The Year of Ice

A Novel

Brian Malloy

St. Martin's Griffin

The Year of Ice
1
THE ABSOLUTE STILLNESS OF THE WHITE
JANUARY 1978
Aunt Nora always says that people can still surprise you. I never got what she meant by that until last fall. I mean, Floyd Anderson always seemed normal enough. He's an old Swede who has been our neighbor for as long as I can remember. He's always had a good word for everybody He always told the same jokes, always talked about the weather, and always kept his sidewalk clean as a whistle even during the worst snowfalls. You could set your watch by Floyd Anderson.
Then he began wearing a pyramid on his head right around Halloween. He bought it at one of those hippie shops on the West Bank, where all the sixties burnouts live. They sell them in stores that are full of body oils and incense and rolling papers andbongs. Floyd's pyramid's not a hat; it's this kind of dumb-ass thing that's supposed to make you, like, calm or happy or some weird shit like that. It wasn't until a couple of weeks after he got it, when the thermometer dropped below zero, that he'd put a hat on underneath it. I'd watch him from my bedroom window, shoveling his walk, covered from head to toe against the windchill, the dull brass of the pyramid reflecting the winter sun.
His wife left him about three weeks ago. They'd been married almost forty years.
Dad said, "Makes you think." But he was wrong; it didn't make me think. Not much does. I'm not proud of it or anything, I'm just telling the truth.
When I see Floyd at Red Owl, where I bag groceries after school, he smiles at me and says, "You really have to get one of these." He means his pyramid. "I feel psychically healed. It'll bring you peace."
Floyd's not lying. Rumor had it that he'd wanted to leave his wife but never had the nerve.
"I don't think so, Mr. Anderson," I always tell him.
"You don't know what you're missing," he says as he grabs his bag of Kellogg's Corn Flakes and Del Monte pudding cups from me. "Don't know what you're missing," he says again, like I hadn't heard him the first time.
Once he's out the sliding doors, Lorraine, the checker who works with me at register three, says, "Is he seeing anyone, do you know?"
I look at her like she's mental. "You mean Floyd Anderson?"
Yes, Floyd Anderson, she nods, showing me her black and gray roots.
"You're too good for him," I tell her.
She sighs and says under her breath, "Let me be the judge of who I'm too good for, thank you very much."
 
 
Lorraine gave up on my dad around Labor Day. He kept telling her he wasn't ready to start dating yet. Dad's a good-looking manand what they call in my biology class an endangered species: a single middle-aged man. He had to stop going to a Catholic support group for people whose spouses died 'cause the widows wouldn't leave him alone. They'd call him at all hours, sometimes drunk, and once he stopped answering the phone, they'd ask me for advice:
"What does he like to do?"
"What's his favorite meal?"
"Would he like to go to a Northstars game, do you think?"
I'd just stare at the receiver, feeling a little sorry for these women who'd been cheated out of a husband so early in life. Out of loyalty to my mom, who died in a car accident, I'd tell them that Dad had a girlfriend and to stop calling our house. But they didn't, not until Dad broke down and paid the extra money for an unlisted number.
When that happened, they started dropping by with little gifts for him. Now he has to go down the basement or hide upstairs in his room anytime the doorbell rings. It's my job to put the widows off his scent. A lot of them bring ties, something Dad doesn't need--he works day shifts at the Highland Park Ford plant--and ! I wonder if all these male presents used to belong to the dead husbands.
"I never see your father at church anymore," one of the widows said to me, a brightly wrapped box of cuff links in her shivering hands.
I had Dad's permission to say whatever I needed to to get rid of them. I told her, "He's converting."
With her teeth chattering--I never let the widows inside--she asked: "To what?"
"Islam." We were studying world religions during fourth-period history.
The next time she showed up at the door, she was wearing one of those veil things over her face and had the Koran with her.
Okay, so she didn't show up in a veil with the Koran. She never came back at all; I think I kind of freaked her out with theMuslim stuff. But as Aunt Nora says, "Any story worth telling is worth exaggerating."
The smart widows bring something for me. One gave me a twenty-dollar gift certificate to Positively Fourth Street, a record store and head shop near the U. To these women I'm polite, but no more encouraging.
"He's out on a date."
"He's gone on a vacation with his girlfriend."
"He's engaged."
Mom's funeral had to be held on my sixteenth birthday To compensate, Dad gave me a hundred bucks. I still have it stashed in my sock drawer, along with the money I make at Red Owl.
 
