Quintin Short sat comfortably by the window, watching as another layer of snow blanketed his backyard. On his lap was a book.
“How can you read at a time like this?”
“Christiana, when did you get here?”
Quintin’s reaction, although one of surprise, was slightly subdued.
“Never mind that,” she said. “I want to know how you can read at a time like this?”
Quinten reached for his bookmark – an outdated coupon – that had fallen between his legs and slipped it between two pages.
“If you don’t mind?” he asked, turning. After Christiana accepted the book, she left it on the countertop and sighed.
“What do you want from me?” he asked.
“Oh, I dunno. Perhaps, a reaction!”
Christiana watched as her father rocked back and forth in his chair, one hand gently scratching another while his lips, pale but puckered, appeared to be looking for something to kiss.
“It’s been two weeks!”
“I know how long it’s been, Christiana.”
“And we’re talking about Tia, right? Tia – who has a nasty habit of leaving unannounced and then turning up a few days later as if nothing happened.”
On the ride over, Christiana memorized her argument, everything she needed to convince ‘Pop that this time was different. But as Christiana raised her finger and they both locked eyes, her argument disappeared like a suppressed sneeze.
Instead, she joined Quintin in the nook that looked onto the backyard and began undoing the scarf the squeezed her neck.
“The snow …”
“What about it?” Christiana asked.
“It quite relaxing, isn’t it? Sitting here watching it infiltrate our world, making us smile now but curse it tomorrow when the roads remain unpassable. I mean, this morning, I could see the patio furniture – now look.”
Christiana was looking – not at the snow, but boot prints still visible.
“Tia hasn’t hidden in the storage-shed since Highschool, Dad.”
Quintin pretended not to look, opting instead to finger the hole in his cardigan where one of the oversized buttons had fallen off.
“I know, but it was worth a shot, right?”
“Sure, Dad. Look, why don’t you give me your cardigan overnight. I got a few buttons laying around at home that wouldn’t look out of place …”
“The snow …” Quintin interrupted.
“Look, can you quit harping on about the Goddamn snow! You know I don’t like it. In fact, the sight of it sends a shiver down my spine.”
“That was fifteen years ago, Christiana. You need to move on.”
Christiana inhaled, filled her belly with air, and held it there until she exhaled.
“You weren’t there,” she said.
“You make it sound as if I was never around, you know, and it’s horrible. I mean, sure, I wasn’t there that particular morning, but what about all the other times I took you in my arms and wiped the blood from both your knees?”
“That’s not what I’m saying. What I’m trying to say is …”
“What, Christiana? What exactly are you trying to say?”
“I was fifteen, Dad, and still, after all these years, you continue to behave as if I tripped and fell in the backyard.”
“I told your mother not to let you anywhere near that lake, didn’t I? I mean, what on earth possessed you to go onto it in the first place?”
“I made a mistake.”
“How many times, Christiana? – Ice near the shore is weakest.”
Christiana observed her father’s weakened attempt to make a fist and thump his thigh. It was the same fist that reddened Doctor Harris’ cheek after he said there was a strong possibility Christiana wouldn’t make it. After a prolonged silence, one that saw Quintin shuffle aimlessly in his seat and Christiana began to relive that cold morning in January – a morning where a misplaced step felt like a thousand knives plunged into every fiber of her being, where each organ and every bone began to freeze. Where, after the shock numbed the pain, and the pain brought about an unusual sense of warmth – her arms and legs stopped working while trying to breathe became practically impossible.
“I’m getting a glass a water. You want one?”
Christiana was standing before Quintin bothered to turn and answer.
“Baker has nothing to do with Tia’s disappearance.”
“Bullshit! You and I know it’s different this time.” It was Christiana’s turn to make a fist, although she resisted the urge to lay it somewhere foreign.
“You got proof?” Quintin asked.
“Yes, proof that Baker killed your sister.”
“You’re unbelievable. Do you know that? Tia is still your daughter, right?”
“Baker is well-liked in the community, Christiana. I mean, how many times? You can’t just go around accusing an innocent person of murder without any evidence.”
“Spoken like a true Judge, eh?”
“I’ll take that glass of water now if you don’t mind?”
After Christiana walked to the sink and turned the faucet, she watched as the flow of mud-colored water coughed and spluttered its way into the sink.
“How long has it been like this?” she asked.
“A few days,” Quintin said. “You ought to give it some momentum. You know, increase the pressure.”
Christiana turned the faucet, increasing the water flow until it eventually turned clear and she could fill two glasses. She was still holding both glasses when she realized they had company.
“Jesus, Baker. You scared me stupid.”
“Sorry about that. I yelled from the door, but you guys mustn’t have heard me.”
“Damn water,” Quintin said. “It looks like someone took a dump in it again.”
“I can take a look if you want? I mean, I got my tools in the …”
“What the hell do you want, Baker?” Christiana asked.
“I came to check on ‘Pop. I wanted to see …”
“See what, Baker? See if I was finally getting through to him?”
“Christiana, that’s enough, you hear me? I invited him over to grab some fishing hooks, right Baker?”
“That’s right, Sir.”
Christiana was no longer thirsty and left both glasses to one side, allowing both hands to run through her hair with frustration while a loud sigh followed.
“Still no word, eh?” Baker asked.
