An old man goes fishing on the ice where he is alone with his thoughts.
|A thin skiff of new fallen snow muted the crunch of tires on gravel as the battered Ford rolled to a halt. Inside the cab the old man set the handbrake and settled back, relishing the last few moments of warmth before forsaking the comfort of the truck for the stinging cold that lurked outside.
Across the frozen lake a cherry smudge of light began to glow in the east, announcing the approach of dawn. It would be a cold day, the kind where the sky was blue black and the sun glared down without sharing it’s warmth. It was a Tuesday and the smooth white surface of the lake stretched away in unbroken emptiness. No one fished on Tuesday.
He shut the engine off and shifted his weight to yank on the stubborn handle that opened the door with a loud protesting squeak. Stepping out of the truck the old man winced as an electric jolt of pain shot down his back, reminding him of his age.
Mechanically, he moved to the rear of the truck and with a deft tug that came from years of experience, pulled the sled that contained his ice fishing gear out of the bed and onto the frozen ground. A quick survey of it’s cargo confirmed that all was in order.
He pulled the sled to the edge of the lake like the tired old man that he was and paused for a moment. After squaring his narrow shoulders and taking a beep breath, he began the trudge towards the peculiar pyramid shaped hill on the ridge which bordered the far side of the lake, silently counting his steps as he went. Beneath the thin coating of squeaky new snow, the ice was slick and treacherous and he stepped carefully. He’d had two friends who had fallen and broken their hips because they hadn’t been careful. He shuddered as he remembered their fate.
When he had counted off four hundred and fifty paces the old man stopped. He rested a moment as steam from his heavy breathing rose around him in a swirling clinging cloak, as if reluctant to leave his presence. He remembered that in years gone by his steps had been longer then they were now. Nodding to himself, he walked a bit further, just to be sure he would be on his spot.
It took him thirty minutes to drill the holes in the foot thick ice and pitch the black ice fishing shanty. It took another fifteen minutes to transfer the rest of his gear inside and set up.
Once inside he dropped his lines and settled back in the plastic chair. He was tired, he thought to himself, but by damn he was fishing.
As he appraised the inside of the shack a wistful frown clouded his face as he noted the empty space next to his chair. They’re all gone now he mused silently, once again reminding himself that he had outlived all of his friends. His eyes continued the survey until they settled on the brown bag that contained the meager lunch that he had prepared for himself. He thought of Patty. He missed her more then any of his fishing buddies and for a moment he raged at the faceless Gods who had decreed that he should outlive her.
Realizing the futility of self pity and anger, he coaxed his mind down the echoing corridors of time to a past that was filled with friends and family. After a few moments he was able to relax and a contented smile played fitfully across his tired face as the good memories flowed over him like a warm tropical wave.
Outside, the cold winds of winter sank from the hills and rolled across the frozen lake, picking up wisps of new snow as they went. Frustrated in their journey by the lone ice shanty, the ice crystals burst against it’s side and swirled upwards into the blue black sky where the glaring sun turned them into a million tiny dancing rainbow prisms.