 
I've been thinking about Mom a lot lately 'cause the second anniversary is coming up. For example, I remember my first day back on the school bus after her funeral. A really weird girl, Laurie Lindstrom, tried to be nice to me. Laurie always read books about horses and had no friends. Her parents had been murdered when they were camping up on the north shore. A motorcycle gang beat them to death as part of some weird initiation for new members. It made the national news, and somebody wrote a book about it that's being turned into a TV movie of the week. Far as I know, Laurie hasn't gotten any money from it.
She'd sat next to me on the bus and said, "I know how hard it is to lose your mother. I got a postcard from mine two days after she died."
I tried to imagine what it must have said.
Dear Laurie,
Aiiiiiiiiiiiie! Help us! For the love of God, HELP US!
Love, Mom
Or maybe:
Dear Laurie,
Daddy and I are being hacked to death by satanic bikers. Wish you were here.
Love, Mom
I told her, "Thanks."
"If you ever want to talk--"
"Thanks," I told her again, my voice a NO TRESPASSING sign.
I don't see Laurie much now that I don't take the bus to school anymore. Tommy, my best friend since I was a little kid, got a '71 Dodge Challenger and picks me up every morning when he can get it started. It makes a blub-blub-blub sound and stalls out whenever he makes a right turn. Still, it's very cool. Tommy and I belong to a clique that wears flannel shirts, smokes Camels, and goes to keggers every weekend. As members of the class of '78, we've already been counseled to go to vo-techs after we graduate this June so we can learn a trade. Tommy's gonna be an auto mechanic; I haven't decided what I'm gonna do.
Dad wants me to go to the U--they have to take any idiot with a high school diploma or GED in the General College program. In four years I'd graduate with a general degree and begin a general life. I told Dad that I'd think about it, but last week he told me: "Oh, you're going, young man. Don't think you're not going." Dad hates his job; he has for as long as I can remember. Some weeks he drank himself sick because he couldn't face one more day at the plant. When he was drunk he'd say, "That goddamn plant's killing me."
He wants me to get an education so I can get a higher-paying job of my own to hate.
 
 
Tommy says that General College is a waste of time, I should go to Dunwoody with him and become an electrician or draftsman or something. Or cooler yet, go to Brown Institute over on Lake Street and get a job in radio. We're lined up at one end of VanCleve Park waiting for the kickoff. Most Sundays we play Snow Football with some guys I guess you'd call our friends. I've dragged Tommy here every week for a month, even though he'd rather be inside cranking tunes and smoking weed.
"I dunno," I say. "It's only January. I got time."
Tommy tells me that he's already applied to Dunwoody Institute. He's making plans for his future, even if I'm not. While we wait for the kickoff he pushes his long dirty blond hair behind his ears. He looks like one of the Allman Brothers, except with normal-colored skin.
The ball flies at us and I catch it, but it's frozen and slick and it pops out of my hands like a wet bar of soap. The challenge of snow football is possession; that's what makes it so much better than regular football.
"Shit!"
Jon Thompson's already made it down the field and snags the ball, bad news for my side. The good news is that I'm six-two and weigh 185 pounds so it's easy for me to knock him on his ass. On the way down I hug him hard; Jon's a fox. He's got these really big eyelashes and hair that's the same color as chocolate. You could say that I'm in love with Jon. So I just lie there on top of him. This is like the only time I can get away with it without people shitting their pants.
"Get offa me," he says.
"Okay, tough guy," I tell him and I slap the side of his head. I do this for two reasons, really. First, 'cause if I smack him, nobody will guess that I want to pick him up in my arms and kiss him really hard, right on his lips. And second, he's got to be reminded that I'm tougher than he is. Wolves do this all the time to keep order in the pack. I'm the alpha; he's the beta. That's the way it always has been and that's the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it, uh-huh, uh-huh. If anybody knew I liked KC and The Sunshine Band I'd have to drop out.
We wait for the snap and Tommy says, "One of these days somebody's gonna beat the crap outta you."
I shrug and say, "Nobody here."
Tommy looks around. "Nah, I guess not. But someday, somebody will."
Rick Foley falls back with the ball and I pound into Jon Thompson again. This time he doesn't yell at me to get off him, he's afraid to. He just waits quietly for me to get up. I smile and wink at him. He thinks I'm being a jerk, but my wink is sincere. And it's a thrill, maybe the only one I'll ever get to have.
Wherever Jon is on the field, I'm soon on top of him. He feels like heaven underneath me. We don't say a word to each other and he never looks me in the eye. It's easy to pretend that he's in my bed and that I'm holding him.
Tommy notices that I won't cut for a break He says, "You got it in for that guy, or what?"
I choose what.
 
