The Most Peaceful Thing In The World

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A year after the night Sputnik flew Sadie was the motherless girl

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A year after the night Sputnik flew Sadie was the motherless girl. Lindi Burke didn't come over anymore. Sadie didn't visit Lindi Burke. No one invited Sadie for dinner. She cooked for her father before he was home after she had finished her homework. She burned the food sometimes, but he wasn't angry. He thanked her for trying.

Sadie told him, "I want to go to college."

"Good," he said.

She wouldn't be a miner's wife.

At school, her teachers spoke to her in soft voices. They explained it would be all right to grieve, take some time off. Sadie thanked them and said she was okay. It was okay to be okay, too, she thought. But everyone else seemed to think she shouldn't be.

In the week before her mother's funeral, Sadie stayed up late into the night searching for her mother's presence in books, in the darkness, in her dreams. She never found it.

Then the night before they buried her, Michael knocked on her door.

"Yes?" she asked.

He opened the door and stuck his head in her room and she saw in his eyes something that was loss. Regret would linger there, but she didn't know why.

Then he said, "I'm going to bed."

"Okay," she said and turn back to her book.

Then there was a pause and he said, "If your mother were here she would be very proud of you." And he shut the door before Sadie could say a thing.

Sadie realized by invoking her mother, Michael was avoiding his daughter—her. She understood how he would have given her up easier than her mother. She lowered her book and stared at the blank white of her door and bit her lip.

Flora said, "He doesn't know how." If he asked Sadie any questions he would know her—at least a little, but he didn't.

The next day, at her mother's funeral, everyone told her how sad she was, and she nodded, "Yes, I am."

But she wasn't sad. Instead, she felt frozen in time. Frozen in the place where her father had come to tell her. Frozen on the steps at Lindi Burke's.


Sadie looked down through the ice. The sun was low and cast a shadow behind her, but she could still see a form below her feet. She looked up at Jesse. He was staring as well.

The center of the lake. So deep, so clear.

"What is it?" asked Jesse.

The form beneath them was a woman, arms open, stretched out, like da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, but embracing death.

Flora said, "Frozen in time. Frozen and nothing."

Sadie didn't say anything. She couldn't take her eyes away from the body trapped beneath the ice. The woman's eyes were wide and staring, her hair spilling out to the left, features distorted by the ice she was pressed against.

"Who is she?" asked Jesse.

"I don't know." Sadie couldn't be sure but she thought the woman wore a smile.

"How did she get down there?" asked Jesse.

Sadie shook her head. She didn't mean no. Sadness would be appropriate but Sadie couldn't seem to find any.

She looks as peaceful as you did.

Flora said, "I know."

Should I be envious?

Flora said, "Of course not."

Sadie didn't even notice Jesse yelling. When she looked up from the woman, her father and Uncle Tom were hurrying across the ice as quickly as they could.

"What is it?" asked her father, sliding to a stop. Flushed. Worried.

Get ready for a shock, Dad.

There was a lot of talk transpiring around Sadie. She nodded or shook her head when asked a question.

Flora said, "That poor woman, could she have fallen in somehow?"

No, that was impossible. She couldn't be down there. She couldn't fall in. There is no inlet, no thin ice.

Flora asked, "Then why is the water clear?"

Sadie didn't know.

Jesse was explaining how they found the woman.

Flora said, "She died in a beautiful place. Look at these trees, old fingers of the earth, and the frigid air so clear."

She had the best view of the stars.

Flora said, "That she did, darling. Yes."


They went straight to the police station in Levering. Officer Brady phoned the sheriff while Michael, Tom, Jesse, and Sadie warmed up in the station.

"How will they get her out?" Sadie asked Officer Brady after he was off the phone.

"Chainsaws, I think," said Officer Brady.

Sadie imagined men yanking on the cords to start the blades. The roar and grumble like continuous thunder, the whine that came with the cutting of ice. It would destroy the peaceful day. The smell of metal and gas and death would fill the air.

"Do you think it was an accident?" Sadie asked. "Or did she mean to die?"

All four men—her uncle and cousin, her father, and Officer Brady looked at her.

"Why would she want to die?" asked Jesse.

To feel sleep's release. "She looked peaceful there, didn't she? Now they're cutting her out with chainsaws and noise. She had a perfect view of the stars and now all she'll see is the inside of a coffin."

There was silence. Awkward. Scared, perhaps. Why is death so sad to you?

Flora said, "Because you will never talk to them again."

But we didn't know her.

"Truth is, we may never know how she got there," said Officer Brady. "I think that's a mystery we'll have to live with."


On the car ride home, nobody spoke. The outing hadn't been a complete loss. Sadie had found it, not fun, that wasn't the word; Interesting? Illuminating? Something like that.

Sadie rolled her shoulders. There was a lot of tension there.

What had Jesse said right before they had found her? What if people could experience things that hadn't happened? What if things people took for truth in their everyday lives were only their perceptions? The opposite of finding truth in a novel, or painting, or music, all of which was a lie but would awaken something within you that was true and real. The woman under the ice was not a lie. The wavering in Tom's voice, the shock on her father's face, the hurried cross Officer Brady signed over his chest when they told him the news, those could be lies--because in truth, the woman under the ice was the most peaceful thing in the world.

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