Thaw

by Ashley Hutson

Since it has been getting warmer, the lake has started speaking to me. Ice singing they call it, but I know better.  At dawn I walk outside and listen: far-off wails, low rumbling like thunder. Spring sounds terrifying out here on the lake, as if the ice knows the rising sun is the end of everything. In protest it sounds off like a great pair of scissors clipping a high tension wire, sending it whipping across the surrounding mountains and making sparks where I can’t see.

Every year it is like this, the lake telling me that a change is coming. So consoling, the change of seasons. Each year Marion and I sit on the deck and watch the sunbathers gather on the beach. First a few timid, early-season swimmers, then later whole families bringing full beach gear—-the striped chairs, the leopard beach blankets, the umbrellas planted in the sand to shut out the sun. By the end of May the beach is alive with people and it is hard to believe winter ever happened, or will happen.

Marion always liked the binoculars during these long afternoons. Looking at beach bodies, huh, I’d ask. She’d roll her eyes. Only the weird ones, she would say. I’ll let you know when I find a good one. Eventually she’d get bored and get up to go in the kitchen. After a minute she’d get bored there, too, and stick her head out the window.  I’m going to dig around in the garden, she’d half-yell. Wanna help?

Everything as it should be, everything in its place. One hour flows into another, one season into the next. Dinner, then television, then bed. Cold feet and giggling under the sheets. Then long breaths, quiet, and sleep.

The ice is becoming more vocal now. It is early March, and the ice has stuck around for as long as it ever has. The noise is deeper, more violent at night when it re-cools and expands. I hear what sounds like the cracking of a giant god-knuckle echo through the cold air.

I am alone in bed now. In January I found Marion crumpled up like an old grocery list on the living room floor. An aneurysm, they told me. Completely unforeseeable, completely unexpected. Probably no pain, they said. Probably. I imagine her in her last minutes, frozen in place, struck by a lightning bolt of pain above her right eye, then nothing.

Since then I have been paying closer attention to the lake for signs. I am sure this winter cannot last. It has been a prolonged one, a hard one. Snow clean up to the elbows; even the lake’s icy mutterings were muffled for a time.

In the early morning, I come out alone on the deck and turn my face toward the sun. The ice creaks and shudders in a way that assures me all of this will break soon. Soon the ice will melt, crumbling into the water like a crispy butter cookie disappears into a glass of milk; soon the sunbathers will be milling around the beach with their bright and tacky towels.

Soon I’ll walk down there among them, just as I did years ago after first moving here. The sun will be a burning globe, hanging high and hot in the clear sky. I will look out onto the lake, which will be rippled and flowing, curling gently against the shore.  I’ll watch Marion rise out of the water, her golden hair pressed back against her head, looking smooth as a seal. She’ll walk up to our beach blanket and say, It’s as warm as bath-water today!

She’ll kiss me and put on her sunglasses and lie down to dry, the whole afternoon ahead of us. Soon.

Ashley Hutson has work published or forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, theNewerYork, The Heavy Contortionists, The Lascaux Review, and others. She was named the short fiction finalist for the Orlando Prize in 2014. Find her on the web at http://www.aahutson.com. 

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