Gracie and John moved into the cul-de-sac in late May. John was busy making "friends" with the neighbors, talking football and yard care. Gracie seemed shy and reserved. Scared even. Karen, and Chad, who lived on the right, once or twice heard John berating Gracie something fierce. Karen shared casually that it must be a domestic abuse situation and they needed to keep an eye on things. Chad just nodded and kept watching the baseball game.
By the end of June, Karen had made a tender connection with Gracie. Not being one to be denied, Karen had forced things and Gracie had basically relented under the pressure. John didn't seem to mind too much as long as Karen didn't take Gracie any further than her front yard. Karen had made up her mind weeks before that she would hand deliver Gracie and John's invitation to the annual 4th of July Cul-de-sac Family Block Party. She wanted to make sure John didn't say no. He'd accepted it, yelling over his shoulder to Gracie that she had better behave or she wouldn't get to go. Karen huffed and explained that it was ALWAYS a couples' event and if Gracie couldn't go then neither could John. He tensed up and probably would have said something rude, but Karen was not one to be trifled with. John instinctively knew she wasn't prey like Gracie. He laughed and said they'd be there, then shut the door rather forcefully in Karen's face.
The day of the block party was beautiful. Everyone showed up as usual. John and Gracie sat side by side just off the curb in front of their house. Gracie spoke when spoken to; she'd even prepared a big bowl of potato salad that everyone said was delicious. John ate, had a few beers, and occasionally got up to mingle with the rest of the men. Gracie never got out of her chair so most of the women came over to sit and talk with her. She seemed wary of the attention but grateful at the same time. Karen had already explained to the other women that there was a "situation" and that Gracie needed them to be friendly.
It was late in the evening, the sun was finally setting so the men brought out the fireworks. They were just about to light some of the bigger rockets when the sound of the ice cream truck floated through the air. Everyone froze for the briefest of seconds. A feeling of unease wove its way through the small gathering. The few small children there quietly sought out their mother's hands, and the older kids suddenly found something to do in one of the backyards. Ethyl, the only single woman in the group let out a small sob, raising her left hand to her mouth. Gracie noticed the wedding band on her left ring finger and wondered where her husband was. Tracie, Ethly's neighbor on the left, took her hand and loudly asked Ethyl to come inside and help her carry out the last of the beer. They'd quickly walked into Tracie's house without looking back. The men rallied and went back to loudly talking about the explosives they were about to light. Almost as if they didn't want the jangly bells of the ice cream truck's siren song to be heard. It was though, faint but growing louder as it approached the cross sections of streets at the opposite end of the cul-de-sac.
The truck came into view. A white box on wheels with garishly painted images on it. It was too far away for anyone to make out what those images were exactly. The bright primary colors seemed to pulse in time to the music. Gracie felt the fillings in her wisdom teeth start to throb as if the supposedly happy tune the ice cream truck was playing was striking the nerves buried under the silver. As she looked down the street at the truck and felt the same about seeing it as she did when John's car pulled into the driveway. Something was horribly wrong with that truck.
No one besides Ethyl seemed to be particularly shaken but there was a palatable shift in the air when the truck finally drove off into the darkening night. The sound of its song fading.
The rest of the evening went off without a hitch. The final fireworks display lighting up the night sky with a heightened celebratory vibe.
That night, Gracie decided if the truck ever came back, she'd ask John to get her a drumstick. Those had been her favorites when she was a little girl.