I slink across January ice. The sun shimmers over clear, cold icy sheen.
I look ahead, but still slip.
I flail, feeling the world tumbling. The sky leers, pale blue, puffed-up clouds surveying me. Frame houses line the street, staring with cheerful yellows and greens. Oak trees stare with naked arms.
I right myself, arms flailing. It’s a miracle, but relief evaporates, replaced by shadows of shame.
My older sister Nan loved running on ice. Falling with grace, she called it. She said there was nothing to it. Don’t let nature kick you in the ass, she said. She always liked to fall and rise with a certain elegance, taking a bow as she righted herself. A few times, she even tried to teach me the art of falling.
“Take a running leap,” she said, knees bent, back arched. “When you fall, you’re falling your own way. You can slink through things, but the fuckers will win even more.”
“All the world’s fuckers, Nicky.”
But she never saw things beneath. Never thought of the inevitable. Gravity, frozen sheen, speeding trucks. Rocks hidden, waiting for a suitable victim.
And one month ago, they won.
She didn’t put stock in Hemingway’s theory about one-eighth of things being visible on the surface. She said I took that too literally, that it was relegated to shirtless misogynists and people like Dad who spoke passive-aggressive, donned icy smiles, and divorced Mom, while legitimizing themselves in the process and making shady deals with the world.
I try to walk faster but I know it’ll get me one of these days. Ice. If not something else. It’s inevitable. Huge blocks beckon. Plus the evenings are horrible, coming from classes. The ice establishes its grip on this little college town. Things never break apart as fast as they should. Everything that should break apart sooner and spare you inevitably waits.
I hate to slow down.
I can’t call for Nan. Her voice is gone beneath the ice. Nicky, a lilting call, hazel almond-shaped eyes flickering with mischief. No more scent of sativas and gas and Camels. No more lavender, which she wore so liberally. No more reading my stories and pretending to hate them, pride shimmering through her sneers.
At least I have the dirty jokes she told with childish glee.
What happened after the potheads divorced and they couldn’t decide who got the kids?
They got joint custody.
Why does a father getting divorced have benefits?
Because love means never having to do anything but pay child support.
What do an earthquake and a family have in common?
Someone’s at fault.
I can’t think of the force of falling, of the moment the pain hit. The moment things begin to dim, the moment the world began to fade. What did she think? Did a joke rise to her mind, a joke about fractured body parts? Or did she think something else, whisper goodbye?
Did she whisper something she hated about our lives, the bristle of Dad’s mustache, Mom’s tears after being stiffed month after month?
Did she call for me?
Or did she fall with grace, a definite fall?
I try to walk a little faster. A little success anyway. I imagine Nan smiling, making faces, eyebrows dancing.
“Faster, faster,” she’d say. “Keep moving. Today would be good, little brother. No time to weep.”
One of these days, I’ll walk faster, though. Maybe in a week, more likely a month. Or three months. I’ll sprint. Then I’ll jog. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll take a leap and run straight into that iceberg. And I’ll defeat it, rocks, clear sheen, and all. Or I’ll take the biggest hammer to that ice and expose everything, rocks, slush, and all.
So many maybes. I wish I could cast off that word. Nan hated it.
Meantime, I walk a little faster, then slower. I await spring. At least everything melts, even if there’s too much rain and mud, ugly mud without cheer. At least I can fight mud, feet declaring war on the world on the cycle of life and doom, on muck and weeds and everything.
Everything’s on the surface.