“Pottawattomie Bayou” by Lauren Light
The ice stretched under me in shiny long sheets. Behind me, closer to the reeds, the texture was easier to walk on. Sharp pyramids sticking up, uneven, ready to dig into my palms if I were to fall. The reeds stuck up along the edges of the water, and I discovered, when I kicked them over, instead of snapping in half like crayons, they just kind of fell over, small threads holding the plant together. But, I kept walking anyway.
Mr. Mushroe had dug into the ice last week and caught a fish. I could still see the small orange flag when I looked out my bedroom window. It was illuminated under Mr. Abbot’s bright floodlight that my mom hated so much. “I don’t see why he needs that damn thing on all the time, it’s an eyesore when you have this view.” But I loved that light. I looked at that flag for a week, dreaming at night that perhaps there are some fish that don’t go away (to where?) when the bayou freezes over. Did their insides get cut up when they filtered water through their gills? Did they stay close to Mr. Mushroe’s fishing hole in hopes of catching that rare bit of clear winter sky? How many fish would I see in the hole? Would they swim in circles or would the cut across the hole in a zig-zag? What did it look like from the fish’s view? Would they be able to see the shoes of people who walked across the ice? Would I be able to see them through the ice? Do they think of ice as some kind of glassy ceiling? I love imagining myself as a fish, looking up at the ice above me.
“Whadya doing, Ryan?” a high-pitched voice calls out behind me. My little brother Kyle is scooting across the ice.
“Go away. Mom’ll be mad if she sees you out here.” But Kyle doesn’t listen. He breaks out into a run, and I can hear the patterned ffffvvvttt fffvvvtttt fffvvvtttt of his nylon coat and snow pants rubbing against each other. I turn around and keep walking. Maybe he’ll get distracted by something else and give up or maybe he’ll get scared. What does someone who wears a Teletubbies coat care about seeing fish? Kyle was always getting in the way of things, always dripping snot over something or being a crybaby. But he wasn’t going to stop me now. I started jogging faster, if I were only able to get there first, I could get some time there by myself.
A few steps in and I started to feel my feet slip. I quickly balanced myself using my arms. The fresh snow makes it slicker here. I start running again, and then, pivot my body to the side and stop. I manage to skid a good 10 feet before slowing down. The ice is perfect for sliding on. It’s like surfing. I’m getting closer and closer to the orange flag, and I’m sliding the whole way. It feels like I’m flying close to the ground.
“GET AWAY FROM THERE!” a voice shouts. Mr. Abbot is running across his lawn and waving his arms. He has no coat on. He’s jogging toward me on the ice. I wonder how he isn’t slipping? I sigh. I look at the ground and turn around. Adults never let me have any fun. I’m not that far from the orange flag, and it’s not like I was going to jump in or anything. I just wanted to take a look over the edge.
I look up and Mr. Abbot has a look that I haven’t seen on a grown up face before. He is looking past me and is running now. He runs so fast. I look behind me. There is nothing there. And then I see it. A purple mitten-ed hand is sticking out of the water, and then falls below the surface. I start running now. Mr. Abbot is almost near the spot where Kyle must have fallen in. I see my mom running out down the hill of the lawn. She is in her slippers and her hair is flying about. I can hear her screaming, but I can’t tell what she is saying. Mr. Abbot is on his belly now, arms outstretched. I can see him reaching over the ridge to get Kyle, but he isn’t coming up.
Mr. Abbot jumps in. I am running as fast as I can toward mom. I feel the ground slip beneath me and something hard hit my face. Everything goes black for a second. I wait to feel the cold water to rush over me, wait to be dragged under, but nothing comes. Just the hard ground. I open my eyes and see a pool of blood underneath me. My nose feels numb. I wonder if I broke it. I look up and Mr. Abbot is pulling Kyle out of the water. I hear sirens in the distance. I get up and keep walking, shakily. Kyle isn’t moving, and he is so pale. Mr. Abbot puts his mouth to his and then puts his head to his chest. He is pushing on his chest, like the doctors on television. Mom is standing by, her arms over her chest, sobbing. The sirens are getting closer, in a few seconds I see them cross the bridge over the bayou. They’ll be turning onto our street soon. Mom is kneeling on the ice next to Kyle. She looks up at me and her face is red.
“Get on the lawn,” mom chokes at me. I don’t argue. Kyle isn’t moving. Mr. Abbot is still pushing on his chest. And then, water starts to burble out of his mouth. He is coughing. Mom is holding him, rocking back and forth. Men in emergency uniforms walk past me and start working on Kyle. Another one comes and starts to examine my face. He tells me he doesn’t think it’s broken. Mr. Abbot is talking to one of the uniformed men, tells him how lucky it was that he found the boy so quickly, that the ground was just soft mush, and how hard a time he had pushing off from the bottom.
Kyle comes home the next day from the hospital. He’s quiet for a few hours, but then eventually gets bored and wants to play. Dad ends up moving the TV in the basement up to his room and hooks up the Sega to keep him entertained. I wouldn’t mind going into his room and playing video games with him, but I don’t think this is the right thing to do. Mom and Dad are pretty mad at me, told me what happened to Kyle is all my fault. I stay in my room. That night, I can still see the pool of my dried blood on the ice, illuminated by Mr. Abbot’s floodlight.