Wednesday’s Fiction: To Those Who Wait

It was an odd, fateful accident, all that resulted from that day, and it started with running into George in the middle of the day on Mimosa Pond’s path. She’d been to the bank, going over her woeful balance with a teller. After it was shown to be still in her barest favor, she took time at water’s edge, walking and gawking with deliberate pleasure. There were silken layers of southern floral fragrances in the air that half-spooked her. It didn’t seem quite right although she knew better. Her latest home base in Idaho was under a heap of snow. Tennessee held a different scent altogether.

She needed such moments away from her mother, and to practice experiencing the relief of small pleasures. The past month had not been a choice string of events. Anyone who had lost a job would not fault her for a swear word derailing her thoughts. Even the sweet green light of early spring did little to cheer her. She refused to budge until her mood lightened. Then she might re-enter her mother’s cottage with the evening’s dinner groceries in hand and good news that she was not entirely broke. She endeavored to keep the full and bitter truth from her: it could be a slight month more before her bank balance became a total loss. Unless her art work sold fast.

The footsteps behind her slowed, then stopped. She registered the sound of gravel crunching and the pause of it but was busy examining a duck that looked as if it had mated perhaps with a random crow. Pretty thing. Yet it had a duck’s bill and way of dipping and floating; it had not made a sound yet. It had plenty of company, unlike herself since arriving in town.

A husky voice made murky by duck squawks and a riffling waterfall came through her reverie. She stepped aside as if used to being in the way when others approached. A bad new habit since her humiliation.

“Marietta?”

She looked up because the person said it right, the “Mari” syllable not mispronounced as “Mary” which strangers inevitably said, but rhyming with “far” as it should be. She was “Mari” to friends–but this man couldn’t be one of the two or three holdovers from twenty years past. Could he? They’d all moved elsewhere, as had she.

Mari blinked; her eyes slid over his face. “I am. And you are?”

“George,” he said, “George Hartsell.”

“Oh…?”

 A frown rippled over his tan face then vanished. Maybe it was a few day’s beard growth that darkened his jaw and cheekbones, an almost swarthy look; he was not recognizable. He looked taken aback that she didn’t know him right off and rocked on his heels a little, studied the ducks, waiting.

But Mari remembered enough. Her second best friend had been chummy with him and so they’d all done things together from time to time. Rita wasn’t serious about him–she was serious about no one. George was always in the background, though, and brought about when she was bored. Mari thought her capricious and a little mean but he didn’t seem to mind. Studious, with a quick wit, he was nice to her–that’s what she recalled. He’d been slight, a tad awkward, and companionable enough.

“Oh, George, sorry! I think we maybe ran into each other at the ten year reunion? Nice that you remembered me, and from a distance. What a surprise!”

“I wasn’t there, sorry– in Italy at the time, I think. It’s okay. But you don’t look so different. Same auburn hair, tall, lanky. A bright presence, overall, still.”

His lively look held her gaze a moment–he had certainly gotten tall somewhere along the line, too– and they smiled at each other with some embarrassment, which she could not decipher.

“Well, so how funny–here we are. I’m back …to tend to my mother. She had a bout of cancer and is on a slow mend. Never thought to find myself back in Tennessee. Just here a short time to make sure she is healing and doesn’t feel too alone. Though she has doting friends and, of course, the church.” She picked up a stick, tossed it into the water where it floated away with no destination. “I don’t know, guess duty called.”

“The same for me,” George said and squatted, long black coat sweeping over dirt and rocks as he studied the water fowl. “My uncle is about on his death bed. He was like a second father to me when I was a kid. Haven’t seen him in well over ten years, so my father called and asked that I come. Of course, I also wanted to see him.” He tossed a rock with some force toward a land mass that mimicked a miniature island. It hit solid ground. He stood and brushed his hands off. “It’s sad, seventy-nine, he’s been very ill. No doubt you and I have other obligations. But, you know, blood family is, first and last, family.”

“Right.” She sighed. “Terribly true despite our best efforts…”

He snickered. They began to follow the path together, despite her desire to be alone before once more being immersed in the hothouse tenor of her mother’s place. But he seemed at loose ends.

