- Ice Fishing
On a frozen lake a man is fishing. The sun—no warmer than a star—hangs over the spruce. Winter in Montana. The Pintlar Mountains rise to the east. Heavy timber blankets the foothills but only reaches halfway up the range. Those peaks are too harsh most of the year for anything but snow. To the west, where he came from, there are no mountains, just dense woods. After the road ended it was another four miles on foot. His snow shoes made the only tracks.
The man looks down the hole he's dug for movement in his line, but there's none. He shakes a little against the cold. Aside from the Pintlars, the land around the lake is rolling. It's the top of a high plateau. Everywhere is forest, and even the fir trees seem cold, standing in the deep snow.
Looking back down at the line he thinks of her. There was warmth there.
He pulls the hood over his head as a breeze picks up. He's come ready to fight the cold: two layers of wool socks, insulated boots and a pair of long underwear. The man has two pairs of pants on and three layers of long-sleeved shirts under his coat. Gloves that reach his elbows and tie around his coat sleeves. His wool hat is warm; still, he pulls the the hood over and buttons the bottom around his chin. Only his nose, cheeks and eyes are exposed. There's the sting of cold on his face, but his body's warm.
A bite on the line, and he yanks up sharply to set the hook. For an instant there's a fight, then nothing. Whatever it was, it's gone. The man reels in to check the hook and sees the bait missing, imagines what might have taken it—maybe a big cutthroat. He opens the jar he's brought with him and pulls out three maggots—dead and frozen now—and sticks them on the hook. He drops his line back in the water and waits.
He still loves her, but knows she won't be back. She could be anywhere now.
He sticks the butt end of the pole in the snow and builds a mound around it to hold it in place over the hole. The sun is lower now, falling into the spruce.
The man shakes his limbs to circulate blood. He rocks back and forth, bends his knees and straightens, wiggles his toes inside his boots. In his pack is an old stool that an Indian man traded him. Three [End Page 78] wooden legs splay out tepee-style to support a leather seat. He sets it in the snow near his pole, sits and watches the line for movement.
He came here to escape her, even though she's gone. At least she left a note. He found it on the kitchen table that morning. Sorry I had to leave. I don't know why, but I can't stay. I know someday we'll see each other again. She'd scribbled it on a scrap of paper that he'd never had the strength to get rid of.
It surprises him to look down and see the hole frozen again. He wasn't paying attention, resting his eyes on the mountains. It's not frozen solid, just a skin of ice he breaks with his boot. How long was he distracted? A twitch on the line now, but it's just wind picking up, blowing snow dust over the lake. He shivers. He'll be all right while the sun's up, but tonight he'll need more. It's already below zero, and after dark it'll be worse. There aren't even clouds to hold in what little heat there's been today. But he's already gathered wood for a fire. The fire will keep him from freezing.
He never knew where she came from, but she said she'd tell him about it one day. The plates on her truck said Nevada. She never talked about the past, or said anything about the...