“Fuck you, Baker! I mean, really … fuck you!”
“Christiana, control yourself,” Quintin said.
“I can’t believe this is happening. I mean, have I stumbled into the Twilight Zone, or have you lost your fucking mind, old man?”
“I think you should go,” Quintin said, shuffling towards the tension.
“Who, me?” Christiana asked.
“Yes, you. This crusade of yours isn’t helping anyone, especially me.”
“Okay, ask him. Right here – right now,” Christiana said as Baker’s eyes briefly narrowed under two thick eyebrows.
“Ask him what?”
“I want you to ask Baker if he had anything to do with Tia’s disappearance.”
It was enough for Baker to flap his lips and briefly shake his head. “Oh, please. I had nothing to do with Tia’s disappearance, and you know it.”
“Dad, ask him.”
Christiana watched as her father’s hands – purple from the cold – found their way into his cardigan pockets – how his left eye twitched, and his nose twitched at a smell that wasn’t there. Quintin cleared his throat.
“Baker?” he asked.
“I got a twenty-six-inch rod perfect for ice fishing. You want to borrow that too?”
“Thank you, Sir. You’re too kind.”
After both men nodded and Christiana smiled to herself – it was all she could do for now – Quintin disappeared through the back door holding a coat.
“What?” Baker asked. “What’s so Goddamn funny?”
“He wasn’t in the storage shed looking for Tia,” Christiana said. “He was looking for a Goddamn fishing rod for the man that murdered his daughter.”
“You really think I killed Tia, don’t you?”
“I know you killed her.”
Baker glanced the outside, the snow that was beginning to gather under the window, and took two steps towards Christiana, who had unknowingly backed herself into a corner.
“Prove it,” Baker whispered; his breath rank from one cigarette after another.
“You son of a bitch! Where is she?”
Christiana made a fist by her side and another close to her chest as if she was readying a punch. Perhaps she was, but Baker managed to grip both her wrists and pin her to the wall. For the few moments that followed, Christiana observed the darkness in Baker’s eyes while he resisted the urge to blink and how he inhaled and exhaled through his nostrils rather dramatically.
“The last place you’ll ever look,” he whispered.
Christiana felt Baker loosen his grip, and she immediately pushed him away.
“You son of a bitch. I knew it. I knew it all along. You can fool ‘Pop all day long with your bullshit masquerading as charm, but you can’t fool me.”
With one eye on the door and one on Christiana, Baker watched as her hands searched for something – Baker presumed the bread knife on the chopping board.
“I wouldn’t if I were you,” Baker announced, pointing. “I mean, your old man already thinks you’re crazy.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s hereditary. I mean, your mother was crazy, right?”
From the corner of her eye, Christiana eyed Quintin shuffling through the backyard with a fishing rod by his side and sprinkling of snow across his head.
“You better go,” Baker said. “You don’t want to upset the old man, now do you?”
Quintin returned, said nothing, and handed the rod, followed by a tin box to Baker.
“You guys good?” he asked.
While Christiana nodded and smiled as if nothing happened, Baker answered.
“Water under the bridge, Sir. Or should I say, ice?”
“Speaking of ice,” Quintin said as he shuffled towards his chair. “Remember, ice is weakest near the shore, so be careful because if you go under, it’ll be months before anyone finds you.”
Baker presumed Christiana was watching her father, studying his every move in case he slipped and fell. Maybe that explained why when Quintin mentioned the ice, Baker swallowed a little too hard than he should have – enough for Christiana to realize her Dad had inadvertently struck a nerve.
“The last place you’ll ever look,” she whispered to herself.
“Speak up, Christiana. I can’t hear you,” Quintin said.
“It’s nothing. I have to go,” she announced as she brushed past Baker, forcing the box he was holding and everything in it onto the floor.
“Goddamn, Christiana,” Quintin said, "Watch where you're going." But she was already gone.
Quintin removed his right glove with his teeth and checked his watch.
“Are you going to tell me what we’re doing here?”
“You and I have never been here together, have we?” Christiana asked.
“Not since you fell in and nearly froze to death, no.”
Christiana opened the driver’s door but was still sitting when she said,
“Come on. I want to show you something.”
“Christiana, what the hell is this all about? I mean, it's freezing out there.”
While Quintin reluctantly dragged himself from the car’s comfort, Christiana walked towards Tally Lake’s shores. When Quintin joined her, she pointed to the spot where the ice had cracked fifteen years ago, and recalled the moments she allowed herself to remember.
“You brought me out here on a Sunday morning for this?”
“Not quite,” Christiana said, admiring the way the pale sun was highlighting specific parts of the lake.
“Okay, then what?”
“I brought you here today, Dad, because I want you to witness me conquer my fear, and I want to do it before you’re never able to look at Tally Lake the same ever again.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“Baker, Dad. He killed Tia and dumped her in the lake. And you’re right, I can’t prove it, but when Tally Lake thaws, our lives will never be the same again.”
Quintin watched as Christiana slipped from his side, grabbed a handful of branches, and put one foot onto the lake.
“What the hell are you doing, Christiana? Get back here.”
Christiana turned, still using the branches for support, and smiled to highlight the tips of her cheeks red from the cold.
“Meet me at the boathouse,” she said, as she released the branches, closed her eyes, and placed her second leg onto Tally Lake's frozen surface.