It’s All Ice

Fiction
Liz Baudler


Remind me again why I decided to move from California to New England? #fb
Photo Credit: Chris McClave

“There’s no point in shoveling this, it’s all ice,” his dad said, scraping uselessly at the ground.

David looked up at his dad in the parka, at the gray sky. “We can take the ice off. We have salt.”

“There’s no point.”

“But we have to take the ice off, otherwise what’s Mom gonna say?”

“You can try it,” his father said shortly, shifting the shovel from glove to glove. “You can take off the top layer of snow. The ice might melt then. But I wouldn’t.” He slowly trudged away, thick hood bobbing against the back of the coat with every crunching step.

David stared at the snow, ugly with a day’s freeze, and the intermittent patches of warm wet brown driveway. It seemed to crystallize in front of him. He dragged his shovel and little sharp balls of graupel appeared along the edges. The driveway was at the end of the block at the bottom of a hill, and always collected the most snow in the neighborhood. When he was younger, he’d loved the house for this. But time went by and snow became not a medium for play, but for travel. Everyone always avoided doing the driveway—Mom was Mom, Dad was working, and Jeremy was a goof-off. So unless David did it, it didn’t get done, and you’d see countless legions of kids detouring onto the street rather than try to fight their way through the icy drifts.

He knew where there was a jar of salt, on the silver ladder in the garage. His boot slid over a lump of ice. He felt the hard peak of it bite into the arch of its boot and then suddenly it was over; he had slid but not fallen.

Tools hung on the ladder frame haphazardly. There was the hammer they had used for pounding in the Merry Christmas sign on the lawn, dangling grimly by a claw. The hacksaw glinted in the light bulb’s glare. Cans of screws and nails clattered menacingly as he reached for the glass jar of salt. He couldn’t remember when they’d used the nails. There weren’t many pictures to be hung or things to be fixed anymore.

Through the knit gloves he sensed the slickness of the jar as he tightened his grip on the top and twisted it open. It came easily, and he eagerly reached inside, grasping a generous handful as it whitened his palm. He cupped the salt in both hands and shook it, a friendly complete sound, like macaroni and cheese pouring out of a box.

Cradling it, he walked toward the behemoth ice mound that had almost tripped him earlier. Five grains, that should do it. They sat precariously on its crest and he did not wait for it to thaw. There was more to do.

The tire tracks were the real problem. They made highways of sheer slickness against the rest of the crusty snow, and the shovel barked unpleasantly when it encountered them. David scattered a bit of salt along their sides, walking towards his real target—the triangle. Various comings and goings had converged at one specific part of the driveway. All the tire tracks had crisscrossed into an uninterrupted three-cornered three-foot stretch. Stepping on it would be death. This was where the salt must go.

David hesitated a moment before he released it. The glass jar, fairly full, was still on the ladder, and that comforted him. He opened his hands and it poured out in a neatly controlled shower, hitting the ground to become invisible.

This time he waited for the little rewarding crackles, though to him it always sounded a bit more like sucking, the tiny Saltman slurping up the Big Bad Ice. The salt always won, he thought. At the end of the driveway where cars sprayed up junk from the roads it was mostly thawed from the salt that had landed there. It would start with one kernel, which would make one hole, and then—

A low humming motor made him look up, and the sounds of the great battle faded away. It was Jeremy’s car, Jeremy home from college, Jeremy who had taught him how to ride a bike, Jeremy who had run away to a dorm room with the smell of cigarette smoke.

Was it Jeremy’s car?

The paint was peeling in that peculiar pattern and the rust was blossoming freely. Last time Jeremy had been home, his dad had got mad about the car. “You should fix it.” he said.

“Why would I want to fix it?” Jeremy asked. “It works. Why don’t you fix it?”

“Why don’t you shut your mouth and start being responsible?”

“Why don’t you?” Jeremy shot back, and after a lot of bad words, he left, his dad still staring fixedly off at the taillights and the stream of exhaust.

“It’s the salt did that to the car over the years.” he said. “That’s what happens when you don’t wash it in winter.”

