ninety-three

IN THE WANING DAYS of ninety-three, there was an ice storm. There had already been successive snow falls, and a good base of white powder had built up in the yard. When the ice storm came it coated everything in glass. Icy tree branches tinkled in the wind like chimes. The yard became a rink, and Aidan and I played hockey on it, wearing nothing but our regular winter boots. Then it became a horizontal mountain face, because if you lied flat on the surface of the ice, you could look forward and pretend it was “up,” and that way, slowly, you could inch forward and pretend you were scaling a mountain, like real mountaineers in those glossy photos in National Geographic. “Hand me an ice pick,” I would call “down” to my friend Aidan, who also lied flat on his belly, and he would hand me a hammer, I would reach forward, drive it into the ice sheet, and pull us both along. On the morning of the new year, we went for a walk. We tried to walk around the bay, and came down that hidden gulley in between the Smiths’ property line and that abandoned mansion that had been taken over by a splinter Christian group, the one where there had once been a swimming pool on the second floor in the 1920s, before the water rotted through the floor. Once we had seen a woman dressed in the attire of a Catholic abbess standing on the point beyond there looking out at the sea. She just stood there, the wind making her black shawl dance. “It’s like one of those creepy seventies movies,” Aidan had said. At the end of the gulley, we turned toward the harbor and came around the coast of the bay, mostly sand and reeds. At one point, a flat stretch of shoreline stretched out. I took the first step and found myself waist deep in mud. The mud bubbled all around me, and I could smell dead fish and dead clams. Imagine if the seabed here was deeper, was my first thought. I would be dead already. My head would be beneath the mud. My body would stink like dead oysters. Aidan grabbed a tree branch and I took hold of it. He pulled me out. “I guess we can’t walk around the bay anymore,” I said. “Are you kidding me, man?” said Aidan. “You have to go home now. You’ll freeze!” We came back up the gulley, past the haunted mansion, then down the road to my house. Two girls we knew from school came walking from the opposite direction. “What happened to you?” One of the girls asked, motioning to the lower, browner, wetter part of my body. I was embarrassed and blushed. I had specifically hoped that something like this wouldn’t happen. “I fell in the mud,” I said. “That’s what it looks like,” the girl said. “Happy New Year.” That’s how that very weird year began. Soaked in dead clams and mud and eel bones and other kinds of pungent sea detritus. The ripe stink of the sea seemed to steam off my body. It wasn’t ninety-three anymore. It was ninety-four.

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