I unloaded my truck, sweating in my wool undergarments, my heavy sweaters, my thermal pants, and my heavy parka. It was cold. Freezing cold. Below zero cold. And windy. I sipped from my coffee and within moments, the coffee that got on my mustaches would freeze solid. If I took off my gloves I would surely get frostbite.
I'm not sure why I'm here. I got up this morning, and clambered out of bed and out of my house, and into my truck. I doubt there will be customers. Not too many other vendors showed. But I paid my rent this month, so I might as well keep setting up.
It was a cold, cold day. Snow had fallen last night, adding to the bunch we already had. The air was clear, with that clarity that only comes when it gets this cold. The deciduous trees were all bare and covered with the snow that had been blowing, while the pines were highlighted almost white.
The sky was that certain blue it shows on the coldest of winter days. All of us set up with that distinct attitude of befuddlement vendors have when they are setting up on a pointless day in which they don't think they will make any money at all. Going through the motions, clinging to dreams of yesterday.
Despite my general befuddlement, I was blown away when my neighbor drove in and went into her stand. It was doubled when it became apparent she, in fact, intended to set up.
I didn't know much about her. Not even her name. Unless you are personal friends with people, you generally know them by what they sell- $10 Handbag Man, Perfume Guy, Weapons Dude, Sportswear Woman, Vitamin Lady. She was young, compactly built, and quite attractive.
The reason it baffled me was not who she was, so much as what she sold. See, I knew her as The Ice Cream Girl. What she was doing attempting to sell ice cream on a day where coffee quickly turned to ice was totally beyond me.
I mean, I was nuts being here, but I was generally in the business of selling winter clothing. I had parkas, thermal underwear, thermal shirts, thermal pants, and all kinds of other warm goodies. Even electrically heated clothing powered by batteries. A day like to day was perfect to get my customer, if they were loopy enough to be there, to purchase such an item.
But ice cream?
The rumble of my Peterbilt's Caterpillar 3126 made asking her the question something of an exercise in futility, and with it being cold as it was, there was no way I was going to shut the thing off until I was done with my liftgate. This was no day to risk a less then full battery for trying to start 7.2 liters of America's finest yellow iron.
A few hours later, I was done, and I went to the drivers door, climbed my way up to the cab, and shut her down. The truck's engine shuttered to a stop, and the initial silence was almost golden.
I walked back to my stands frontage, to realize that while I was setting up, a lot of vendors had decided not to stay. I was so focused on getting everything out and set up and staying warm doing it that I had not noticed the exodus.
I leaned my butt on one of my tables and surveyed the scene, mostly empty vendor tables under a uninsulated pole-barn type structure that was more outside then inside.
My neighbors stand had a sort of building within a building nature to it, because of all the equipment they used. It had a solid door that closed, and it really muffled sound coming from in there.
I didn't hear the noise until I walked right near her door adjusting part of my display. I heard a distinct sniffle, and little moans. She was crying.
This was, well, interesting. I didn't know her very well, but I saw enough of her that I knew her general personality was gay and bubbly. She was always smiling and friendly, making little jokes and so on. An eternal optimist.
I tapped lightly on her door, but she didn't seem to hear me. After a few seconds, I banged on it, and she literally screamed.
I opened the door, which she had apparently left unlocked, to see her cowering in the corner, a look of abject terror on her face.
"Hey, Ice Cream Lady, I'm not that scary," I said, trying to make light.
Her fear had already started to drain as soon as she saw I wasn't what (or who) she had apparently been afraid of.
"I'm sorry," she said, still crying.
"You look like a girl who needs a hug," I said, approaching her and gently taking her within my arms. It was a comfort hug, and nothing more. At first she tensed up, and then seemed to appreciate it.
She, as I said, was compact, no more then 120 lbs, and not much over 5'. My oversized body enveloped her pretty good. Despite all the workouts, the shitty market food I had been eating had made me a pretty hefty guy. After a few moments, she had her fill of my comforting and gently disengaged, and sat back down. She looked a little better, for a moment, and then started crying again.
"It can't be as bad as all that, can it?" I asked softly.
She looked up and tried to smile, as I heard a racing engine followed by tires squealing. A moment later, a man about my estimate of her age came barging through the door.
"Mary," he said with a little anger in his voice, "you can't run out on me like that."
Drawing on my fine command of the English language, I said nothing, slowly starting to edge my way out of the store. I left, closing the door behind me, as they started screaming at each other. He had cheated, yadda yadda, she had left, yadda yadda. I stopped paying attention, picked up a thermos full of Gin, and poured myself a small shot.
It was a cold day, and the fire that started in my belly helped give me strength for the hours I'd be sitting out here freezing my butt off.
Then I heard a loud thumping against the wall of the store, followed by her yelling. Alright then, no longer not my business.
I reopened the door and saw her clutching her side and crying more, apparently having been thrown across the room. He looked like he was ready to kill her, or something.
"Hey, guys, calm down," I said placatingly, as I walked into the room.
The guy proceeded to try to hit me with a roundhouse so large in arc and scope that he was telegraphing it to me from Cleveland. I stood for a few moments tapping my feet so that I wouldn't accidentally block too soon and end up being hit with it. With all the power he put into that, I'd have been knocked clear through the wall.
