26 April 2009

Calving Season

Heart sat quietly in the kayak, waves lapping softly at its hull. He was staring blankly at the dirty white face of the glacier that loomed large across the stretch of open water before him. Behind him, a small cargo hatch lay open, in the middle of which lay a waterproof duffel bag. The bag bulged slightly, faint outlines of two semiautomatic pistols tenting the fabric. Heart scratched the stubble on his chin and considered the possibility that those pistols would just not be enough. Back in the small town of Whittier, Heart had bought the guns from a nervous Russian who seemed in no mood to discuss inventory. And Heart hadn’t enough cash to get the grenade launcher he had been offered. Ah, well, couldn’t be helped.

Gulls and kittiwakes flying past it in the cold air served to heighten the immensity of the glacier. Heart sensed the smallness of himself. He coughed in an attempt to loosen the knot of tension in his belly. The face radiated a palpable feeling of power held in check, a beast on a leash. A leash that could break at any moment. The kayak lifted gently on a passing swell, the chuffing and blowing of animals behind him, whales or seals he could not tell. He back paddled slowly, coming to a halt. Another oily swell, its surface like molten glass, gently rocked the kayak. The slow plokplokplok of water dripping from the blades of the paddle beat time as Heart studied the glacier. Dipping the blades into the heavy water Heart moved himself closer. The feeling of power increased, the air thickening like an invisible cloud of syrup.

The kayak glided closer to the wall of ice, which eclipsed Heart’s field of vision. He had to crane his neck to see the top edge, a jagged silvery knife cutting through the shimmering blue silk of the sky above. The crystalline sunlight glinted off the cracks and runnels in the ice, a curtain of diamonds dazzling his eyes. He paused again to listen for any sounds that the ice was about to crack. Heart laughed softly as he realized he had no idea what those sounds might be. He leaned into the paddles to propel himself forward, closer to the flanks of the beast.

The small craft was now so close that Heart could almost touch the glacier face with the tips of his paddle. A spasm of panic threatened his balance as he shivered in the cold air cascading from the craggy ice. A chorus of waves lapped gently at the waterline, singing of grave secrets known only to the orca and the salmon. Their voices lulled Heart into a trancelike calm. He could feel his heart slowing down. The blood surged slowly through his veins like cooling lava, thick and hot. The surface of the glacier began to smear and blur, and Heart found himself fervently wishing the glacier would calve. He let the sun slide a degree or two down the dome of the sky until it became apparent that the glacier was in no mood to indulge his wishes. Heart coughed and spat into the glassy, green-black water. He shifted in his seat and spoke to the ice.

“You aren’t going to make this easy, are you?” he muttered.

No answer. The glacier face silent, like a dirty white version of the monolith from "2001: A Space Odyssey". Heart chuckled, thinking himself a monkey and the paddle a bone weapon to toss in the air while howling at the universe. Weapons. Heart started as he remembered the pistols in the bag behind him. A smile ghosted across his chapped lips. He sat up straight, galvanized, and swiveled the kayak around to paddle about ten yards back from the glacier. As he did so, he saw that a mist was creeping in from the open water beyond. No matter, hopefully this wouldn’t take long, not if the guns would help.

Heart reached into the bag and pulled out one of the pistols. The heft of it was greasy and cold in his hands. It gleamed like a black pearl in the nacreous light from the dimming sky. Heart thought it must be an old Russian military model; it had a long combat clip in the grip but Heart knew too little about the weapon to name the model. All he knew for sure was that it was big, ugly and powerful. He clicked off the safety and chambered the first round. Pointing the pistol at the glacier face, a vision of his G-maw flashed before him, she was sitting at her kitchen table with cigarette at the ready, laughing and saying “That boy couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with a skillet". Heart chuckled.

“Well, G-maw, that there is a pretty goddamn big barn, you know?” He squeezed the trigger.

The report thundered across the water and bounced off the glacier, stinging Heart’s ears with a tiny shock wave. A small puff of pulverized ice blossomed on the face. The nearby sea birds shrieked in surprise and veered wildly away from Heart and the gun as he rapidly emptied the clip into the wall of ice. When it was done, he paused to see if the bullets had any effect. The glacier face failed to move with the exception of a few stray clods of ice tumbling away from the impact holes. Heart cursed.

He grabbed the other pistol, repeating the process as fast as he could muster. The shells tumbled into the icy water around the kayak, disappearing in little hisses of steam. His mind a blur, breathing ragged, Heart quickly finished off the five extra clips he had bought in what seemed a lifetime ago. As the last bullet smacked into the ice, Heart groaned as he realized the glacier face wasn’t going to calve. Frustration drove him to throw the pistols at the face as hard as he could manage. All that way, all that time, all that nervous energy, and the goddamn thing refused to cooperate. Another curse escaped his lips and he dug the paddle into the water to launch himself at the ice like a spear forged of compressed wrath.

