Menu

Short Story

The following excerpt is from the novel A Blessed Snarl, forthcoming from Breakwater Books in 2012.

 
THE WEATHERMAN’S HAND sweeps from Labrador down Newfoundland’s fanged north coast to Saint John’s, his finger squiggling from there down to Renews: the sea white against green land. He’s talking about winds rifling in from the north. The pack ice circling the island on the TV map feels like a tight collar to Patrick, choking him. This is the first time he has felt this hemmed in, this claustrophobic, in his own home.

It was a heart attack is what Gerta said over the phone, and that was enough for Anne to call Porter Airlines and book her ticket back to Ontario. Her whirling about the house Patrick took as worry for her father Gurney, but since Hab showed him Anne’s Facebook account he knows she had other reasons to get out the house that was once their house.

Patrick is alone, and a shot of the pack ice jammed into Middle Cove on the TV makes him feel that much more isolated from the world. Funny, because as a kid he would hop the ice pans and jump quick-like from one to the next. But he’s spent enough time away from the sea that the idea of venturing out onto the slob ice now is terrifying. Almost as much as admitting to his new congregation that his wife has left him.

He has long since sewn up his tongue to keep from swearing and save face as the new Pentecostal pastor in town, but fuck, he thinks. How did he not know his wife was having an internet affair after months of listless sex, silent dinners, her pillow damp some mornings to his touch, even though she always flipped it before heading to the shower before him?

He had thought she was just missing home and would eventually come around, once things were more settled.

But no, more was going on than that. Obviously.

And Hab knew about the affair. Knew for months, and said nothing to him, not until the day they came back from the airport.

Dad, I think you need to see something.

He said it gently, like Patrick was talking to him and he was seven with a scraped knee, sitting on his dad’s lap on the concrete step outside their red brick house back in Peterborough, before they moved to Saint John’s.

Patrick had kept the Promised Land clichés to himself when speaking of the move, but the thought of partridgeberry jam in late fall, showing Hab his old home in Fawkes Cove along the Killick Coast, and driving the Irish Loop in summer—brushing his fingers over those fossils at Mistaken Point—these thoughts married like milk and honey in him.

But that dream of coming home seems like a farce now: treacherous, slick as black ice underfoot. Home. Thinking of it is as painful as the time he slipped on the slob ice and broke his front teeth. He was thirteen: strings of blood blowing across the ice like splashed ink on one of those weird paintings Hab likes so much.

Patrick has no idea why.

But when he thinks now of his hope for happiness then, he remembers his broken teeth—the briny taste of blood, Anne’s betrayal like a sucker punch. He imagines a headline for this week’s church bulletin: Today’s message is on the wiles of Jezebel. It’s a weak mental jab. And he keeps imagining her plane going down and her screaming and wishing she’d never left. He imagines dipping his finger in her blood and with eyes closed painting her name on the oval of an airplane window, longingly, his hand conducting emptiness before his eyes as he sits on the couch here in the dark. Motionless. The room silent. Stern. Because there was writing on the wall: all that time she spent in the computer room.

Why didn’t Hab say anything?

Patrick feels like David betrayed by Absalom, but he also feels like Absalom, hanging from his long hair tangled up in that tree. Clumps of knotted hair ripping from his skull as he swings, feeling ungrounded in his thoughts, helpless against grief: that stabbing pain, like a sword between his ribs. But Absalom was the traitor, the backstabber. My companion, David had raged in one of his psalms, my companion stretched out his hand against me. Anne is the one Patrick would like to see swinging from that tree. She has broken her covenant. She is the one who ran away—the one who pierced him—not Hab. But why, he keeps asking himself, why didn’t his son say anything?

And why didn’t I see?

