Authors: Kate Messner
For Linda, in admiration and friendship.
Long live the Mocha Latte Writers' Group.
I've only seen the ice flowers once.
It was winter vacation when I was six and Abby was twelve. She came flying into my bedroom in her green-flannel pajamas. “Charlie, wake up! You have to come see before they're gone!”
We threw on coats, stuffed our bare feet and pajama bottoms into snow boots, and raced outside, down the street to the little rocky beach that leads to the lake. The rocks that sloped down to the ice were slippery, but Abby held tight to my hand. When their jagged edges gave way to smooth, flat ice, she let go and knelt down to stare at a little patch of snow over the blackness.
Only it wasn't snow. The night before had been clear and cold and full of frigid stars. It looked as if they'd fallen from the sky and turned to crystal in the morning light. A
whole field of them stretched over the ice from our shore to the island way, way out.
“They're beautiful!” I thought they must be magic. Abby said she thought so tooâand a morning that started with flowers of frost painting the lake could only turn into a magical day.
We ran back to the house, into a sweet maple-pancake kitchen, and told Mom all about the flowers and the maybe-magic. She smiled like she had a secret, and before we thought to ask where Daddy was, he walked through the door with Denver in his arms. We'd known we were getting a yellow Lab puppyâjust not that very day.
When we took Denver outside to play later, the sun had melted the ice flowers' beautiful edges and turned them to regular frost. But for a few short hours, they'd decorated the lake in Jack-Frost magic for Denver and for us.
Now, every year on the first super-cold morning of winter, I go to Abby's room and bounce on her bed until she gets up and comes outside with me to look. Sometimes we find the lake churning with freezing waves that splash icicles onto the rocks. Sometimes it sits under a quiet blanket of ice fog, swirling in breezes we can't even feel. Sometimes it's frozen solid, black as ice can be.
But the ice flowers have only come once.
I've had a feeling this vacation week, though. They're bound to come again. And why not today?
It's a new year, with confetti stuck in the living room carpet from our celebration last night and a glossy new calendar on the fridge. On that calendar is a circled dateâJanuary 28âwhen I'm getting my solo dress for Irish dance.
It was a Christmas present from Mom and Dadâa note card that read “This certificate entitles the bearer to one solo dress for Irish dance (up to $300).” That might sound like a lot for one dress, but the truth is, it's barely going to cover the most basic one you can get. Fancier solo dresses cost more than a thousand dollars because they're covered in Swarovski crystals that catch the light and sparkle when you dance. Three hundred dollars isn't enough for crystals, but the dress will still be better than the plaid-skirt-white-shirt dance school uniform I have now.
New year. New calendar. New dress.
And a new record low temperature, according to the TV weatherman who gave the forecast wearing a New Year's party hat last night. It was supposed to get down to minus twenty-two.
Our furnace growled and moaned about that all night, and even though I know the wood floor will be cold on my
feet, I jump out of bed because maybe this will be the morning the ice flowers come again. If they do, I don't want us to miss them.
I run down the hall to Abby's room, knock on her door, then burst in and pounce on her bed. “Abby, get up! We have to check for ice flowers!” I bounce on my knees and wait for her to sit up and whomp me with her pillow like she does sometimes.
Abby pulls the pillow over her head. “Charlie, it's like seven o'clock. Leave me alone.”
Her voice is hoarse and scratchy, like maybe she's getting sick. But I can't believe she'd miss the ice flowers. “Ab?” I try to lift the pillow, but she pulls it tighter around her ears. “Come onÂ .Â .Â . it'll only take a few minutes and then you can go back to bed.”
“Fine. I'll go look myself.” I leave her room and pull the door shut, harder than I need to.
When Abby left for college in August, I cried and cried. No matter how many times Dad reminded me that we could video chat, that she'd be home to visit, I knew it wouldn't be the same. And I was right. She texted a lot and sent pictures of campus the first couple of weeks, but after that, she was too busy with classes. Even though Abby's home for break now, she still feels far away, all sleepy and moody unless she's getting ready to go out with her friends. She didn't
spend New Year's with us, even though Mom made tacos and brownie sundaes. It hardly feels like I got my sister back at all.
But I'm not going to let Abby's bad mood ruin the magic, if it's there. I rush to the kitchen door and put on my winter stuff. Mom and Dad are drinking coffee at the table. Dad lowers his newspaper and eyes my boots-with-pajama-pants outfit. “Where are you going, Charlie?” he asks at the same time Mom says, “Stay off that ice, Charlotte Anne.”
She looks out the window, down the street toward the lake. “It's only had one night to freeze. That's not enough.”
“I know. I just want to look.”
Mom nods and goes back to the sports section, and I step outside. I have to catch my breath because even though the sun is bright, the blue-sky air is so cold it bites at my face. I can feel the inside of my nose freezing when I take a breath.
My boots crunch on the little bit of snow left on the sidewalk from last week's storm. It looks like there are patches of snow out on the lake too. But that can't be. It didn't snow a flake last night. I run until I get to the icy rocks, and then I slow down. I can already see them.
The ice flowers are back. They sprouted overnight, growing layer by icy layer while we slept under warm blankets in the dark.
They are just as magical as before.
I slide my foot out onto the lake's dark, frozen surface and test the ice with a little of my weight. My heart flutters in my chest. I've been a total chicken on the ice ever since I saw one of those cold-water-rescue shows on TV when I was seven. But I remind myself that the water's barely up to my knees here. Even if the ice cracked and I fell through, the worst thing that could happen is that I'd end up with really cold shins.
I take another step. The ice is solid enough to hold meâat least three or four inches, I can tellâso I slide out to the first silent patch of white and kneel down for a closer look.
I crouch low, the way Abby did all those years ago, to see more closely. Each perfect petal is like a feather cast in ice. I take a cold breath, and the air chills my insides. When I let it out, a gentle warm breeze, the flower crumbles to nothing. A smudge of once-was-magic left on a smooth, dark pane of glass.
“You check that ice with an auger?” The voice startles me, and I turn to see Drew's nana, Mrs. McNeill, standing at the shore in a snowmobile suit. Drew's next to her in snow pants and a jacket, holding a stick. Drew's been holding some stick or other since I met him in first grade. First it was always a pretend gun or a sword, and then it was a defense against grizzly bears and mountain lions (which don't live here, but Drew believes in
being prepared anyway). Today, it looks like it's just an ice poker.
I stand up and brush flower-dust off my knees. “I don't have an auger, but it looks about three or four inches thick,” I call, hoping Mrs. McNeill won't tell Mom. “The water's not deep here, if you want to come out.”
Mrs. McNeill and Drew shuffle their way out to where I am. Mrs. McNeill looks down at the ice flowers. “Well, isn't that something.” She squats low, just like I did, and breathes one away as if it's made of nothing at all. “These won't last long under the sun,” she says, and sighs.