“Mind if I tag along? I have nowhere else to be right now.”

Mari shrugged. “Tell me what you ended up doing, then. You were good with numbers and played the…trumpet?”

“Yes, to both. I’m in business, worked for an international company and still travel a lot. And I still play the trumpet for relaxation.”

“Not a big surprise. You were–are–good at all you did.”

“Thanks for that.”

She had forgotten how and where she had heard him play, but she knew Rita, a drummer in a garage band, said he could be a jazz musician one day–he was that natural a musician, so creative. That was one reason she hung out with him, that tie with music. Not that Mari was averse to it. She just had had little satisfaction  pursuing piano so quit at twelve.

“You know Rita became a nurse, married a dentist and moved to Atlanta.”

“I didn’t, no. Hope that worked out for both.”

“It did, I suppose,” she said, deciding to not tell him she had no idea what had happened since 2010. Losing track of old friends happened so fast. And now how to tell him the state of her career?

“I am or was part of a large, booming gallery–the director. Boise, of all places. But I have long been an artist. It just didn’t pay my rent.”

“You are or were a gallery director?”

She stole a glance at him but he was staring across the pond so she kept on, uncertain how to answer. His arms were swinging, matching his long stride; they moved in sync when his right arm brushed against her left. Instantly, a mini-shock of warmth, that tingle of one person touching another. George touching her, accidentally. He slowed a little, turned back to her, ready to hear her story.

“I am, but I’m on leave. It’s a long saga. Not too interested in telling it. I am re-evaluating.” A laugh came out too loud and hard, bounced around a thicket of trees.

“We’re never interested in spotlighting tough times, just remarkable ones, right? I’ve had my share. I cannot imagine your not being a fine artist,  Mari. You have such talent.”

There, he said the more familiar name. It sounded good to her. “I was sure aspiring to be one. Making work much less these days.” She turned and put hands on hips. “Okay, none in four months.”

“Well. Huh.”

“Yeah.”

They had looped around the entire pond and stood near the parking lot. He took out car keys. His alert grey eyes held hers more than a moment, and there it was. An unmistakable recognition that went a little deeper, barely. A tentative, unexpected connection. o, she was imagining it, wasn’t she?

“I have to get going, but why not join me for coffee tomorrow?”

She wanted to say: what about a wife, maybe I have a partner, too; what about keeping it formal or maybe just keeping  the heck away? But she felt that he was alone. They both wore a lean, wan look tempered by surrender to their chronic but comfortable solitary state. They had stopped expecting anything to work out. They were savvy and they had also given up. They were fine like that. Mostly. She was almost broke but that was another issue, more or less.

“Alright, why not? About ten?”

“Jana’s? Where we once sucked up too much bitter black coffee-before it became so terribly gourmet and pricey!”

That brought forward memories of forbidden cigarettes, heavy white mugs of rancid coffee in shadowy back booths. But she already had misgivings. As he found his sporty car she realized he was attractive in a slightly asymmetrical, curious way and carried himself with easy confidence. George had grown right up, become a man of the world, a doer of things. And she was tired of that sort. In fact, she was steamrollered and worn out by all men. And George was just another, albeit one with a fine woolen overcoat and light beard, and an attentive, affable manner.

******

The door jingled its small tarnished bell just as it had all those years ago. Assuming it was a newer bell, but maybe not. She surveyed the scene. Jana’s Side Street Cafe had new charcoal tiled flooring and rich blue walls but otherwise seemed the same. The booths were still dark red but sported upgraded fabric.

Mari had told her mother she’d be a couple of hours and would bring home her new medicine. Tammy’s breast cancer had responded well to treatment; most of her chest was yet intact but this was the second bout and at sixty-three, she had been forced to retire from the library after so many months lost and too much weakness. Even if she had reported to her desk, it was time to take back the life she had left, she had told her daughter. She’d worked there thirty-four years.