 
That night, alone in my bed, I pile up the pillows and hold them in my arms. Here, Jon Thompson's in love with me, his head on my shoulder and my hand stroking his cool chocolate hair. I kiss the fabric of the pillowcase and squeeze Jon tighter. We talk about the game. He tells me how much he loved being tackled by me. If people only knew, he says and laughs. I laugh with him and then I kiss him again, but harder this time.
He pulls away and holds my head in his hands. He looks at me like he's gonna cry and he says, I love you. Kevin. I'll love you forever. Promise me you'll never leave me.
Don't be mental, Jon, I'm never gonna leave you. I love you.
He puts his hand on my cheek, and that's when I hear the scraping of Floyd Anderson's shovel against the sidewalk. We've only had a dusting but Floyd spazzes out if there's even one speck of snow on the concrete. Somebody might slip in front of his house and sue him, and then he'd lose everything, and then what'd he do?
I leave Jon alone on my bed and look out the window at Floyd. He's in his blue snowsuit, and the snownakcs sparkle in the light of the streetlamps. He's resting, or maybe he's reveling in the absolutestillness of the white like Mom used to do. Or maybe he's receiving secret messages from the CIA through the pyramid on top of his head. He doesn't budge for a minute, maybe two, and then the scrape, scrape, scrape begins again, echoing off the houses and apartment buildings and making the Bartochevitzes' dog Max bark.
I go back to my bed and Jon's gone; the stack of pillows is just a stack of pillows. I stare at the ceiling for a long time, blankly, the same way Mom used to stare when she'd sit out on the front stoop in her ugly plaid coat and watch the snow fall. She'd be out there for hours, not budging an inch. When I do fall asleep I dream of snow Of the absolute stillness of the white.
 
 
There's a widow at the front door when I leave for school in the morning. She's one of the regulars; her name's Jackie Shaw. You can tell that she used to smile a lot. She has these really deep crow's-feet like the canals on Mars that we're studying in science class. Rick Foley thinks that Martians made them, but he can be a big fucking burnout 'cause he's done way too many drugs. Still, it'd be cool if there were Martians. Maybe on their planet guys can marry guys.
"Why, good morning, Kevin," Jackie Shaw says, sweet as you please. "I just wanted to drop these off for you boys. I bet you don't get many hot breakfasts these days."
Steam comes from the box she hands me.
"They're cinnamon rolls with real cream icing," she tells me. "Just the thing to warm you up."
"Thanks."
She looks past me, into the sitting room. "Is your father at home? Maybe he'd like me to make a pot of coffee to wash these down with."
Dad's upstairs getting ready for work, but I don't tell her that. Instead I say, "Dad had an early shift today. He's left already"
Her face falls a little bit, but then she rebounds. "Well, you enjoy those then. Would you let your father know I stopped by?"
I hear the blub-blub-blub of Tommy's Challenger. In exactly three seconds he will honk the horn twice.
"Yeah. Thanks, Mrs. Shaw."
Beep! Beep!
This is when Mrs. Bartochevitz opens her front door and yells at Tommy for blasting his horn. I think she waits there for him.
"Do you have to do that?" she shouts at his car.
In exactly five seconds Mrs. Bartochevitz will put her hands on her hips and scream across the street at me.
"That's my ride," I tell Mrs. Shaw.
"Does your friend have to do that?" Mrs. Bartochevitz wants to knows.
I wave in Mrs. Shaw's direction and jump in Tommy's car.
"What's that?" he asks, pointing at the box.
"Cinnamon rolls," I tell him. The love potion of widows.
 