Hab had said nothing. Even after the hike that he and Patrick had taken out at Flatrock when Sheilagh’s Brush, the last big snowstorm of the season, hit them hard while they were out on the point and had to take shelter in an old army bunker—holed up with some punk kid from around the bay who was already huddled there before he and Hab had staggered in, snow-covered and half-frozen. They all sat in silence for hours, waiting for the storm to die down enough for them to make it back to the car—the kid in jackshirt, jeans, and ice-coated work boots. Patrick had wondered, as he sat there watching the kid spin a silver skull ring on his bruised knuckles, if the young lad had been out on the sea ice before the storm struck. Thinking back on that day, Patrick remembers longing to be out on the ice himself, leaping from pan to pan.

When he thinks of the bunker he feels trapped, like David huddled in his cave, hiding from Saul who wanted him dead. He knows this is a silly comparison. No one is hurling spears at his head. But he feels hunted, betrayed, deserted.

He had offered the young lad in the bunker a ride after the storm died down, but the kid had hmphed and walked off into the dark, hands deep in his pockets—didn’t say a simple thank you for the shell of Patrick’s coat thrown over him while he slept in the cold.

As thankless as Saul after David spared his life, Patrick thinks, though he knows he’s being self-righteous in comparing himself to the Hebrew king. But he can’t help it. He can’t make sense of his life without seeing it enmeshed in the biblical story. The problem is that he’ll slip into David’s skin, see himself as a man after God’s own heart. But then he’ll remember how much of a bastard David was at times, and he finds himself more convicted than comforted. He’ll picture what Anne has done as Michal’s betrayal of David, when the shepherd king danced before the Ark of the Covenant. He has preached on the passage many times: David stripping down to his linen ephod—what Patrick liked to call his priestly Fruit-of-the-Looms—and dancing furiously before the Lord. Laughing, singing, sweating, foaming at the mouth, praising God and doing what he felt in his heart he should do—just as Patrick had done in moving here and starting the church. He had danced, preached, worked long hours, sacrificed…and Anne had left him. He thinks of Michal’s barrenness after she ridiculed her husband for dancing half naked before the servant girls. Patrick had always told his congregations that this was not a curse from God but occurred because David had never slept with her again. And Patrick wants to punish Anne in this way, deprive her of his love, but it was she who left him. Yet he feels as if he is being judged, like David for lusting after Bathsheba: his child, his church, stillborn. What was it that he wanted so badly? Was it souls, converts, miracles? Is it wrong to want these things? Was it the church itself that was his Bathsheba? He smirks at this because when he thinks of the church he thinks of old Mildred Hallett, his first member, and the idea of lusting after Mildred’s wrinkly, eighty-seven-year-old body sets him laughing until he can barely breathe.

But his laughter is nervous and joyless. His thoughts choke him: like thick mud around his limbs, his neck—he is Jeremiah in the cistern, Absalom tangled up in the tree, David hiding in his cave, Saul alone in his tower. He is Peter drowning, waiting for the hand of Christ. He is all of them and none of them. He’s confused and alone—as alone as he felt the day Hab had showed him the traces of Anne’s affair.

And after showing Patrick her Facebook account, Hab had gone upstairs to his room, leaving his dad transfixed in the monitor’s cold blue glow.

What stung most is that Hab had said that Anne’s password was Patrick.

How’d you figure that out? he’d asked his son.

I just guessed.

You knew?

I thought she’d tell you. I wanted her to tell you herself. It shouldn’t have been me.

Clicking her message box, Patrick had begun scrolling through, reading and trying to picture Dave. Had he seen him before? Had he ever met him? Did this Dave guy find Anne online, or did she find him? Pictures: he needed to see a picture of the bastard.

So he’d clicked on Dave’s icon and brought up his page, opened his album, but there was only a fuzzy yearbook picture from high school and his profile pic. He noticed that Dave was broader in the shoulders than he was. But he was going bald. Hair shaved close to hide it. Anne, for frig’s sake, he’s going bald! And he’s…pasty.

Patrick had been flipping out in his head when Hab came down with a large duffel bag, packed. He handed his dad a folded piece of paper. Said he could call him there, indicating a number scrawled in red ink. Natalie’s number, it said. And there was an address for Merrymeeting Road below.

Get some sleep, Dad.

And he was gone before Patrick could resent his son for sounding like his father.

