On Thin Ice
"Margaret, where are you going?" my younger sister Mary asks, looking up at me with her big blue eyes, just like mine. I freeze and turn around on the old wooden floors, feeling guilty that I woke her up. At the age of ten, Mary should still be sleeping. I know I should be. "Go back to bed. I'll be back in a little bit," I tell her. "Don't go. You know father doesn't like it," she says, as she rubs the sleepy dust from her eyes. "I'll be back before you know it," I say kissing her forehead and tucking her back into bed. Enveloping myself in my threadbare blanket, holding it close to ward off the cold, my feet pad softly against the cold worn out floor. Careful not to wake Mary up again, I grab the first thing my hand touches and hurriedly throw it on. I pick up the brush on my desk and start brushing my long red curly hair quickly, not caring about breakage. I tie it back at the nape of my neck where it meets my pale skin.
I hold my arms close to my worn-out, dull clothing, trying to keep every bit of heat in, but it's no use. This winter is just too darn cold. Even the crops have been bad this year. Father said I might even have to drop out of school because we can't afford it, though he always says that. We’re already struggling enough with five mouths to feed, and no brothers to help with the work. I've lost hope completely. There is only one thing that brings me comfort and bliss now, ice skating. The gracefulness, the feel of the ice, the freedom, it's endless to me.
I creep down the stairs, my boots making little to no noise. Then I hit the one stair, that one darn stair. I cringe at the noise it makes, like a squeak, -mixed with a cry of pain, like it is too tired to work anymore, -and wants to give out. Though I wouldn't blame it, I would feel the same way too, considering how old this house is. That is nothing new though. Nothing about this place is new. Everything is worn down until one day it just snaps, like a twig. That's what happened to my mother. She broke, and she died. People said it was from overworking, having to care for four girls. However, I know what happened; my father killed her. I should have helped her more when I first noticed her acting weird. I should have done something. As the oldest, I should have prevented this. My parents didn't love each other. That's what happens when you are forced into marriage with a person you barely know. They are complete opposites, her with her kindhearted spirit and tenderness, and him with his stone heart and callousness. Her family was poor. She had no choice. It's not a lie. My parents hated each other, though they never showed it, ever or said anything about it, but I could tell. I tried to hide it from Anna, Ruth, and Mary. I guess that was why I was so ignorant to what mother was going through.
I won't let that happen to me. I know it's stupid, but I thought I could skate myself out of poverty. I thought I could be one of the first female figure skaters, make a difference, do something with my life that has meaning, something besides getting married, having kids, and then dying. I thought if I was good enough, I could win my freedom. That’s why I get up before dawn in the morning and work all day in the summer. Not just because my family needs the money, but so I'm ready when my chance comes. My worn skates now clutched in my hand tightly held to my chest, like they are the only thing keeping me tethered to this world, and to some extent they are. I reach the bottom of the stairs, relieving my weight, and taking my hand off the worn-out banister. From there it is only a handful of steps on the cold floor through this lonesome house before I reach the door.
I don't bother to look around this drab place. I know it like the back of my hand. The three bedrooms upstairs, sparsely decorated, one for Mary and me, Ruth and Anna, and now the one occupied by only father. The hallway after you climb the creaking stairs is almost barren except for the few pictures mother painted before she died that didn’t get put in the closet. There’s the small kitchen, with its chipped dishes and brittle utensils, where Anna and Ruth help me do most of the cooking. The dining room is where we eat all our meals with its ancient, solid, wood table, and fading walls. The parlor room we never use. It’s closed off, a ghost in the house, never acknowledged. The one closet is downstairs, mainly filled with mother's old things, like her clothes and paintings.
When we had money to spare, before she died, she used to paint, I think that was the only thing that brought her solace from being married to my father. Her paintings were beautiful. She would sell most of them, but there would be some she would keep. My favorite one had a beautiful grassy plain with a breathtaking sunset in the background, with hues of red, gold, orange, pink, purple, and many more shades I can’t describe. With deep green trees, vibrant flowers, and us. In fine cloths, that the rich would wear, a family for once with my mother, me, and a sibling red curly hair hanging loose, and with joyous smiles on our faces. That is the life that would have been ours -, if we lived in another world, another time. Things would have been different.