As the kayak smashed into the wall of ice, Heart let loose a scream at the top of his lungs, a concentrated blast of anger and fear and hurt boiling up from his guts to shatter against the impassive face of the glacier. His head fell forward as the scream reflected off the face to die out in the pearly fog that was gathering over the quicksilver ocean. Tears of rage poured down his cheeks. He lifted his head and screamed again, this time drawing the paddle back over his head and bringing it down as hard as he could on the ice. The paddle rose and fell, sending up a fine spray of ice that pelted Heart as he furiously pounded the glacier. Small chunks began to bounce down the face and land on the kayak. Heart barely noticed. His face red and throat raw, he continued to swing but the blows were getting weaker and weaker as the rage drained from him.
Goddamnit, break you fucker, break! Why won’t you break? God have mercy, just break and put me out of my misery!”

Spittle flying, eyes bulging, Heart shrieked himself into incoherency. He slumped over the shell of the kayak, gasping and sobbing. Minutes passed as the small craft bobbed slowly along the glacier face. His mind was swirling. He jerked awake from near catatonia as his conscious mind reassembled itself, like the shards of shattered mirror snapping back into place. He sucked a few deep lungfuls of the wet cottony air.

It was not going to happen, he decided. Calving season it may be, but there were no young ones to be found here. Shoulders slumped, Heart pushed away from the glacier with the paddle, pointing himself in the direction of the open water he could no longer see through the dense mist rolling over him. The stoic face of the glacier disappeared into the mottled grayness. Heart stared blankly ahead, paddling slowly, not knowing how he would find his way home.

The kayak had gone perhaps twenty yards when behind there sounded a thunderous crrraaaccck, like the firing of a gigantic rifle. It was followed by a low roaring groan, as if the seabed itself were giving voice to blinding pain. Heart whipped his head around but could see nothing through the thick fog. There was a rushing noise, cosmic thunder, and Heart knew the glacier must have calved, in massive quantities. He smiled faintly knowing there was no way he could outrun the wave front closing in on the kayak. A clear calm descended on him and he turned facing forward, gently placing the paddle across the hull. His eyes drifted closed and he threw his arms open wide, waiting for the wave to overtake him.

The future lay all around, pearly gray and unformed, and Heart laughed as the implacable wave flung the kayak into the void, tumbling, tossing and straining to right itself.


  1. Dude, I'd like to present you with the Frozen Mukluk Award for outstanding prose.

  2. Well oh my god. That was glorious. And educational. I knew nothing of glaciers calving.

  3. I think I've metaphorically shot a few glaciers in my life....

    Loved it, as usual :)

  4. I love to watch calving glaciers. Have seen many in AK. Always compelling. I can see the beauty in the destruction. The saving grace in the void.

    Well done, brother. Very well done.

  5. In such stories Russians are always nervous, and just think, it would have been so easy with a grenade launcher.

    Lovely writing. How about a sequel?


  6. ...and he's back.

    Lovely and moving. Oh, and I left you something at my place.

  7. Ah, you are still finding time to do what you do so well.

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again - you're good. Very good.

  8. Reminiscent of another Irish writer - Amanda McKittrick Ros.

    Nice job IG!

  9. Good stuff, pal. Great to read your fiction again.

  10. Which is where you are..."tossing, tumbling and trying to right itself"...right? Good to have Heart back, you back and Grandma back!


  11. I think this is the first time I've read any of your fiction. You've done a nice job of capturing both the setting (which is unusual enough to give the piece an extra boost) and the protagonist's emotions.

    Well done!

  12. Captain: You honor me, sir. Does that mukluk come with blubber?

    PHST: (blush) Why, thank you! I’m all about the edjumacatin’…

    Braja: I thought you might have. Thank you.

    Wendy: Beauty in the destruction…I like it…and thank you!

    Mo: I was waffling between drunk or nervous. Nervous seemed better. Thanks!

    OAM: Wow, thank you, I will stop by!

    Jan: Finding time became a necessity. And you are too kind (blush) Thank you!

    Johnny Redd: Why, thanks! I need to familiarize myself with Amanda Ros.

    IB: Thanks, bro. Good to have you drop in.

    MHH: Who, me? (grin) Thank you.

    Jeanne: (blush) Thank you, so much!

  13. I've never seen a glacier much less one that is calving. I guess we'll see a lot more calving as the sea surface temperature warms. We have rocked the boat on the this earth and shot the bullets far too many times.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...