Every time she looked at Mari she was filled with gratitude. This made Mari cringe with shame at the secrets she was keeping from her, and the fact that she found it hard to be there more than a couple weeks. They had not been very close during her youth; they had not become any more intimate with the passage of time. But Tammy was even more the optimist now, oddly, so kept trying to pull her closer, while Mari retreated more. For every kind hour there were those prickly with irritation, the subtle and often mutual criticism they tossed at one another. They had changed in opposite ways, it seemed. It frustrated them yet they never spoke of it, just carried on, each in their proscribed roles. Only now Mari was a caregiver, not the one aided. So far. She wanted to keep it that way. She liked her independence, her lifestyle. Still, her mother was her only mother. She loved her.

George waved at her from a sunny side booth; the favored back ones were filled with college students from the Baptist college. You could tell from the studied neatness and serious gleams in the eyes.


“Hey there,” she said and slid into her side. “You look more normal today, I have to say–and rested.”

Henodded. “I was getting over jet lag. Came from Columbia, then the Bahamas.”

“I see, tough life.”

That was an actual tan, then. He was clean shaven, wore a green T-shirt under a jacket with lots of pockets, safari-style. He smelled unusual, like cedar or the sea or a mix. Mari felt overdressed in tailored black slacks, high heeled boots and a teal cashmere sweater. She had met with a gift store manager earlier, giving her a sales pitch.

“I had business, forgive my cultivated look. I tried to push my nature prints at Nance’s Art and Knickknacks. I am trying not to cringe as I say that… hard to explain.” She felt her face flush so signaled a waitress.

George said nothing; he appraised her with eyebrows raised as cups were filled and cream brought.

“It is just that I have to keep making money on the side.  I don’t know how long  will be here and the job–it won’t tolerate my absence for long, and I have bills still coming in and–“

“Any good success at Nance’s or did you hightail it out of there?”

The vowels had relaxed already, just as hers had; the south was creeping in enough that they’d have to watch it or get sucked in to old habits of speech and behavior.

“Yeah, actually, she took four prints on trial. I hope they sell. I sell online, too, if you ever want to see what I do.” She played with her spoon, poured a heap of sugar into it, dumped it in, stirred. Her heat rate bumped up; she felt breathless. She just could not fake it to someone she had enjoyed and respected once.

“Hey, George, enough bull, alright? I was fired. I had an affair with the owner’s son and that was considered not acceptable as Joseph–the son–oversaw all accounts when his father was out of state.  Which was at times for weeks, months. Charles Meier considered it overt favoritism and double dipping on both our parts when Joseph pushed my work at customers. I wasn’t even showing there, of course. Although business happened outside our gallery walls. And Joseph saw to it I got paid quite a bit and he got a nice commission and…well, not okay  to Mr. Meier. So I was finally flat-out fired.”

“I see, you were both hustling.” George put an index finger to upper lip and pressed the indentation. He tried to not smile. “I guess it was a sort of ethics issue. Why didn’t he recommend you to another gallery or someone who could help without entanglements?”

“I don’t know. Laziness? He may have loved me?”

“Ah. Did you love him? Wait– that’s too frank a question, sorry. But I get it, he believed you deserved success. Plus he was smitten.”

Mari was stopped by smitten, how old fashioned it was and Southern it felt. “No. I mean, perhaps I was, but in the end it was more about the art…I didn’t separate the two very well. Love, art, men, business, work, art, love, life. It gets jumbled at times. It is not easy out there in the great art world, believe me. My prints and paintings are very good but so are plenty of others.” She lowered her face to the steaming mug and then looked up from under her eyebrows. “I took advantage of his contacts and interest, I admit it.”

He leaned back with mug grasped in both hands. “I understand some of this. I buy art.”

Her head jerked up. “What? Well, you make good money at your work, I can see that, so it must be great art you hang. What do you do? Your turn, George.”

“I’m an entrepreneur. I started out as an investor and did well fast, worked further in international banking and made a lot more money. Some years ago I got sick of working for others. I took my money and invested it in cutting edge tech industries of various sorts. Now I invest in others’ projects, businesses. “

Her mouth had dropped open enough that she made herself close it casually, sipped more coffee as she gathered her composure.

“Well, George Hartsell, we all thought you’d make it but more like an Ivy League mathematics professor or a ground breaking environmentalist, perhaps. I guess an entrepreneur is okay, too.” She let out a snort. “I mean, if you love it, why not?”

