Breaking the Ice

Posted: June 1, 2011 in Memories of things that didn't happen
Tags: , , , , , ,

I used to be a polar bear, but was now a man.  Apparently this is a rare thing, and a female scientist came by from the local research station to study me and ask some questions.  She was bundled against the cold in a bright yellow rain coat and thick boots.  I was dressed in a simple t-shirt and jeans.  I used to be a polar bear after all.  We walked along the surface of a frozen river and I tried to show her what I had learned in my time as a polar bear.   The most important thing was how to break the ice on the river’s surface.

It was simply impossible to break the layer of ice on top of the river in any way other than the method I was about to show her.  A thin ribbon of ice-free water slowly streamed by in the center of the river.  Small sheets of ice already broken off floated by on the edges of the water, bumping into the ice on either side.  I jumped up and down on the ice near the water’s edge to show the scientist how strong it was, then bent to retrieve a thin berg floating nearby.

Placing this small piece of ice on top of the solid sheet, I gingerly stepped back.  Carefully, I extended my foot and put the slightest pressure on top.  The ice instantly gave way, and a large chunk broke off and floated downriver.  My companion was delighted, and went to try it herself.  She picked up a thick layer of ice floating nearby and pulled it up on the ice she was standing on.  She set it down and then stepped out, bringing her full weight on top.  The ice shattered, sending her plunging into the frigid water below.

I just sighed.  Some bears just don’t learn very well.  With a jolt of realization I remembered she was not in fact a polar bear, but a human being.  I scrambled to the edge of the ice and peered over into the water’s depths.  I could see her a few feet beneath the surface, struggling against the river’s inexorable icy pull.  I pleaded with her to swim, to resist the bone chilling cold seeping into her body.  With a growing sadness I watched her limbs slow to stillness.  Her skin had turned a light shade of blue.

The ice I was kneeling on gave way, and I too plunged into the water.  I braced myself against the coming shock but was surprised when it didn’t come.  The water felt perfectly comfortable.  Of course, I used to be a polar bear.  Berating myself as a fool, I swam over, grabbed the scientist and  began pulling her back towards shore.  After a few seconds I realized I wasn’t making any progress.  The river’s current had picked up pace significantly.  I looked downstream and my mouth fell agape in panic.  Only a few yards down, the river plummeted into a narrow culvert in the side of the bank.  If we got sucked into that, there would be no coming out, even for a former polar bear.

I wrapped her arms around my chest, hoping that some flicker of life remained inside her giving her the strength to hold on.  I swam for the edge of the shore, but the bank hung out over the water’s edge, too steep to climb up.  Turning on my back in the water, I pulled us along upstream until we finally reached a section low enough I could heave us out of the water.

I lay on my back, clutching her to my chest, screaming for help.


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