Cold Side of the Ice

Me: (silence, sitting on one of many uncomfortable chairs, something he calls mission style)

Step-Father-Figure (though he'll never marry Mom): What's wrong?

Me: I fell through the ice.

SFF: You're not wet.

Me: Duh. I changed clothes. I'm not helpless.

SFF: I was sort of joking -- I thought you were going sledding?

Me: Yes. On the hill at the park by the river. I had a good run, I guess, and slid too far and the ice broke.

SFF: You want some cocoa?

Me: No.

SFF: Wasn't that bad, huh? Warmed up already?

Me: No. It was cold. Really cold. Like, I used to think it was cold in California when I had to wait for the bus in the rain. And then we moved here and I thought it was cold when you see your breath and the car doesn't start. But this was the coldest cold I've ever felt.

SFF: So you want some cocoa with a little splash of brandy?

Me: Should I tell Mom you offered that?

SFF: I was just joking.

Me: She says you grow less funny by the day.

SFF: (Shrugs. Sits in one of his dumb chairs, as always, carrying a little green bottle of ginger ale)

Me: I think I'd like to sit here and enjoy the cold.

SFF: Enjoy it?

Me: Yeah. It was so bad. The worst. And I don't want to change this by drinking something or cuddling up in blankets.

SFF: But you changed out of your wet clothes?

Me: Yeah. I regret that.

SFF: Otherwise you're content with your discontent state?

Me: What I know is that I felt something bigger than I've ever felt before. I've heard people say they were chilled to the bones. This was really it. My bones felt like metal. Like they were something strange put inside me. And my heart felt weird ~ flitty ~ like a fish flopping around. My first impulse was to run home and change and all that. But now I'm beginning to regret the impulse. I don't want to forget it. I don't want that cold to be half a memory. I don't want to cover it up.

SFF: And the cocoa and maybe a nice fire would just cozy up your memory, and make you too mediated?

Me: I don't know that word in the way you are using it.

SFF: Too contrived. Like being manipulated by another force. You're not experiencing the pure memory.

Me: Sure. I guess.

SFF: You're mother says you don't have any friends.

Me: This is true.

SFF: It's probably because not many nine-year-olds speak like you.

Me: (shrugs)

SFF: How'd a young girl like you get so smart?

Me: From Mom. She has an I.Q. of 141.

SFF: She's mentioned that to me once or twice.

Me: (silent pause)

SFF: That's nostalgia in a nutshell, though. You're on to it. You know what nostalgia is?

Me: From the Greek, nostros, home, and algos, pain. Thus, the pain of home.

SFF: Spelling bee practice?

Me: Yes.

SFF: Well, let me tell you, when you get older you will look at those spelling bees and there will be a boy. At first you will be attracted from afar. Mesmerized. And you will get to know him just well enough, but not too well. Enough to let him become a myth in your head. He'll grow to encompass everything you think you desire. And it will hurt to think about what you've lost. But you will love that hurt. It's best if you've had an experience with him on a rainy day. Then, when it rains it will make you want to sit in your car and listen to old mix tapes and think about him. It will hurt, but you will love that hurt. Well, it sounds like that is what you are doing with this through-the-ice experience. Preserving it as a benchmark.

Me: It makes you want to put brandy in your coffee?

SFF: That's your mother speaking.

Me: She's also pointed out that, beyond the brandy, everything is about a girl and the rain for you. She doesn't really like your films.

SFF: It's not just that girl. It's towns. It's schoolrooms. Cars. Little forts built out of sticks. Crummy apartments. A day between jobs spent on a porch with an always-out-of-work friend playing chess. It's about those months and years that bludgeon you, but they spit out keepsakes. Little itchy maps to the past.

Me: Like Rene?

SFF: (long pause) Your mother knows about Rene?

Me: No. I found your box.

SFF: But your mother doesn't know?

Me: No.

SFF: You haven't told her? Like you feel some kind of allegiance with me? Willing to preserve one of my secrets despite your own mother's feelings?

Me: a) It would just hurt Mom, so I'm preserving her feelings. But, b) I guess I can relate to your wanting to keep the letters. I mean, I'm too old to play with BooBoo Bunny anymore. It just feels stupid, but I miss the me who used to like to play with BooBoo Bunny. So I still keep him. I relate to you, then.

SFF: (leaning back on chair, speaking in half serious/half sarcastic tone) I think we've made some real progress today. You know that? This is good for us as a domestic unit. I'm very happy with what has transpired here.

Me: You realize I'm not all that fond of myself, don't you?

About the author:

Martin Brick is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in British Literature at Marquette University. Recent publications include stories in Vestal Review, Sou'wester, RE:AL, Pindeldyboz ("Management" c. 2005), Beloit Fiction Journal, The Fox Cry Review, The Shore, The Orphan Leaf Review, The Circle, and other places. He is a former editor of Wisconsin Review and a past Pushcart Prize nominee.