 
Exactly two years ago, this very minute, everything was normal. I walked the halls oblivious to Jon Thompson and his chocolate hair. Mom was alive and at the Midway Target, getting paper towels and laundry detergent, and a bag of Old Dutch ripple potato chips for me. The house smelled like lemons and my father was busy stacking palettes of cardboard stock against a plant wall. Exactly two years ago, twenty minutes from now, Mom's car slid off East River Road, rolled down an embankment, and crashed into the ice covering the Mississippi. Exactly two years ago, one hundred and forty-three minutes from now, my teacher told me to report to the school nurse's office where I found my Aunt Nora waiting for me. She said I should come live with her.
But right now, I'm late for English Lit.
I see Jon Thompson in the hallway and I say hey. He looks at me weird and says, "Hey" He keeps walking but I reach out and touch him on his bony shoulder. He stops and turns toward me, maybe waiting for another smack. Guys are always pissing on each other's trees; it's like we can't help it.
I say, real casual, like I'm asking what time it is, "Any parties this weekend?"
"Haven't heard," he tells me.
I look at him. What do you say to the boy that you love whenyou aren't supposed to love boys? Everything that I can think of sounds faggy to me.
"Okay," I say.
He frowns. "If I knew of any, I'd tell you," he says, all defensive-like.
"It's cool, man," I say, and I bolt, down the hall and away from him. Away from his deep brown eyes with the big cow lashes. Away from his scrawny shoulder that makes my hand shake like I'm a spaz or something.
Class has started by the time I get there. I sit on the white side of the room next to Rick Foley, who's nodding his head in time to a tune only he can hear. He smiles at me; he's drawing a pair of biker-chick booths in his notebook and the teacher thanks me for being so kind to stop by. His name is Mr. Hayes, a.k.a. Fey Hayes, the faggiest teacher at Northeast High. He looks like he's sixty and in pain. All the time.
He turns back to Donnell White, who is black, one of the many new kids from Chicago and Gary, Indiana, who're starting to freak out the teachers. "We speak proper English here, Mr. White," he says, "not urban slang. I seriously doubt that our country's greatest poet would appreciate your interpretation of his crowning achievement."
Donnell doesn't say anything.
"Try again," Fey Hayes tells him, and Donnell begins reading "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" out loud.
"'may little horse must think it queer ...'"
We all laugh.
Fey Hayes shakes his head. "Why is that necessary?" he wants to know. "The horse is used to a certain way of doing things, and on this night the routine is set aside. It's queer. Not the norm. Is that so difficult for you to understand?" He sighs, hanging his head. "I see that people of your generation fail to appreciate the conflict between free will and social obligation."
Donnell can't go on; he's laughing too hard and tears roll down his cheeks. Fey Hayes shakes his head and calls on me. "Mr. Doyle, would you please do the honors?"
"What page are we on?" I ask, shuffling through my copy of Contemporary American Poetry.
Barely opening his tight faggy mouth, Fey Hayes tells me, "Page thirty-four. Begin at 'he gives.'"
I search the page and find where Donnell left off. "'He gives his harness bells a shake to ask if there is some mistake.'"
Fey Hayes stops me. "Is there some mistake, Mr. Doyle?"
I look up from my book. "No."
Fey Hayes is staring a hole in my head. "He's stopping on purpose?"
"Yeah."
"Why would that be?"
"To watch the woods fill up with snow."
Fey Hayes tilts his fey head. "Is that the only reason he's stopping?"
I look back at my book and read ahead a little bit. "Yeah, I guess so."
"So when Frost writes, 'The woods are lovely, dark and deep, But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep,' do you suppose he moves on or does he stay where he is?"
I don't know
Fey Hayes knows that I don't know. So he says: "Now tell me, Mr. Doyle, why would you stop to watch the woods fill up with snow?"
Exactly two years ago this very second everything was normal. In five minutes, exactly two years ago, nothing would ever be again.
 
 
Dad's been watching me closely all night, afraid I might freak out or something. Neither of us has said boo about the second anniversary. Once in a while the phone rings and somebody offers us their condolences. None of Mom's relatives call, they're all still in Ireland, except for my Aunt Nora. Aunt Nora doesn't call; Dad wouldn't give her our new phone number.
We stare at the TV "You're awfully quiet tonight," he says to me.
I grunt.
"Anything the matter?" he asks, hoping I'll say no.
"Nah."
When the doorbell rings, it's Jackie Shaw, not the pizza guy. She couldn't have timed this any better if she'd tried. Normally Dad would be upstairs in his room waiting for the all clear. She spots him as she sticks her head past me and through the doorway
"Pat!" she squeals, not believing her own eyes. "They've been working you much too hard down at the plant!"
"Jackie," Dad says, like he's just learned how to talk. He stands up, and looking at the floor he says, "Come on in out of the cold."
Jackie Shaw's throwing off more heat than our furnace. "Thank you, thank you! I just wanted to drop this off for you boys," she says, a pie plate covered with Reynolds Wrap in her hands. "I hope you like pecan."
The bell rings again, and Jackie shoots a nasty look at the door. When she sees it's the pizza guy and not some other widow, she beams and says, "Oh, no! Not pizza! You two need a good home-cooked meal. Let me fix you something nice."
Dad's still standing; his hands in his pockets. He says, "Really, Jackie, you don't have to do that. Why don't you sit down and have a slice with us."
Jackie shakes her head no, but she's saying, "Oooh, a piece of pizza sounds like just the thing. It's bitter out there."
As if God himself--the Old Testament one--could get her to leave.
I pay the pizza guy with the twenty Dad gave me and I keep the change, a tradition of ours since Mom died. Dad's been a lot nicer to me since it happened, you can tell he's really trying hard. I'll put his change in my sock drawer with the rest of my money.
Jackie Shaw slips out of her black coat and she's wearing a black dress, nylons, and heels in spite of the fact that it's ten below out. The war paint's on extra thick; she's on the hunt tonight. She sits on the couch right next to Dad and tsk-tsks.
"You look tired, Pat," she says as she pets Dad's hair into place.
"I'm fine," Dad tells her.
She sighs and folds her hands in her lap. Her nails are flaming red and it almost hurts to look at them. She says, "It was two years ago today, wasn't it?"
I see Dad wince from where I sit across the room. He nods and Jackie pouts.
"You poor--"
"The pizza's scrump-dilly-icious," I say.
Dad winks at me. "I didn't know how hungry I was," he says.
 