“It’s not a dirty word, is it? ” He smiled but his bright clear eyes narrowed. “It wasn’t a plan to take over the world or anything mad. I just had this knack. I took serious risks.” He looked out the window. “You know, most people don’t recognize me in my old hometown. I get the urge to extend my hand but they look me up and down, pass by quickly. It is the smell of money, I suspect, and a foreignness I seem to carry now. It’s a weird feeling. My parents are glad to see me, of course, and had a dinner with a few of their friends last night. But no one seems to know what to make of me. I want to say, ‘I’m just George–I love numbers and innovation, that’s all! It also made me money!'”

“No one knows me, either, George. Or, rather, they know me but aren’t interested. I think they all know I lost my biggest job, anyway. And I make art, after all. Most of it is not the sort they’d hang on their walls. The nature prints are one thing–and I love doing those, too– but the rest…I mean, what is art to this town?”

“Maybe a primitive painting of a farm scene? Not that that is not worthwhile.”

“Yes, likely so and I agree. And the quilts my mother and her friends make are beautiful. But I am not a success in the typical way, not like you. And now I don’t know quite what I will do next.”

“Make more art, Mari.”

She checked his expression to see if he was teasing or being downright snide, but he seemed serious. His demeanor was even gentle.

Kayla the waitress– no one they knew– brought more coffee but they had had their fill and grew restless. The sun streamed in; they were drawn outdoors.

“Let’s go to the park,” he said and guided her out by her elbow like a gentleman well raised.

******

“Here’s the thing,” he said, “you do need to create so you can’t stop now. I need to create, too, just with different materials, using different avenues. I love the way the human mind can imagine and devise an vast assortment of ideas. I had my own dreams as a kid. I’m holding onto them as long as I can work it right. You can do the same. Should do it.”

They’d walked around the shimmering pond. He’d mentioned he was divorced for over five years and she’d said good for him, he was brave–she’d never even tried a marriage. He’d told her he was tired of travelling and had two houses, one in Wisconsin on a lake and one in L.A. and “a modest apartment in New York” and he’d like to stay put awhile. She wondered how simple or small ‘modest’ meant but just having three homes seemed entirely excessive. A bit interesting. They’d talked about art a little, what he had bought and who she admired and what her next project might be.

“I know. I’m not giving up. I just am taking a break and really have to make money soon.”

“Okay, you know what? I can likely help with that. Now, don’t start being negative or suspicious until we talk over some things. I have a week to hang around; we’ll come up with ideas, think it over well.”

He leaned against a tree and reached out to push a stray lock of burnished gold hair from her eyes. She found the act lovely and natural. They both sensed there was something more underneath it all. They weren’t just two buddies passing the time of day to stave off boredom, catching up on old times, swapping stories to impress or garner attention. It was happening fast, but that didn’t negate the existence of something more stirring between them.

They liked each other’s company, had begun to click, even started to understand the direction and content of their thoughts before all the words were said. It was as if they had always known they might trust each other–when they were seventeen, more captivated by Rita’s boisterous energy?– but had put it aside and so now they resurrected the actual possibility.

Mari took a step backwards, then came forward once more as he carefully opened his arms. They stood there in the warm breeze, hip to hip and chest to chest, minds clarified, their hopefulness magnetic. Like they’d been needing such a moment a long while, and now they were meant to fit.

“Hey there! My gosh! Are you for real?  Is that Marietta Masters and George Hartsell from the good ole, bad ole days? I can’t believe this–twenty-five years later!”

Mari said into George’s ear, “Good grief, that’s Tommy Jenkins, isn’t it! Balding and slouchy but no mistaking him!” 

“Oh, no, not today if ever. Let’s get out of here, lady.”

George grabbed her hand and they ran around the bend of Mimosa pond until they came to his car, a vintage green MG. “Let’s head out to the country, what do you say?”

They had managed to leave the town a few miles behind when George shouted into the wind, grinning like a madman at Mari, “By the way, I already own six of your prints and two paintings!”

