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Under the Ice

by mcspreaden 

Posted: 28 October 2007
Word Count: 2697
Summary: This piece is the start of a novel I am writing about a New-Hampshire woman whose husband gets killed in an avalanche whilst rescuing two teenage ice-climbers. One of the fifteen year-old boys (Mark), falls in love with the woman (Cath). His love is fuelled by his guilt for the loss of her husband and the fact that her son is now growing up with no father (as he too had). It is still in the planning stages and any feedback would be welcomed.

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Under the Ice
Catherine’s Story

I never knew how I’d react to something like that. Nobody does I suppose. You don’t want to think it would happen to you but when it does, it messes with your mind like you’d never imagine.

I remember, clear as day, when the call came in. Daniel was stirring the cocoa. The spoon circled once to the left, once to the right, as always. I was wearing my battered old dressing gown and my legs were curled sideways on the sofa.

Just as he tapped the spoon on the side of the mug, there was a crackle from the radio, followed by the voice of Daniel’s older brother Joel:
‘Daniel…Come in Daniel.’
‘Hey Joel, what’s up?’
‘I know it’s your anniversary ‘n’all, but we got two ice climbers up Mount Glacial. Got into a spot of bother. Just kids by sound of it—’
‘Has to be. Whole of New Hampshire is under severe weather warning and they’re out climbing?’
‘Tell me about it.’
‘Still, we’ve all been there,’ Daniel sighed, ‘see you in five’.
‘Take it easy, Buddy.’
A final crackle and he was gone. Daniel reached for his rescue-department hat, handing me the mug. I wrapped my hands tightly around it, blowing ripples across the surface.

‘Sorry Cath,’ he said, sincerely.
‘Those poor kids,’ I said - interrupted by a cry from the bedroom.
It was Billy; either he’d heard me or else his father’s hat set him off again. I looked towards the bedroom where two little fists framed a tear-stained face - pressed up against the bars of his crib. His legs, more used to crawling than standing, buckled and sprung with agitation beneath him, stretching his flattened cheeks up and down as he cried.

‘Hey, little fella,’ Daniel said as he scooped him over the rail. ‘I’ll be back before you know it’. Billy’s arms clasped tightly around his father’s neck. His mouth opened widely behind his pacifier as he gasped for breath, throwing his head back in tired frustration as he was passed into my arms. I bounced him gently as he buried his damp face into my neck, moulding it like a pillow with his nose.
‘You look after this gorgeous wife o’ mine,’ said Daniel. Billy looked at him sideways with one eye only.
‘He’s sure gettin’ those hazel eyes of yours.’ he said, flattening my curls to my shoulders with his roughened palm. I smiled as he kissed me lightly on the forehead.
‘Love you.’ he said, looking me straight in the eye.
‘You too.’ I hated this. ‘Promise you’ll be careful.’
‘Course.’ He closed his eyes and kissed the back of Billy’s head, ‘Just think what it’d be like if this one was out there.’
‘I know,’ I said, ‘don’t bear thinking about.’

He opened the door, kissed me again and crunched his work boots into the snow. His feet struggled to break through the hard crust to the softer cover beneath. I stood there for a minute waiting to wave, thinking of how the footsteps would be gone by morning, but the cold air set Billy off again.

‘Let’s get that diaper sorted,’ I said as I turned to close the door.

I wish to God I’d waited to watch him leave.

Billy wouldn’t settle in the crib so he was in bed with me when the headlamps swung through the faded, brocade curtains. The amber glow crossed his face as if it was Daniel himself, stroking him from his slumber. I could hear every breath as his thumb rested lightly inside his open mouth but he didn’t wake. Not this time.

The curtains waved gently, welcoming the wind then disappearing as the headlamps dimmed.
‘Daddy’s back,’ I whispered, comforting his dreams. His eyelashes flickered between still-closed lids.

I swaddled him tightly in the patchwork quilt, to save him rolling out, and swung my feet onto the grain of the floorboards. I tiptoed up to the warmth of the bearskin rug - careful not to wake him; I wanted some time alone with Daniel.

I pushed the curtain aside and saw the silhouette of a station-wagon. Behind it, the tobacco-stained moon fought hard against the blizzard, peering through each momentary gap in the clouds. Then, not one but two figures emerged through the whiteness. I could see Joel, sheltering his wife Susan from the wind with both arms.

I waved through the glass and thought they saw me, but they quickly looked down, choosing their path through the snow. Joel, at six-foot-four, was a good foot taller than his wife but still they walked in unison. I remember thinking, that’s what happens after twenty years of marriage. I remember thinking that’s what’d happen to me and Daniel.

But I couldn’t see Daniel. He wasn’t with them. There was no sign of his truck, or of the footprints he’d left earlier. He must’ve taken the kids to the hospital, I thought. Then, as they got closer towards the house, Joel slowly removed his cable-knit hat.
It was then that I knew.

I either sat or fell onto the wooden chair by the window. Joel had been round many times when rescues had not gone to plan but, he was balding now, so he never took off that hat. Not till he was inside, in the warm.