I place my hand on the doorknob, leading to the outside world of wonders, just as a voice I know too well, rings out in the echoey stillness of this place. It is a voice I dread at all costs that makes the hair on my pale skin stands straight up. “Where are you going?” He says. Taking a deep breath, I turn around. “I could ask you the same thing, or better yet, what are you doing? I was just about to do some chores,” I say. At the age of 42, John Williams was a rough man, with shoulder length black hair with strands of grey in it, blue eyes, tan skin, and a sturdy frame from working in the lumber department, and a jerk. “At 4 a.m.? Do not play coy with me, Margaret, for I have never heard of a girl being so dedicated to her chores, especially in winter. So, I will ask you again, where are you going, because last I checked you didn't own or need ice skates to do chores,” he finishes. I just stare at him, not saying anything, knowing he will continue if I don’t speak. “Don’t act stupid with me girl! I have found you a job in the next town over teaching at the school. You leave today, so I suggest you get packing,” he finishes. I stare at him in open-mouth shock, my blue eyes as big as saucers. “What the heck, no! I can’t leave Mary, Ruth, and Anna, what about them,” I yell. “You can see them when you come home on holidays, or you might just stay there.” he says a gleam in his eyes. “I can’t live like this anymore,” I say, salty tears streaming down my pale face. “Why? Why did you kill mom? Why? You kill everything! You have killed my dreams, my hopes, and you are killing me from separating me from the only family I love, and care about!” I yell, my voice hoarse, looking him straight in the eyes, my face now red and puffy. “Love? What do you know about love?” he laughs. “Love is a fairytale. Love makes us weak, and stupid, love is a myth, love is ignorant! Love does not exist! Your mother was weak and pathetic women, too kind for her own good. You mother died from weakness. This world killed her, not me. Infact, it probably had to do with taking care of four stupid, deceitful, and disrespectful girls. I wouldn't be surprised if your mother died from what an embarrassment you were. Serves her right though,” He finishes with an untapped viciousness.
I snap, screaming I swing my arm back and hurl one of my ice skates at him with all the strength I possess. It leaves my hand and flies, hitting him square in the temple, and though the blade is not sharp, it still cuts him. It rebounds and lands at his feet, as ruby red blood starts to trickle from his temple. His face amasses into something of pure rage, and other indescribable emotions, turning his face beet red. So, I do the first thing that comes naturally, I run. Turning, I swing the door open, causing it to collide with the wall, making it rattle and almost fall off its hinges. His voice booms into the bitter cold as I run out the door. “Don’t you run away from me you insolent girl!” I can hear his thundering foot falls as he chases after me, starting to close the lead I have on him. I race across the snow. The beating of my heart drowns out everything, pushing me faster. I near the big frozen lake where I ice skate, noticing that the ice is unstable, but does father know? I turn my head to look behind me as I run, and then my feet are pulled out from under me. I cry out and my feet flail madly as I fall, the tightness of his grip on my ankle is excruciating. I roll and kick, and feel my foot collide with bone, and hear father’s cry of pain, a tiny victory. I get up again and sprint, deciding I have only one option left, I must cross the lake.
I stumble and slide my way across, not daring to look up, for I only have eyes on the ice. Struggling to avoid the dark spots as I weave past them, where I know only havoc awaits under the surface. I turn around if only for a moment to glimpse where he is, my beating heart thumping against my chest, hard. I can see him, sprinting as best as he can on the ice with a slight limp, totally unaware that he's running on thin ice, unlike me. I’ve been on thin ice my whole life. I have never been safe, and I have never been able to keep the people I love safe. First my mother, then my sisters, and now me, but without father, that could all change, I just hope I live long enough to see it. By now I’m almost on the other side, oblivious for just a moment. I almost don’t hear the ice crack, before my world turns into a disarray. I freeze and drop to my stomach, spreading my weight out, my eyes squeezed tight, feeling numb all over. Waiting for something to happen, anything, but all I hear is the beating of my heart and my shallow breaths, and then a splash. For when I open my eyes and turn my head, my father is not there. For it is then, that I realize what happened, that my life on thin ice is finally over.