Mari smacked his arm as her eyes teared up. She wasn’t sure if it was the heady Tennessee spring wind that got to her or the sudden start up of actual happiness. But she did know her mother would forgive her for not sharing the whole truth. She would even cheer her on, then hug the breath right out of her and say, “Told you that all good things come to those who are just willing to hang on and wait, darlin’.”

A Small Ice War

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It was cold enough that the birds hesitated to sing. Below 20 degrees, a thermometer attached to the side of the house confirmed. Fine etchings of ice embellished the many windows. Maren exhaled against a chilled pane, its prettiness fading, and brought forth a blurred view of the lake, obscured by snow-laden fir limbs. An over sized pond was more the truth (Andy called it his private lake), and it sat just beyond the first fir tree line. He had already scraped parts clear with his shovel and its revealed bluish-gray sheen flashed in the sunlight. She could more fully imagine it than see it: an irregular oval with a wood bench along the south edge, more thick white and scotch pines at the northwest side to help shelter all from the Great Lake effect snow and wind. She had once found it the more beautiful of the land’s features.

Close to the house a cardinal landed on a birch limb and turned its head to her. Maren returned its look, a flutter of cheer rising inside then flailing. She returned her gaze to the place where the pond lay in wait. It was well-frozen now; he wouldn’t have been there, anxious to do more ice fishing.  He hadn’t mentioned its state of thickness to her; he always waited for her to ask. She had avoided checking, though she knew the rhythms of the land by then, was intimate with the seasons’ ways. She told herself it didn’t really matter, she never went there, it was a bother to think about. If she got the information from Andy it would likely cease to rattle around her mind. This had gone on each winter for three years. Each winter she put it off. But when she knew the thickness or thinness of ice, she felt somewhat relieved of burden of memory. She didn’t worry much about Andy or even their son. But the one time she would go near it–even then, only the edges of its benign murky green depths–was in summer, and it was for the riot of wildflowers that enticed her. Or to watch Andy and Troy fish. She never touched her pole now, either.

Maren and the pond had become enemies. It had nearly taken her as she had swept about its rough-hewn surface, her ice skates bouncing a bit when they hit ruts and snags of ice. The sun had graced the day, a sort of heavenly beacon after two weeks of leaden skies heavy with snow, then emptying of the thick flakes that took hold of everything. All was well. She had executed a nice turn, then a fair waltz jump and landed, if not quite gracefully, with sureness.

And then she heard it, the undoing of that weld of millions of hardened water molecules, the slow cracking warning of more. She caught her breath, gloved hand at her throat. Then the fracturing ice and sudden unbearable wetness like merciless claws grabbing feet, ankles, calves, thighs. Her chest was rigid with weak screams; her arms thrust out and atop the widening hole’s edges, trying to keep head above the depths, hands groping at the opening, then going numb as her body sank, nearly paralyzed. Her thought, floating atop the terrible weight of ice, was how she had skated–a passion held dear–right into death.

Andy had been at the edges with Troy, barked an order to stay put and not budge, then ran and slid across the expanse, grabbed the back of her coat  and arm just as her pale, soundless mouth became submerged. He yanked her up with wild might. It had been mere moments. She coughed hard and sputtered, cried out like a wounded animal. He dragged her off the ice, the continuous creaking and cracking following them every inch. Andy had been certain the ice was no longer perilous. He had checked it the night before; the temperature hadn’t risen much since.

When he stumbled into the hard snow he threw her over his shoulder and shouted at Troy to follow. They rushed to the house where he laid her by the roaring fire, stripped off her clothes and skates, rubbed her flesh until she cried out, “Don’t you dare touch me again!” He stopped a  moment, began more gently. Maren’s skin flared then burned as it thawed. She, aching, buried herself in wool blankets, peeked out as the friendlier fire leapt and waved at her. Troy, then four, sat behind her, patting and smoothing her head, his voice half of anxiety and half of love.

Andy split and brought in more wood to feed the fire until it roared. The kettle whistled. She longed to stand up with blanket about her and get it but she could not move for a long while. Andy brought her tea and sat with hands clasped between his knees, his slippered foot touching the heel of her foot, a mass of anxious anger hidden until he lay behind her, breathed onto her neck, held her arms close to her chest with his muscular warmth. How could he have let her go out before checking better? Troy lay in front of his mother; the three of them dozed. It took that night and the next day before she felt warmer, could claim her extremities as belonging to her.

