Life Lines

Mike is crying. Ice notices because he doesn’t see it often, only a few tears of pain when he wiped out on Jamie’s skateboard, or when they found Banquo lying on the pile of blankets in the laundry room, so still, too still, he cried then, great racking sobs that he didn’t seem to know how to stop. There are tears gathering in the lines of his face now, lines that weren’t there for Banquo or the skateboard. There is a stooped old woman beside him, tired grey curls wisping out of a tight bun, and she’s crying into a black-gloved hand.

Ice holds his hands out in front of himself. There are no new lines, no sag or stretch or brittle blue veins. They are the same hands he has looked at for the last fifty years, since his body hit thirty and stopped. There is a ring on his left hand that has not always been there. He takes it off, but there is still a faint white band on his finger. It bothers him. He puts the ring back on.

Ice calls Rufus, sitting cross-legged on his king-sized bed. “I was thinking about that time I kissed you,” he says.

“Unbelievable.” Rufus hangs up on him.

“You can’t stay here,” Mike says, leaning on the doorframe, “There’s not enough money, we have to sell it. We set up a room for you, the one you use when you come to visit. It’s yours if you want it.”

Ice frowns. Mike. He knows the name name like he knows his own, though time and experience have left their mark on a face that he’d first seen smudged with green finger paint. He nods, slowly, barely thinking about it, and Michael smiles in relief and picks up a brown cardboard box. Michael, someone had called him that, refusing to let go of that extra syllable. Once he’d called Alex’s looking for him, asked for Michael, and Alex’s father had stood there thinking about it, asked his wife, who’d said “Mike, you idiot, Mike. They’re in the basement.”

The phone rings seven times before Teddy finally picks up. “Do you remember that bar in Montreal where we drank until they kicked us out, and I straddled your hips and kissed you just to see what would happen?”

There is the sound of light breathing on the other end of the line. Ice keeps waiting for the click of the receiver, but it doesn’t come.

They don’t play the right songs on the radio; Ice has to flip though the channels, clicks of a button instead of the solid twist of a knob, he doesn’t like it. He finds the seventies but it’s the wrong one, he remembers tears running down a face that time had left its mark on since the first time he’d seen it, sour pout, bangs in the eyes. This song had been playing on the car stereo, and Mike had said “I’ll be home on the long weekend, Dad.”

Ice switches off the radio, turns on the television and fumbles a disc into the player. There is a face on here with a smile, bangs in the eyes, one that time won’t leave its mark on.

Ice dials Ceasar’s cellphone number. “You had red marks on your nose from your glasses,” is what he wants to say, “Was it you or me who closed the gap, do you know?”

Ceasar’s voicemail picks up, plays an outdated recording. Ice’s question catches somewhere in his throat, he can feel it lodged there hot and tight. He hangs up the phone with a gentle click, picks it back up, dials the number again.

There are tears streaming down Ice’s face when Mike come in to call him to dinner, he notices because there were none at the funeral, none while they moved him out of the house, none as he sat in here in those evenings staring at his hands.

“Mike,” he says, his body racked with sobs like he can’t figure out how to stop them, “Your dad’s dead.”

Mike sits down on the bed, puts his hand on Ice’s shoulder. “I miss him, too,” he says.

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