Written by K. Hartless
“Here it is, travelers. The last glacier in existence.”
The boatload of visitors looked up to see a weathered face, weary with age. A huge cavern in the ice, open like a mouth in awe. At its highest peak, an angry red beacon throbbed, a pimple on the sky’s otherwise clear complexion.
The visitors spoke several languages. Many carried expensive camera equipment and wore weather-resistant hats and polarized shades to shield their eyes from arctic glare. All were bundled in the same blue, down feather parkas to protect them against the frigid temperatures of the Arctic Ocean.
“How dare you come to watch me die?” The glacier’s mouth spat ice shards, a rainbow of spittle that dribbled on its trespassers.
“Did you hear that?” Lumi shook her brother’s shoulders, but Uki was entranced, staring straight at a glacier more fragile than the tangerine plateau back home. Since the age of four, he would close his eyes tightly and blow out blue birthday candles, making the same wish to travel to see Ice Father before he melted.
He whispered Lumi this secret while holding open the freezer compartment after their parents fell asleep in their makeshift bedroom made from string and curtain. Assigned reservation housing meant electricity and privacy were both considered luxuries.
Lumi would close her eyes and listen to Uki describe the glacier: “See, it’s turquoise because blue’s the only color Ice Father can’t absorb.” Lumi promised to tell no one of this nightly waste or of his secret wish. Now that his pubescent legs were strong enough to make the journey out into the vast sea, Uki stood face-to-face with Ice Father, and yet it was his sister, Lumi, who heard him speak.
“Your toxins torch my face,” Ice Father cracked as he spoke. “My dignity is lost. I’m crumbling…”
Lumi cringed as Ice Father’s cheek slid off and crashed at the base of the iceberg. The tour boat rocked in its wake and many aboard laughed, finding a railing to hold onto, enjoying the roll as if it were the main attraction and this entire outing was no more thrilling than a visit to the local theme park.
The boat was large enough to hold twelve passengers and the guide. All the visitors shuffled, legs shivering, but no one made a sign of alarm at Ice Father’s deteriorating façade or the pulsing beacon overhead. They watched as ice floes drifted towards them, hoping perhaps one would get close enough to cut each of them a souvenir to mark this special day.
Once the waves flattened, the Wonder Express tour guide continued, “We now predict this will be the last season for natural ice such as this, making you some of its last visitors.” The guide smiled, but only until his back was turned on the group, leaving him with a view he’d seen hundreds of times since being hired. When he had started, the icebergs were floating giants, dangerous and difficult to predict.
Opening a compartment on the side of the boat, the guide resumed his memorized monologue. “Glaciers used to glide at a rate of over fifty feet per day,” the guide cast out a net hoping to catch Ice Father’s cheek and haul it on board, “but this one’s become much more sedentary in its old age.” Laughs rippled from the other passengers, followed by applause as the guide managed to net the closest ice floe and haul it towards the boat.
“Poison! You will all be consumed.” Ice Father screamed while passengers took turns scooping handfuls of blue glacial ice, placing their souvenirs in complementary freezer bags in the hopes of wowing future party guests. Lumi refused to take her scoop.
Dining on their catered lunches was like having a seat at the Last Supper. The guide took photos of the visitors’ feast before the dying Ice Father. Lumi was destined to be in the final photograph, the world studying her expression before this life-giving giant, wondering if she knew its fate, why was she smiling? Wondering, perhaps, if she was partly to blame.
The group huddled to the center of the boat as the guide tried to shift them into position for their complimentary group photo. Uki turned to his sister; his cheeks were pock-marked like the dug-out piece of Ice Father melting next to them in the sea.
“Oh, Lumi, hold my hand.” This trip marked his evolution from boy to man, but she knew he enjoyed the old ways, and she liked indulging him. Uki’s hand was solid as a river stone, colder than ever before, and yet two hands rubbing together in motion seemed to start their own fire.
“Did Ice Father speak to you, Uki?” He paused, looking down at his souvenir turquoise chunk before speaking.
“No words. But I think I have his blessing, though.” Uki smiled up at his sister. He knew what it had cost her to bring him here, and he planned to repay her someday. It had been years since he’d thought of Ice Father, but how could he refuse his sister’s surprise.
Anyways, he thought, poking a hole in his blue glacier ice, he would need this blessing. He was taking over the household during difficult times. Family finances had dwindled since their father’s memory started fracturing, his dementia deepening over the years. More mouths to feed than incomes, and heating and cooling were no longer luxuries but necessities for survival in a world of growing extremes.
Lumi let his hand rest on top, grateful for this transition; She was weary of the lead role. How could she tell Uki about the anger of Ice Father, so like their own father’s rage each time he forgot another everyday routine. Two fathers melting in time. Would Uki believe her if she shared the words she had heard?
This was the first time she’d worn a coat in her entire life; the heat in Utah made anything more than a light jacket unbearable. The parka had such a fluffy feeling, except for one pesky thread dangling from a loose stitch inside her sleeve. Lumi tugged, hoping to snap it free, not realizing that she was unraveling her own warmth from the inside. The string was too strong to break with stiff fingers, and yet it continued to chafe. At first, she thought it was the freeze numbing her face but then realized the cold was punctuated by tiny, unrelenting stings.
That’s when Lumi saw them, crawling all over the visitors in the boat, arctic midges. Their black bodies contorted at the waist, their athletic legs gripping the fabric of the blue parkas. The tiny insects were unable to fly and therefore deemed harmless to humans since they were marooned on the floating mountain of ice. They must have hitchhiked on the fallen cheek of Ice Father, as now they crawled over every surface of the boat, outnumbering the passengers by the thousands, and after centuries of deprivation, they were hungry. The visitors, their final feast.
Text © K. Hartless
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