I’m always seeking new ways to challenge myself as a writer, attempting the Mini SledgeHammer writing contest in Portland, was an endeavor that resulted in this story. I was given four prompts (Character: Ice cream vendor; Action: Recycling; Setting: In the rain; Prop: Smoke) that I had to incorporate into a 36-minute timed piece and this character poured out of my pen. Find the original post here.
Maven got a rush from the flick of the lighter. The burn of the cigarette down her lungs felt like the appropriate amount of unhealthy. Fuck healthy. She liked smoke and ice cream. She even dyed her hair to add a swirl of gray to damage her streak of brunette.
After being recycled in the foster care system, she fated herself into a runaway. That’s when the gray came—a nod to the wisdom she decided she was due—not the wisdom she’s earned.
The smoke came before the streets. Fire was home. Maven didn’t much like the term “arsonist.” She preferred creator. She burned ugly away. It gave her control over something—at least that’s what her therapist claimed. Fuck him.
She didn’t see him more than once. Maven didn’t see anyone more than once. Judgment stays at bay when you don’t let people know you. Only she needed to know her.
So she hopped trains and claimed the title explorer. She slept in barns with livestock and thought herself a farmer. She was neither. Maven was a homeless runaway, but a good marketer. But even runaways need a break; even runaways need an identity.
The train Maven was currently riding stopped for fuel or to load or unload. Fuck if she knew. But the day was bright, sweat grouped at the bottom of her spine.
“Ice cream,” she said to no one. No one was her favorite audience. The jump from the train car to the red rocks below sent a shock up her legs—the kind that reminds you you’re still alive. Pain, fleeting but passionate.
Maven lit her first cigarette of the day and walked along the tracks until the town came into view. She’d never been to Arizona before, but it felt like every other place. She lit another cigarette as soon as she stomped her first one out on the metal track.
The tracks went straight and she curved to the left. The siren song of the ice cream truck was calling her. It sounded like home.
On the first main street she crossed, she pick-pocketed an empty-faced stranger. The siren was getting closer.
“Banana split,” Maven called to the ice cream vendor.
A man with naturally gray hair and newsboy cap popped his head out of the freezer and into her view.
“Hi there, Miss. How are you?”
“Banana split,” Maven repeated, ignoring the vendor’s inquiry.
“Talkative aren’t you?”
“Not to strangers.”
“How do you ‘pect to make friends?”
“What?” her attitude was showing through. This was already the longest conversation Maven had had in months. “Fuck man, you got a banana split or not?”
“Fresh out. Fudgicle?”
“It’s on the house,” he said, eyeing Maven’s unwashed hair and wrinkled clothes.
She wanted to be snotty. She wanted to ruin him with words. But Maven bit her tongue and accepted the Fudgicle before it melted under the Arizona sun.
She nodded at him. He smiled, toothy. It was the best he was going to get from a runaway punk and they both knew it. Maven couldn’t shake the interaction. No one is nice to her. She gives no one a reason to. She felt uneasy about it. She followed the ice cream vendor that day, touring the city in his shadows.
When the sun dunked into the night, he parked the truck and Maven kept watching it. She flicked her lighter in front of her. Up and down, the flame teased her, called her like the siren song of ice cream trucks.
The fire started to burn slowly. Deliberately. The tires melted into puddles and the ice cream would soon do the same. She watched the damage long enough to feel satisfied. The smoke pillowed the sky into more darkness and she walked away, without remorse, into the rain.
The fire won again.