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Crackling Orange by Eric Sundquist
Lake Michigan, frozen and stealthy, lay waiting.
The harsh winter created an endless lake of cool concrete.
Ice crusted and crackled into broken waves and arches far beyond the beach.
A crumbling graveyard of childike icebergs.

My brother Chris and I, in our matching orange jackets,
were the first to step on the frozen tundra,
Dad and Uncle Ralph chasing us from behind.
Winded in their maturity.

We stopped at a spot where ice had previously formed an extended shore.
Deep green water called softly through
four-foot deep cracks beneath our felt lined boots.
If gray had blood, the sky was mortally wounded.

Groans came from the ice as fractures fought friction-filled battles.
Deep pings could be heard as if Neptune, visiting the lake,
was striking some great underwater cable with his trident.
Vibrations shivered through synapses.

The lake had wrought a tunnel in the ice.
Its sides curved seductively, beckoning enter.
Chris and I entered effortlessly and
tried to carve our names in the ice.

We lingered.

Suddenly I had the urge to run to the shore.
I needed to feel the frozen sand beneath my feet.
My brother followed close behind.
Wind blew as I ran.

The ice -- in alliance with the wind -- had laid a trap.
Sand covertly covered the convergance between stream and lake.
Rice paper ice held the layer of dust.
Neptune chuckled.

Grabbing my spine, the water's claws dug in.
   my breath hurt
i reached out
           touched the sand
   it broke like a cracker
                 the ice thinned itself
around me
     the more i strugled
                  the more broke off

The stream paid its bribe to the lake for supplying the prey
by pulling off my boots and sending them away under the ice.
The lake was greedy and called for me to follow.
I didn't want to listen.

Suction pulled at my legs, extending them under the ice
that was breaking as my arms searched for mercy.
It was as if I were trying to pull myself up onto
an endlessly sinking row of dominoes.

Chris was caught next as he had followed his big brother too closely.
Dad, not caught, jumped in next.
The lake was greedy indeed.
Long legs saved us.

The water only reached dad's barrel chest.
The gray sky looked down passively as we were thrust up onto neutral ice.
The stream had taken Chris' boots as payment for services rendered.
May the lake choke on its receipt.

Cold wind
crackling jackets.

The matching orange jackets cracked as they froze solid during the walk home.
Dad and Uncle Ralph carried us as best they could.
Chris and I cried at the loss of our boots.
The hot bath water stung, etching the ice into my memory.

Lake Michigan ice calls me.
When I am snuggled in bed, icy fear sometimes creeps in.
On walks near frozen lakes, my spine can feel the icy claws.
The cold solidifies memories of what could have been.

Crackling Orange was written by Eric Sundquist and is about an actual incident out of his childhood from the winter of 1977, one of the few winters where the lake actually froze over from shore to shore.

Copyright 2001 Manitou Publishing Co. & Eric Sundquist • All Rights Reserved.

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