THE ICE IS ALWAYS BREAKING
My father—eighty-two—has never been known for metaphor. No, directness is his club of choice. For example:
• “Whiskey. Straight.”
• “Time to be a man.”
• “I’m moving. You’ve got three days to get here and grab your stuff.”
Among the thick plastic shrouds in the attic, I come across a shaky pyramid of toys. I pick one up, and the mildewed box gives way, chunks of white plastic chattering on the floor.
“The ice game,” I say.
“You couldn’t stand it.”
He tips two trunks and insists we sit and play. As he inserts cubes into the frame, I think about last week’s phone call: “Well son, I’m lying in my own damn blood.” I rushed to the house, found him still at the bottom of the stairs, oozing gash over his brow. The morning after the night in the emergency room, I returned to clean things up.
“You could have died!” I said, stirring crystals into hot water from the tap.
He shrugged. “What doesn’t kill me will try again later.”
Dad inserts the plastic man in the center square. I palm away sweat that had dropped in my eye.
“Nervous,” he says—not a question but a charge.
He hands me a mallet, and we take turns tapping one cube after another to the floor below. Soon, the plastic man is nearly surrounded by open space. Dad glances from one side of the frame to the other. The mallet hovers.
“Are you okay?”
“There was another one you liked. One of those old game shows? Password? Joker’s Wild?” Dad runs a finger thoughtfully through his scar. “Maybe Jeopardy.”
“Is that your final answer?”
His swing brings the plastic man down.
I smile. “Game of Life?”
“Sure. Or just some guy sitting on his ass, dumb about what’s coming.”
Michael Cocchiarale is the author of the novel None of the Above (Unsolicited, 2019) and two short story collections–Here Is Ware (Fomite, 2018) and Still Time (Fomite, 2012). His recent work appears online in journals such as Fiction Kitchen Berlin, Fictive Dream, Sleet Magazine, Unlikely Stories Mark V. More information is available at his website: https://michaelcocchiarale.wordpress.com/