The car slid on the icy driveway, and in her panic Clara hit the brake, fishtailing into a spin and finally smacking the rear of her Impala into a tall privacy fence.
She turned in her seat: a section of wood sagged over the trunk.
Great, she thought. A man burst out of the old farmhouse and tracked through snow up to the car, slipping the whole way. The morning sun put him in silhouette, but she could make out dark wavy hair, ruddy face, stocky build. It was definitely him.
“You all right?”
She nodded yes through the glass, rolled down the window, apologized. He grinned, a missing canine tooth showing. “Hell, I woulda paid you to do it.”
He pushed back the chunk of fence and inspected the trunk. “Can’t see but a little dent,” he called. On the way to the house: “This is my wife Loo’s fault. She was supposed to salt the drive before you came.”
He pulled on a beer. “Stupid award, doesn’t mean jack.” They were in the family room — deer heads on paneled walls, fireplace, a black labrador on a rug next to his armchair. “They pick a different guy every January. I’ve been in the Lions thirty years and this is my first time, tells you something.”
“It’s just a short profile, Mr. Eldritch,” Clara said, taking out a notepad. “If I could get some background — ”
Loo walked in, handed her a cup of steaming tea, and left again.
“So, what do you do for a living?”
“I’m on disability.”
“Any children?” Clara trained her eyes on the notepad.
“Just Nimoy here,” Eldritch said, scratching the dog’s ears. “Never wanted kids.” He straightened. “You’re not going to put that in, are you?”
“No, no — ”
“Listen, forget this stuff, I got a much better story for you.” He opened another beer. “My neighbor’s crazy, see, and he’s tryin’ to take me with him. That fence you hit — he put it up while me and Loo was up north. Blocks the view, and it’s on my damn property. Gonna knock it down with my tractor.” He chortled. “Appreciate you getting the job started. Bring your camera?”
“I… forgot it,” she said, her voice wobbling.
“Forgot. What kind of reporter are you, anyway?” When she didn’t respond: “Just kidding, kiddo. Been at the paper long? You look familiar.”
“I’m new.” She checked her watch, stood. “Sorry, Mr. Eldritch, I’m running late for another appointment. Mind if we finish up on the phone later?” She shrugged on her coat. “Where’s Mrs. Eldritch? I should thank her for the tea.”
“She’s out in the barn, feeding the horses. I’ll tell her.” Eldritch trailed Clara down the hall to the door. “Hey, what about the deal with my neighbor?”
“I’ll ask my editor.”
He walked her to her car. Someone, probably Loo, had salted a path in the snow. They stared at the opening in the fence. Eldritch said, “Tell your boss to send over a photographer in a couple of hours. He’ll catch some interesting action.” He eyed Clara. “Nice guy, I’ve met him. Gary Ingersoll, right?”
“Right.” She opened the driver’s door.
Eldritch slammed it shut. “Hold it, girl. I just made up that name. What the hell’s going on?”
Clara ran a hand through her dark hair. “Nothing. We do have a Gary. I don’t know his last name, okay? I told you, I’m new.”
“Then give me one of your cards.”
“I don’t have any yet.”
He pressed his face close to hers. “My neighbor sent you here to spy on me, didn’t he? Tell me the truth, dammit!”
Just then Loo appeared at the far end of the yard. “Dave!” she screamed, waving her arms. “Nimoy’s in the river, broke through the ice. Hurry!”
Eldritch released the car door and took off after his wife. Rounding the corner of the house, he fell, scrambled to his feet and kept moving.
Clara’s teeth chattered. She shifted her weight from foot to foot. Then she flung her purse on the hood and started running.
Nimoy was about fifteen feet out, his front legs pedaling for traction on the ice, his hind legs submerged in a hole. On the riverbank, Loo held a length of rope and Eldritch was kneeling.
The dog whined pathetically. “I’m comin’ boy,” Eldritch cooed.
“At least put this rope round you so I can pull you out.”
“It ain’t that deep.” He lay flat on the ice and scooted himself toward the dog.
“Oh, Dave,” Loo was saying as Clara approached. “You gonna go in, and the undertoad’ll get youse both.”
Eldritch reached Nimoy, grabbed his front legs and pulled, grunting. Clara heard a crack and suddenly both man and dog were splashing in the black water. Loo screamed. Eldritch managed to pick Nimoy up and struggle to his feet, but the pair were trapped inside a circle of ice.
Clara sprinted to the barn, where she’d spotted an axe stuck in a woodpile. She yanked it out and raced back to the river.
Taking the rope from Loo, she tied it around her chest and gave the woman the free end. “Hang on tight,” she ordered, then leaned over the ice and slammed it with the axe. Loo pulled her back to a standing position with the rope. Clara waded into the opening she’d created, bringing the axe down again and again.
Eldritch, carrying Nimoy, followed Clara through the narrow passage back to the bank.
Clara, in Loo’s bathrobe, was drying Nimoy off with a towel next to the blazing fire. Eldritch was in his chair, wrapped in a blanket. Loo stood over him, combing out his wet hair.
“You look like my sister,” Eldritch said quietly. “Talk to me, kid.”
Clara stopped rubbing. She could start with how she’d heard about the award or with the adoption. Or she could set free the word pulsing like a river in her throat: Dad.
Sally York is a newspaper reporter in Michigan. Her short stories appear in The Molotov Cocktail, Foliate Oak, Pulp Metal Magazine, Untoward Magazine and MicroHorror, among others, and in anthologies by Skive and Midwest Literary magazines.