Passing Trains

Short Stories... All Aboard!


15 Cents

The place was so big they had their own post office – not a hole-in-the-wall store front – but a substantial brick and concrete affair with a loading dock large enough to accommodate several trucks.  On the grounds of Maryknoll, a picturesque seminary of massive stone buildings situated among the pastoral hills above Ossining, New York -- it was the stamping and collection center for friends and missionaries reporting in from around the heathen globe. 

For all practical purposes, Maryknoll seemed the West Point of the Christian world, a place where serious young men dressed in ankle-length black robes marched single file each evening chanting to silent, yet intense inner drums.  Such an imposing sight to see when they appeared, moving against the dark as ghosts circling a defense of Notre Dame -- robbed, wood-beaded soldiers of God as black as any invading army.

Odd place, too, to see an ice cream truck, to hear a Good Humor man, uniformed in happy-white and blue, jingling his polished bells.  But this is what you would have witnessed that late spring, 1960, when around lunch time this particular Good Humor man wandered the long, tree-lined Maryknoll lanes searching for a paying customer.  Yet, in a way, it seemed he too was a knight of the realm, a friendly realm, and probably more suited to do his vending below the mountain of their religious fervor – down in the neighborhoods of screaming kids, red bicycles, and furry pets.  But it was lunch time, and with no schools in his novice’s territory, Maryknoll just seemed to him as good a place to be – as opposed to no place at all.

On a good noon-day, he would sell three, maybe four ice-cream bars while crisscrossing the seminary grounds, usually to visitors or other just-passing-through mortal souls.  Not much for what was involved, but better than nothing, he thought.  So, he was going to give up the stop behind the post office, but on the fifth consecutive day of no sales, a voice finally called from the usually silent loading dock.

“Hey, wait up!” 

It was, to his surprise, a young girl, a nun in training, assigned to sort envelopes and packages in missionary postal order. 

Aside from schooling young male zealots, the Maryknoll grounds also housed --  quite  separately --  a monastic enclave of old, gospel-clad nuns who taught frightened young girls the feministic side of militant salvation, and as ardently as any male-minded, man-loving seminarian.  Here they trained the “Missionettes of Mary”, girls who came by the word and direction of god, or running from their Hades’ home-fired hell.


“I’ll have that one” the nun-in-training said meekly, pointing to Mr. Good Humor’s famous chocolate-over-vanilla bar splashed across the side of the polished, enamel-white truck.
With a smile, I reached into my freezer of joys wading in dry-ice, and – without looking(!) – let my hand search for the most wonderful chocolate-over-vanilla bar I could find.
“Here, this one’s special, very special, and I’ve been saving it for you!”
The little hesitant angel dressed in habitual, melancholy gray looked up straining to smile.

And it was here, by virtue of her faint, poignant smile that we entered another place, a corner or plane beyond the immediate presence of our exchange –a world where life seemed tipped in the balance, or tripped in the split-time of imbalance.

Before she took a bite of the ice cream, even before she opened the paper wrapper, I noticed how the trees had suddenly turned their rarest celestial green, how the leaves were swaying so beautifully to the wind’s effortless ballet undulating across their limbs, and how all of nature now seemed to be watching, listening, waiting.

Heavy stuff for a 19-year-old Good Humor “man”, but even nature has her mysterious ways…  like the sky turned radiant blue, the clouds traveling mile high adorned in resplendent white, the flock of birds passing in perfect formation, then coming around to listen.   And all ears were waiting in the silent sea of radiant blue and celestial green, waiting like I for their lost angel to speak.

With tears welling in her hazel-blue eyes, her hand holding her two saved coins, she struggled to say, “I’m sorry, I thought…, I’m so sorry, all I have is… fifteen cents”.

Now, what would you do here for the another hellish ten cents, after God’s emissary has reached into your freezer and thrown open the gates to heaven?   How would you answer to the birds on their branches, or to the sun looking down?  What would you say to the ants stopped in their constant tracks, or the bees listening from their bright yellow flowers, or to the squirrels then reverently waiting to bury next winter’s frozen dinner?

With tears still dripping from her violet-green eyes, she opened the wrapper and took a first bite, a small, tiny bite.  For a moment, I and nature watched as her heart unfolded, and listened as she hesitantly, painfully, spoke again.

“I…, I think.., I think I’ve made a mistake.”
 “What mistake?” I asked.
“Coming here, to Maryknoll.”

Little angel, is this your lucky day!  Did I hear you right, “a mistake”, and you’re telling me?!… me who spent another life battling the Catholic god -- who was beaten and excommunicated, and who now stands before your mistake with a mighty sword tempered beyond blue steel by the blazing mother-star of the universe?  Come with me, my angel, I’ll lead the way out!

Of course she had made a mistake, and certainly not by descending gently to earth, or even living low all of her 16 years.  And here, in the seemingly serene surroundings of the holy battle field, and with all of nature watching, with an angel’s ice cream lost in icy vapor, Good Humor man and angel conversed.

“I don’t know what to do” she said, with more tears.

I can’t recall precisely how I responded, the exact words I used, but let me guess, and well:

“You’re God’s own, and I know he wants you to take wing from this caged place.”
“Oh, yes, I shouldn’t be…, how did I ever come here?” her napkin blotting tears.
“The same way I came here, and by no mistake of nature.”
“…What, what do you mean?”
“I didn’t grow-up to be what you see, yet here I am, far from the beaten track – and here we are, who shall never meet again in this place, because now you’re free…”

Well, whatever I said, her tears went away. Then I saw the young girl, there, sparkling in her heavenly yellow-violet eyes, her gray habit gone from winter to spring, from hopelessness to life, and melted vanilla ice cream dripping from a young girl’s found chin.

It was then that an imperious loading-dock voice intruded, calling her back, reminding her of her missions to the Maryknoll god.  Yet, I say, the voice was too late, too late to put back the sorcerer’s blood dripping from the diamond-tipped sword, too late to reconstruct a young angel’s cage, too late to invade her gentle heart again.

Mr. Good Humor watched as she walked up the loading dock steps, no longer the lost missionette who had come so sadly down.  Her violet eyes looked back toward the roaming knight, mounted again on his enamel-white horse, his chocolate-over-vanilla now and forever guarding her soul.


As promised, he never returned. No, he spent the remaining summer months down below – down with those screaming tykes and their red bicycles, and too often selling vanilla bars to angels and kids who, after frantically searching their high and low pockets had found only fifteen cents. But little did they know that their hands held such lucky coins, until the Good Knight rode away.   

© 2001 David M. Molloy (a/k/a Don Q; David Baker)


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