The Sound of Ice by Megan Furniss

They say you can only see us from space. From there we are tiny flicker pinpricks, a join-the-dots circle of light, bobbing on a dark sea. You would need to go to space to know we exist.

I wake up to the sounds I know. There is the lonely yawning of the big ice, a creak and scream. There is the huge, continuous slam of ocean against that wall of ice. Closer. I know that ma’s hands are pulling the rope and I can hear her arms brush up against her skirt and apron. Shook, shuck. Shook, shuck. Every day the rope is pulled. Sometimes the wooden bucket attached to the rope has hand written notes of greeting, bits of precious chocolate or scraps of fabric for sewing. Messages from the other lighters; women like sharing small gifts. And of course, there is our daily block of ice.

We are known as the lighters. In our circle there are 167 tiny boats, each with their own mother and daughter crew. We light a circle of protection for the iceberg. We defend it with our lights. We protect this valuable resource of pure water from thieves and pirates who might stumble upon us. You would say how could we do anything? Ma says we are nothing more than an early warning system. They don’t mind losing us. But we are safe here.

The waves slap against wood. I peep out. It is dark. We sleep in the day and wake and watch at night. Let them know by radio if we see anything strange. We have learned the sounds of water and ice.

Ma says my thirteen-year-old body is typical. I need sleep. Hours of it. Ma says, “Lucky we out here, with all the time in the world. Lucky for you.”

“Ma, ma. Let’s have tea. It’s cold ma.” I drag my coat off the floor, pull it under the bedclothes, grunting and struggling to put it on without letting any air in at the sides. Inside the coat pocket is my purple woolly hat and I stick my head under the blankets to put it on. It smells and I gag. When I burst through ma is laughing and my heart lights up. “You been warming yourself with farts again?”

She is chipping at the ice block and scraping the shards into a pot. Then straight onto the burner to boil for tea. Each boat gets a tiny block of the iceberg every day. “It’s the price it has to pay, poor thing.” Ma says.

I shuffle across the creaky wooden floor to the tiny cupboard and open the tin. Wrapped in oilcloth with tissue paper on the inside to keep them dry are ginger biscuits; one for each of us, one for every day of the month. There are two left. That means a delivery tomorrow. A month’s supply of everything we need will be parachuted into the water near us and we will haul it in. Also, once a month the circle of boats is ruptured when the huge icebreaker comes to take a chunk of the iceberg to shore.

The bell tinkles. A fish. Ma gets there first, opening the hatch in the floor and pulling a thinner thread this time, until a silver fish flops up, gaping, bringing with it the cold, and salt on the air. I stand with the hammer and aim perfectly, crushing its head. I whisper thanks, like a prayer. I hate the moment of killing.

“Put on the TV and I’ll fry it up ma.”

I clean the fish. Silver fish scales collect like extra nails on the ends of my fingers. The TV screen shows the sea, the camera moving in a circle and following the light, over and over, forever and ever. The light makes the waves white, then grey, then black. Suddenly the beam passes across the surface of the iceberg and the TV screen goes completely white, no end or beginning.

Whenever I see that I cannot breathe. It is the same cannot-breathe-feeling from before, when we were not here, just a family, and the man-my-father has me in a chokehold, his body behind me, and shoving.

“Ma!”

“It’s ok, Luce, it’s ok. Here, here’s a towel.”

I come back. I have pressed the scaling knife along my palm without noticing. Ma hands me the tea towel and I wrap my hand. She looks at me and I start breathing again. There is sorrow in her face, deep and long, but the fear is gone.

Before, at the women’s shelter, ma had panicked. We had run with nothing when she had come home early from work and caught him up against me and me not breathing, in a chokehold. She had struck out at him and we had run, even as he got to his feet, threatening to kill us both. “He will find us,” she had cried, “and then he will kill us,” over and over. The shelter knew where nobody would find us. We would be invisible, but we would be the lighters. Like many before us, and many to come. That’s where people like us go.

The fish sizzles in the shallow pan. I sip tea, holding the mug one-handed and watching the liquid move in time with the waves outside. Waves slap wood. Tiny tea waves slap the china wall of the mug. The ice groans and sighs. Ma runs her fingers along the tiny bookshelf. “We’ll have some new ones tomorrow. Just think.”