They knocked on the door but I couldn’t move. It seemed like two seconds later, but I guess it was longer ‘cause I heard Susan saying, ‘Cath? You there?’
I covered my ears and shut my eyes tight, but her voice filtered through my fingers.
‘Cath love, its Susan.’
The slatted door creaked open. I thought of the oil Daniel got for the hinge.
‘Oh!’ she said, as she entered the room. I startled her in the darkness.
‘I was knocking,’ she said, ‘but…’

Joel turned on the light with one hand, holding his hat on his chest with the other. It was folded in two, almost hidden by his palm.

Susan knelt down beside me holding my hands in my lap. Her cheeks, which would normally be reddened with the harsh winds, were as grey as her hair that fell to her broad, strong shoulders. She was the sort of person who always had something to say if something was worth talking about. But not this time. Her thin lips opened, but the words wouldn’t come. None were needed. Cold air had followed them into the room but I found myself sweating.

‘Cath love…’ Her hands, or maybe mine, were shaking violently as she held me. ‘It’s Daniel…He was doing his best to help those kids but the snow came down and...’ The wind howled outside, sweeping the words from her mouth. She looked to Joel for support.
‘Avalanche,’ he said as he shielded his eyes with the back of his hand. Tears streamed down his wide wrist into the sleeves of his fluorescent jacket. ‘He didn’t have a chance,’ he cried and the words echoed through his cupped hands.

I turned my face from both of them but he didn’t stop.
‘Oh Cath,’ he said, ‘we tried to get him out, we really did, but even with the dogs, we just weren’t quick enough. There was this crack, then it all came down and Daniel …Well, he was nowhere. Even those boys, they were looking their damnedest but there weren’t much strength left in ‘em.’

An incredible thirst came over me. I stood up. Susan rested her hand on my shoulder. She went to hug me but I carried on towards the sink. I had to have water.
‘What do you want?’ she said. ‘You sit down.’

My mouth was too dry to speak. I opened the cupboard and reached for a glass. I was shaking so much I could hardly catch the water till Susan held my forearm. The water soothed my throat but, the glass jumped from my hand when I read the inscription: ‘Townsville Dog Sled Champion 1978’ - Daniels glass. It smashed to pieces as it hit the timber floor. Susan gasped as I fell to my knees on the shards. Blood ran between the floorboards, but there was no pain. Nothing.

They both came over to help me up, but Billy started crying from the bedroom, calling for Daniel.
‘Here,’ said Susan passing a blood-sodden dishcloth to Joel, ‘I’ll fetch him.’

When she returned, I wanted to hold him but my hands were red with blood. His feet kicked in his white, towelling romper-suit. Susan flicked his nose playfully. ‘Why don’t you come and stay with Uncle Joel for a few days?’ she said.
‘No…Please,’ I begged, ‘I want him here.
‘But,’ she protested, ‘you need time to—‘
‘If that’s what you want,’ said Joel, rinsing my hands, ‘we’ll stay here and help out instead’.
All of a sudden, it seemed that nothing was under my control.

Joel’s story

We stayed with her that night and every night till after the funeral. I wanted to keep an eye out – case she wasn’t eatin’. She’s still got those womanly curves, but there ain’t too much to spare.

In her head too, she wasn’t all there. Although she’d let a bit of it out, I don’t know that she ever really dealt with it. But then, neither did I to begin with.
I was trying to be strong, for the boy ‘n’ all. But it was hard. Seeing him there, just like my Daniel when we were kids. All curls and wide eyes he was. Just like Danny-boy but with Cath’s eyes.

Dan called ‘em hazel, those eyes. But they’re more than that. It’s hard to explain. There’s this kind of ring of yellow in the middle, round the pupil, like someone’s dropped something in them - something special that no one else got ‘cept her and Billy. Something you can never quite get to maybe. You can’t quite work it out but it makes you look closer, that’s for sure.

Anyway, the problem with Billy was his age. At least with older kids you can say they’ve gone to a better place, with angels and grandpa and all that. All Billy knew was his Daddy/pop never came back.

Apart from Billy, all I could think of was the colour of Daniel up on Glacial. You never forget it when you’ve seen someone under the cold for that long. So pale you could almost miss them, yet the lips are blue. Nothing in nature is blue like that, nothing with a breath in it, anyway. When you see that blue, you’re darn sure there’s no kinda colour coming back. We knew it too, but we had to try. The CPR went on and on till Ed pulled me back, said it was no use.

No angels were looking down on us that night, that’s for sure. It seemed so quick but I’m told that he was under for twenty-seven minutes. Lumberjack he was, so he was fit, but twenty-five is all it takes they say. We just weren’t quick enough.

No, I don’t blame the boys. Mary’s son Mark – that’s who it was, and Davy Tucker from Main Street. They’d shot-up about four-foot since I last saw them, but they were still just kids.

They knew the warnings, but it’s like Daniel said, we’ve all been there. Invincible - least that’s what they think. I guess we were all like that at fifteen. It was me pulling Dan out of a similar scrape that got him into rescue in the first place. The look on their faces when they zipped up that bag. They’ll never forget it, that’s for sure.

