I’m running next to the lake, leaping and punching through the fog. It’s spring, freezing cold. Heart pounding, I gasp it, I spit it out once more, to let him know that now is a good time. There’s nobody around. Now, Dad. Come now! There are merely millions of shadows, flickers in high-rise windows to the west. I pause on my path, and not even a gull flaps. I can only hear the lake breaking, shifting ice all around, and I hear the plates rolling slicing and shattering little by little: his steady crackle. He is the line being drawn, from here to Benton Harbor, a noise drawn deep under Sister Bay, a shift in the light over Milwaukee.
I’m walking home later, trying to figure out what he was up to, what he wanted to say. I worry I didn’t get the message.
Dad and I go grocery shopping sometimes. He’s so funny about cereal. He mixes up about four different kinds in his bowl. So I ask him, Dad, which kind should I get? I see his favorite brand, and I buy it. At breakfast, I eat a bowl of that, mixed with a few other things. I add fruit. I have this smug look on my face because he’s going to tell this joke about the cost of raspberries. He grew his own in his backyard in Cortez, but he can’t sell them since it’s against some code to sell things that grew where you buried your dog. They taste the same! he insists. I laugh so hard, and my husband is pissed because what is so funny on a Tuesday at 7:15am when we’re in a hurry and there’s no one eating but me.
He came to my birthday last month. I was home out west. I was up in the mountains. I was talking to him in my head all day, Dad this, Dad that, Dad try to come to my party somehow and I’ll have Michael sing Jingle Bells for you. He always does the best he can. Mom had her internet radio on, and there’s no reason it would play Sixteen Candles but it did. I’m much older now, but it was ours: Happy Birthday Baby oh, I love you so. I stood by her desk, and listened to the computer weaving us; coding the warp, signaling weft, deathless.
That night, I laid down next to my husband. We began doing our usual audit of things that need doing— did you turn off the fireplace, did you plug in your phone, did you give Michael his paci— when we quieted for a moment wondering at how dark it is in these woods. Even in the fullness of air so black there was a moon, and it made the thin lace curtains blue. Against the blue mooned curtains a shadow suddenly arced. Our hearts popped and we waited for what to do, when the intruder took another step forward and we saw his three-point rack. Oh god, okay, my husband said. The mid-sized buck breathed some frost at the glass and checked on us, confirmed we were alright, and pointed his rack downslope again. Then he looked back, all the weight of his crown following. Thanks, I smiled.
He watches me all the time now, even here in this sharp, tall city, in the last city he was ever in because he came to visit me and he got stuck here, in a way. He knows his way around, he knows where I park. He told me the other day in a slap of wind to turn around because I left the rear window down. Someone could break in. Yeah yeah, and if my head weren’t screwed on, et cetera, I know, I said.
I was headed into the office at the time. I took a can of Folgers into the break-room. They all looked at me. They’re all in the know about coffee-roasting, I guess. Well, I drink Folgers now. I study it when I drink it. I want to know everything about it. See, Dad? Come have your coffee. And so he’ll try to have a cup with me, or I’ll become him; I’ll even chew up some Tums with the coffee and see what it was like to be him. My eyes are hot. The door is wide open. I hope he isn’t scared. I’m not scared Dad, come on, come in, I have your mouth now.
He’s on his way. I don’t weep. The point at which my eyes heat up — at which I remember the neurotrauma surgeon calling out his name, and asking him to squeeze his pen, which Dad did not— I bite down and become stone. He has other ways.
I might never go ice-fishing on Groundhog Reservoir again. I couldn’t drill down with the augur as well as my brothers. I laughed, inside my parka, watching them do it.
Ice can be like marble, like glass. It can have gray, ivory, and bright blackness in it. It makes a noise: pull the augur at this angle, drop your line quietly here. Sit.
The fish my dad pulled up hours later was pure muscle, pure life, and we soaked it in lemon and ate it. Around the same table and same lamp as always, in a room that I kept promising to belong to again, we bit into the fish and shook flecks of dill onto it. We became sustained by the fish who was fed by the lake, and I knew the only promise I could ever make was that I would believe neither in an afterlife, nor in finitude.
I only know for certain, I tell him, standing at the edge, hearing the marbled snore of a lake turning over, that we are teeming with elemental presence. Dad, we’re heavy with an infinitude of variations. We’ve always been something, somewhere.
I taught you that, he says.
M.K. Sturdevant’s work has appeared in Orion, Flyway, Slag Glass City, and is forthcoming in The Trumpeter. She was listed in the Top 25 Emerging Writers by Glimmer Train Press, Jan/Feb 2017. She lives and works in the Chicago area.