Element – Ice by MeganLeeRetouching
I had flirted with her for years. It seemed my life was solely based around gaining her attention, drawing her eye to my ever-moving form. I did so much to make her watch me.
When I was young, I would climb the tallest trees I could find. People would constantly yell at me–my mother, grandmother, brothers and sisters–saying I was reckless. It was too dangerous. I was going to get hurt, I was going to fall…
They were right. I fell numerous times. Broke countless bones, fractured just as many. I once had a branch drive itself right through my leg. I knew the hospital almost as well as my own home. But I lived through all of it. And she watched me, gauging, judging…
I would ride my bike down the steepest hills. My feet would sometimes tangle with the pedals, unable to keep up with the high speeds. The wheels would jerk and twist back and forth, and I was told countless times that I would hurt myself beyond repair…
And I did. My nose is still crooked from a hectic tumble that took me barreling straight into a car. I crashed and ate asphalt so much my teeth may as well have been black. I went through so many bikes I had to get a job to pay for them myself. But I still stand on two feet today. And she watched me, eyeing, debating…
I would drive a beat up clunker like a madman. I’d take it out in the country, spinning wildly in empty fields, driving up hills and flying over fences. I built ramps and rocketed over streams, creeks, small rivers. Even my friends told me to take it down a notch…
But I didn’t. Racing off a pier and trying to land on a floating platform in the middle of the lake cost me my car. Rolls, crashes, accidents of all kinds cost me my time, my money, my youth. The hospital was my second home. And she watched me, observing, scoping…
As I got older, I became even more reckless. I knew she watched, I knew she waited–how could I keep her waiting? My crazed adventures were slowly but surely bringing me closer to her.
Finally, however, I slowed. I aged. I met a wonderful woman who captivated me almost as much as her–no, she took over my everything. And made me realize that I didn’t need her. I didn’t need to risk myself for, what? The barest touch, brush of her that I was never allowed to actually reach? No, I met my wife, and she was all I needed.
My wife calmed me, mellowed and tempered me into someone that could stand and watch the world go by, instead of trying to force it to move as I had before. We completed each other–her added calmness, cool temper and fierce resolve. My ambition, fiery will and sudden peaceful acceptance of a quieter life.
And the gifts my wife would give me–an understanding of my past, but a logic that settled me into place beside her. How she managed with me so well mystifies me still. But no, the greatest gift, even more than her acceptance and knowing smile, was the life she gave me–gave to us to share.
My daughter, so very like me, and yet just as much her mother. She was bright, headstrong like my wife, but feisty and driven like her papa. Everything I needed was here.
I could still feel her watching, scrutinizing, plotting…
But I was no longer tempted by her. My draw was my family.
As my daughter grew, much like me as a child, she found many things that drove her to act like a wild child. A combined force of authority and persuasion, my wife and I found plenty of other activities to quell her fire.
Ice skating, we found, was one of her favorites–“I can slice it up! I drew pictures! That’s a biiig eight!”–and every winter would find us at the lake. The same lake I’d lost my car to so long ago.
Sadly alone one day, my daughter and I carefully made our way to the lakes edge. Winter had only recently begun, and so I tested the ice before allowing my little girl out on the frozen surface. Soon, though, she was gliding and spinning away, the blades sharply cutting across the ice and sending sparkles into the air.
Leisurely we made our way around the lake, closing in on the center in large circles as we always did. We passed a hopeful ice fisher further in and waved.
“Race to the middle?” my little girl asked, and I eagerly accepted her challenge.
Of course I could have won, but how could I not let her win? Her triumphant smirk was large as she danced in circles, and I shook my head at her antics.
Just as I glanced about and noticed the thinner area we’d found ourselves in, ready to herd my mini-me back to the shore, we both heard a loud crack, and stopped.
Being a large man, I was not surprised to see a spiderweb of breaking ice beneath me. I look up and see that the ice under my little girl is blissfully pristine sans her own slashes.
“Stay there,” I warn her, holding out a hand gingerly. My heart begins to race as the rush of excitement meets me again like an old friend. The thrill of danger was back, but too risky now. The look on my daughter’s face was proof enough of that.
“Stay,” I say again, forcefully. I carefully move my leg, testing the ice, and the cracks spread like wildfire.
I take a breath to calm myself, trying impossibly to expel all my weight so that I don’t cause the ice to break. I inch the other way–less damage to the ice–and sigh in relief when no more webs follow.
The next thing I know my foot slips between two thick sheets of ice, and I plummet downward. I hear a high pitched shriek from my daughter before my head sinks below the water, smacking into the ice I’d just been standing on.
The cold is biting, and the sudden drop in temperature makes me seize up. My head is swimming in its own pain and the frigid water. The darkness grows thicker as I go lower, too heavy and balled up to try and move. I sink and sink until I manage to shake myself and attempt to swim upward.
The ice above is so bright it’s blinding. I paw uselessly at it, trying to find a seam to let myself through. My gloves and coat are so waterlogged I can barely move the appendages beneath them.
Hours it feels like I struggle under the water. I barely had any air to begin with, and unable to hold my breath any longer, bubbles erupt from me. Water drowns me, suffocating and cold in my throat. I close my eyes and weakly try to still move my arms upward. Is that even up anymore?
Suddenly I feel an even cooler touch around me. Surprised, my eyes slowly open, and of all times I see her.
She watches me, examining, waiting…
“Help me,” I mouth to her. The one I flirted with most of my life and here she is, finally–but she does nothing to help.
Instead, she shakes her head, smiles, and reaches out, pulling me close. Her embrace is colder than the water and ice that is taking over my entire body.
Of course, now that I no longer want you, you come to me all too willingly…