Bill Vernon

Ice – Micro Essay

by Bill Vernon

John and I were afraid our blades would hit bare spots and throw us so I pounded the ice with a brick and saw it was over half an inch thick. We took off confidently then, right down the middle of the street, uphill to the dead end, halfway back down, around a corner, then around the whole block. I felt like an eagle soaring above my usual life.

“Wow!” John yelled.

“Yeah! Wow!”

Sheer ice covered everything large and small, every blade of grass, the two or three clotheslines in every backyard, every twig of every tree. In the pale light, each bare lilac bush seemed to glow. Everything looked like it was made out of glass. It was like a miracle, really.

We stopped in front of our house the second time around. The sprinkling was over, but the air was colder, way below freezing. The thick gray clouds were black with night, and the ice-encased streetlamps gleamed weakly. No motors revved, no tires churned over pavement. There was silence, a hush only our panting broke.

John said, “Let’s get the other guys out here.”

“Yeah, a skating party.”

We swooped over sidewalks to every front door that had a child behind it. We rang bells, puffed our frozen breath at our friends, and a stream of kids on skates emerged behind us. I didn’t know so many people owned them. We circled the neighborhood again, and every kid we knew was out along with a few adults. There was no silence now. We skaters raced around shouting yahoos and yippees, and that seemed to empty all of the houses. Everybody wore the heavy wraps of winter, but we were no longer cooped up.

At the corner by the Carsons’ house, some mothers set up card tables and piled on food and drink: ham, meat loaf, bread, cookies, pies, cakes, steaming thermoses. Most of the men were absent, trapped at work. My father was downtown, only two miles away but unable to get home. Herbert the drunkard was there, two older retired men and Tony, who’d come home from painting the interior of a house across town before the rain started freezing. He and Herbert were sharing some wine.

My mother appeared, cutting through backyards, carrying something and laughing. I ran to help her. “This is so crazy,” she said. The ground wasn’t frozen underneath so it gave with our weight, but the grass crunched underfoot as if we were walking on crystals. My blades sank into the dirt like knives, then sliced a hole pulling out.

I gulped down two ham sandwiches with mustard and drank some hot chocolate. Then coasted off into the night, locked inside my coat, scarf, ski mask and gloves, warm and happy, moving on top of a world gone hard and smooth and entertaining like the big colored globe on our table at home, doing something I’d probably never do again.

Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel OLD TOWN in 2005.

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Because I Love You – Micro Essay

by Bill Vernon

Mom’s friend Betty entered our house one afternoon as if blown inside by the wind. The door banged against the wall, and from the kitchen Mom was there in an instant. Betty leaned against the door as if exhausted. “Ruth, you won’t believe what that fool did this time.”

Tony appeared in the doorway behind her. “Now, Betty, stop….”

Betty glanced at him. “No, everyone should hear what I have to endure, living with you.”

Tony shook his head, squeezed past her, and collapsed on the couch. “It was just a joke.”

Betty sneered, “A joke!”

Tony’s face became a rubber mask featuring a smirk and downcast, guilty eyes.

She’d come home from Sherwood’s Market with a bag of groceries in each arm, and found “the moron” sprawled on the floor. A lamp was on, she supposed to light up the pool of red on the floor, the big red splotch on his shirt, and the handle of the butcher knife. “It seemed to be sticking up out of him. Well I screamed, of course, and dropped the sacks. There’s a dozen eggs, a big jar of dill pickles, and God knows what else broken on the living room floor.”

Tony said, “I’ll clean it up.”

“Damn right you will.” Betty turned around to face him. “You’ll also go back to the store and replace whatever is ruined.”

Tony nodded.

Mom said, “Tony was stabbed?”

Betty turned back to Mom. “No, that was just my first impression. Then I noticed the knife was sticking up between his arm and his chest.” She put a hand flat in her armpit to demonstrate. “I also noticed the half empty ketchup bottle on the desk.”

My mother shook her head. “Tony, what were you thinking?”

Betty said, “He was trying to frighten the life out of me.”

“It was a joke,” Tony said.

Betty twisted around and yelled. “You think that’s funny?”

My mother turned away, but I saw the smile she was hiding. “No wonder you dropped the bags.”

“I grabbed the dust mop from the closet and beat him over the head until the idiot had enough sense to get up and run.”

“Ah, Betty, it wasn’t that bad.”

She glared at him. “It could very well have killed me right on the spot.”

“I pull jokes on you because I love you.”

We all stared at him. After a minute Betty said, “How can I be so lucky. Ruth, do you have any coffee perked?”

“Good idea,” Tony said. “A cup of coffee will settle us down.”

“Not you,” Betty said. “You go home and clean up the mess.”

Mom led Betty to the kitchen while Tony stood in the doorway watching. When they disappeared, Tony left. He walked hunched over as if carrying a heavy burden. He might have felt bad, but his trick seemed neat enough for me to try on my brother.

Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel OLD TOWN in 2005.

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