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Saturday, May 10, 2014

On Ice. By John von Daler

                     "Ding! Ding! Dong!" Down the lane he comes, good old M.M. His little truck of frozen goods rolls slowly past the homes of the busy commuters. "Recollection Services Limited" reads the sign on the little white van. "We collect and store what you discard."



                M.M. stops in front of each of the homes. All of them are white, with ample picture windows, full of light, fronted with green, sloping lawns. Looking in from the street you often can hear music, but you seldom see the owners. You can sometimes see the televisions that are always on showing epic films about the terrifying future or the mythical past.
                M.M. pulls up with a sigh in front of a large dwelling. Sometimes he has seen activity here. It would be good for his business to sell something today. Just one. That would be great. He has fewer and fewer customers.
                He wants to get the most out of the stop, so he lowers his face, turning his round, black goggles toward the floor. He thinks: Sometimes if you do not look expectant, then you will not feel expectant, and then when you least expect it, what you did not expect will go on and happen.
                Sure enough, his theory turns real. Just as he has started to study the front curve of his right, black clog, he hears the sound of a door opening. He dares to look to his left and up, up the lawn toward the front door.
                A woman is stepping out of the house onto the little sheltered entranceway that leads down some curved stairs to the walkway of flat, uneven stones crossing the lawn. She is dressed in a flowing white gown that seems transparent without in any way revealing her shape. Her hair is black, shoulder-long and thickly flowing. She appears to have been sleeping; her almond eyes remain half-closed and her white skin is unblemished by any make-up. She looks like she is carrying something, but her upturned hands, stretched out in front, are empty.
                Maybe I woke her up, thinks M.M. as he watches her step quickly but carefully from stone to stone. When she almost reaches his van, he throws open his door and springs quickly onto her lawn. His goggled face turns to watch her last few careful steps across the grass from the stones to the curb. Looking down at her empty hands he asks the question he has learned to ask, no matter how silly it may seem.
                "Collect or recollect, Miss?"
                She looks down at her own hands and then up at the goggled face. She knows M.M. well, but she never really has studied his features. Even now she can only distinguish his very bushy eyebrows above the goggles. The rest of his face fades from sight like the rear of a hare into a burrow. Maybe he has a beard, she thinks, but she does not follow up on her guess. She looks at the sign on the truck instead.
                "Hopefully, recollect!" she answers with quiet intensity. "Do you have anything for me?"
                He turns his back to her and goes around to the white, square door at the back of the truck. He pulls at the thick, metal latch and opens the door. It separates them now and she stands behind the door waiting. Under it he can see that she has on pink slippers in the shape of toy poodles.
                "Hmmm" he says. "Checking the deliveries. Just checking the goods. Nope. Nothing." A little suspense keeps them coming back. No reason to tell her right off the bat, he thinks.
                The woman puts her hands up to the sides of her face as if she were holding her cheeks in, as if they might expand into the air and disappear without her interference. Her eyes widen and her mouth drops open.
                "Wait!" says M.M. "Here's something! Yes. Childhood in Sunnybrook. Picnic by a stream. Balloon disappearing into the sky. Mom cuddles daughter."
                The woman springs around the door in one happy little hop. She reaches for the white, silk bag in his hand.
                "That will be..." M.M. starts to ask for money, but remembers her wafting negligee as she drifted down the lawn. No cash in there, he thinks.
                "That will be on your bill, I take it?" He turns his goggled face toward hers. He winks behind the goggles and she sees his eye, enlarged to twice its size by the goggle, open and shut in a split second like the face of the moon being eclipsed by a small, dark cloud.
                She looks down again at the package and taking it out of his hand steps backwards on the lawn.
                "Yes. Thank you!" And she runs back up the stone walkway in small, dancing steps.
                M.M. closes the door and goes around to the driver's seat. He pulls out a clipboard and writes down the sale with the address, the name of the recollection, and the date.
                In the house the woman walks quickly past the television just as an armored knight rides across the wide screen carrying a machine gun on the saddle of a black stallion. She hurries into the bedroom and closes the door. She places the ice-cold package on the bed and sits down, waiting for it to thaw. In her brain she has just composed a little ditty that she now sings to herself non-stop: "The Memory Man in the Memory Van: He can do what nobody can! The Memory Man in the Memory Van: He can do what..."
                Outside the Recollection Services van rolls slowly down the lane. M.M. pulls the little chain on the roof.
                "Ding! Ding! Dong!"

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