FORTY-EIGHT, 2.0

James ran to the corner, but the ice cream truck was already gone. Third day in a row missing the truck. Natalie would be angry again. No sugar meant anger.

James was accustomed to this problem, but hadn’t found a way to solve it. Sugar had been banned for only a week, but the ice cream truck with it’s de-regulated contract was the last bastion of tasty sweetness. Without it, Natalie and the rest of the neighborhood kids would probably strike down their parents by the end of the month.

Sugar wasn’t just a tasty commodity, it was life, a gift of happiness. It was a sweet relief and respite from the problems they all faced, the rising prices, the dangerous new security on every block. Sugar was the sweet relief of the country’s success.

James finally caught his breath, and as he turned to head home he heard it, the jingle, the soft bells. The ice cream man wasn’t far.

He ran, then, down the block to the next corner, and as he turned onto Coronado Ave. he caught it, a glimpse of the flashing orange lights at the rear of the ice cream truck. It was turning left onto Smith Ave. and would shortly hit the thruway. Now was his only chance.

So he ran, and cursed himself for smoking most of his life. He could imagine his lungs, dark and pulsing, trying to keep up, yelling and shaking their lung-fists up at his mouth. But he didn’t care. This was for Natalie.

All the world for a dash of sugar and a smile on Natalie’s face.

He reached the corner of Smith and had to collapse for a moment, the world fading to white around him. He watched kids along Smith line up to meet the Ice Cream Man, and was relieved because it meant the truck would be stopped for a while, just long enough for him to reach it and grab a cone.

He sat a little longer, wishing Natalie could come with him on this little adventure. If anything she’d be able to work up an appetite. But in her condition, leaving the house was not an option. He blamed his own genetics for her condition, but he could’ve thrown the blame at the bombs or the army. They’d deserve it more.

But why place blame? What’s done is done, and her ailments didn’t effect her smiles or happiness. The only thing standing in the way, actually, was the lack of sugar.

And that was something James could fix.

So he walked casually up to the truck. James was next in line, the kids had already gotten their treats. He held up a fiver, asked for the cone of vanilla and a cookie sandwich.

“Only got the cones, and just one scoop left.”

“It’ll do,” said James.

He looked up at the sky, thankful for the overcast weather. He took the cone and had a lick before he knew what he was doing.

The sugar hit him on impact, and the world filled with color. On his walk home, the grass was greener and the sky was suddenly a light blue. He breathed the air and tasted vanilla. He smelled chocolate crumbs and bread and remembered his childhood with cookies galore.

He treated himself to another lick, and another before turning back onto their street. He reached the trailer, saw Natalie’s face in the window, but her smile faltered almost immediately.

He looked down, and saw that the inside of the cone had a thin layer of ice cream, otherwise it was empty. He’d eaten almost all of it, and promised himself he’d never have another lick.

Later, Natalie was asleep with a content smile on her face, as the remaining ice cream had just enough sugar for James to live up to his word for her that day.

Going forward, James never missed the ice cream truck again — and never had another lick.

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