Original Short Story: "Ice Chunks in the River"
Ice in the River (The Phillips Collection)
" . . . startled expression on its face."
I watched the ice chunks flowing
Under Elsrod Bridge. I thought
About how cold they must be,
And then I suddenly swirled around,
And life was standing there
With a startled expression on its face.
—Linda Sue Grimes
" . . . working on the proof . . . "
I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again.
Ice Chunks in the River: the Story
Sometimes the arc of life bends a little too starkly. Take Helen Merton. That's me. Yes, I am going to tell you a fantastic tale. I warn you: it is not very interesting, but it is serious, a bit craggy, and rather wistful in its wondering.
When I was seventeen, I wanted like all blazes to be a poet. I so admired the likes of E. E. Cummings, W. H. Auden, and W. B. Yeats. As a famous poet, I would be dubbed H. W. Merton—Helen Willamina Merton.
My First Poem
I began my career by writing a poem about my sister's boy friend—Reginald Jermwater. I will not bore you with the actual poem. Suffice if to say, my sister could not detect Reginald in the poem at all. I tried and tried to show her that image after image was, in fact, the very essence of Reginald. She bought none of it.
I think that was the beginning of the end of my relationship with my sister, Elbricklee, who after that ignored me, and I have to admit, I actually welcomed that ignorance. Heretofore, she had offered me a bit too much solicitation, and without that quality, I was vastly relieved.
My next poem featured a couple I had meet in college: Maribeth Donner and Slater Kinny. Maribeth was from a town not twenty kilometers from my own, and Slater was from my own hometown. I had seen Slater on occasion but never spoken with him, as we attended different schools.
Upon entering freshman class at Bollbraker College, a fashionable little liberal arts campus, Maribeth, Slater, and I connected and attended freshman gatherings together. We were all quite scared. All afraid of what it meant to be "college students." Maribeth was also afraid that Slater might be too interested in me.
Maribeth would whine to me, "Helen, do you have to stand so near Slater? He's so sensitive, and I'm so afraid he might be falling for your charms? Times are changing and boys seem to be falling fast for the notion of multiple couplings."
I had no rejoinder to that. So I stopped joining them for the parties. I stopped seeing them altogether. For about two weeks, I remained unmolested by either Maribeth or Slater. Then Algernon Whittley rang me up.
"Yes, who is this?"
"It's Algernon, Algernon Whittley, We are in Ancient Greek Poetry together, with Professor Burfle?"
"Oh, yes. You sit right behind me. Yes, I remember you."
"I am calling to invite you to the theatre production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Merle House Theater, just off campus, Saturday Night. I'd love it if you could accompany me."
"I might be able to," I stammered. "I'll have to let you know."
After the call, I was stunned. You see, I had never "dated." Never, ever been asked to attend anything with a boy. I know, other girls would have answered immediately, but not one who was so unused to being asked out. So I faltered. I faltered and faltered, until Algernon finally asked someone else to accompany him.
I did not care so much though. He meant nothing to me. The only thing in my life was the poetry of E.E. Cummings, W. H. Auden, and W. B Yeats, which I continued to read, study, memorize, devour, as I attempted to emulate.
"You need a love life," said my mother, as I was home for holiday.
"What do you mean? You always said I could not go out with boys. Now you say I need a love life!! What are you talking about?"
"You wanted to go out with boys when you are 14! I merely wanted you to wait until you were at least 17!" My mother was now correcting herself. She had never indicated to me that that is what she meant when she bellowed to me, "If you start going with boys, it will kill me, kill me, do you hear me, do you hear me?"
Those words rang in my ears for all my teen years—I would have none of anything would kill my mum.
Anyway, I am now a college student, age 18, fast by 19, and still getting use to being away from home, doing my own laundry, getting my own meals, negotiating classes, fellow classmates, left adrift—one might say.
As I was walking to my World History Gen-Ed class, Slater Kinny appeared before me. He looked at me as I walked past him, and then he grabbed my arm.
"Helen, where have you been? It's been weeks since we've seen you."
"Well, Maribeth indicated to me that I was no long welcome to join you two in your outings, so I have tried to respect her wishes."
"What? She keeps saying that she wonders where you are, what you are doing. She doesn't seem to understand what has happened. How do you explain that?"
"I don't have to explain anything! She said she thought you were too interested in me. So I let it go. I have to get to class."
I went to class. And then that evening Maribeth came to my dorm room for a visit.
I opened my door and there she stood with a pinched look on her face. I reluctantly asked her to come in.
"Helen, Slater said he talked to you today."
"We were hoping you would join us for the skating party on Saturday, at the Waldorff-Sigler Rink," said Maribeth.
"I'm sorry, I'm going home this weekend," I answered.
"Oh, please, please, change your mind. Slater has threatened to break up with me, if you don't join us. I'm desperate, Helen. I love him so much. But he thinks I was unkind to you, and he won't abide unkindness to his friends. He considers you a friend, and so do I. I never meant to alienate you. Oh, please say you will come with use!"
Such obnoxious begging left me totally cold. I swore to myself then and there I would never again become involved in such torrid relationships.
After graduating from Bollbraker College—with honors might I shamefully add, I took a teaching position at another small college, Witherton Liberal Arts Academy. I followed my dream of poetry and although never achieving the level of my idols, I did publish several books, which received a bit of critical acknowledgment.
What happened to Maribeth and Slater? I could not care less. Or maybe I just could care less. However, one might interpret that expression.
The Second Poem
By the way, that second poem ran thus:
Two, or three, in the hook of spate and desire—
Where do you live, with angry wood nymphs?
Why do you spill your blood
Over the rocks of horror?
I will accompany your children,
Until they displease me:
Then you can swallow them again.
This piece has always stricken me as, well, apropos.
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes