In a few hours Beth will leave. She sits at her bedroom window and watches a few geese trail slow v's on the pond. In
the November dawn the fields unfold a muted patchwork of stubble between the pond and the distant hills. She had lain awake
for a long time before slipping from bed.
"Beth?" Bob lies on his side, hugging his pillow, facing the wall.
One of the geese extends his neck, the white band bright in the dim light, and he flaps his wings as though about to
take off from the surface of the pond. He settles back.
"Beth. . . Come back, " he pats her side of the bed, "please."
It would require so little of her. She leaves her window seat. The sheets are cold. She remembers her surprise the
first time he held her full length in an embrace. It was the first time she had been held that she had felt no need to be
on guard. Until then, she had not realized how alert she had been in the arms of other men, how imperative their touch had
been. His required no answer, has never elicited an urgent response. Still, she says, "I can't," knowing that the
truth is more, "I won't." Aloud she adds "It wouldn't do any good."
She watches his face change, like the surface of the pond darkened by a wind, by the shadow of a cloud.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have gotten back into bed."
Careful not to meet his eyes, she gathers her clothes and carries them into the bathroom. She pulls the door half shut.
"You don't have to do that."
She speaks to him from behind the half-closed door. "I know I don't have to. I just am."
When she comes back in the room, he is staring at the ceiling. She pauses for a moment to look at him, but neither speaks.
"I don't understand," Bob had said again and again when she had told him she was leaving. He had taken her
by the arms, gripping her so hard that bruises appeared in a pattern like paw prints in snow. When he saw them a few days
later he was remorseful.
"They're nothing, " she said of the bruises, meaning it. "They'll fade."
He had stared at her, then turned away, unable to face her plain indifference.
She had packed the car herself the night before. The trunk was filled with clothes, a few of her favorite family pictures
of her with their children Pip and Leslie. She had agreed to take as little as possible from the household itself.
Her last morning here with them was to be a re-enactment of happiness.
Beth goes out to the woodpile to gather an armful of the damp wood. Startled, the geese take off from the pond. She
stands in the driveway, and watches them fly over the fields out of sight, listening to their distant honks. "Want,"
she hears them cry, "Want, want, want want want." She hears the pop of gunfire and feels herself an accomplice.
The cinders in the driveway crunch under foot as she walks into the house.
Bob is standing in the middle of the livingroom. "How long he has been waiting? she wonders. She barely surpresses
the annoyance in her voice to say, "Good morning."
Good morning again." His tone reveals no pleasure in the irony of his response. "Do you want to build the fire
yourself, or shall I do it?"
Given the choice, she does not mind relinquishing the task. She watches him squat on the hearth, stacking the wood, crumpling
"We never did get around to repainting," she says. The paint over the fireplace is streaked with gray from
smoke and soot.
"We didn't get around to a lot of things." He speaks without turning to look at her, as the flames lick then
catch into the wood. " I guess I didn't see things had gotten so bad. We thought there was plenty of time."
She hopes he won't say, "And there still can be." She perches on the arm of the sofa and watches the flames.
The wet wood pops and cracks like gunshots. She is eager to leave, to make her get away. Her head is filled with the nasal
sound of her undefined desire, want, want, want, want, want like the squawk of geese in flight.
Backing down the long curving drive, Beth looks over her right shoulder to stay on the cinders, not wanting to leave
track marks in the wet lawn. She turns to wave one more time to Pip and Leslie. Leslie is clinging to Bob's legs as he stands
on the porch holding Pip.
She could have predicted the phone call, "Leslie's teacher called. She hasn't been behaving in class. What do
you want me to tell her?"
"Use your judgment. Be honest."
"Well, but you might be back."
"I can call the school. I'm still her mother."
"Right. But you're not here. Pip keeps walking around asking, 'Where did Mommy go?' about forty times a day. He's
only two. What am I supposed to tell him, damn it! I know where you live, but I sure as hell don't know where you are."
"Either do I."