§

Dear Patrick,

I hope this finds you well. (And I hope you can read the writing.) Gerta tells me she phoned you and Anne shortly after I was taken into the hospital. It wasn’t a full heart attack but I am still interned here until they can perform an angiogram on me. That is to get things cleared up.

I’m writing (actually it is me, Gerta, writing for Gurney) because I don’t feel well enough to talk long on the phone and you know I’ve always hated talking to disembodied voices. I know, funny for a man who has spent a lifetime talking to God. But the thing I’ve always loved about being an evangelist was talking to people, seeing their faces. And reading someone’s handwriting is in a way like seeing his face. This is how it is when I read the Bible, though I haven’t the strength to read it now. And Gerta hates reading aloud. (He thinks I won’t put that in the letter but I’ve told him I’ll write whatever he wants said.)

My reason for writing is to see how you and Anne are doing. Gerta tells me Anne came to see me but I was asleep and she didn’t want to wake me. I wished she had. She came all that way. This question may be answered before you get this, but is she staying with friends or family here or in Saint Lola? I would like to see her before she flies back to Newfoundland. But maybe she is visiting. I only ask because it’s been a week and no sign of her yet. But I’m sure she is fine and tells you each night on the phone not to worry. That is Anne for you.

Tell me how the church is going and how many have been saved. Newfoundland was once the Pentecostal capital of Canada, you know. And I preached there many times in the early seventies. Once I prayed for a man missing three fingers and two of them grew back. I always thought it was strange of God to only do half a miracle. (Actually it was two-thirds of a miracle). But the man said God kept a finger to make sure he’d come collect it some bright morning. That memory is still clear as a photo now, almost forty years later.

When you get this, send us word of where Anne is staying.

She told Gerta she had come to stay for a while. But Gerta hasn’t seen her since and I haven’t seen her at all. Also, tell us how Hab is doing in his new home. That’s all for now. I’m tired and should sleep. (The doctors say he’s doing better but he looks gray as a sheet.)

Affectionately,

Gurney (and Gerta too!)

 §

Patrick sees a letter from Gurney in the mix of mail but he doesn’t open it, only tosses the whole wad in the recycling bin with all the rest of the mail for the past week. He keeps telling himself that he will go back through it all and pull out the bills and the church-related letters. But for now the fact that the latest letter from the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland is wrapped in a McDonald’s flyer eases something in him: a guttural groan, almost a growl.

Deep down.

Official church business taken so lightly, treated with such disrespect, is a small, affordable rebellion. He can always repent, pull the envelope marked paon out of the trash, and re-enter the world.

Or can he? Sometimes he is not so sure.

He assumes Gurney and Gerta know now of their daughter’s choice. The letter probably says as much. Maybe some words of comfort for him. That thought is almost enough to get him off this couch where he’s been sleeping for the past week.

There were mornings this past winter when he would get up late—with Hab gone to school and Anne in the basement on the computer—and he’d come out to the couch to watch some morning news. The couch would be warm as if a body had been curled there for hours. He always thought it was Hab who’d slept out in front of the TV all night, watching God knows what. But now he wonders—if he could go back to one of those mornings and feel Anne’s side of the bed when he woke—he wonders if he would find it cold, sheets crisp. Was it her warmth he settled into on those winter mornings while she sat in the basement, typing with numb fingers to that man?

He sleeps with the phone on his chest. It shocks him awake each time it rings. But the call display never says Anne cell. It never comes up as the number Hab scrawled for him in red ink before he left. So he lets it ring, lets it go to the answering service, which he doesn’t check because the recording is Anne’s voice.

He wants to hear her and he doesn’t. He wants her to miss him and come back. He wants her to be hit by a car or assaulted. But he doesn’t really want that to happen. Or does he? He feels guilty for thinking such things, wishing such things on her. He prays for her to come back, and in the same breath he prays for God to punish her—to make her feel guilty, plague her with insomnia, night terrors, voices in her head. Call her to repentance in a dream, like he called so many in the Bible. But more often than not he asks himself why in hell he is even talking to God. He knows the answer: because there is no one else. But this doesn’t stop him from wondering if God even hears him.