 
We've eaten all the pizza, half the pecan pie, and drunk a pot of Sanka and still Jackie Shaw won't budge.
I've got no choice so I say, "Good night." I can't think of one more thing to say to this woman and neither can Dad. I don't want to leave him alone with her but I can't keep my eyes open another second.
"You sleep tight, Kevin," Jackie Shaw says to me with a smile, like she thinks she's my mom or something.
I just look at her like she cut one and head upstairs. The treads creak beneath my feet, old and tired. When I pull the door open to my room, Jon Thompson's waiting for me in my bed. I smile, then he smiles too. He pats the mattress and says, room for two. I pull off my clothes and goose pimples are all over my skin, so I jump on the mattress and pull the covers over us, hard. We play, tickling each other and wrestling a little. We laugh and make out and then laugh again. After the usual lovey-dovey stuff, he asks me about Mom.
What was she like, Jon wants to know.
I tell him that she was small and timid and scared of her own shadow.
Did you love her, Jon asks as he runs his fingers through my hair.
Yeah, I guess I did. She was really quiet. She never said too much. But she always told me I was becoming a very handsome young man. Dad never says that. Dad never says much of anything.
Jon holds me tighter. Dads don't say that kind of thing, justMoms. It must have been very hard for you, losing her the way you did.
Yeah, it was pretty weird.
What do you mean?
The thing is, I whisper to Jon, I never got to see her after she died. There was too much damage. I had to say good-bye to a closed casket. Anybody could have been in there. Maybe it was empty and they just threw her in a Dumpster behind the funeral home, who knows? That's what they did with the dead cats at the animal hospital I used to work at. People would come in, all upset with their dead cats, and they'd pay like twenty bucks for us to take the bodies. But I only took them as far the Dumpster out back.
Jon hugs me hard and says that Mom's in a better place now. At peace.
Do you really think so?
Of course, Jon says, and then he kisses me lightly on my lips.
I hope she's at peace.
I know she's at peace, he sighs in my ear. I love you so much, he tells me in a soft breath.
I love you too. More than I can say.
Downstairs I hear the front door creak on its hinges. Somehow, Dad's gotten Jackie Shaw to leave.
 
 
Jon Thompson's standing next to my locker. I don't know how to look at him anymore. I'm afraid that he'll guess that I love him. But then I'm afraid that if he's like me, I'm not giving him enough clues to figure it out. This bites the big one.
"Party Saturday," he tells me.
I look just past him. "Where?"
"Debbie Polanski's. Her parents are in Bemidji till Monday." Jon's being nice to me 'cause he's afraid I don't like him. And if I don't like him, Tommy and Rick Foley and everybody else won't like him either. If I weren't in love with him, I'd feel sorry for him. But I am, so I don't.
"Cool," I tell him.
He smiles that smile at me, the one that makes me breathe really fast, and says, "Catch you later."
"'Kay."
I bolt to Dutch class. We only have Dutch at our school 'cause one of our teachers is from South Africa. And it's not really Dutch she speaks; it's Afrikaans. I'm late. Ik ben laat. Like ten minutes laat.
When I get to class, our teacher, Mevrouw Bergsma, says, "Meneer Doyle, wat leuk!" (Mr. Doyle, how nice!)
I sit next to Tommy, who's in his usual position, slumped back with his arms crossed and his legs spread really wide. Like he's pissed off. Mevrouw Bergsma doesn't like us to sit like that, she says it's too aggressive.
"Ik ben fucking bored," he whispers.
"Jammer." (What a shame.)
Mevrouw Bergsma claps her little pink hands and says, "Mevrouw Kooiman ontmoet Mevrouw Kees in het Vondelpark." (Mrs. Kooiman meets Mrs. Kees in Vondel Park.) Mevrouw Bergsma looks at me and says, "Kevin, wat heeft Mevrouw Kees bij zich." Now I'm really lost.
"Well," I say.
"Ja?"
"Mevrouw Kees heeft ..."
"Heeft wat?"
" ... stuff. Some stuff."
She sucks her lips between her teeth. I make her do that a lot. "Did you even read the assignment?"
Nee, ma' am. Mevrouw Shaw komt by met a pecan pie. So I studeert nix. "Yeah."
"Echt? Waar werkt Mevrouw Kees?" (Really? Where does Mrs. Kees work?)
"Nederland?" (Holland?)
The smart kids laugh at me, but I shoot them a look and they shut up fast, not wanting their asses kicked.
Mevrouw Bergsma gives up and moves on to a cheerleader who stinks of Bubble Yum. There are some teachers who think that guys like me and Tommy are cute--endearing in the way thatonly the young can be--that's what my homeroom teacher says. But it's easy to tell that Mevrouw Bergsma just thinks that we're a giant pain in her neck. Once she accused me of loitering in her classroom and impersonating somebody who gave a damn. This was her little joke I guess, but she said it all bitchy and I've never liked her since.
Precise tvee jaheren geleden vandaag was ik thuis. (Exactly two years ago today I was at home.)
 
