by NM Whitley
A child is born and before long that child looks in a mirror and does not recognize the person he sees. The person he is, the being behind the eyes, decoheres and reappears and it becomes difficult, furthermore, to account for the relevance of the adult woman elsewhere in the house. Thus begins the baseline tumult of the child’s life. It is a roiling, low-level conflict which, for a long spell, will read as quiescent surface. Over time, however, the child becomes an adult, and through a series of events that do not bear retelling, large blocks of ice are gathered from a nearby frozen water source and distributed to various homes, including the house where the child, now an adult, lives alone. He is, by this point, somewhat of an alcoholic. He enjoys a drink or three each night after dinner to take the edge off and his own block of ice, he quickly realizes, is far too bulky to fit inside any glass. To remedy this situation, he seeks out a reputable online purveyor and purchases an instrument with which to chip it apart. The package arrives with a wet spot. He digs his fingers in and pries apart the soggy cardboard. He knows as well as you or I that most ice picks (as these implements are known) have a handle which is made of wood but can also be made from plastic or rubber, and attached to this handle there is usually a pointy steel bar, but (as he has on some level already begun to suspect, owing to the sogginess of the package) the peculiarity of this specific pick is that both the handle and the pointy bar are made entirely of ice. Meanwhile, on the kitchen table, the block remains. A large problem, cold and slippery in nature. And such a problem cannot be solved using a tool that is itself slippery and cold, a tool of its very same nature, though not for lack of trying. The tool is not fit for purpose; the grown-up child’s particular configuration of weaknesses and miseries make him wholly unsuited to the task, though again not for lack of trying. He is outraged, and he takes this outrage out on the block of ice to no avail, with a repressed understanding that perhaps it is neither the block nor the unscrupulous online purveyor who sold him the pick but himself he should be outraged with. Honestly, though, an icepick made of ice? How preposterous! Nowadays, granted, what with the growing prevalence of modern refrigerators with built-in ice makers that can spit out chunks of ice of any size at will, the ice pick has essentially become obsolete, surviving primarily as a tool for either murder or for carrying out a transorbital lobotomy. In the latter procedure, the ice pick is placed under the eyelid and against the top of the eye socket, and a mallet is used to drive the sharp point through the thin layer of bone and into the brain, thus severing key connections in the prefrontal cortex. Perhaps this will allay his outrage, his low-level tumult, his duress. But it’s no use. The pressure against the membranes behind his eye is exquisite but insufficient; he cannot will himself to hammer home the ice pick with the force required for success. Salty fluid is leaking from his palms, so warm as to dissolve the instrument’s handle; his tears further blunt its slippery nub. The block of ice melts on the table, the pick is melting in his hand. What a waste, he cries, what a terrible, terrible waste.
NM Whitley is a writer, teacher, musician, and translator based in Barcelona. His work appears or is forthcoming in venues such as Seize the Press, Short Fiction, The Café Irreal, Propagule, and Body Fluids, among others. He occasionally skeets at @nmwhitley.bsky.social
For more, go to linktr.ee/nmwhitley.