She holds up a worn copy of Roald Dahl’s BFG. “Imagine, the queen of England. Imagine a giant, even a little one.”
“And snozzcumbers ma, and whizzpoppers.” Imagine.

I look at the TV. The beam moves across the waves. White, then grey, then black. We dip our ginger biscuits in the tea, just long enough for the edges to start crumbling away, then we stuff them in our mouths and suck.


 

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Megan Furniss is a playwright, writer, theatre director, actor and improviser. She loves words and stories and making stuff up.

Revival, or The Mistakes Made by Those Stuck in Porcupine Plain, Saskatchewan by Kaitlin Ruether

You must be desperate or something, because you haven’t looted in ages, and your fingers tremble when your eyes fall on the wall of spices, the second biggest you’ve seen (the first you witnessed when your mother dragged you by the wrist to another Saskatchewan farmer’s market, the Big River Market, three hundred kilometres from where you stand now) and you are mesmerized by the pale carmine chilli and the gamboge curry, the staples of your craft; of course, in a town as small as Porcupine Plain, there are eyes that follow you, know you by reputation, so you move from the wall of spices out into the world (you still have a baggie of nicked onion powder in your glove box, next to the weed), but you are stopped in the parkade by a woman, mid-fifties, with smudged eyeliner and a too-large tank-top who blocks your path and stares you down as tears streak her cheeks, and she begs you to do her a favour, whimpers, “My son-in-law … he’s hurt,” so you follow her back to her blue sedan and see not a child like you imagined (caught on the word “son”) but a man of maybe thirty passed out in the passenger seat, and the woman eyes your sleeve of prison-gained tattoos with expectance so you rattle the door handle, but it’s locked, and behind you she sobs so you look at her and wait until she says, “He’s been drugged,” then shakes a breath from her lungs, “I drugged him,” she finishes (ah, so expected criminal empathy is why she cornered you), and you think of the turmeric in the aisle, the forbidden tangy nip of the dust, and you ask why, though you’ve never had a good answer to that member of the 5 Ws family yourself, but “I love him,” falls out of her mouth like too-hot makhani eaten with impatience: it slops to the pavement and you are uncomfortable to watch, so you look at the man and the dribble of drool that pools on the strap of the seatbelt, and you can hear music from the stereo — Jethro Tull’s forty-four minute “Thick as a Brick”: one song, one album, no full-stop — and the man in the car inhales and you exhale and the breeze dies, and the woman begs you again to get him out, but you’ll need a coat hanger, which you tell her before you tread back towards the market where you remember a young woman who sold tie-dyed t-shirts, but on your way you pass the spices, and your fingers wrap smooth along the glass of golden curry powder, the thrill in your blood returned — tonight you’ll craft kashmiri lamb and potatoes, or tikka masala and palak paneer — and the man in the car will wake to the tune of a rock ’n’ roll flute and a mother-in-law in crisis and you will be far, far away.


 

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Kaitlin Ruether is an MFA candidate at the University of Guelph in Toronto and a graduate of the University of Victoria’s Creative Writing Program. Her work has appeared in New Limestone Review, Freefall Magazine, and This Side of West.

You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory by Max Hipp

Mitch sees a man in the patch of yard between the apartment buildings banging his head against the wooden lamppost. He’s not leaning into it. It’s like he’s testing it, thinking about hitting his head harder, trying to get used to the pain bit by bit. With each strike the gas flame on top flickers, the lantern casing wobbles.

“Hey,” Mitch says. “Need some help?”

He cocks an ear at Mitch and hits his head against the post again. The gas flame dances.

“Why?” he says. “Do you have a better way of doing this?” He’s blond and medium handsome. He doesn’t seem crazy. He’s in a sweated-through, pink Izod shirt and khaki pants. Perfectly normal. Too normal, maybe.

Mitch sits on his steps and fires up a Camel. After all these years, there’s still a hint of that first inhale the neighbor kids dared him to take. He was twelve, on the school bus. He got suspended, sure, but he’d shown who had the guts.

