Back in August, I wrote my first story for the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge. At the time, my only hope was to survive the first cut…I never expected to make it to the finals!
There are just twenty-five of us left, and we were all handed the same assignment:
This is my final story. Results will be posted around January 7. Wish me luck!
We arrive in Twillingate, Newfoundland, just after dark. I want to see the icebergs right away but Mom says we have to wait until morning and tells me not to even think about arguing.
Mom drives the rental car to a house with a sign on the lawn that says “Thelma’s B&B”, and arranges for us to share a room. There are two beds. Mom lies on the one by the window. Her eyes are closed.
I don’t like this house, and I tell her so; it smells like tuna fish and the sheets look scratchy. Mom says I need to consider the “big picture”. I glance around the room and point to the painting that’s hanging on the wall above the dresser.
“That picture?” I ask. It is a red lighthouse on a rocky shore. I don’t know what this has to do with the smell or the sheets.
“Never mind, Dylan,” she says. “Just go to sleep. Tomorrow, we’ll see icebergs.”
I turn out the light, lie down on the other bed, and breathe through my mouth so I don’t have to smell the tuna fish. I try to distract myself by thinking about the density of pure ice in relation to that of sea water. And eventually, I drift off.
In the morning, weak sunlight shines through the sheer curtains. Mom snores softly across the room. I look at the clock, and wait for the numbers to say 7:00. Finally, it happens.
I slip from my bed and stand staring down at Mom. I shift my weight from one foot to the other. The floorboards creak. I do it again. And again. And again.
“Good morning, Dylan,” Mom says.
“Are we going to see the icebergs now?” I ask.
“Why don’t we get dressed and have breakfast, first?” she says.
Mom used to have brown hair. It was long and always smelled like coconuts. She has a bald head now, and she covers it with hats or scarves. I miss the smell of coconuts, but not the tickly, spider web feeling on my cheek when she bent down to kiss me.
Today’s scarf is red and the ends hang long, down her back. “You look like a pirate, Mom,” I tell her.
“Perfect,” she says. “Because we’re going on a boat ride.”
I feel a smile stretch across my face. It’s iceberg season, and I’m here.
After breakfast, Mom drives us to the harbour. I study the horizon, while she talks to a man who has a boat. I squint, blurring the blues and greys of the water and the sky together. Wanting to see towering, white spires. Trying not to worry when I don’t.
We wait to board the fishing boat. Mom plays with her lighter. The flick-flick sound the lighter’s metal wheel makes when it spins hurts my ears. She doesn’t smoke cigarettes anymore, but she still carries the Zippo in her pocket. I try not to ask her why, because she always says “I don’t know, Dylan. Why not?” and I’m never sure how to answer that question.
Finally, it’s time. The captain leads us to his boat, and makes us put on life jackets. Mom’s legs are wobbly today. She takes his arm and he helps her to a seat. Then he turns to me.
“Your mother says icebergs are a special interest of yours, Dylan.”
“The word iceberg comes from the Dutch ijsberg, literally meaning ice mountain,” I tell him. I read that on Wikipedia.
“So I heard, once,” he says. “All right, let’s go.”
Just four minutes out of the harbour, I spot a flash of white in the distance and point. “Iceberg!”
We pull alongside it, but not too close. The captain explains that we have to keep a safe distance away.
“Equal to the length of the iceberg, or twice its height, whichever is greater,” I say. He nods.
The ocean is the colour of brand new jeans. Waves splash against the side of the iceberg, slide along smooth edges, and recede. I can’t look away. The towering chunk of ice is a hundred different shades of white, with streaks of blue running through it in places. The sight is beautiful and scary, and so overwhelming that I lose my words.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of red: Mom’s headscarf, twisting in the wind. She takes my hand and gives it a squeeze. Together, we look out at the incredible mountain of ice in the ocean before us.
“Is it everything you dreamed it would be, Dylan?” she asks. I want to tell her thank you. I want to laugh and dance and hug her tight. I want to tell her about the length-to-height ratio of tabular icebergs. Instead, I just nod my head. She will know what I mean.
This still, perfect moment is broken when a pair of birds takes flight, leaving the glistening chunk of ice behind.
“Watch, now,” the captain calls. And then it happens.
Shards of ice break off along the tallest part of the iceberg and splash down into the choppy water below. Over the wind and the waves, over the sound of the boat’s engine, I can hear the iceberg dying. My eyes fill with tears.
The creaks and groans grow louder, come faster. Until, at last, all that’s left of the iceberg slips beneath the water and breaks apart.
I turn to look at Mom. Her face is pale under her red scarf. For a minute, I think I smell coconuts. Then the scent, like the iceberg, is gone.
“I love you, Dylan,” she says. “Happy birthday.”
And I laugh, because my birthday is still months away.