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So long ago. No time at all.

January 21st, 2008 · Written by · 6 Comments

Snowy Tree

Esau held onto the guardrail. Leaned out into empty space. The frozen lake beneath him. How far down?
The ice made his fingers slip. He leaned out further.
How far?
Far enough.

***

So long ago, it seemed.
And yet, no time at all. This same lake. He and the little one.
But the little one wasn’t so little. What was he, six? Seven?
Not so little at all.
Back then, Esau was basically still a boy.
This was the day Esau grew up.
“Bet you can’t make it to the other side,” Esau said.
“Why I wanna do that?”
“I ain’t said you do wanna do it. But I bet you don’t. Bet you’re too scared.”
“I ain’t scared.”
“Prove it.”
So long ago. That’s what he said: ‘Prove it.’
How two words can change the course of a life.
“Prove what,” the little one said.
“Prove you ain’t too yeller to go ’cross the water.”
“I ain’t yeller.”
“All right.”
“I ain’t.”
“All right. I ain’t said you was. All’s I said was prove it.”
The little one tested the ice with his foot. Pressed down on it, as if he could push the ice under water.
“How come you ain’t goin’ out on it?” the little one asked.
“ ’Cause I ain’t said I could.”
“I ain’t said I could neither.”
“Nope.”
“So. Why I gotta go out there?”
“You ain’t gotta. I just said I bet you won’t.”
“I ain’t yeller.”
“ ’Course you ain’t.”
“Just makin’ sure you know that.”
“I know.”
“Okay.”
“You gonna prove it?”
“Prove what?”
“That you ain’t yeller.”
The little one sighed. Tested the ice again.
“What if I fall in?”
“You can swim, can’tcha?”
“I can swim.”
“You ain’t got nothin’ to worry ’bout, then.”
He tested the ice again. Took a step. Took another. The ice held beneath him.
“I told you I ain’t yeller.”
“You ain’t.”
“Can I come back now?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“You ain’t made it to the other side.”
The little one sighed again. He took another step. Took another step. The ice felt strong. He took another step.
“Ain’t nothin’ to be worried ’bout,” Esau yelled. His breath curled out in wispy clouds — like cigarette smoke.
He breathed again and watched his breath. Breathed again and watched his breath. He tried to make a smoke ring. It didn’t work. The little one yelled something. He tried to make a smoke ring again.
The little one’s voice carried across the thin, icy air.
“Quit yer hollerin’. What’re you so crazy over?”
“I don’t think it’s safe!”
“I said quit yer hollerin’.”
“I don’t think it’s safe!”
“Come on back then.” The little one took a step back. Esau cupped his hands around his mouth. “Yeller!”
The little one stopped. Stood still. “I ain’t yeller.” He didn’t yell this; he said it. It floated across the air as if riding the stream of his visible breath, reaching Esau a moment later.
The little one turned. Stepped away. Kept walking. Kept walking. Reached the other side. Jumped onto the shore and turned around and yelled. “I told you I ain’t yeller!”
Esau laughed. “Naw. Naw, you ain’t yeller one bit!”
“Now what!” the little one yelled.
“Huh?”
“Now what!”
“How do you mean?”
“What do I do now?”
“Oh! Now you come back!”

***

He stopped moving, and the moment stopped too, and both of them stood there.

Esau’s wife called to him. She called to him again.
He didn’t answer. His fingers slipped. He stared down at the solid sheet of ice.
How far?
How far?
Far enough.
Her skin touched his.
“Come back, baby.”
“I can’t.”
“Come back to me,” she said.
He turned his head. Looked at her hand where it rested on his. She’d taken her glove off so it wouldn’t stand between them. Physical touch. Melting his resolutions.
“It’s my fault.”
“It ain’t your fault,” she said.
“It is.”
“How can you say that? Baby? Come back to me.”
His fingers slipped. She lunged toward him. He stopped moving, and the moment stopped too, and both of them stood there.

***

So long ago.
And yet, not so long at all.
The little one stepped back onto the ice, less gingerly than before. He walked, walked, trotted. Then he started jogging. His feet slipped, and he splattered face-first onto the ice. Laughed. Stood up and started jogging again.
Crack.
“Pa?”
Crack.
“Pa!”
Crack, crack, cra-a-a-a-a-ack!
The ice broke.
The little one fell through.

***

So long later.
No time at all.
“Baby,” his wife said. “Baby. Climb back over this here rail.”
“You’re right.”
“Climb back over this here rail, baby.”
“You’re right,” he said again. He pulled himself back. Swung his leg over. Hugged his wife and kissed her.
“You couldn’t have known,” she told him again. “It ain’t your fault.”
“It ain’t.”
“Hell, baby. You told him not to go out on that ice; he ran out there anyway. You wasn’t lookin’. It ain’t your fault.”
That’s what she believed.
That’s what he had told her.
“You’re right,” he said.
That’s how their son had died.
“Let’s get in the car, baby.”
“Okay.”
“Let’s get in the car.”
“Good idea.”
“Let’s go home,” she said.
“Yes,” he said. “Let’s.”

Tags: Fiction

6 Comments so far ↓

  • JM Tohline

    Oooh, good story…

    Faithful readers: Yeah, I’m the guy who wrote this story; check out my website if you get a chance (www.jmtohline.com).

  • foxstar

    I like the mild hick/humor that was used to create the characters, and the suspense of walking on ice. I enjoyed it!

    It is great to finally see Tohline published; though it may only be small for now. I know Tohline on a personal level, he is a character himself. I cant imagine all of the stories he must have locked up in his mind. Looking forward to reading more from Tohline in the future.

  • jguthmann

    two words…wow and wow. How can I express in simple words what this short story means to me? Excellent use of vernacular and imagery. I just went a big rubbery one.

  • msmithers84

    I agree with jguthmann….I think. Jordan you may have to re-read this one to me and explain.

  • DMcKenna

    After reading this, I wish I knew “JM Tohline” on a personal level as you say foxstar. This reading was like a fountain of wisdom, except a slightly more brooding version than what I am used to. Bravo, keep the stories coming.

  • jguthmann

    I’m not going to lie, I wish that I knew all of you guys on a personal level. Hell, I wish I went to college with all of you. More stories from JM Tohline…now!

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