Mr. Whippy was the ice-cream man and when I heard the sounds of Green Sleeves in the air all the clocks froze. I would pluck the rubber plug from beneath the paper mache elephant that kept the loose change and shake it like I was using a jackhammer.
I knew the best way to cut him off at the pass was to run diagonally through the park and meet him at the corner where the big tree dropped gumnuts around Mrs Purnell’s tin pink flamingo. She despised that and scolded you for it when you saw her, but that story is for a different time.
When he rounded the corner the wake of kids dancing on the street behind him reminded me that god never lived in church because he lived on wheels. His van always stopped exactly where I stood. It was a wheezy metal horse painted in pink and blue with hand painted illustrations of five sorts of ice-creams and I swear I could almost hear angels sing when that roller door clattered open. The smell of the vanilla and the diesel would weld me to the shimmering bitumen and he’d lean over the speckled bench with a smile.
“Whadda ya want mate?”
It was not easy glancing at the face of god so I’d look at his hairy arms instead and read the tattoo that said, “Annie”.
“I’ll have vanilla please.”
Watching him pull back the lever to see the contents fill the cone was hypnotic. The fantasy remains with me to this day where I’d squat beneath the nozzle of that machine and open my mouth to gorge from it.
Every Saturday afternoon it was the same. The kids would wander off with their prize, the roller door would shut and the music would start again as he wound his way down the streets whooping up his little disciples. He knew they’d come to him in swathes that the Pied Piper could never match and he was right. Then it all changed one Saturday.
I waited for Green Sleeves, and when the sun went crimson and dipped behind Mount Table I knew something was wrong. The next week I walked through the park and waited for him in the usual spot and Mrs Purnell came out of the house and cackled from behind her fly screen door.
“He’s gawn. They got ‘im so you better get yer ice-creams from the shops instead.”
For the next three Saturdays I waited at that corner for him. I ached to hear the sound of his van and I waited while the heat surrendered to longer shadows before it was time to leave. Dinner would be waiting for me at home and I asked about him.
“What happened to Mr. Whippy?”
Dad said, “He’s come a gutser mate. The papers say he’s been bad.” 
I heard Green Sleeves again and ran to my usual place but he was not there. I listened and knew he’d be at the end of the street around the corner at the top of the hill and I rushed there to make it in time to see the roller door open up.
A young woman looked down at me and asked me what I wanted. Who was this person who had flung god from the world?
“Where’s Mr Whippy?”
“Mate. He’s not coming back because I’m doing the rounds now.”
The van had new words on it that said, “Under new management” and the illustrations had been replaced with glossy enamel paint. They looked good but they were my traitors. I wanted no part of this and I stepped back while the other kids crowded around the bench holding up their coins.
A woman with a child in a papoose came to the window and smiled.
“Sorry about what happened Annie. I know it’s rubbish what they did.”
She looked back at her and her eyes were broken with pain.
“It’s rubbish alright, and it’s rubbish what they say about dad. He’s always got kids around him on the rounds. So how could he ever get one in here without any of them seeing?”
Image © 2013 by Dr. F