Father, he whispers, lying on the couch, the phone on his chest, if that’s you—if you’re here, in this room—tell me to come to you.

The phone rings and his heart jumps. The number looks familiar for some reason, so he answers it and hears Hab’s voice asking him how he is, telling him he should come for a visit—get out of the house.

“I will,” he says. “I will soon. I wasn’t expecting to hear your voice just now. But I’m glad you called. I’m really glad you called.”

§

Dear Patrick,

I’ve just received a letter from Anne. In it she says she has left you. She says she is not going back to Newfoundland. She says she is going to London, Ontario, to be with a man she calls Dave. (Who is this Dave, Patrick? Do you know him?)

She gave a phone number for us to call her at but I won’t call her if what she says is true. (He won’t call but I want so badly to. To hear it from my own daughter’s lips why it is she is doing what she is doing.) Patrick, you are like a son to me. You always have been, ever since you traveled with me that summer after you were done at Bible college and we went to the Arctic together—to Iqaluit and Rankin Inlet and Dawson City. You saw so much that summer. People healed, set free from addictions, baptized by the native pastors there in the frigid rivers, the air swarming with flies and blood running down our faces because there were so many. And we didn’t care, didn’t feel it. Because of God’s glory and joy.

To me that memory is more real than the memory of my daughter’s birth. (He can say that because he wasn’t there. He was out getting a sandwich while I gave birth! Foolish man. But I will write what he says.) You are the son of my choice, and the bottle of olive oil I poured over your head to anoint you on the shores of Lemming’s Lake on that summer evening long ago stands out in my mind more clearly than your wedding day. (He is shaking now and crying. I ask him if he wants me to stop but he says no. Patrick, he is trying to touch you now. Feel that in his words.)

Patrick, I don’t know why she has gone. I don’t know where she has gone. If she was here I would not raise a hand to her either for comfort or rebuke. (I would slap her, stupid girl). She has done you a grievous wrong and my prayers are that she will see this and that God will help you forgive and that Hab will not be without his mother.

But she is strong-willed, Patrick. She’s the only one I know who can stand against the force of my prayers. (This has always troubled him, since she was a girl.) Talk to me, my son (our son).

I need to hear from you now. (You can phone our home number or the Bancroft hospital and ask for Gurney Gunther’s room. Please call, Patrick.)

Yours,

Gurney (and Gerta)

 §

It’s the third Sunday since Anne left. Patrick cancelled the service on the first Sunday and sent everyone to Elim Tabernacle on the second. He has no idea how he could possibly stand up and preach. He remembers Gurney’s words to him when he was to preach in Rankin Inlet, when he confessed that sometimes he felt there was nothing to say, that he had no deep spiritual vision to impart. That’s when you feel the cross, Gurney had said, placing his two heavy hands on Patrick’s shoulders. And he feels them now, their same weight—like a rough-cut cedar beam—but he can hardly bring himself to get up off the couch. How could he possibly stand up and say anything? But he knows he cannot cancel a month of services without questions.

So this Sunday he called in a favor and asked Fred Archer, a youth pastor from Mount Pearl who he knows from his Eastern days, to preach at New Life. The name seems like a joke now to him, only nobody is laughing. Or they would be, if they knew that Pastor Wiseman’s wife was off on some cyber fling, using her dad’s heart attack as an excuse to get off the island.

Patrick knows he romanticized the ocean in his descriptions of it to Anne. But he wanted her to want to come here. Once here, however, she must have seen through his stories: seen the truth—that the North Atlantic is terrifying, frothing where it gnaws at the jagged shoreline. Patrick came face to face with the beast the day he went on that strange trek with Hab in March, out onto the barren point at Flatrock—after seeing the grotto by the Catholic church and telling Hab about his grandfather’s obsession with the Virgin. The sea was a heaving gray Leviathan that day, and the snow drove them into that old bunker there for shelter, with that strange boy.

