A Hole in the Ice (Part 2)

Here’s part two of my short story, “A Hole in the Ice.” Thank god, the ice is long gone here in Minneapolis. In terms of weather, May in Minnesota is shaping up to be a much better month than April. The government says 1 million Americans have died of Covid 19. I tested positive on Monday, which happened to be my youngest child’s 8th birthday. It’s kind of a bummer that I couldn’t give him a hug on that special day. It feels like the flu which is no fun. I did a lot with him on Sunday when I was feeling just fine. I took him to flag football where he ran for two touchdowns and played a one-on-one game of basketball with him at the park that evening. I don’t regret that.

The next time I go by myself.  I sit on my bucket and stare at the hole–this black nothingness and cold death–waiting for salvation in the form of a crappie.  Traffic is backed up on the long, concrete span of the Cedar Avenue bridge that bisects the south end of the lake.  I seem to be the only one occupying this vast whiteness.  Everyone else is working or vainly trying to get to work as I dangle a silver teardrop jig tipped with a minnow in twelve feet of water.  Every ten minutes a plane passes overhead in a deafening roar with its landing gear extended.  My hole is an epicenter of calm, the lake an icy buffer from all this human, hyper-kinetic energy. 

The hole will always freeze over.

This thought obsesses me.  It’s 9:30 in the morning.  Miles comes home about 3:15.  Emily has said she will pick up Theo.  I have the day to myself which should make me happy but it doesn’t.  Those are a lot of hours to fill.  I decided not to write this morning out of laziness and the house is still a disastrous mess.  Now I’m thinking I should have stuck to my original plan, which was to do some writing, clean the kitchen and then go fishing after lunch.  There is a common stereotype of the drunken ice fisherman alone in his shack, sipping at a fifth of peppermint schnapps to stay warm.  But I’m actually out here not to drink.

The hole freezes over.  So what the hole freezes over?  Is this so horrible?  The ice is actually what’s keeping me alive.  It’s all that frigid water underneath it that would kill me.  I’m out here to learn something, like Kerouac alone atop Desolation Peak.  But like him, I’m missing out on enlightenment and finding only loneliness in the Void.  I feel a slight bump that might be a fish and reel up.  Sure enough my bait is gone.  I got robbed.  I use the dipper as a net and scoop up a minnow to keep my hands dry.  I place the hook through the minnow’s lips and drop it into the hole.  It spirals downward, out of sight into the black depths.

It’s very quiet aside from a spooky whistling coming from the quaint, stucco bungalows that surround the lake.  The sound is sort of metallic, a power line perhaps, vibrating like a reed in the cold wind.  Another plane passes over, so low I can actually see the rivets in the hull.  I could almost reach out and touch it, it’s so close.  A few minutes later I see something unusual, a whirlwind of snow dancing like a dust devil on the lake.  I’m certain the phenomenon is caused by the turbulence of the jet engines, but it seems magical.  I watch the vortex of snowflakes in wonder for maybe ninety seconds before it collapses, returned to a state of ordinary.  I continue to fish, propped on my bucket.  As I listen to the strange whistling more closely it seems to modulate in pitch until I’m almost sure I detect a melody.  The lake is singing.

Just as I decide the boredom is too much to withstand any longer, I feel a subtle weight on the end of my line—a ghost at the end of my divining rod.  I crank on the reel steadily, praying the fish doesn’t come off.  A moment later I pull a crappie the length of my hand out of the hole.  Feeling jubilant, I remove the hook from the fish’s delicate mouth and lay it on the ice.  Pale and speckled, the dying fish’s black eye stares up at me.  It’s a meal better proportioned for a seagull than a man, but I decide to keep it anyway.

On the way home, I stop by the McDonald’s liquor store and buy a twelve pack.  Once I have the gear stowed away, I pop open a can of beer before going about the messy business of cleaning the fish.  And the kitchen.  It’s a lot of work ahead.  I’m surrounded by digital clocks from every device.  I stare down into the opened can, dark like a hole in the ice, and take a deep gulp.  The day won’t be a total disaster and that’s about all I can manage.  I place the crappie on a cutting board, scaling both sides with a Swiss Army knife before hacking off the fins and the head before pulling out the guts.  What’s left is a modest triangle of meat encasing the ribs and spine that I fry whole in a pan after breading it with flour.  This is a meal, and for two and a half more hours I am king, the dishes stacked around me like the turrets of my castle.

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