99 Problems

By | 13 May 2024

After a short film by Ross Killeen

You’d see him after school, clattering about
in his hot pink ice cream van, dispensing fistfuls of joy
from broad, calloused hands. Seven days a week
fronting raucous gaggles of us, rapping the counter
with his knuckles to call us to order.

We’d chase him like a pack of alley cats —
slick skids on push-bikes, screaming at slow pokes to keep up.
Burst-lunged scrums of us huddled at the high end
of the estate green, whooping at the wonder
of soft milk solids; the buzzy rush of sugared blood.

The hours suited him — no mother would let you eat
ice cream before noon, so he’d start the van at lunchtime
and be out till nine that night. He’d spend mornings
at Baxter’s gym, bouncing punchbags off his shoulders,
toughening them up between bouts of sparring.

Once, my ears pricked up at the squeal of a diesel in a
rushed reverse — a rival van had boxed him in down
a side-street, but he’d come out on top: when I arrived,
he kissed his scuffed-up knuckles, winked, handed me
a ninety-nine (two flakes); said don’t tell anyone.

The streets are emptier these days —
fewer kids, waddling about with X-Box bodies —
but you see him still, head hanging out of the van,
yelling a half-threat of violence if you don’t buy a cone,
doling out sweet, generous dollops of delight.

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