Sheilagh’s Brush, Patrick’s dad called it when he was a kid and the March winds would spatter salt on their windows, all the way up Noseworthy Drive at the top of the hill overlooking the harbor. He remembers the taste of salt on the wind when he was a boy: the same as when Hab and he huddled together in that memory—that kid not saying a word but watching them until he fell asleep. It seems to Patrick like another world now: a brine-flavored recollection. And he thinks of himself in that bunker as Jonah in the belly of the whale, rank with longing for Mildred Hallett’s peas pudding and boiled potatoes—a big slab of stringy salt beef and that same saltiness the first time he kissed his way from Anne’s toes to her center, her long fingers tangled in his hair, drawing him down and him wondering if this was okay and half not caring.

When they first got to Newfoundland, all Anne wanted to do was get out on an iceberg tour and see puffins and whales and smell the salt air Patrick had talked so much about. It was so foggy they saw nothing and Anne puked all over the deck, her stomach no match for the swells, especially with no steady landmark to concentrate on in the distance. Patrick fared better only because he insisted on taking a Gravol before boarding the boat, knowing his sea legs wouldn’t hold. They never had.

He wore his good Sunday shoes on the boat. He thought he was silly for doing so, until he saw that a lady across from him was wearing flip-flops, and it cold enough he could see her breath. Mainlander. That was his last time on the water, though he remembers as a kid how they would dare each other to jump from ice pan to ice pan—running the whale’s back, they called it. Crisscrossing the bay before their mums would yell and tell them to get the hell off the slobby ice.

But that was a long time ago. Before Patrick started wearing Sunday shoes everywhere. And before he began punctuating his sentences with Mainlanderisms like eh.

How are you doing, eh?

Yeah, eh?

Crazy cold weather, eh?

You’ve heard the one about the Newfie and the plane crash, eh?

He successfully left Newfoundland behind him when he went to Bible College—quirky relatives like his great uncle Gil and his father’s unquestioned Roman religion—but returning he found it different. As if the whole place had moved on and left him behind, in a past he remembered fondly but was unable to share with Anne or Hab—a past it seemed only he recalled.

He knows this out-of-joint feeling should not surprise him. He chose to leave the Catholic Church his parents had raised him in to go to a Pentecostal Bible college away on the mainland. The defiance, the righteous choice, being cast out—all that was once salt to him was now bland, a heap of white mineral no good for anything but being scattered over icy roads. That’s why they moved to Paradise rather than nearby Fawkes Cove. His parents can smile at him at family dinners but being neighbors would be too much, he thinks. Even with Dale living there now, since his divorce. Patrick hasn’t talked to his brother in years. He doesn’t even know Dale’s son’s name, only that he’s been put in foster care temporarily since Dale and Rhiana’s split. Crazy arse. Maybe that was extreme, but then again Hab had never tried blow up his shed. Patrick knows Rhiana hates his dad as much as she despises Dale, but he has no idea why. These are bits of news that have gotten to him like Yahoo updates in his inbox. Family spam. Delete delete delete. And now he wonders what all he’s been told and has ignored, forgotten. All that has rushed by floods in on him now—all that he doesn’t know. They’ve gone on with their lives, he thinks, and left me to mine and mine has gone on without me.

And here he is: left behind again, staring into the bathroom mirror, watching his hands tie a full Windsor around his neck as if the hands are somebody else’s. He pulls the tie up taut with the top button of his shirt. But he has no idea why he is wearing a shirt and tie when he is simply going to see his son at his apartment. So he undoes the tie and casts it aside. Looks in the mirror. Undoes the top button. There. Dressed but not too dressy. Comfortable casual. Anne’s choice. He places a hand on each collar, yanks outward suddenly, and pops a button off the shirt.

So much for that, he thinks.

Patrick untucks the shirt and pulls it over his head, leaving it on the bathroom floor as he goes to the bedroom to find another. He wants something he can wear untucked.

No, tucked is better.

More comfortable.

He needs the proper outfit to show he’s coping—no messy hair hidden in a hoodie, no ripped jeans or T-shirts.

No camel skins, he tells himself. You’re no prophet and you’re not homeless.

