I forgot to buy water at the convenience store. My feet are curling and cramping in my rubber-soled boots with it, and the ache’s grounding. All the cigarette smoke feels like it’s staining my eyes grey, filling my head with air till it floats all the way out of the car, above the clouds, where the sun is hiding.
God’s hands are white, like what peels off the skin after a sunburn. White like plaster. I wonder what happens when you peel it? Is He like a hollow statue?
And then we’re at the lake. The snow fell hard here. I feel small, drifting, wrapped in my hoodie and my coat, cut by the ice in the air. Everything is white: the cooler for the fish and the beer cans, the sky, my gloves. Everything is white but the trees holding up the snow and the mismatched red-and-black folding chairs I carry out onto the ice.
My father cracks a hole in the ice. It sounds like a breaking bone. The bait goes on the end of the fishing hook, and then the drop, and then the waiting. My vision darkens, then fades.
I dream that I am alone on the lake. I’m holding my little fishing pole tight in my hands when something pulls on the string, delicate, then harder. I yank back. I strain against a red sky, ripping at the water, trying to drag absolution from the endlessly dark hole in the ice.
Instead, I draw a hand. A limp, colorless hand with my silver fishing hook through the palm, dripping red blood onto the snow.
The colorless hand is connected to a colorless arm, which is connected to a colorless head on a long neck and the thing has the largest, most beautiful eyes. I’m looking at my angel.
The angel crawls from the hole in the ice. It scrabbles and heaves with fingers that have no nails. Its breath is a wreath of steam in the air that floats towards the red sun to kiss it.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Every vein in its translucent body, I can see. There is no heart, only blue lines that pulse in the center of the angel. But there are eyes, and those eyes don’t move from mine. Those eyes are mine.
It was like meeting a bear in the woods. I knew that it could rip me apart, and it knew that I would let it. But that’s why we both knew it wouldn’t hurt right. The violence would be meaningless. The viscera wouldn’t be fit for marble any more than a whore for the altar. Spoiled goods. What would be taken is already gone.
I move first. I break the spell. I take off my glove, and bare my palm to the angel. The heart-line is the love-line and I want something to love me. Anything to love me.
And the angel raises its bleeding palm, and it gives me a taste of salt.
And the angel turns and the angel walks away.
Its steps melt the snow and make the ice see-through, showing all the minnows still swimming under all of the powder. The hook stays in its palm, and the fishing line catches aflame and lights the sky.
The angel leaves red footprints across the lake, and I realize that the lake is not a lake, but a river, covered in thousands of red prints, all of them melting the ice, burning, underneath a shining sky.
I wake up. The sky is hidden under a gray front, but the shadows of the trees have turned violet and blue. I can’t feel my hands or my face. Next to me, my father is sprawled in his folding-out chair. The lid of the cooler is tilted off, a collection of tails hanging halfway out of it, next to a hollow gallery of beer cans. The tails drip blood onto the thick snow. My father casts an eye to me and back again. He takes a long draw of beer, smacks his lips, and takes another.
There is a tug at my line.
“Well?” My father says. “Reel it in.”