A Window In The Ice

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Footsteps creaked on the stairs down the hall

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Footsteps creaked on the stairs down the hall. Sadie going to bed. A stranger in his daughter's room. Outside and inside everything was dark, everything gray and the silence of the night was as confusing to Michael as the silence of his daughter. She hadn't said more than a few words to him. He couldn't understand what she wanted.

A knock came on the bedroom door, followed by his brother's voice. "Mike? You awake?"

"Yeah."

Tom edged the door open, poked his head in. "Have time to talk?"

"Yeah," repeated Michael.

Tom entered. He was in a bathrobe. There was a glass in his hand.

"Your nightcap?" Michael asked.

"You know me so well," said Tom. Was that a smile on his face? It was hard to tell in the dark.

Michael sat up in bed and moved over. "Take a seat."

"Thanks." The bed molded to Tom as he sat, facing away from his older brother.

There was a span of silence. Michael wanted to break it but couldn't think of what to say.

Flora said, "Let him talk. He came to you."

"She left me again," said Tom.

"I thought things were getting better?"

"They are-or they were, I mean," said Tom. "I get caught up in the market, in the lifestyle-"

"Does Jesse know?"

"Know about her leaving or that I went out?" asked Tom in a whisper.

"Either. Both."

The stars cast what little light they gave through the window. His brother's back was sad and hunched. He hung his head, his arms in at his side, his drink clutched in his lap.

"I don't know what that boy knows and doesn't know anymore," said Tom, raising the whiskey to his lips.

"Stop drinking that garbage," said Michael. "And what do you mean you don't know what he knows?"

"I don't. He's not living at home anymore, you know. He's got his own place, no idea how he pays for it because I'm not going to. We gave him everything he needed to succeed in this world and now he's run off to be an artist. Can you believe that? I don't even know what that means."

"What kind of artist?" Michael asked.

Tom let out a chuckle like grinding stone. "I don't know. But he says he's working on projects."

"Can neither of us control our children?" asked Michael.

Tom turned, twisting his body around to look at his older brother. "What do you mean? Sadie is at school-she's studying."

Michael couldn't make out his face in the dark, but Tom's presence was that of a man who was lost.

Michael shook his head."Remember that day," he said, "you and me, tromping in the woods. That day you fell in the swamp and we came back and Mom wanted to kill us? Thought she might have."

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