I cart the large block of ice in through the delivery door, straight into the freezer of my father’s butcher’s shop. No, my butcher shop. Bequeathed.
The last time I was in here I’d told my father I was going to culinary school. I’d expected a negative reaction. According to him, everything I’d done since puberty was ridiculous, selfish, and unnecessary. What I didn’t expect was that he’d tell me it was unnecessary because I’d be running his shop. Previously, our relationship had been strained, but after that — after I told him there was no way in hell I’d run his shop, I had my own life, and he couldn’t stop me — it only got worse.
My mother tried to keep things civil, but after I took an elective in ice sculpting and announced that was what I wanted to do with my life, even she couldn’t keep us on good terms. Cooking had at least been a “related art”, my father said, but chopping ice was useless. Even when I became a professional he referred to it as my hobby. I tried to explain the miracle of chipping a cold block of ice down into something marvelous, how there was something precious about beauty you couldn’t keep. He didn’t listen. After Mom died, we stopped talking completely.
I slide the ice off of the cart. Despite him, I’ve done fine. I’ve been training to be able to go out on my own. I’m so close, and my father has to go and dump this shop on me. Stubborn to the end. “It’s your turn,” he explained in his will, “make it yours.” This was followed by a stipulation that I was not allowed to sell or rent the property or let another take over. My lawyers assured me that legally it couldn’t stick. That, of course, was not the point.
I go back out to the truck for my tools and jacket. The truck needs to be back at work by nine a.m., but they won’t won’t miss the ice. It’s clouded in the center. Imperfect. A mistake.
I watch my breath rise up and mingle with the primary cuts hanging from the ceiling. When I was little my dad used to take me in on weekends and let me “help” the customers. That was fun, but every chance I got I’d sneak in back where I could watch the men chop the large cuts apart. I loved the sound. Every thwack turned a lump of dead cow into something people would clamor over. With a few blows of their knives the butchers gave purpose to death.
I didn’t hate the shop, but that was his dream, not mine.
I gather my tools, ignoring anything with a plug. Tonight I want to feel every chip and crack. I want my hands to ache.
I take to the ice. After some hours, nose red and hands numbing, I stop to check my work. It’s starting to look like him. It’s a bit rough since I’m not using a torch to smooth my edges, but there he is. My father. I roll my shoulders, ignoring the stiffness, and keep working. Each thwack reverberates through my wrists. Every indent brings it closer and soon it becomes him. His face stares back at me. This is my father. This block of imperfect, cloudy ice. Not that strange, silent man in the coffin with worry lines and a sad composure. I look straight through it. When I finish, I’m going to drag it out into the rising sun and watch it melt.
At five a.m. I finish, stretch, and move to the front of the store. The air feels too warm here. I ignore a rush of memories, attempting to see the shop with fresh eyes. Besides the orange counters, it’s not very unique. Anything could be in those cold display cases. What am I going to do with this place? I saw his ledger. Every year sales have been decreasing, in a few it won’t even be profitable. The supermarkets are too convenient. My father left me a dying business.
I go back into the freezer. Suddenly I start screaming. I don’t want this place, this shop, this business. It’s not my responsibility. I glare at the block of ice. “You did this to me,” I say. I look at my father made of ice. Of course it says nothing, but I want it to. I want it to yell at me, call me ridiculous. I don’t realize I’m crying until I collapse on it and my face slips against the ice, the cold burning my skin.
The last time I saw my father was Christmas. He brought me a “peace turkey,” like the pilgrims. I told him that story was a sham. I was being heartless, but I couldn’t stop myself. Fighting him was too ingrained. I did everything short of shoving him out. Despite this, his last words were, “I only ever wanted the best for you. I just didn’t realize how subjective that concept was.” I knew he was trying to apologize, but I resented him for not saying the words. I resented him for thinking it was that simple.
Then he left me his shop.
My throat tightens. “Make it yours,” his will had said. I stand, wipe my eyes, look around. All night the freezer had kept the ice hard while I worked, like I wanted it. The counters and cold displays could hold miniatures. The only thing I’d need is a truck and ice. The money left over from the funeral would be enough. I look back at the sculpture of my father. The sun rises behind me, shining through the big display windows. The light touches on one of the sculpture’s cloudy spots and I pull the freezer door shut, protecting it from the minor heat.
I look again at the shop, ready to make it mine.
Meagan Noel Hart has been chasing words all her life, following them into an intriguing entanglement of stories that are sometimes funny, sometimes dark, but always slightly out of the ordinary. Her newest collection, Twisted Together, captures those precise moments when our normal lives cease, if only momentarily, from being anything but. Her other collection A Short Stack of Silly Shorts for the Morally Sidetracked, is a humorous collection of very short silly stories.