"That's not funny."
"I'm not trying to be funny."
"OK. I know. I'm sorry."
"I just wish you'd come home. You belong here."
"Bitsie. Bitsie Ellis." She is startled into nostalgia hearing a deep voice call her childhood name.
Twenty years ago when they were both teenagers this man had pulled her into her first demanding kisses.
Ed is divorced, living in town. He thinks he remembers hearing she is married. Is she?
Before she answers, he reaches out and picked up the long end of her red scarf. The gesture startles her with its intimacy.
"Is this the same one? Whenever I see a woman wearing a red scarf I still think of you." He holds the scarf even
after he finishes speaking.
She remembers, and knowing he does too, she feels the muscles between her shoulder blades tighten and her pulse quicken.
The first time they kissed, they were standing on her porch , their breath puffs in the cold air. As he unwound the scarf
the cold air seared her neck, even before his lips. All that winter as they huddled together in his car, he had a ritual of
slowly unwinding her long red scarf. She had hung on his neck as though she were drowning.
It seems to be a long time before he lets the scarf fall.
"No," she says, not clarifying whether she is answering his question about her marriage or her scarf, and she
asks about his holidays. She does not want to talk about her separation. She could lie and tell him about the large stone
house, the pond, her loving husband and darling children just as though she had never left. If she tells the truth, he will
want to see her, to have dinner, to unwrap her again.
She makes the excuse of being late for an appointment,and promises to look him up in the phone book and call, to have
He adds "Or maybe dinner?" as though something about her telegraphed the truth. She holds her body away from
his in a stylish hug, then flees, cluching the scarf.
It had snowed all night.
She had been warned that the children might be aloof on her return, to punish her forleaving. When she pulls into
the drive, Pip and Leslie look over at her from the other side of the yard where they are squatting. Then they go back to
staring at something in the snow. Beth waves, then walks across to them. She looks down at their feet where she finds
a few bloody globules in the snow, remnant of a nightkill. Like garnets in light, they seemed to glow from within. "That's
one of those things to look at not touch, right Mommy? asks Leslie.
"Good girl, Les." she says. "Who wants a hug from mommy?" She bends down to them. First Pip, then
Leslie throw their arms around her for a hug.
"We're going sledding this afternoon." announces Leslie. "The hill by the lake. Daddy said we could."
"Down fast," adds Pip. Then he runs off to make loops around and around in the snow, "Go down fast."
He flaps his arms like a bird.
Leslie takes off after him.
"I thought we'd have some time together first," Bob says. He stands without hat or coat at her side. "And
they've been looking forward all winter to the sledding." I promised they could go with the Millers."
Her face was all reproach.
"It was the first good snow... "
"I didn't know my coming back would be so inconvenient."
"Come on," he lifts his gloveless hand as though to brush a strand of hair from her face, then lets his arm
fall. "I got into the habit of making decisions by myself."
Beth stands at the window, pulling the heavy blue drape to one side. The trees are intricate skeletons against a pearl
sky. The geese are gone, the pond frozen. She looks at the empty yard, the snow marked by the wild interlocking paths of
Pip and Leslie. She wants the children home.
She lets the curtain fall and looks with the eye of a traveller returning to a familiar place. Bob has repainted the
wall over the fireplace, and she resents the improvement. She notices a new pillow on the sofa. She buries her face in it,
searching for another woman's perfume. Nothing.
She picks up the music box her in-laws had given Leslie and winds it to hear "Rockabye Baby" as a carved wooden
cradle jiggles up and down.
Beth had argued quietly with Bob. She didn't want the children to go sledding at the lake. Bob had insisted they would
be fine. She was afraid that the ice would be too thin, that they would go down the hill and across the ice until they hit
a spot where the ice would crack and the sled would go crashing through and down, pulling the children into the cold, dark
She imagines Leslie's happy laughter, Pip's little voice crying "Go down fast," and after the descent, the screams
changing from delight to terror.
