Short stories

Even When It’s Cold: A Short Story of Ice Creams and Crushed Dreams

Find out how the Match of the Day jingle can break your heart.

“Another windy day today,” the weather presenter announces on the radio in Sam and Maggie’s kitchen. “Expect showers and a high of twelve degrees.”

Maggie throws a concerned glance at her husband. “Sam,” she pleads, “will you really go out again today? The weather is awful. Why don’t you take the day off?”

Sam, who has been proudly serving ice cream to the neighbourhood for sixteen years, drains his coffee and resolutely shakes his head. This summer has been all rain and wind and very few customers, but Sam isn’t the type to give up. Rise and face the day with enthusiasm, is his motto. Take the day off? Pah!

“You know me better than that,” he says with a proud and stubborn smile. Then, like every summer morning for the past sixteen years, he pulls on his apron and grabs his van keys. Just before he heads out, he turns and says to his wife, “People need ice cream, my love. Even when it’s cold.”

Out on the streets, Sam rolls up and down his usual route. He checks the local parks, playgrounds and riverfront, but no one is out. He plays his jingle over and over. On a good summer, the tune fills him with joy and warmth, but now it feels like it’s taunting him. What good is a jingle if it’s being ignored?

But no, he thinks, straightening his back a little. He knows he’s doing the right thing. He brings joy and light to the neighbourhood. I mean, sure, kids tend to play more indoors these days, don’t they? What with their phone pads and things like that. Fair game. Some people seem a bit averse to these modernities, but Sam has heard that they can actually be quite good for them. Apparently there are lots of interactive games and, like, brain-training and things like that. It’s just, it’s not great for Sam, seeing as the kids aren’t around when he drives by. But sometimes he catches them, a nice group of kids on a good day. They always appreciate it. Sam can’t think of a better way to spend his days.

After a couple of hours of no luck at all, he rolls by a playground at the top of the estate. He spots a lonesome young man sitting on the swing all gloomy, shoulders slumped, feet digging into the ground. Sam stops and regards him curiously for a moment, then plays his jingle. The man looks up, and it warms Sam’s heart to see him perk up at the sight of his van. He’s quite young, Sam notes, possibly in his early twenties. But he might like an ice cream, Sam thinks, as the man totters over.

“Didn’t expect to see an ice cream van on a day like this,” he remarks.

“Well,” Sam replies, “as I always say, people need ice cream, even when it’s cold.”

The young man smiles approvingly, and his slow nodding becomes more vigorous as he absorbs Sam’s words. “You know what, fair play to ya. I’ll take a 99 please.”

“Good choice, my man,” Sam says, turning diligently to his task. He sticks the Flake into the soft vanilla mound and adds a little extra sprinkle free of charge. As he turns around and presents his customer with his cone, he adds, “Name’s Sam, by the way.”

“Ah, cheers mate,” the man says, hungrily eyeing his delicious cone. “ I’m Barry,” he says, licking the sprinkle off the top, “but people call me Baz.”   

“Nice to meet you, Baz.” Sam watches as Baz enjoys his icy treat, which is always a delight to see. Then he adds, “So, can I ask what brings you out here, all on your lonesome?” 

You see, Sam belongs to the old school of ice cream salesmen who believe that sometimes the job requires more than simply serving ice cream. Sometimes, you need to listen.

“Well,” says Baz, as he picks up the Flake stick. “I s’pose I’ve been a bit down on me luck recently.” He starts chewing the end of the stick, his brow furrowing. “Had a good thing going down at the local garage, but with the economy the way it is, they had to sack me unfortunately.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” says Sam, shaking his head with earnest compassion. “It’s been a hard few years for so many.”

“Yeah, you’re right there, mate. And, well, let’s just say it didn’t best please the missus.” He chomps the remainder of his Flake. “Mm, this is delicious, mate, thanks. It’s really cheered me up.”

Sam’s chest swells with contentment. “I’m so glad. You see, people do need ice cream. Even when it’s cold.”

Baz laughs and shakes his head at what he now feels is a heartwarming injoke. “You’re right there, mate. Swear down, this has really brightened my day.”

Sam regards his new friend as he starts on the edge of the cone. “You know what?” he says. “If you’re out of a job, you might consider ice cream sales.”

Between mouthfuls, Baz nods and laughs. “Wouldn’t that be something. Don’t have a van, though. Couldn’t afford it now.”

“You don’t have to own it. I know a place where you can hire them for the season. Reasonable rates. It’s a very rewarding job.”

Baz finishes his cone and licks his fingers pensively. “Yeah, you know, that does sound alright. Thanks so much, mate.”

Sam beams at his uplifted customer. “My pleasure,” he says. These are the days he lives for. He waves his friend off and gets back behind the wheel, playing his jingle one more time for Baz’s benefit as he rolls back down the hill.

The next morning promises another grey, blustery day with intermittent showers. Sam, bolstered by his heartening encounter with Baz yesterday, fastens his apron with a little extra swagger. 

“You look happy today, love,” Maggie comments.

“Oh, you know… I just love my job!”

His darling wife smiles and shakes her head. “Okay, love.” She straightens his apron and gives him a peck on the cheek. “Have a good day!”

Sam drives his usual route, the first stop being at the local park. A sports field with an adjoining playground, it’s always his first port of call. His spirits soar when he sees a football team winding down after a game. Grinning, he plays his jingle, confident that he’s nailed a few happy customers. But as he comes closer, he sees that several of them are already holding cones and lollies. This is unprecedented. For a moment, Sam feels as though he’s hearing his jingle in a muffled slow-motion tone. 

He stops his van and sticks his head out the window. “Hi fellas,” he says tentatively. “You look like you’ve earned yourselves an ice cream.”

“Ah, fanx cuz,” says one of them, who’s munching sideways on a Twister. “But the other guy’s just been.”

“What–what other guy?” asks Sam, knowing full well that he has been the neighbourhood’s favourite ice cream provider for nearly two decades. Well, it’s sixteen years, but still – closer to two decades than one. 

Then he hears a Match of the Day jingle from a side street and jerks into motion. “Alright, cheers lads,” he says, waving at the players and takes off down the street to chase the tinkling sound. He spots the van at the end of the street and picks up to a cheeky thirty-five to catch up.

At the roundabout he spots Baz in the driver’s seat, and as he turns left Sam sees that the side of the van is painted in a garish, glittery green: People Need Ice Cream – Even When It’s Cold!

Baz turns around and spots Sam, and does another twirl at the roundabout as he rolls his window down. “Hey, Sammyboy!” he yells. “This really worked! Thanks, I feel so much better!” 

Sam gives him a half-hearted wave as Baz grins and drives off, playing the Match of the Day jingle as he heads down the High Street. 

The following day was much the same as always. It was such a wet summer. Weather these days, Sam thought. You can’t control it, you can’t predict it. Well, I suppose in theory you can predict it, but you know… What are you gonna do about it?

A little dejected, he only nibbles on his toast and leaves half his coffee, before he gets up and grabs his apron.

“Really, dear?” Maggie asks. “It’s going to rain all day.”

“Yes, but you know, darling, people need ice cream. Even when it’s–”

Sam is cut off by the perky sound of the Match of the Day jingle rolling down the street opposite, and his shoulders slump.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake. When it’s cold, people need some fucking soup. I’m taking the day off.”

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