Sleep came to me like the first drops of rain. Weariness pooled in my eyelids, and before I knew it I was wrapped in a profound sleep, riding on the carousel of dreams. Gently rising and falling, dipping in and out of consciousness.
I dreamt that night of childhood: comic books sprawled on a cluttered bedroom floor, bluish grazed knees from woodland adventures and secret sweets at midnight. I dreamt about my sister Maria, and the devilish drop of mischief in her eyes that shone so brilliantly. I dreamt that we were sitting cross-legged on the dusty pavement in the peak of summer, our sneakers scuffed and dirtied. Maria held an old Barbie in her grubby hand, yanking at its hair and humming a tuneless melody.
The street was silent and still, and the air had a chalky acridity to it. As I breathed it in, my nostrils began to sting and I could feel the thick throb of blood pulsing through my nose. Maria didn’t seem too bothered by this, and unwaveringly she began to dismember her doll – ripping off limb after limb until all that was left was a plastic torso. As my sister carried out her directed mutilation, there soon became a soundtrack to my dream: a tinny, delightful music that drifted sweetly in, one that brought memories of balmy July afternoons flooding back. It was a music that was nostalgically familiar, a song that heralded ice lollies and soft-serve ice cream. The jangling of O Sole Mio filling the air, the echo of each note ringing through my bones as I sat on the pavement, until the tune took a deep crescendo to an insufferable level, billowing inside of my lungs and filling me up like a big balloon.
My eyes flung wide open and I found myself staring into the blackened night. The little electric clock in my bedroom told me it was 00:16am, in a blaring neon light. I shifted back the eiderdown duvet and swung my feet over the edge of the bed. Vigorously rubbing the palm of my hand over my eyes, I attempted to rub away the sleep and what remained of my reverie. I groped interminably for the recognisable fluff of my nightgown, and wrapped it tightly around my stomach.
Maria’s defacing of her doll and the gritty air had all subsided with my waking, but the old Neapolitan song continued to play. I stopped still in the bedroom, surveying the room for the culprit for this repeating cycle of song. Note after note seemed to seep in from behind my patterned wallpaper, spill out of my overflowing drawers and crawl out from under my bed sheets – the melody growing louder and louder, beginning to core through my ears.
I made my way over to the window and swung back the curtain. The street was shrouded by a blanket of night, with a scattering of white gems in the sky. There was a light breeze which winnowed through the trees, but a little louder was the low rumble of a running exhaust pipe. Parked outside of our suburban home was a gleaming white ice cream van, glowing luridly against the black tapestry of night – with O Sole Mio trickling out of the passenger window.
My tongue sat heavy in my mouth, and I began to feel a wash of cold sweat on my forehead. In the hope that I was somehow still dreaming, I scrubbed at my eyes and, blinking aggressively, wished for the van to disappear with a pop into the night sky. But, the music only grew louder, the melody jingling with an overwhelming degree of malice. I tried to draw my eyes away from the van, but it was as though something had grabbed a hold of me by the neck and was slowly pulling me towards it, like a musical lasso. My pupils shrunk to the size of pinpricks, and a thick vein popped out on my temples, as I found myself grappling for the window latch.
I heaved open the window. The crisp air blew gently in my direction, but was still strong enough to push my fringe out of place. The air, unlike in my dream, was not bitter or acrid. The only thing tickling at my nostrils was the sugary, vanilla smell of soft serve ice cream which wafted in through the open window. However much I so desperately wanted to look away, there was something in that van that had me wrapped tight around its finger, locking my limbs into place, and the more I tried to move the tighter and tighter they grew. The sickly smell of ice cream had now overpowered any other previous smell in the room, and my body flinched and convulsed under the hold of the van, my fingers and toes slowly stiffening until it seemed that the music had chained me into place. I attempted to call out to my wife, who lay sleeping peacefully in our bed all this time, but my jaws would not open – they seemed to do the opposite – constricting, crunching like broken glass.
A searing pain sparked in my molars, as I felt them splitting and fracturing under my clenching jaws. Naturally, a hot panic shot up through my chest as I entertained the thought that my consternation was not going to be alleviated any time soon. I manage to slow my tearing, heavy breath down to a steady yet fractured pace. The music reduced to now only a tuneful dribble, I felt my eyes fluttering open and shut. I definitely wasn’t falling asleep – I wasn’t going to be doing that anytime soon – but before long I doubled over, my arms and legs crashing into one another as I fell to the floor, folding up like linen underneath the windowsill.