She takes her coat from the clothes peg in the hall, leaving her red scarf behind. It is only a few minutes drive to
the hill and the lake. She turns up the collar of her coat. Bob stands in the doorway watching her.
"The kids are fine," he says before she has time to ask. "Fine."
"I'm going to the lake."
He moves toward her and puts his hand on her shoulder in a gesture of comfort, not restraint. "The kids are down
the road at the Miller's. They'll be back in time for supper."
"Bob. . ."
"No, really. I just phoned there to make sure they'd be back by six-thirty."
I still want to go to the lake." Her hand is on the door knob.
"Company?" without waiting for an answer he follows her, pulling the door shut behind him. "I'll drive."
She hesitates for a moment before getting into the front seat beside him.
"Bitsy, " he says startling her with the nickname he rarely used. "Honestly, I am sorry. I wanted a little
time with you first, and time for the kids to think of you as being at home without pressuring them."
"You forgot your scarf. Do you want mine?" He reaches up to his plaid scarf.
"I'll be ok."
"All winter whenever I saw a woman wearing a red scarf I thought of you, but then, I often thought of you."
She stares straight ahead, thinking of Ed. They drive the rest of the way in silence.
"Where are the children?" She knows it is a foolish question. The children must have gone home.
"Do you want to get out and walk down?"
They stand at the top of the hill by the side of the road. The trammel of footprints and the tracks of the sleds cross
and recross. She hunches down into her coat. When Bob puts his arm around her, she does not bother to pull away.
She remembers summers here when they had brought first Leslie and then Leslie and Pip to the gravelly beach. In summer
much of the lake's edge had long grasses growing up and blue pickerel weed, and there the bottom was muck. But the beach
area had been kept relatively clear by the wading. Often she and Bob had stayed late or had come back for a picnic supper
at one of the tables near the lake. Sometimes at sunset the lake became a sheet of fire.
"Let's go, "she says. They hold onto one another as they go down the hill and across the flat shore.
They follow the tracks of the sleds out over the snow-covered ice. "It'll hold us. Don't worry," Bob says.
They walk out to where their footsteps are the only marks on the snow.
"Look." She points to a spot about twenty feet ahead of them where the wind had blown the snow, clearing a
patch the width of her arms' span.
She pulls free of Bob to move cautiously towards the spot where the ice changes from opaque to transparent.
She can not catch her breath, as though she has been running for a long time. She bends, leaning forwards, holding herself
in uncertain balance as she stares through the ice into the dark water. She thinks she catches sight of something bright,
suspended, trapped. Her hands fly up to her bare neck.
Her throat is as tight as though she has screamed, and she feels light-headed. And then her husband is at her side, holding
"Beth, are you all right?"
Her voice is almost a low moan when she points down into the ice "Under the ice."
Bob peers down through the ice into the empty water. "What? I don't see anything."
"Bob, there was a scarf, a red scarf like mine. I was sure I saw it." But now, when she looks down she sees
nothing but their blurred reflections.
"This ice looks pretty thick. It would have taken a long time to freeze this solid."
She nods in agreement. The ice is thick. "I must have been mistaken." Beth pauses and looks up at Bob. "When
I saw the scarf--thought I saw-- it was almost as though I was the one under there."
She steps away from him. "And I knew I had to get out."
"I thought that's what you were doing when you left a few months ago."
"That's what I thought then, too. But as things were, I wasn't really with you anyway."
"I didn't understand then what was happening."
"And now you do?"
"Maybe now I can begin." She looks up at him as he stands, a sturdy pillar against the sky. Suddenly, in this
rapidly fading light she feels she could see him for the first time.
"Are you cold?"
"Not really," she says smiling. She has a quick vision of her red scarf on the peg in the hall. "Not
now. Let's go. It's time to be going home."
(c)1998 Miriam N. Kotzin
"Ice" appeared in ELF: Eclectic Literary Forum, Vol.8, Number 2, Summer, l998, pp. 6-9.