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That Familiar and Dissonant Tune

It was a very hot mid-summer’s afternoon. Michael and Susan O’Malley were sitting on wooden rockers on their front porch. He set his feet on a small wooden table and read the paper. She had her knees to her chest and played Solitaire on her iPad.

“God, it’s hot,” he said.

“Yes it is, dear,” she said, sighing.

In the distance, they both heard the song of a Mr. Softee ice-cream truck. It drove by and parked on the corner of their street.

“I’m getting some,” he said.

She rolled her eyes. “It’ll spoil your dinner.”

“No, it won’t.”

“Who can eat ice-cream and then dinner?”

“I can,” he said. “Do you have any cash? I don’t have any cash on me.”

She took a deep breath, making her torso lift up and down. “I have some cash in my purse,” she said, in a low tone.

He quickly stood from the wooden rocker and bolted in the house. He found her black- leather purse sitting on the dining room and brought it to her. He felt like a little boy bringing a purse to his mother.

She took it from him, dug inside, and handed him a twenty.

“Jesus, I don’t need that much,” he said.

“Just take it. Take it and go get your ice-cream.”

He folded the bill and looked at the Mr. Softee truck. It was still playing the Mr. Softee song that sounded like “Pop Goes the Weasel.” Two boys were sitting on the curb across the street and eating cones. A little girl walked away from the truck with a banana split.

Michael turned to his wife. “Why is it such a big deal that I get ice-cream? I mean, what the hell are we even having for dinner?

“Well, we were going to have fish.”

“We can still have fish. Seriously, honey, I’m melting. I just need something to cool me off.”

She turned her back toward him and continued playing Solitaire. “Just go get your ice-cream.”

He went silent for a moment and stared at the truck. “You know what? I don’t even want it any—”

“No. No. Go get your ice-cream. You only care about yourself, Mike.”

“Oh, that’s bullshit.”

“Get your ice-cream.”

“You know what? Just shut up. Okay? Just shut up.”

She turned around and looked at him, her mouth agape. “How dare you?”

“I don’t even want it anymore,” he said, and flung the twenty at her stomach. She picked it up, glared at him, and then threw the money onto the wooden table. “Bastard,” she said.

They both sat and said nothing. The Mr. Softee truck stayed parked on the corner, playing the song. Some adults with children were walking toward it.

Minutes passed. Michael and Susan continued sitting on the porch and listening to the Mr. Softee song. He realized, after hearing the song more times than he’d cared to admit, the song was out of tune and had a dissonant tonality. He crossed his arms and closed his eyes.

She said nothing.

The sun started to go down. Fireflies began flashing in the front yard. Suddenly, a strong breeze blew past Michael and Susan.

He let out a long sigh. “Damn, that cool breeze feels good.” As the breeze continued blowing, he noticed goose bumps sprouted on her arm, like tiny spikes on thick, fleshy armor.

After a while, she finally spoke: “I’m going in, I’m freezing.” She stood and marched inside with her iPad.

The cold breeze blew harder. He slid his arms from his sleeves and used his shirt as a blanket. He sat there, for what seemed like an eternity, warming himself and listening to that familiar and dissonant tune.


Christopher J. Campion is a teacher and freelance writer who will receive his MA in Fiction from Wilkes University at the end of this year. His fiction also appears in the East Meets West, American Writers Review.

Read more stories by Christopher Campion


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