map Ice Cream

by Bao Huynh

Published in Issue No. 264 ~ May, 2019

Every night he went down to the beach, pushing the rickety cart his brother had made from the metal of old bomber planes and the wheels from a helicopter that had crashed many years ago, hung with small bags of peanuts and quail eggs, filled with iced drinks.

He would push his cart down to the beach, as would hundreds of other young boys. They would all be pushing their carts, made from the skeleton remains of planes and tanks. Every night, an army of boys went down to the beach, a swarm of small red crabs scuttling across the sand, an army of boys pushing along what was left of the armies of men.

He would be among them, another small cart.

Every night he would push his cart down to the beach, to sell his small snacks to whoever would be there. Ex-soldiers with sad faces, recognisable from miles away, though they had long been forced back into the civilian dress. Young women, tainted by the lingering smell of foreign men, as yet unaware of the shame their unborn children would carry. Old men hunched over chessboards, playing as the ghost of death sat by their shoulders and watched on, oblivious to the turning of the world around them. The fisherman, preparing to push off, their ancient trade unchanging, passing from father to son to father to son again until father and son became the same, and fish and man became as one.

Back then, the beach had yet to become the playground of the world. In years to come, restaurants, hotels, shops, would rise along the sands like shoots of bamboo sprouting overnight. The old, sad-faced soldiers would be replaced by laughing families from abroad, delighted by the charms of a backward land. The young women would give way to lively adolescents, revelling in the freedom between sea and sky. The sons of fishermen would become the fathers, and slowly, the splash of oars would become the throbbing roars of stripped down fighter plane engines pushing out towards the deep.

Only the old men would remain, still trapped within their endless game.

And the young boys, pushing carts made from the bones of tanks and planes, hung with peanuts and quail eggs.

Years later, long after the beach had become the playground of the world, he would walk along the shore once more. He would be thrown back nearly thirty years to those long past days, thinking back to when he too was one of those boys, pushing his cart. And he would see that these young boys with their hard stares would grow to be tired old men, hunched around their chessboards, buying iced tea and snacks from carts pushed by the next young boys.

He would see that some things never changed. Young boys would grow old, and watch on as their own boys grew old, as inevitably as the waves from the sea, one replacing the other.

He too, was once among them, caught in the waves, making his way to the shore. He too, was once slowly growing old. But the world had turned, and sometimes even a wave could lose its way towards the shore. He would know, then, that nothing in life was certain. He would see those boys and remember, and he would buy ice cream as a testament to days long gone.

But that was much later.

He would only come to know these things much later. Back then, the beach was still the haunting ground of those with nowhere else to go, the outcasts, with no roof to put over their heads, no floor upon which to put their feet. They were the dirt of the earth; the dust left over from a life long gone. And he too was among them, another wave in the sea, pushing his cart, selling snacks to whoever would have them.

He would push his cart up and down along the beach until the ice had melted away. Then he would count what little he had made, and push his cart back towards the town, to clean it out and fill it with ice cream.

He had never known what ice cream was before he had begun to sell it. He cast his memory back to the years before the war had ended. Had he known what ice cream was back then? He could not remember. He remembered many things. The sound of an electric guitar drifting in from across the sea on his father’s radio. The sweet taste of bubble gum. The soft leather seats in his family’s Ford. The salt water lapping at his toes as he stood upon the shore, the warm light of the moon, collapsing with his friends upon the sand in the sheer exhaustion of joy. Many things, he remembered. But ice cream was not one of them.

The world had turned, the waves bringing ice cream sweeping so much else back into the endless ocean. He hadn’t known that as a boy. He knew nothing of the mysteries of ice cream.

He would think about this as he pushed his cart through the gate toward the house, noticing that with each passing month, the space between the two grew smaller. With each passing month, the gate moved further and further back, as more and more of his family’s land was taken away until finally the gate and the front door would simply become one.

He would empty his cart made from the metal of old bomber planes and the wheels from a helicopter that had crashed years before. And he would fill his cart with the mystery known as ice cream, a mystery he would not partake of until many, many years later. As the moon set, the very last of the ice from the night before would melt. And as the sun rose, the no longer cool drinks were replaced with ice cream. So he would push his cart, made from the skeleton scraps of old planes and helicopters, into the heat of the rising morning, selling the mystery that was ice cream.



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B. T. Huynh is based in Melbourne, Australia.