The thing was unconscionable. It tried to kill our little angel, our baby brother Saul, with a pickaxe and an empty chicken crate. It also picked its nose. It was a coat hanger draped with pallid animal skins sewed over a stuffing of pig muscle, its eyes were animated beads that glinted in the unlit night but could not blink, its mouth was a tear in the leather face that spewed wormy internal things between grunts and words. It spoke some tormented form of German we could only half-understand, but it didn’t need to say much for us to comprehend that it was bad.
It tried to murder Saul. The bell of his yawn in the dawning chicken coop was strangled by the sudden explosion of wood, the scattering of headless birds. The wall between life and monstrous death was breaking down.
But Andrew, the prince of lumber-armed men of our village, my husband in December dreams at least, Andrew noodled in silently behind the thing and strangled it with a fishing line. It was already dead of course, impossible thus to kill entirely. But Andrew was a genius. He tied the corpse by the wrists to his snowshoes, and dragged it to the frozen lake, where he scourged a hole in the ice using the saw he uses to cut down our firewood. And he heaved the corpse, levied it into the gelatinous gray-blue water, and he pressed it so it floated just against the wall of ice.
Ice crept back over the gash Andrew had scourged in the lake, and soon the body was no more than a soft black blot beneath a thick window, a joke of a window, one that hid the other side rather than presenting it to the eye. And that was fine with us. And I held Saul, and we were going to walk back and cook the chickens before they spoiled, but we stood and stared at the mirrored window in the ground for endless moments. Breath tugged us back toward the cabin, but we stayed, stood. I noticed that Andrew was trembling, his cheeks the color of a rose exposed to winter frost. Just as I was about to reach out and touch his shoulder, he crumpled to his knees at the bitter edge between muddy slush and tenuously frozen water. He was crying, the way a man cries, and I had never seen it before, and Saul and I stared.
“Don’t worry, Andrew,” Saul ventured finally. “Take my hand. We’ll get some warm breakfast.”
“It’s just the wrong side of the ice,” Andrew said to the blue-black air. “And I got caught on the right side. It’s ice, either way.”
“What are you talking about?” I tried to say, but my voice was raw and guttural and I thought I heard the monster roaring back up from the depths, so I gasped and stared frozen-faced at the lake. The ink blot might have stirred, but all was still.
“It could just as easily have been the uglier side,” Andrew mused, still looking past nothing into something neither Saul nor I could fathom.
“Come along, Andrew,” I pleaded. “You’re a beautiful young man and I don’t want you staring at death like that too long. It will twist something in your eyes.”
“And I won’t be beautiful anymore,” he added, still faraway.
“That’s right,” Saul added helpfully. “Come with us. We’ll have some warm chicken and toast.”
The tears were frozen on his unshaven face, leaving a sort of alpine terrain that shattered when he brushed his hand across his face. “Okay,” he said, “but only if you can look me in the eyes and invite me into your house just the same.”
He was addressing me. My heart jumped, and I took his hands and faced him and I raised my eyes to look right into his.
I had to break through the invisible stone barrier of my shyness and his aloofness but finally my gaze attained that summit. And suddenly for a moment I was afraid, for there were sort of bruised purple inkblots in his irises, floating like the pox in an unformed egg, and there was a sort of jaggedness that was hard to look at.
But I glanced away and back again, and his eyes were back to their regular cotton blue, and a smile bitter as good morning coffee broke onto his face. “Come in,” I said, and he followed us quietly and did not protest to the open door or the hot coffee or the warm meal. And he never mentioned the other side of the ice again.
But there was a certain defeat in his once jaunty gait from that day on. His smile, though ever-present, had atrophied somewhat. He was still beautiful, but I did not find pleasure in looking at him. And in the thawing of the spring, something dark stirred at the bottom of the lake. We didn’t take notice, but we were afraid. I could not hold his hand.
Image credits in order of appearance:
By Theodor von Holst [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=858259
By Edvard Munch – The Athenaeum: pic, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45566597
By Dino Kužnik from Ljubljana, Slovenia – FlickrUploaded by Sporti, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25088401