“I can get a bat,” Mitch says to the man.

“Would you do that for me?” he says. “Because that might be what I need.” He goes down on one knee, sits Indian-style against the post. Blood trickles onto his pink shoulder. Real blood mixed with sweat looks like fake blood.

“It’ll cost you.”

“How much?”

Mitch flashes fingers on both hands five times.

“How much is that? It’s hard to concentrate.”

“Fifty.”

“That’s a goddamn deal.” He gets up and sticks out his hand. “Call me Adam.”

*

Mitch punches through the radio stations until Adam comes out of the bank. The tellers have given him paper towels for his head. He opens the door and throws the wad on the dashboard. Bright blood seeps into the quilted pattern.

He pushes cash into Mitch’s hand, a newly minted picture of Grant, and cranks the car. Mitch holds it under his nose and closes his eyes smelling the otherworldly ink. It reminds him of the ballpark where he sold cokes, hotdogs, snowballs, nachos. Counting money at the end of the night, straightening bills. The ping of baseballs off metal bats.

Back in the apartment, Adam stands in the hallway as Mitch rummages through a closet, pulling out knee pads, helmets, gloves, racquets, and finally a thirty-three-inch, Eastland baseball bat. He grips it with both hands and whiffs it through the air.

“Beautiful!” Adam says.

They go out to the parking lot. People are walking dogs around the doggie-track section of the complex. Adam kneels down, khaki knees on the asphalt. Mitch grips the bat and takes a few practice swings.
“This is going to do the trick,” Adam says to the pavement between his hands, smiling. “I can feel it.” He sticks his neck out to provide a cleaner target.

Mitch grips the bat. He widens his stance and crouches like he did in the batter’s box so many years ago. He looks at Adam, dried blood in his hair. Dried blood on the side of his face, his neck muscles tensing.
He drops the bat. It rings and rolls to the curb. He sits on the pavement and lights up. Maybe, somehow, he lost his guts.

“What happened?” Adam says.

“I thought I could do it,” Mitch whispers. He looks at his hands like things are slipping through his fingers.

Adam nods and stares at Mitch’s apartment. “Mind if I use your bathroom?”

After ten minutes of staring at the bat, his hands, his happy neighbors with dogs, Mitch goes into the apartment looking for him. He finds the pink Izod and the khakis. He looks outside beyond the cracked patio, half expecting to see naked Adam hiding in the trees. He checks back at the lamppost. He walks around the whole complex, peering behind hedgerows and even the back fence where everybody tosses dog poop.

At the end of the night, when Mitch empties his pockets, the fifty-dollar-bill is gone too.

The next day Mitch feels unlike himself. Something is missing. He puts on the stinking pink shirt and khakis and goes outside to the lamppost. He feels dull and slow since Adam disappeared. He believes the man’s name was Adam but can’t be sure. He stares at the post. Seems there’s nothing to do now but hit his head against it.

The impact seems to jar something loose inside, a flash of what it feels like to waterski, the wake, wind, and sun. Holding his body rigid against the pull of the boat. A little more shakes loose when he does it a second time. The summer his family went to Pickwick Lake and he got so sunburned it itched under his skin when he showered and there was no way to scratch.

It hurts to hit his head, but the hurting helps.

The girl from the apartment next door, the waitress with the lip ring and neck tattoos, sits on her stoop, smoking and watching him.

Mitch feels blood trickling behind his ear. It’s not bad, just bloody sweat. He hits the post and remembers his grandmother’s face, how cold her hand felt on his feverish forehead.

Something’s important about these flashes of memory. He can’t quite get the full picture, the meaning and feel of them, but he can’t bring himself to hit his head against the post any harder. Hitting it harder, though, might help everything shake loose at once, everything he’s been tucking away and losing little by little.

“Hey,” the girl says, flicking ashes. “Need some help over there?”


 

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Max Hipp is a teacher, writer, and musician living in Mississippi. His work has either appeared or is upcoming in Black Warrior Review, Bull: Men’s Fiction, Bridge Eight, New World Writing, Pidgeonholes, Unbroken Journal, and Five 2 One. Tweets @maximumevil.