He finds a green-and-beige checked shirt and cargo pants that are almost white. Then he fills the bathroom sink with water and carefully shaves his patchy beard, washing away the shaving cream and splashing on Old Spice.

He thinks, finally, he is ready. At last. He is just about to leave when he remembers that he hasn’t brushed his teeth in six days.

§

As he is leaving the house he notices another wad of paper in the mailbox: bills from Newfoundland Power, MasterCard, Rogers, Sears—and another letter from Gurney. He throws the bills on the desk and pockets his father-in-law’s letter along with the first one Gurney sent, which had remained unopened in the recycling bin with all the junk mail and church business since they had arrived.

Patrick thinks that today he may read the two letters. He also thinks he might burn them. So he goes to the kitchen drawer, grabs the barbecue lighter and pockets it. When he steps outside he feels for a second like Moses leaving Egypt—excited and terrified. He drives slowly to the address on Merrymeeting Road, the one scribbled beneath Hab’s contact number on that crumpled shred of paper. There is no driveway, so he parks on the street. He stamps the snow off his Sunday shoes before knocking at the door, his fists gloved in leather that creaks in the cold. He smoothes out his coat and knocks again.

A girl with boots on answers the door. She’s holding her jacket in one hand and a cigarette in the other. “Can I help you?” she asks, stepping out onto the stoop.

“I came to see Hab,” he says with less emotion than he’s feeling.

“He’s in the shower now but you can sit on the couch and wait, if you want.”

“That would be great. Thanks.”

“You don’t have a light, do you?”

She’s a little weirded out when Patrick draws the barbeque lighter from his pocket. But she lets him awkwardly click and cup the flame, and hold it steady as she leans in and puffs. “Nice,” she says, and steps off the porch, looking down the street toward the Coleman’s Grocery Store. “Thanks for the light.”

“No problem,” Patrick says as he watches her stroll away, wondering if she knows he’s a pastor—or if that matters.

He goes in, slips off his shoes and sets them neatly beside the pile of other shoes, and then meanders over to the green couch. There is a three-wick candle on the coffee table and a stack of novels by authors he doesn’t know on the lamp stand. The one on top looks to be about alligators, judging by the cover. The room smells of coffee and oranges. He couldn’t drink a coffee now if he wanted to. His hands are shaking too much. He grips them tightly on his lap and tries to look at ease, sitting there surrounded by student messiness.

He hears the shower stop. A little while later a door opens down the hall and he hears Hab go into a bedroom. There is a girl’s voice with his son’s, and it is all he can do not to jump up and run down the hall to see what they’re doing. But he reminds himself that Hab no longer lives in his house and perhaps no longer follows his rules. He wonders if he still goes to church. And if so, which one?

He hears the girl shriek and laugh.

Hab?

He starts but stops himself: I have no control over him now. He knows that his son has chosen to move out, to get away from their house, from him. And the shock of this hits him again like that belligerent gust of wind on Flatrock—that slap of cold air that nearly toppled him over the cliff and into the sea.

It was Hab’s hand that stopped him.

He remembers his own hands shaking for an hour after, like they are shaking now.

Patrick fingers the lighter in his pocket: grips it to keep his hand from vibrating, pulls it out, looks at it, pushes the safety with his thumb and clicks. The flame is the size of his pinky finger, which he passes through it twice before leaning over and lighting the candle in the center of the coffee table, thinking of his duties as an altar boy during mass as a kid and of the lack of candles of any kind in the Pentecostal church—no votive, Advent, or Christ candles at all.

He watches the three little wicks gutter, almost go out, and then begin to burn steadily. A smoldering wick I will not extinguish. Pray for us now, and at the hour of our death.

Wax pools as he puts his shoes back on and heads out the front entrance, hearing a door down the hall open.

Footsteps.

His son’s voice: “Dad?”

But he is running to his car now, flinging the door open and climbing in, turning it over and dropping it into gear. He pulls away from the curb without signaling and almost gets hits by a snow plough. The angry trucker blasts his horn all the way to the light. But Patrick doesn’t hear him. All he’s thinking about, as he turns down Aldershot, is the quickest route to the boat launch in Fawkes Cove.

