by Marianne Villanueva
Sunlight, shadows, wind. Strangely, no birds.
Out there, ice caps, cold as knives.
Steam from her mouth, his mouth, none from the boy who lay between them. She cradling the boy’s face but he knowing what.
She knowing what but not able to bear it.
Boy was the last of four. Alive just this morning. Fell through the ice chasing after a shadow that he thought was food.
What food, what a fool. There’s no food on the ice. Not on top, not under.
Hadn’t he told the boy over and over: Watch the sky. The food will come as a drop.
I been watching, the boy said. For weeks. I’m going blind or something.
It was true the boy’s eyes were strange, as if icecaps were growing in the irises. He tried to staunch the spread of the ice in the boy’s eyes, but hour by hour the ice seemed to grow. Until, he hated to say it, the boy had gone completely blind. But he still pretended to be watching the sky.
He pretended he heard something. A whirring maybe. She became quite excited and let go of the boy, just for a moment. That was when the boy ran out to the middle of the frozen lake. Ah, too late. He couldn’t run that fast. And the ice cracking horrified him. But at least he’d caught the boy before the breath stopped completely. At least he did that.
And then he thought it was all for the best. Because then he could stop worrying about the boy and just focus. Focus on himself. Oh, right, there was still a her. Focus on the two of them.
Would there be any point in trying to salvage the boy’s clothes. He thought, looking down at her and the boy. Not saying it out loud, of course. He hadn’t gotten as bad as that.
Hallooo came the cry across the frozen wasteland.
What was that? He cocked his head.
Hallooooo it came again. Over the frozen wasteland. He couldn’t see very far. It was all just a blinding whiteness.
Then, a sound so close it made him jump.
You deaf, man?
So, it was a man. Not an old man. Not old like him. He stiffened. Put a hand down to her’s shoulder. But she wasn’t there. Suddenly.
He was alone.
Where was the boy? Hadn’t he been laid out there, right at his feet? Or had he imagined it all? Her and the boy? Maybe he’d been alone this whole time? Maybe this was a dream. Try jumping, his Ma told him when he was upset. Jump up and down, fast, 10 times. Don’t stop till you reach 10.
He forced himself to move. He could barely lift his legs. He might have bent his knees. There was such pain in his legs at that moment. Maybe he’d cracked off his legs. Maybe they’d frozen and his trying to move had cracked them right off.
He’s fucked up, the young voice said.
Sure, said another voice, young also.
He became frantic at the thought that he couldn’t see her. Couldn’t even see his legs, for that matter.
How long you figure? Young Man 1 said.
Not too long, said Young Man 2. Minutes. An hour at the most.
And him? said Young Man 1.
Ah, he’s no bother. Lookit. Almost dead on his feet. Can’t move. Except—there. See? He’s blinking.
Blimey said Young Man 2. Those are tears, yeah? Look at his cheeks. This
one can still cry. Think he should come with?
Ah, fuck. Why?
I haven’t seen tears in a while, said Young Man 2. I can’t stop looking at him. That’s a sight.
What? Thinking of your Mammy, said Young Man 1.
Yes you are. Wuss.
If he comes with, youse got to carry.
Young Man 1’s voice was faint, as if he were already gone.
Young Man 2 did something, a clearing of the throat maybe.
Her’s gone? he said.
‘Fraid so, said Young Man 2.
Leave me here, he said.
Naw, said Young Man 2. You’re coming with.
No, he said. Leave me here. I can’t. Just take minutes. I’m almost dead
Naw, said Young Man 2. He felt a light touch on his arm. Then, air beneath his feet.
The world was upside down. Strange.
Am I dying, he asked. Maybe if you could wait a minute or two. Till it’s over.
I’m bringing you with, said Young Man 2. No way I’m going to let you die. You got tears!
They’re for her, he said.
Young Man 2 was silent for a few moments. Then he said, almost regretfully, I know.
He could get used to looking at things upside down. It wasn’t painful, at any rate.
My mum cried, too, Young Man 2 said. That’s a long time ago.
You’re all that’s left? he asked.
Silence. Then, yeah.
He suddenly felt heat. From a coil in his stomach? He flailed his arms.
Steady there, Young Man 2 said. We’ve only a little bit to go.
I’ve got to go back and get her, he said. Put me down.
Naw, Young Man 2 said. But he sounded regretful.
That’s what you did with your own mum?
When we get to where we’re going, you’re going to have to put me down. Then I’m going to run back. All this for nothing. Just so you know.
Ah! said Young Man 2. It was something like a snort: I don’t think so.
What? Think I won’t? Watch me.
Naw, man. Youse legs are tied up.
Now that he knew, he felt the coils around his knees. Oh.
Fuck, he said. Fuck fuck fuck!
‘Tis true, Young Man 2 said. I agree.
You’ll be dead too. Maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after. But you won’t last.
So? What’s the point? Fuck.
The point is, there is no point.
You just keep going. Even if there’s no point.
So fucking brilliant.
I am, aren’t I?
All we can hope for is the bright light. That’s how we know we’re done.
MARIANNE VILLANUEVA is the author of the story collections Ginseng and Other Tales From Manila, Mayor of the Roses, and The Lost Language. Her novella, Jenalyn, was a finalist for England’s 2014 Saboteur Award. Her stories have appeared in The Threepenny Review, ZYZZYVA, Crab Orchard Review, Juked, Your Impossible Voice, Prism International, Wigleaf, and Witness, among others. She teaches for UCLA Extension’s Writers Program and is completing a novel about an 18th century Spanish priest sent to the Philippines to fight demons.