She did not go anywhere for five days, vowing a war against winter. He kept telling her: she hadn’t been drowned by the monster of iced water, hadn’t lost any fingers or toes, sure hadn’t died. But she still would shake with fear when cold. Only Troy could comfort her with his laughter and attentiveness. His need of her motherly equanimity. Andy often left her to herself but this wasn’t so different from before, just more uneasy.

Maren had wanted to sell the place, at least the acres that abutted their home and included the pond. It would have made them a good profit. But Andy had been there long before she came. It was his own true home, he’d reminded her. Despite being a law clerk for several years in a town three miles away this was where he felt himself. She didn’t wonder at his choice of solitude–only two neighbors nearby, little sound but nature’s voices, no one to interfere. He was a man who made his way alone. Until he met her and allowed for adjustments, enough that they could live together without overlapping too much. She had wondered if he could love her long or well enough and she, him. But they managed with passion, love of the land, shared creative work. He built burnished, sturdy wood objects for pleasure; she made glass and wood chimes for fun and to sell. In the wood shop, she loved him happily and he found her fascinating once more.

Troy made a difference. He was the elegant bridge, the chance to make their commitment to each other a greater thing of wonder and delight. She had barely begun to teach Troy how to skate that winter when she’d lost her nerve. After that, they never went onto the ice. He didn’t ask her to skate again. He fished with his father (who never could succeed at skating).

Her skates still hung on a nail at the back porch, covered by an ancient barn coat once owned by Andy’s father.

Maren regarded the flat, monochrome landscape, let her eyes linger over trees and rusty red barn, then the lean-to that was renovated for the wood shop. She traced clouds to a break where broad rays divided the drear, then fell over a ranging cloak of snow and graced it with a honeyed glow. The pond in the distance seemed to wait for her but without any pity. Nonetheless there was a brief spark in her, a call of the old blades. Feet shifted as she straightened spine and rolled her shoulders back. There might be a way. She had read in the paper that a new mall right between their town and the burgeoning city had opened before Thanksgiving. There was a skating rink there, open now. It wasn’t so far. She could leave Troy with his aunt for the day, say she had shopping for Christmas.

Four days later Maren expertly laced the old figure skates, noting how stiff was the cracked, worn leather, how unforgiving on tender arches and ankles. Her mouth went dry. Adrenaline brought all senses sharply into use. Yet when she first stood she wobbled. Finding a new gravitational center, she took her turn entering the half-full ice. She let go the guard rail and pushed off, reminded that the speed that smooth, artificial ice allowed was much greater. The ice rink, like the pond, was oval but perfectly small. In the center towered a well-lit Christmas tree. Festive and full of laughing skaters, the ice appeared benign. No one was moving very fast. She took easy, long strides around the rink. Gained speed bit bit bit, felt her legs contract and propel, ankles hold. Soon she passed others with ease. Her blades grabbed ice, then released it; arms swung, legs followed and she experienced the forward momentum as a thrill, skates confidently attacking the surface and sliding forward. She would not stop until a half hour passed, not even if she fell.

Her bare head lifted, held higher as she streamed across the rink without fear or hint of impending failure. It came right back to Maren, that old love. Many stopped to watch as she whizzed by, the dizzying spins, a stag jump, a fast backward weaving that took her over the ice as surely as if she was being guided through a sort of flight-like dance. Her chestnut hair swept the air, her eyes open wide, lit with a feeling for which there were no words. But her body’s secret language gave off joy.

Maren, at last, skated free.

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******

It was a couple of weeks before Christmas. Snowfall had abated for two days. The temperature had held at under twenty-five degrees Fahrenheit. Andy had ice fished a few times with Troy and he cooked up bluegill for dinner.

“Ice fishing pretty good this year?” she asked, savoring her meal.

He glanced at her from under thick light brows. “Very good. You are tasting what it’s delivered.”

“I was thinking…but, oh, never mind.”

“What, Mama?” Troy asked, mouth full.