§

Dear Patrick,

I had a dream last night. The type of dreams I’ve told you about: when I walk in the spirit and not in the flesh. (He woke up crying, Patrick.) You were in the dream and I saw a great seething gulf before you. It was dark. And there was smoke and snowflakes scattering like ash.

In the dream you were running, Patrick: running over the water with hail pouring down on you as you crossed the gulf.

I can’t get you out of my head, son. (He speaks of you daily and when I come into his room while he is praying your name is on his lips). Anne called Gerta and they spoke but I couldn’t speak to her. I couldn’t bring myself to say a word to my own daughter. She is strange to me now. (Anne told me she went to this Dave character and said she had left her husband and he panicked and turned her out. It appears he was married as well and he had never told her. She is living with friends in Hamilton, temporarily. Ruth and Christopher Rhynes, do you remember them? I mentioned her going home but she hung up.)

Patrick, be wary of this gulf ahead of you. Keep your footing. Trust in the Lord and not in yourself. The psalmist says that God scatters his hoarfrost like ash, that he tosses hail like breadcrumbs. Who can stand against his cold?

I don’t know why this storm has come to you but I see you running. Finish, Patrick. Finish what you must. But please write.

(Why haven’t you answered the other two letters?)

Sincerely,

Gurney (and Gerta)

 §

Patrick can hear the pack ice grinding against the cliffs encompassing the bay, creaking and groaning against other ice pans. The seething white mass stretches almost out to the gray horizon. There is an iceberg out there—probably the size of the church down the street, but it looks no bigger than a fingernail from where he stands at the top of the boat launch on the south side of the bay, looking north to the other steeper launch.

In warmer weather boats dangle below where he stands on the ramp, ropes stretched from their bows to anchors by his feet, each vessel fastened tight against the fierce wind. An icy gale rips through his pea coat suddenly, freezing his ankles in thin socks.

The boat ramp is bare and ice-slicked below him.

He reaches inside his coat and pulls out Gurney’s two letters. He thinks for a second of opening them but he feels he needs to fall out of contact for a while: to think of something other than Anne’s father, or mother, or Anne herself with that other man.

He rolls the two letters together into a tube and sticks the end of the barbeque lighter inside and clicks, his back to the wind, holding both the paper and the fire to his chest. It takes three tries for the letters to catch, but when they do he holds them flaming in a gloved hand, smelling the leather beginning to smolder but knowing the paper will flame out before he gets burned. A few seconds in that wind and all the words are gone to ash, which blows away even as it begins to snow.

Anyone watching the bay from a darkened window would see a man in Sunday clothes taking hold of a ratty rope and lowering himself down toward the heaving pans of ice crashing against each other, salt water sluicing over them, spewing between them.

Patrick is out of sight now, out of sight of everyone.

On the edge of the world.

No, Anne, I’ll not be careful. If I can jump the pack ice from one side of the seething bay to the other, then it’s not me who’s sinned. But if I slip and drown, then so be it. You will have got what you wanted.

He lets out a whoop and leaps from the shore onto the slob ice, slips, scrambles, gets splashed by frigid salt water, finds his footing and begins to run. The pan he’s on jars and rises, like a whale cresting, and he claws up it, toes the edge and leaps to the next pan that tips till he’s up to his crotch in slushy sea water—the cold sharking as he lunges forward and uses the tilt to propel himself to the next pan. And the next. The sea heaving slob ice all around him. Eon-old ice is cracking like bones on rock. One slip and he’s dead. But he’s running, running like he’s fourteen and devil-may-care. My God! he thinks, this is it!

 


The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Access one piece of artwork every month for free! To experience the full archive, log in or subscribe.

Related Short Stories

Image

The Vermilion Saint

By

A.N. Muia

La Pulchra Nota

By

Molly McNett

The Three Kings

By

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen

Glorybound

By

Jessie Van Eerden

Pin It on Pinterest