Taking advantage of that power, I stepped back, and he started spinning like a top. I then stopped him with my left hand, and open handedly slapped him, palm first, so hard, his eyes screwed up, and then backhanded him in an almost continuous motion. Blood came out of his mouth as he clutched at the side of his face.
"Since when do you hit women in public?" I asked him. He answered by trying to kick me in the chin. At least, it went at least that high up when I leisurely stepped back from it. I then grabbed his ankle and flipped him so that he landed, ass over teakettle, on the floor.
"Guy, listen, this isn't amateur night. You're not going to win."
He got up, shook his head, and then tried to rush me. I leisurely stepped aside and watched as he went straight out the door, tripped down the stairs, and landed face first in the snow.
It wasn't that I was good, you have to understand. It was that I have some clue how to fight people, having been in a few over the years, and he was completely incompetent. He telegraphed his moves so thoroughly that I could probably have smoked a pack of camels in between the time he started and the time I needed to actually block him. You fight people with jabs not because they are powerful, but because the time between when you start moving your muscles and the time you connect is short enough, your opponent my might not have time to block you.
Roundhouses, haymakers, and scissor kicks only really work with people who don't know how. He didn't, but I saw no reason to impart that kind of damage to him. He wasn't evil, just an idiot.
I walked out and looked at him, as he got up, shook his head again, and looked like he was about to try me again.
"Listen, you try one more time, and I'm actually going to try to hurt you."
All the fight went out of him, and he looked at me in one of the most realistic impression of a retard I'd ever seen.
"You weren't trying?" he asked.
"Now, dude, would you kind of leave?"
He got into his pickup truck and left, not looking too good.
I turned around and went back inside. She was sitting there, clutching her side, moaning, and crying.
"So, Ice Cream Girl, I guess your name is Mary."
"Yeah," she said.
"I hope your last name isn't Christmas."
She giggled for a second, and then moaned, and clutched her side more.
"Mind if I look at that?" I said, closing the door.
She shrugged, which I took to mean permission. I took off her jacket, and lifted up her shirt. She was wearing a bra, so I didn't see that much, but I did see the damage. It wasn't broken, and it wasn't bleeding. It was just badly bruised. I told her as much.
"Small consolation," she muttered.
"If you don't mind my asking," I said, "Who was that guy?"
"My now ex-fiancé," she said, angrily.
I sat down next to her, on a refrigerator, and put my arm around her. The girl needed comfort. I call her a girl because I would have guessed her age to be in her early twenties. She had a little of that baby fat around her face that makes some women look younger then they are, but she was running her own business, so she must have some years on her.
"Can I ask what happened?"
She blubbered it out to me in a largely incomprehensible manner, except for the fact that I was sitting there. About a week ago, she had been suffering from what she called "shakiness", and it got aggravating enough that she went to the doctor. She was diagnosed with the early stages of Parkinson's Disease. When she got home and told her fiancé, he seemed to take it well.
But it was superficial. Her parents had money- that was why she had the business- and they were going to give a substantial dowery at her wedding.
By that point, I had her outside, sitting on a seat, as I started packing my truck. I came to the conclusion that today would be a waste of my time.
Anyway, late last night, a woman called her. She didn't know her, and she didn't give Mary her name. But she was, apparently, her Fiancés lover. She had been such on the side for a while. However, once Mary's fiancé started talking about the Parkinson's, and how he was going to marry her just for the money, and then switch the medication with placebos to speed it along, the paramours gag reflex had been triggered, and she had to tell.
Mary had a fight with her lover, whose name was Dan, but he managed to convince her last night that the woman on the phone was a nutcase.
They went to sleep, but the next morning, Mary heard her fiancé downstairs yelling at his paramour for ratting on him. She quickly got dressed, and went downstairs. Dan acted like nothing had happened, and she stormed out the door to come here and maybe think.
"Dan doesn't deserve you," I told her, as I loaded the last item into the truck's cargo bay.
"I know," she said, her soft blue eyes still full of tears, "But he's all I have. Nobody else would want me."
I got down out of the truck, and tucked away the lift gate. Then I turned to her and offered her my hands. She took them, and I pulled her up to me. I put one arm around her, and used the other to brush away her soft blonde hair.
"You are so wrong, Ice Cream Girl."
I kissed her cheek gently, and nuzzled the side of her neck.
She smiled, and looked up into my eyes, worn out and brown though they are, and it was like she was staring deep into my soul.
"I have nowhere to go, anyway," she said, still staring, her ponytail bobbing with the movements of her head.
"I've got a spare bedroom," I told her with a smile.
"I'll follow you home."
And with that, she got into her Ford van and tried to start it. It wouldn't start.
"Can anything else please go wrong?" she muttered sarcastically. I like this girls attitude.
She was young compared to my 56. My hair was greying and balding before its time. I looked my age, more than my age.
"Want a ride?" I asked, "We seem to be heading to the same place."
She opened the door of my Pete and climbed in to the soft velour seating of the interior. I started the cranky Cat and punched the drive button, and off we went.
I got onto the highway, and after getting up to 65, set the autopilot. The miles rumbled on, the Cat muffled by the trucks decent sound insulation. She fell asleep, and lolled a little.
After a good long while, I got off the highway and threaded along some country roads, before waking her up.
"Almost there, Ice Cream Girl," I told her.