Andy finished off hash browns, wiped his mouth and sat waiting.

She looked him straight in the eye. “I was wondering if I might go out.”

His eyes started to smile at her, lips slower to follow. “You mean fish with us? That’d be nice.”

“Maybe.”

“Please, Mama? I want you to see how I do,” Troy said.

“I’d like that, son.” She ruffled his blond hair and finished eating.

“You don’t mean that. Fishing.” Andy leaned forearms on the table.

Her fork halfway to her mouth, it stalled and was put down. Her hands went to her lap, to the napkin there, and twisted it tightly. “No.”

Andy searched her face and saw her open just a little to him. She had been missing for too long, as if the ice break had taken part of her. The part that had been there before he’d come into her life. She’d been a champion skater as a youth, then had kept at it as a passionate hobby. He had admired that, her physical nature so natural and dominant. After the ice broke and she sank, she had retreated in some crucial way, as if she’d lost heart in their country life. He’d told her how his own brother had gone down once but popped back up; it was just a risk on the ice and most surely did survive it. He’d tried to encourage her but she’d refused to try again. He couldn’t understand it all but it hurt him. Maybe because it devastated her. Or perhaps because she hadn’t trusted him, hadn’t tried even with his support. So he’d let her be, even more. Right or wrong, they had drifted. Now it was mostly Troy that kept them mindful of their love.

“Tomorrow?” he asked her as he surmised her intention.

“Yes,” Maren said and got up to clear the table, biting her lip hard.

“What, Dad?” Troy asked.

“We’ll see soon, son.”

The next afternoon when Andy came home early they set out. There was a big sky of sapphire and gold and the snow blinded. She donned her sunglasses, grabbed her skates and headed out, Andy and Troy right behind her.

He was excited and yanked at his father’s hand. “I know what’s happening now!”

Andy tramped onto the hard surface of the pond-lake first and held out his arms.

“See, Mar? All good. I’ve been on it for a week, no surprises. It’s holding fast. Four inches thick, I checked twice.”

Maren nodded, sat on the bench and laced her skates deliberately, tightening them close to the skate boot. She wanted no wobbling this time. She would either skate right out and around or she would not attempt it today. It had to be that way; she couldn’t bear to fall or lose whatever edge she might have on its rough surface. If she got scared she couldn’t face Troy, nor Andy.

Her husband held Troy’s hand; it felt small. His son could barely recall the incident. He’d told his father he remembered her falling on ice, then shivering by a fire. He knew she didn’t like the lake (he called it what his father did to her annoyance). She had only told him she had once nearly drowned. He could not imagine it, his mother who chopped wood and planted the garden, canned peaches and tomatoes and made chimes and calmed him during nightmares. Told him good bedtime stories, still.

Maren stepped into the ice, making small steps on the ice as if she was a novice, her ear attuned to that terrible sound.

“What’s she doing? Is she afraid?”

Andy squeezed his hand.

But as she left the edge and  found more speed all she heard was this:: blades slicing across the ice, a sharp scrape as she pushed off for each long glide, the roughness of frozen water giving in to the command of her trail and its signature marks upon the ice. Freshening wind in her ears. She moved around the edge of the big pond, and soon was a medium speck at the far end as her husband and son looked on. Her heart felt it might explode as she pushed herself, thigh muscles engaging in power, giving her impetus to charge through time and space, across treacherous ice. She skated and listened, stayed back from its center where the ice failed her that one time. Fear ebbed and flowed but nothing threatened her, after all. She felt amid each movement more sloughing off burdens, the dissipation of fear. Flying by the two in her life who mattered most, she waved, then powered up for an effortless rise high above the ice, legs flung apart with her fingertips touching tops of opposing feet in a breathtaking split jump. She landed with a resounding thud. Not one shard of ice gave way beneath her. She skated on, hair waving behind her like a banner, one fist raised to the perfect sky.

“Dad! I didn’t know all this about Mom…”

Andy crouched in the thick bank of snow, held his son close.

“I don’t think I quite knew it, either, son.” He watched as Maren glided toward them as in a vision, like their own snow angel, clearly the woman he loved.