“You didn’t wash it in winter.” David said, confused. It was the old family car.

His father looked at him and then went back in the house, leaving David on the front walk wanting Jeremy back. He remembered his parents explaining to him, as if they needed some sort of reason, that giving Jeremy the car would be a kind of responsibility—that in order to keep it, he’d have to return at a certain time each night, take care of it, and pay for things it might need like gas and oil changes. Responsibility sounded enchanting to David. He used to imagine it as something very heavy that you carried around with you everywhere, until his mother explained to him that it wasn’t always the big stuff, and that washing the dishes and putting them away was also a responsibility, though dishes weren’t as big as a car.

The car pulled up. “Hey, sport.” Jeremy said through the open window, a cigarette in his mouth. “Figured you’d be doin’ the driveway.”

“Dad said not to, it’s all ice.”

“Don’t lissen to him,” Jeremy said, leaning over. He seemed drunk, that smelly stuff that came in a can rolling off his breath with the words. “Not doin’ the driveway because it’s all ice is like not wanting to live ’cause we’re all gonna die. Or like saying we don’t have care about bein’ good ’cause we’re all gonna die. But that’s a good excuse, sport. Tell them that next time they want you to put away the dishes. We’re all gonna die. Keep goin’.”

Still laughing, he drove away with a screech. David stood still. He hadn’t had time to say goodbye again. He remembered that Jeremy called him sport because he was a total klutz and didn’t even understand football. It was stupid.

Jeremy had told him to keep going. He saw where the ice ended, down at the foot of the driveway, right next to his boots. Sometimes if you shoveled there, you broke the whole damn thing up. He pressed the shovel blade against the end of the freezing.

Crack. It flaked off into little bits. It got whiter when it flaked off, he noticed, a bit milkier, and then it would break. A dinner-plate-sized one broke off and began to slide down the driveway. Crack. Scrape. Crack.

He liked this sound even more than the salt slurping. Thud.

A large sheet of ice. Thud. Thud. Would not break.

Jeremy had told him to keep going. Break. Break. With the shovel.

David brought the shovel up and out, like he had seen his dad do golf swings. “Firm and easy now, watch the follow-through.”

Thok.

Ice chips flew through the air. Thok. Thok. If you hit it at exactly the right angle, big pieces would go flying. Otherwise you just made a little cut that didn’t do anything, not even when you kept hitting it and hitting it and hitting it.

Hitting it and hitting it and hitting it. Somewhere in between blows, a door opened.

“Stop that infernal noise!”

Mrs. Sampson, his neighbor, who’d call the cops when the music at their birthday parties got too loud. Probably watching All My Children, like their grandmother would, except their grandma wouldn’t yell. Forget her.

He was coming to the salt-weakened part now. Thok. Crack! Thud. The thud of nothing. The thud that meant your ice wouldn’t come off. Not even with salt. Not even with all the salt in the glass jar on the ladder.

Thok. Thok-thok-thok…

“Kid, I’m warning you.” She slammed the door.

He stopped and looked around. Most of the bottom half of the driveway was clear. Could he live with a little? There’d always be a little ice in winter. And maybe it would melt. No one would slip. You could walk around it. But…

His hands finally decided for him, stiff in their knit gloves that always got wet. He threw the shovel against the side of the house, not really caring whether it stayed up or fell back into the snow. He trudged through the mush of the walk, and pried the doorknob to one side with his cold claw hand. He wiped his boots, three wipes, on the cheery green Christmas reindeer rug that shed bits something awful, stomped on the heels to get them off, and walked sock-footed into the kitchen.

It was gray with the lights off and the shadows. A pot of cold macaroni and cheese was on the stove, and a note on the counter: David, I’m divorcing your father. Love, Mom.

pencil

Liz Baudler studies creative writing of all sorts at Columbia College Chicago, and edits a literary magazine called The Toucan. However, she is not obsessed with toucans, or really, obsessed with much of anything, and she prefers to keep it that way. Email: mouse20101[at]juno.com

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