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"Read the Ice", excerpt

Saturday 10/19/19

I wrote the fifth full short story of the week this morning. That makes nine in two weeks. I'll put any of them up against any story there has been. I'm not even going to try to explain how this is happening or is possible, because I am spent and I am so low. I'll just put some of the words here.


When in doubt, say less. My father was an aphoristic man. Knowing nothing, say nothing. Pith has place. Then, a secondary component—pith is more than the old lace veinery of an orange. I played hockey as a girl, while my father, clutching his coffee in the stands, declaimed, the bleacher crier, that I should read the ice. Always, read the ice.

There was mystery to his aphorisms. You puzzled them out. I’d look searchingly, into a lot of ice. The ice upon which I skated, the conical ice of the sandbox buckets we left out too late in November, the alabaster snake ice that grew like furzed creepers in the furrows of flower beds, glazed over birdbaths with their pecking chickadees intuiting value a layer below.

I’d hear ice, too. In the Lacrimosa of Mozart’s Requiem during piano lessons, colder than my grandmother’s opal earrings on my lobes. Our games went on and the ice became brindled with off-yellow streaks, as if exposed to too much air, musty apple core. Shaven snow would accumulate in ragged tufts, and I always thought the snow was there to wick away a form of discharge, like a tear. That’s what reading the ice was to me. It wasn’t until years later that I understood my father to mean the flow of the play, how the action tilted, the anticipatable. But even when I learned, I continued to read the ice in my life. It was something I did between me and my dad after he was gone.

Ted and I sit in the kitchen over purchases from Dunkin’ Donuts before Anthony and his sister Sierra are awake. That means it is early. No sun. Their rising time never eclipses eight o’clock, even on a Saturday. In a few years I will be fortunate to see them before eleven. My mother would have me gather my brother Matthew’s sheets after his wet dreams so that he would not be embarrassed. We never embarrassed in front of each other, but I had not known that extended to being semen siblings. I’ll clean up after Anthony. Maybe ask him if he has any questions about anything. Leave it there. Pith has place. I don’t know why I think about this over the coffee. You can’t read coffee like ice. The steam plumes upon the lid’s removal. It’s the opposite of wicking.

Ted thinks he has awoken earlier than I have on these mornings. He won’t know that I lay in bed hours before he stirs. Sometimes I will press my back into his to feel his warmth, even his feet are warm on mine which are always cold, register the rise and fall of his breath around the edges of my shoulder blades, where my skin has always been sensitive, and I will make myself climax, I will measure my breathing, because I do not wish to wake him and it is so unusual for us to touch like this as we have become, and I know that he would not mind, it might even make him happy.

You think that the things you cannot talk about with someone are those things that would be tantamount to the verbal version of the Lacrimosa. It’s not always that way. The coffee is how we are connecting at present. Ted supplements the coffee with a cruller stick, which he is under the impression I have a zeal for, though like my father’s aphorisms, that remains a mystery. I have two bites of the stick. I feel the coffee’s plume under my chin. It’s wet, but hot-wet, not bracing-wet like ice I have read. I will never have another child with Ted because I already know that I would love the child we would have more than I wish to because I want to give all of my love to the children who are asleep upstairs. He does not say it, but I know he interprets this as a pulling away. Given our plan when we started, then when Anthony was born, and his sister a couple years later, the sister I will not have swap out his sheets when he ejaculates upon them.

I can smell Ted’s semen from the wastebasket in our bathroom. There is a blooming, floral quality to semen, healthy semen. It makes me think of ice, but ice in spring. Wet spring trees. Rain water wet and dewed at once. The strings are like the striations, and maybe you can read strings, too. Perhaps it took a man to strike my father’s coinage. What gets coined. You can grieve for someone who does not exist, who never even got made. That is something I have read in ice.


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