This is the forty-fourth story in the weekly series of one-page stories I’ve been publishing here since last May. Thank you for reading.
Things rarely went well for Ralph and he often got into trouble. He was up in the treehouse sniffing glue one day when his twelve-year-old daughter climbed in with two of her friends. “Dad, are you kidding me?” What were she and her friends doing up there in the middle of winter, anyway? He climbed down and walked out across the frozen river and fell in through a hole in the ice. The current carried him away from the hole. He was under the ice somewhere, freezing and suffocating. He found a little air pocket and breathed. From the left, he heard his mother’s voice. “Fuck off, Ralph,” it said, just as his mother had done when she was alive, having been an alcoholic and in a rage much of the time. He went toward her voice, as he did so often in childhood, like one of those sad baby monkeys in the psychology experiment that clings to a cold metal stick if it’s all the mother that’s available. He saw a hole in the ice and moved toward it. The hole was the wound in his mother’s soul, which she now offered to him as an escape hatch from icy death. He knew that when he climbed through it he would be healing both himself and, posthumously, her, leaving behind the terrible life he’d led thus far. He emerged from the hole freezing, aching, panting, in pain, barely able to move. His wife, Cynthia, stood there, looking at him mournfully. She was not an alcoholic or addict, and was kinder than his mother had been. “I’m divorcing you, Ralph,” she said. “Oh please don’t, Cynthia my love,” he said, “I’ve changed.” “Oh,” she said, and wept. In intense pain, he put his arm around her and walked her back to the house, comforting her and leaning on her for support. He didn’t know what her response meant or whether she still intended to divorce him.