 
I'm putting cans of Campbell's chunky soup at the bottom of a double bag. So chunky you could eat it with a fork. But use a spoon. You'll want to get every drop. Mrs. Gunderson looks at me and smiles. She's one of the women that called Dad at first, but she gave up without much of a fight, probably 'cause she's divorced and not widowed. She doesn't stop by the house all the time with ties or cuff links. She doesn't pump me for information about him at the supermarket. I feel sorry for her 'cause she had to take in her niece, Laurie Lindstrom, after Laurie's parents were killed up north. And I feel a little guilty 'cause I'm glad that her and my dad didn't get together. Not because of her, but 'cause Laurie is so very uncool.
Mrs. Gunderson winks and says, "I never have to worry about anything getting broken when you bag, Kevin. You take good care of me."
My boss doesn't want me to double-bag, but I like Mrs. Gunderson. She's always really nice to me. "No sweat," I tell her.
"How are you getting on at school now that you're a big senior?"
I mumble, "Okay."
"Have you made any plans for after graduation?"
"Going to the U, I guess."
She sighs. "My alma mater. So you're going to be a Golden Gopher, good for you. Are you going to live on campus?" Campus is maybe twenty blocks at the most from my house.
"No, ma'am." I'm about to say something else but I can tell by the look on her face that she's back at college, maybe with aboyfriend, maybe at a party. She's remembering something she hasn't thought about in a long time. When she snaps out of it, she blushes.
"You take care of yourself, young man," she says as she steers her cart toward the doors.
Next in line are three girls from school, all giggling and whispering. I know them from keggers and I got high with one of them once.
"Hiya, Kevin," the shortest one says. She has feathered hair like Farrah Fawcett-Majors and pink lipstick the same color as her nails. Her friends snigger, and one of them turns bright red like a stoplight.
"Hey," I say. They're buying two packs of Bubble Yum so there's nothing to bag. I can tell they're checking me out, so I run a hand through my hair 'cause I know I'm a fox.
"So," the little one says to me, "you going to Debbie Polanski's on Saturday?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
Lorraine, the checker, looks at me and rolls her eyes.
Feathered Hair says, "Allison was hoping you were."
The tallest one, with straight blond hair parted down the middle and a beet-red face, says, "Was not, shut up!"
They run out of the store, arguing and laughing, and Lorraine gives me a look. "Allison's looking forward to Saturday, I bet."
So am I. Jon Thompson will be there.
"The way these girls flirt with you, it's a wonder you can fit your head through the doorway."
I don't know what she means, so I say, "Yeah."
 
