SHORT STORY: Melting Ice

ICEThe smell of bacon wafted through the kitchen. Thankfully, Varner Lee’s trailer still had electricity. Most of the Delta was now in the dark thanks a healthy coat of ice on the power lines and trees. There really wasn’t much good to say about an ice storm. Varner hated them. He  held his cup of coffee close to his nose allowing its steam to tickle his nostrils. If he could have injected it directly into his veins, he would have. But the smell of fresh brewed coffee and freshly fried bacon created a olfactory symphony that was hard to beat.

Varner was 45 years old, recently divorced and living with a fine obese cat named Bells Ferry. Asked about the cat’s odd name, Varner laughed and said it was the name of his elementary school. Bells Ferry didn’t seem to mind his name– a good cat didn’t come when called anyway.  Varner looked out the window toward the Delta. He lived on the bluff that ran from Vicksburg and it afforded him an amazing view. He had a $10 trailer, but a $1,000,000 view.  Ice glazed all the trees, making the world look like a giant donut.

Donut. Now Varner was really hungry.  He scrambled an egg and dropped a piece of bacon on the floor for Bells Ferry. “Enjoy that old boy. It may be the last cooked food we have in a while.”

Ice coated perilously coated the power lines. “Won’t be long,” he thought. He remembered the ice storm of 1994 that crippled North Mississippi. And the one he had experienced as a child in the Atlanta area, too.  One of his fleeting memories of childhood was of his poor dad sliding down the street in the family wagon on a skating rink of five inches of ice.

Being a grownup sucked.

The kids in the Delta schools and academies were out.  Education was pretty much segregated in the Delta.  But right now, white and black both had the day off. Just not Varner. Like his father, he would have to slide into work soon, too.

Varner shrugged his shoulders. You couldn’t even go out and make an ice man or an ice angel in this crap. And throwing ice balls would definitely hurt.

The trailer’s lights flickered for a moment and came back on. Varner let out a sigh at the close call.  ”I hope you can stay warm,” he said to his cat. Bells Ferry was 20 pounds. The portly cat had enough blubber to survive the next ice age.

The problem with Bells Ferry was that although he was an excellent listener, he really didn’t talk much. The trailer was deathly quiet.  In fact, the only noise Varner could hear was the cracking of oak and pine trees in the distance.

“This #$%# is getting serious.” Varner cursed.  He knew his mama would not have approved of his sailor talk, but there really was no other way to put it. He had watched his beloved Delta suffer so many different ways.  Mother Nature usually found  the most cruel and unusual ways to hurt you.

Last year it was the flood. This year the heat and now the ice.  Varner started humming James Taylor’s Fire and Rain. “Just yesterday morning, the let me know you were gone. Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you. I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain…”

His Suzanne was now in Atlanta with the kids.  They had argued about so many different things that they couldn’t even agree where halfway was. He said Tuscaloosa. She said outside of Birmingham.  Of course, the divorce lawyers fed off of their hatred like mosquitoes in a blood bank.  Varner missed his boys.  Sitting in the empty trailer was his purgatory.  He’d pay for his sins the rest of his life.  Not hearing his children’s laughter was the biggest price of all.

His heart was as frozen as the surrounding Delta.

“Well, fat cat, I need to run.  Stay warm today and try not to eat all your food at once.” Bells Ferry swished his tail in disgust.

There was at least half an inch of ice on his truck’s windshield.  He managed to break it off and eased his old Chevy into four-wheel drive.  Four-wheel drive was more for snow than ice.  But it beat trying to get around on the back wheels.  His truck crunched down the drive as Varner hummed “Walking in a winter wonderland.” He really didn’t know why the plant was open today, but a job was a job. And he would be there on time.

As he got to the main road and tried to turn right, a Pontiac G6 slid sideways past him.  Before Varner could brink, the car left the road and slammed broadside into a pine.  The sickening crash was rapidly followed by near silence.  Varner ran over to the crash site and heard the radiator hissing menacingly. Then he smelled it. The gas tank had been ruptured.  Inside, surrounded by fired airbags was a lady. Her head was bleeding profusely but she seemed to be conscious.  Then Varner saw something in back seat that made his blood colder than the ice on the road: An infant car seat.

“Just hold on ma’am.” Varner yanked unsuccessfully on the door.  He paused and looked around for a rock.  ”Hold on!”  The glass shattered, allowing Varner to unlock the door.

The baby was unhurt.  ”Thank the Lord!”  Unbuckled her and slung him over his shoulder. He then helped free the mom from her seatbelt. “C’mon ma’am. You need to move.”  Seconds seemed like hours but Varner knew he didn’t have time to spare.  The three carefully navigated the icy road toward his trailer.

“911? I need an ambulance. I know it is icy.  We’ve had a bad wreck on the main highway.”

He looked down at the woman’s beautiful (if not battered face.) The ice surrounding him began to melt.

 

That day changed Varner’s life. If you asked him before the wreck if ice storms were bad, Varner would have said yes.  And he would have given you some pretty good reasons why. But after the wreck, he would tell you it was the day Marie and Jenny slid into his life.  Without a little ice, his new wife and adopted daughter would have zoomed on past his heart.  

The cat Bells Ferry was happy about it, too.  He knew that more people meant more bacon.  And yes, even an ice storm goes better with bacon. 

 

 

About Marshall Ramsey