Once I began researching death, I couldn't stop. It was my calling; I suppose it was a passion. I ordered medical texts, entomology books, the Merck manual of pharmaceuticals so as to be well versed in toxic side effects when Jack Lyons called. My favorite reference book was A Hundred Ways to Die, a guide for the terminally ill, those who might be in dire need of methods and procedures for their own demise. Still, I always asked Jack if he hadn't someone more qualified than I to do his research, but he said, "I know I'll just get the facts from you. No interpretations."
In that regard, he was wrong. I was quiet, but I had my opinions: when asked to recommend which fairy tales were best for an eight-year-old, for instance, Andersen's or Grimm's, I always chose Grimm's. Bones tied in silken cloth laid to rest under a juniper tree, boys who were foolish and brave enough to play cards with Death, wicked sisters whose own wickedness led them to hang themselves or jump headfirst into wells. On several occasions there had been complaints to the head librarian when irate mothers or teachers had inadvertently scared the daylights out of a child on my recommendation. All the same, I stood my ground. Andersen's world was filled with virtuous, respectable characters. I preferred tales in which selfish girls who lost their way needed to hack through brambles in order to reach home, and thoughtless, heedless brothers were turned into donkeys and swans, fleas itching like mad under their skin, blood shining from beneath their feathers. I didn't believe that people got what they deserved. I didn't believe in a rational, benevolent world that could be ordered to suit us, an existence presumed to fit snugly into an invented logic. I had no faith in pie charts or diagrams of humanity wherein the wicked were divided from the good and the forever after was in direct opposition to the here and now.
When I walked home from the library on windy nights, with the leaves swirling, and all of New Jersey dark and quiet, I wouldn't have been surprised to find a man with one wing sitting on the front steps of Town Hall, or to come upon a starving wolf on the corner of Fifth Street and Main. I knew the power of a single wish, after all. Invisible and inevitable in its effect, like a butterfly that beats its wings in one corner of the globe and with that single action changes the weather halfway across the world. Chaos theory, my brother had informed me, was based on the mathematical theorem that suggests that the tiniest change affects everything, no matter how distant, including the weather. My brother could call it whatever he wanted to; it was just fate to me.
Before I knew it thirteen years had passed at the library, and then fifteen. I still wore my hair the same waythe haircut I'd given myself at the age of eight had become my trademark. People expected certain things of me: assistance, silence, comfort. They had no idea who I was. I dated Jack Lyons for some of that time, if you could call it that. He'd phone me for information, and later that same evening he'd be waiting for me in the parking lot. We'd do it in his car. The sex was hurried and panicked and crazy, but we did it anyway. We took chances. Times when patrons would be arriving, days when there was so much snow, drifts three feet high built up around the car. Maybe I wanted to get caught, but we never did. We were alone in the world. Jack knew I didn't like to speak; true enough, but it was my own words I mistrusted. No one else's. He could say whatever he liked. He could even blurt out that he loved me, as long as he didn't mean it. That was the important thing. The girl encased in ice facing the mountain. The cold silence that was so clean it didn't hurt. For me, there was nothing beyond those mountains. Nothing worth going toward.
From The Ice Queen, pages 3-31 of the hardcover edition. Copyright © 2005 by Alice Hoffman. Reproduced with the permission of Little, Brown & Co.
Blood at the Root
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