing was already in full swing, fluorescent powders spewing out of fountains and cool hand-held flares all around the BowlDrum; and there was already a small crowd waiting for her at her usual spot, who - this had never happened before - cheered and whooped she arrived.
The hours flew by as she scooped one plum-black ball of yummy vice after another into hundreds and hundreds of cones. On their first visit, couples were bright-eyed and eager - and there was a steady stream of those - some came back, faces flushed and buttons loosened. Some came back a third time, openly groping each other in front of her, barely making time between licks and panted breaths to take a dripping cone from her outstretched hand.
By the time she ran out of tubs, there were audible moans of carnal pleasure coming from all around the van. Anne surveyed the view. As far as her eye could see, the crowd was caught up in all manner of passionate embrace with itself and the landscape. Combined with the structures built for the party - the powder-fountains, the helix-skelix, the screens flashing every colour imaginable; even seemingly making new ones of the combinations - it looked like a neon-lit Hieronymus Bosch painting. Even party-goers who weren’t paired up were overcome with erotic need, hands down their jeans or rubbing against the nearest post.
Anne had a feeling she wouldn’t be permitted to do this again next year.
She disappointed a small (but already horny) section of the crowd that was immediately in front of her window, telling them the last two scoops were for herself. Then, encouraging their fervour - what the hell? What the hell - she started to strip to the beat.
Once she was down to her Afterburst underwear - striped, checked and polkadotted in the same hot pink and cadmium yellow as the van - Anne spooned the last of the Lust into a double cone. She pulled down the window and fastened the latch. Tongue already on the cream, she opened the van and stepped out.