 
Floyd Anderson's scraping his sidewalk clear to the marrow when Tommy blub-blub-blubs up in his Challenger to pick me up for Debbie Polanski's party. For Mrs. Bartochevitz's sake, he honks twice, which gives Floyd a start, and his pyramid falls off his head and into a snowbank.
When I open the front door a blast of cold air hits me hard and I wheeze. It's supposed to get down between twenty andthirty below tonight and Dad's made me promise to call him if Tommy's car won't start. He pays attention to where I go and what I do since Mom died.
I have to sit in the back; Rick Foley's riding shotgun next to Tommy. "Hey, man," Rick Foley says, so I say, "Hey, man."
I see Tommy look at me in the rearview mirror. He nods and says, "Hey, man."
I say, "Hey, man."
And we're off, three men heading to Debbie Polanski's house, which turns out to be maybe all of four blocks from my own.
As soon as we're inside I see Allison and her friends. They see me too and scream and turn their heads. There's this cloud of cigarette and pot smoke that hurts my eyes and I'm afraid that I'm gonna reek like nothing else when I get home and Dad'll notice. They're blasting Aerosmith and everybody has to shout. Tommy yells in my ear. He tells me to drink the punch, not the beer, so I do.
It's one big plastic cup later and I'm already buzzed.
Two cups later and I'm drunk.
Three cups later and I've never been so smashed in my entire life.
Rick Foley finds me leaning against a wall, staring into my cup, trying not to fall over. He goes, "Whoa, man, you shit-faced?"
I just smile and nod at him. You know, he's kinda foxy, I never noticed before. I'm afraid to say anything 'cause I know I'll sound really blitzed. Ja, Ik ben shit-faced.
Rick Foley shouts over at Tommy, who's talking to Beth, who's wearing a tube top in the middle of January. You can see her nips from here. Beth used to go to Northeast, but now she goes to someplace near the U for kids who can't hack regular school. Rick Foley barely gets out, "Hey, man, Kevin's shit-faced," before he passes out, face first, on the floor in front of me. He's just lies there, maybe he's dead, I can't tell. I laugh as I step over him on my way to get some more punch.
"Man, Foley's wasted." This is Jon Thompson shouting at me. He's pointing at Rick Foley's body, right behind us. I get all warm. Jon Thompson! You're here! I love you! Do you love me?
"I know," I say and giggle again. Jon snickers too and I want to touch him really bad.
Now we're laughing so hard that we're not making any noise at all. We just, like, shake, and I'm kinda freaking 'cause I think I might be suffocating. I can't tell if I'm taking any air in or breathing any out. How long have I gone without breathing?
Jon finally makes sounds like "Ha, ha, ha" but then he grabs his stomach and pukes. Now the music stops and people are pointing at him, gagging and laughing at the same time. Oooh, gross, they all seem to say. I'm still laughing, but not 'cause Jon threw up. I'm still cracking up about Rick Foley.
Jon just stares at his own vomit, maybe a foot away from Rick Foley's head, and I can tell that he's not really sure if it came out of him. He sways as he looks at it, his mouth wide open. He looks up at me and I'm laughing really bust not at him, only I can't tell him that, 'cause I can't breathe. Next he looks at the people around us.
Somebody says, "Hey, Thompson, why don't you blow chow at your own house?"
He yells, "Shut up!"
I want to help, but my shoulders are jiggling and I think I might die laughing.
Some guy, who looks like he's thirty, shouts at Jon. "Don't drink with the big boys if you can't handle it, weak tit."
Jon screams, "Shut the hell up." He staggers past the gawkers and toward what I can only hope is the John.
I want to stop laughing but I can't and I notice Allison standing next to me. Her eyelids are heavy and her head's shaking, the way Mom-Mom's always did on account of the palsy.
She says to me like I just said something. "What?"
But I can't talk; I just gasp for air. Look at Rick Foley, I want to say. He's so funny
"Do you have a girlfriend?" slurs out of Allison's mouth, and then her eyes close.
She's funny too. Knock, knock, anybody home? God, I need oxygen.
Finally my convulsions stop. I leave Allison standing where sheis, like a bobblehead, and I work my way in what I think is the direction Jon's gone. I find a hallway and open the first door I see. Tommy's on top of Beth, only her tube top is off, and he's squeezing her little boobs.
"Sorry," I mutter, but they don't hear me, she's like moaning, and Tommy's grunting.
A second door and I stare at summer clothes stacked on shelves.
A third door and there's Jon on all fours, his head over the toilet.
"You poor bastard," I say, or maybe I only think it, I'm so drunk I can't tell.
He groans and his eyes are watering.
I kneel down beside him. I don't know what I'm doing so I put a hand on his ass. He's so out of it he doesn't notice.
"You okay?" I think I whisper, but he just keeps groaning, like he's got the dry heaves. I grab a cheek and squeeze it. It's round and it's firm and it feels like heaven. Oh, my God, I'm feeling Jon's ass!
He barfs nothing and I put my hands around his waist now, working my way up his chest. His stomach shudders under my fingers and when my hands reach his nipples I stroke them till they get hard. All the time I bite his ass through his jeans. Man, I can't believe I'm doing this. I am sooo fucked up. We fall over. I know this 'cause I feel the cold tiles of the floor on my skin.
I think I passed out for a little bit. Jon's curled up next to the bowl when I wake up. He's got all his clothes on, and I think about taking them off. I think, I'm stronger than he is. I can kick his ass. Maybe he's just waiting for me to do him. Shit. I am soooo fucked up. Gotta find Tommy and get home.
I leave Jon next to the toilet and I stumble over bodies in the hallway. I can't find Tommy. Dad'll be worried; he worries a lot since Mom died. Gotta get home. What time is it? A coat. I need a coat. And a hat. And gloves. A pile of the stuff is near the door and I can't tell what's mine. So I put on what I can, 'cause I know it's gonna be a motherfucker outside.
I open the front door and it's a thousand knives stabbing me at once. Isn't that from a book or a poem that Fey Hayes madeus read? Shit. Gotta get home. Only four blocks away, but I'm lost. I don't recognize a goddamn thing.
Okay, I know it's cold. 1 get it. I know it's cold enough to kill me, colder than when Mom hit the ice two years ago. Have to find shelter. There's an apartment building. Gotta get in. Lobby door's unlocked. I lay down on the floor, right by the mailboxes. Can sleep in lobby. No, no good. Somebody will find me and throw me outside and I'll freeze to death and I won't even know that I'm freezing to death. Can't do that to Dad. He's already lost Mom; he can't lose me too. I'm sorry, Dad. Jon, I love you. I love you so much.
I'm outside and I'm moving my feet. They make a crunch noise in the snow, like I'm walking on Styrofoam. I walk past what I think is my house. I turn around and look at it closer. It's small and covered in icicles and there is a duplex on one side and a fourplex on the other. Oh, God! It's my house! I'm safe! Somehow I make it up the steps and to the front door. I struggle with the key. Finally the bolt moves and I'm in, I feel the temperature soar. I hear a voice--maybe mine--say, "Thank God. Thank God."
 
