pages Treacherous

by Ethel Rohan

Published in Issue No. 163 ~ December, 2010

With winter came blindness and the ice family. I had years to prepare for glaucoma’s worst, but nothing could have prepared me for the ice family. They arrived within hours of my sight departing, a translucent man, woman, and child walked into my kitchen and settled on the tan couch. I ordered them out of my house and mind, freaked that I could see them, see the objects around them. They sat frozen, staring, four holes where their facial features should be.

My daughter appeared equally unannounced in the afternoon. She didn’t want to hear about the ice family. When I persisted, she phoned my doctor. On the drive to his office, the ice family sat in the back, my daughter rigid and silent behind the wheel. From the radio, warnings about icy roads, about another big storm coming.

My doctor’s hands felt large, cold. The genius confirmed my blindness, and postulated on shock, senility, psychosis. He and my daughter went on to talk about the big freeze forecast. They predicted record snows, treacherous conditions.

I said, “Best not to know what’s coming, avoid the dread.”

Some days I had wanted to gouge out my failing eyes, to get the waiting, the blindness, done with.

At home, the ice man returned to the couch and smoked his pipe, sent up gray, pine-scented wisps. The ice woman folded the newspaper in two, intent. The ice child played with her Raggedy Anne. An ice dog trotted in and lay next to the child’s feet. I told my daughter about the dog. She said such talk frightened her, and brought me two of my new pills. They tasted bitter, black.

“Yellow,” she said.

I awoke in the dark in my bed, the ice man sleeping on my left, and the ice woman and child on my right. Their cold breaths touched me. They smelled of winter, of white, of vast, open space. The dog lay at my icy feet. I felt the bumps of my wristwatch, and decided to lie-in, it had been fifteen years since I had woken up beside anyone.

Later, we sat together at the kitchen table. They watched me eat toast, beans, and scrambled eggs, drink percolated coffee. The biggest breakfast I’d enjoyed in years. I told stories about my childhood, travels, marriage, teaching, and more. They smiled with their whole bodies. The dog licked tomato ketchup from my fingers, his tongue cold, grateful.

Mid-morning, the turn of my daughter’s key in the door sent a shiver through me. She clapped herself, complaining that the house was as cold as Christmas, and cranked-up the heating. I wouldn’t let her sit on the couch, on top of the ice family. She forced more pills into me. The ice dog growled. The ice woman’s hands curled into fists and she came and stood next to us. I ordered my daughter off. She stormed out, into weather as biting.

The ice man changed the locks on my front door. The ice woman watered my plants. I played with the ice child and her Raggedy Anne. My hand touched the child’s, and my skin stuck. I pulled back my hand, and tried not to be greedy, to not wish for more.

In the afternoon, with a jolt, I noticed damp patches from their bodies on the couch. I hurried into layers, and my hat, scarf and coat, and turned-off the heating. The phone rang and rang. I unplugged the noise. I rubbed my hands together, and wrapped my scarf tight around my mouth, my nose and ears. I paced the hall, squeezing the tops of my arms, and imagined the warmth of the sun. The chill, eventually, drove me to bed. I turned on the stairs, to check. There they were, following, a trail of their damp footprints on the carpet.

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Raised in Ireland, Ethel Rohan now lives in San Francisco. She received her MFA in fiction from Mills College, CA. Her work has or will appear in Guernica, Gargoyle, Potomac Review, Los Angeles Review, and Southeast Review Online, among many others. Her short short story collection, Cut Through the Bone, is forthcoming from Dark Sky Books in December, 2010. A second short short collection, Hard to Say, is forthcoming from PANK, 2011. She blogs at