And course, that was only the beginning. No one could’ve guessed what’d happen next. I keep thinking, if only I’d kept her up at the house longer, she might’ve sorted that head of hers out, before all this. Like I say, she weren’t right in the head. It was all too soon.

It’s a terrible shock for a woman.

Mark’s Story

I often wonder what would’ve happened if me and Davy hadn’t gone climbing that day. Daniel Macaulay would still be here of course, but who knows if they’d still be together. You could tell from the photos in the Herald she loved him, but people change they say.

I remember her at the funeral. I wore my suit and tie. Mom told me to wear it but I would’ve anyway, out of respect. I wanted to make things right. The trousers pinched my thighs and waist, so I was careful how I sat. I’d shaved that day too I remember but, despite all that I must’ve looked pretty rough. I’d hardly slept at all since Glacial.

His brother was there too. All I could think of was his face when he wrote down the time of death and his hands shook through every digit. 20:23 it was.
Every day has a 20:23. I always make sure I’m busy then.

When I saw her that first time, I knew from that instant, there was something about her. She was walking down the middle of the church, the altar I think they call it? I hadn’t been to church for ages, not since I was a kid. Never did like them. It’s like hospitals. Some people have a thing about those - well that’s me with churches. I dunno what it is, but everything echoes in a church. Everything comes back a second time around when sometimes, once is enough. And then, there’s the thought that someone’s looking down on me, knowing my business; I don’t like that either. There’s enough folk down here knowing business that’s not theirs to know. And if they don’t know, they make it up. That’s why I wanted to put the record straight.

Anyway, so there I was at the funeral and she was there in front of me. I could only see her back, but I felt like I should check my hair for some reason.

She wore this long black dress with no detail on it, or nothing as far as I could see. I’m no expert, but I’d say it was the sort of dress you’d only wear for funerals. My Mom talks about dressing things up with accessories, (the way women do), but this was plain as night. It was like she didn’t want to be noticed, but there was something about her. I couldn’t help it.

The dress was a jersey sort-of material I suppose. It hung heavily to the ground but, on the way down, it clung to that bit of fat that women have. That bit where their butt-cheeks meet the top of their legs. I think most women have it, but no girls I’d ever been with.

I didn’t even think about her age. I didn’t know any women in their thirties - not to talk to, anyway. There was no one to compare her to, even if I’d thought about it.

So then, back to the dress: it had this zip which followed the curve of her spine perfectly, from the bottom of her back, right up near her neck-chain. Someone would’ve had to help her with the zip, I thought. I imagined it was me. I imagined her standing there with her back to me and the zip undone. She’d lift her hair to one side and watch over her shoulder as I’d fasten it silently, slowly upwards - my other hand on her hip. As the zip reached the top, it’d draw the fabric taut across her breasts and I’d be so close, I could smell her hair.

All this looking and thinking, happened in seconds. It blurred the memories for one, short moment. It was the first time since that night that I’d stopped thinking about the other zip - the one I heard up there on the mountain. The one I heard as they took her husband away in a bag. I’d had dreams about that zip and I’d have dreams about hers too.

I guess I just wanted to make it better.
To make it up to her. That’s all.

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Comments by other Members

Patto at 23:49 on 16 December 2007  Report this post
Hi Kate
I'm new to the site, and have just happened upon your work whilst finding my way around.

I hope you are continuing with Under The Ice - it's engrossing and beautifully written, and I imagine that, as you get into the writing, the question of whose viewpoint will answer itself. You may even want to continue to tell the story from several points of view - it seems to be working well so far.

I'm not going to attempt to offer advice - I'm not a novelist, and you clearly know what you're doing. I would only suggest that you ask yourself whether you need the opening sentence - the next one is much more dramatic and more of a hook.

You made me interested in your characters and their predicament, and I would like to know how the story continues - I hope you'll post some more.

Kind regards,

mcspreaden at 22:16 on 17 December 2007  Report this post
Thanks for the enocouraging words Pat. Am still planning at the moment but the plans change so frequently that I may well just get stuck in.

Watch this space!

PS: I love Hoop-La the Hippo and Ben Bun. The words open up some great images and would be lovely when illustrated. Good luck with these.


Patto at 23:16 on 17 December 2007  Report this post
Thanks Kate
After some useful feedback from the forum, and subsequent improvements, I've sent Ben Bun out to 4 publishers - told them I've got a new Ben Bun story 'close to completion,' which is a complete porky, so I'd better get cracking with the next one Just In Case.

I'll look out for the next installment of Under The Ice - (super title).

Kind regards'

Beverley at 14:51 on 22 November 2008  Report this post

I have just joined WW as trial member. I am currently doing some research for a novel.

I just thought I would have a read at what someone else is writing.

I have to say that your writing is very good. Tears came into my eyes when she realised her husaband wasn't coming back.

I think it would be good to write from all three points of view possibly with the brother-in-law having the final say.

Keep writing. I realise I have got a long way to go.

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