When she went to leave, I ran after her. I was barefoot on the porch and my feet stung. The rain had frozen and was hitting against the corrugated green fiberglass roof. It sounded like a gun. Ice had slipped onto the floorboards and turned the wood to glass. I begged my mother not to go. Queen of the universe. The girl who thought of no one but herself. Now I know the most desperate arguments are always over foolish things. The moment that changes the path of a life is the one that's invisible, that dissolves like sugar in water. But tell that to an eight-year-old girl. Tell it to anyone; see who believes you.
When my mother said that Betsy and Amanda were waiting for her and that she was already late, I made my wish. Right away, I could feel it burning. I could taste the bitterness of it; still I went ahead. I wished I would never see her again. I told her straight to her face. I wished she would disappear right there, right then.
My mother laughed and kissed me good-bye. Her kiss was clear and cold. Her complexion was pale, like snow. She whispered something to me, but I didn't listen. I wanted what I wanted. I didn't think beyond my own needs.
My mother had to start the car several times before the engine caught. There was smoke in the air. The roof of the patio vibrated along with the sputtering engine of the car. I could feel the sourness inside me. And here was the odd thing about making that wish, the one that made her disappear: it hurt.
"Come inside, idiot," my brother called to me. "The only thing you'll accomplish out there is freezing your ass off."
Ned was logical; he was four years older, an expert on constellations, red ants, bats, invertebrates. He had often told me that feelings were a waste of time. I didn't like to listen to Ned, even when he was right, so on that night I didn't answer. He shouted out a promise to read to me, even if it had to be fairy tales, stories he held in contempt. Irrational, impossible, illogical things. Even that wasn't enough for me to end my vigil. I couldn't stop looking at the empty street. Soon enough my brother gave up on me. Didn't everyone? My feet had turned blue and they ached, but I stood out there on the porch for quite a while. Until my tongue stopped burning. When I finally went inside, I looked out the window, and even Ned came to see, but there was nothing out there. Only the snow.
MY MOTHER HAD HER ACCIDENT ON THE SERVICE ROAD leading to the Interstate. The police report blamed icy road conditions and bald tires that should have been replaced. But we were poor, did I tell you that? We couldn't afford new tires. My mother was half an hour late for her birthday dinner, then an hour; then her friend Betsy called the police. The next morning when our grandmother came to tell us the news, I braided my own hair for the first time, then cut it off with a pair of gardening shears. I left it behind for the bats. I didn't care. I'd started to wonder if my brother had been right all along. Don't feel anything. Don't even try.
After the funeral, Ned and I moved into our grandmother's house. We had to leave some of our things behind: my brother his colony of ants, and I left all my toys. I was too old for them now. My grandmother called what I'd done to my hair a pixie cut, but could she give a name to what I'd done to my mother? I knew, but I wasn't saying. My grandmother was too kind a person to know who was living under her roof. I'd destroyed my mother with words, so words became my enemy. I quickly learned to keep my mouth shut.
From The Ice Queen, pages 3-31 of the hardcover edition. Copyright © 2005 by Alice Hoffman. Reproduced with the permission of Little, Brown & Co.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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