 
I open my eyes. I'm in my own bed; I'm in my own house, the one that used to smell like lemons. My head's royally fucked and I look at my feet, my hiking boots still on. My jeans still on. My flannel shirt still on. I don't remember much about last night, but what I do makes me feel even worse. If that's possible.
From the hallway I hear: "Kevin?"
It's Dad. I throw a blanket over me. "Yeah," I croak.
"Can I come in?"
I check to make sure I'm covered. "Yeah."
From the other side of the door he leans in. "How are you?"
I lie. "Okay ... kind of tired."
"You got in awful late."
"Sorry. Lost track of time."
He looks at me, a little smirk on his face. "Did you want to go to mass today?"
I frown. "Uh, no." We never go to mass. Mom always had to go by herself. Dad tried to go after she died, but it didn't last too long.
Dad says, "You were thanking God quite a bit last night. I listened at your door for a while and counted each time you said 'Thank God.' I stopped counting at thirty and went back to bed."
Fuck a duck. "Well ..."
"Why did you thank God thirty times?"
For getting me home alive. "I ... I was grateful."
"What for?"
I don't say a thing; I know he's not buying it. The smirk's gone, replaced by a look that scares me.
He says, "Don't you ever do that to me again. Got it?"
I close my eyes. "Yes, sir."
He shakes his head and says, "You get away with a hell of a lot, Kevin. I let you get away with a lot 'cause we lost your mother. Your friends let you get away with a lot 'cause you're a good-looking kind. I know what that's like; I was young and handsome myself once. I know that people will forgive you almost anything if they like looking at you."
He stops and slaps the door with his hand, hard. He breathes in and out and then he says, "But you can't pull this crap with me; I'm your father. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir."
"Good."
I cry, or at least make crying noises. There's no tears, 'cause I'm so hungover. I say, "I'm sorry."
He says, "It's okay. Just don't--"
But he doesn't finish 'cause I'm really sobbing; big old honking boo-hoos that make me shake. I'm sick 'cause I've had too much to drink and because I'm in love with a boy.
Dad says, like he's not sure he really wants to know, "Kevin, what's the matter?"
I say, 'cause he doesn't really want to know, "Nothing, I'm sorry."
He wasn't expecting this. He backs off, into the hallway. "Sleep it off," he grunts.
I hug a pillow; I tell Jon that I'm sorry, it wasn't supposed to happen that way. But part of me doesn't regret it. No matter what happens, my hands touched him, felt him, and nothing can take that away from me. There's always gonna be this one moment in time where I had my arms around him. For all eternity there's a moment when my fingers played with his nips, when my teeth bit into his ass. So we were both too drunk to know what I was doing. How else could it have happened?
I crawl out of my room every few hours for the John or the kitchen to try to rehydrate. Dad just watches TV; he doesn't call me down for lunch or dinner.
It's after midnight when I wake up. I'm starting to feel a little less miserable. I stand and head to the hallway when I stop and turn toward the bedroom window. Across the street, sitting on his front step, is Floyd Anderson. He rocks back and forth, the pyramid on top of him. Maybe he saw me stagger home last night and he's waiting for the hearse to come and haul my body away. Maybe he helped me inside. Yeah, maybe it was him who held me up while I put the key in the lock. Or maybe he was asleep in his bed, his pyramid next to him on the mattress, where his wife used to be.
THE YEAR OF ICE. Copyright © 2002 by Brian Malloy. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.