Mike walked slowly along the path bordering the lake. Gunderson Lake, it was called, named for Henry T. Gunderson, the man who had bought the ground and developed it so many years before. A man with foresight and gumption, Henry T. Gunderson. In fact, the vary path Mike now trod was the Henry T. Gunderson Memorial Walkway, a narrow vein of pavement coursing its way around the lake, between and amongst many of the houses surrounding it, ending at the very heart of the neighborhood, Gunderson Park.
Mike was not aiming to reach the park, particularly. Of course, no one would be there anyway at this hour, probably close to 3:30 am. He was just out for a nice stroll. It was very cold. He pulled his coat a little closer about his shoulders and wondered why he didn’t see any children. He guessed it to be in the mid-30’s, and he muttered as much.
He stopped and looked around. Where is everyone? Where is Bernice? Where is Kevin? He stared out over the water, realizing that it was frozen. Frozen solid. He smiled to himself, remembering a somewhat smaller lake where he had played as a boy. How he and his friends did love that pond. They would have been out on a day like this, that’s for sure. What’s a little cold? They could have gone ice fishing, or maybe donned their skates for a fun battle of hockey. He wondered about the kids of today, why they mostly played hockey indoors. He thought about how their equipment was so much nicer than what was available when he was a boy. A quick spark of realization that the water was indeed frozen flickered in his thoughts.
He stepped closer to the edge. The glow from the thin moon was just enough to let him see out a few yards with clarity. Beyond that things got iffy. He looked down at the ice on the lake’s edge. “Why, it must be four or five inches thick!” he said aloud. He reevaluated his guess at the temperature and pulled his coat tighter. He looked down at his legs and feet. Why did he have slippers on? Where were his pants? He stepped back from the edge and shivered and looked around at the landscape, empty save for the newer homes that had been built around the lake. His brow furrowed into a gentle “V.” He stuck out his bottom lip. Where is Bernice? Where is Kevin? He realized his top lip was wet from his runny nose, so he wiped it with his sleeve. He looked back out toward the center of the lake. “Boy, it’d be hard to play hockey out here tonight. So dark.” He wondered if he had said the words or just thought them. He started back down the path.
That’s when he heard it. He stopped to listen for it again. A boy had yelled something. Out on the lake a boy had yelled something. Was it a cry for help? Mike looked hard out to the center. So dark. He cupped his bare hands around his eyes as if to provide better focus. He noticed that his hands were shaking. He whistled softly. Wow, it’s cold. He couldn’t see anything but the black sky and opaque milky ice, spread out before him as an empty table, framed by stolid houses receding into darkness on each side. If he had some skates he could go out there and investigate. He wondered where his skates were. Failing to see anybody, he jammed his hands into his pockets for warmth. He would stay here, right here, at least for a few more minutes, to try and hear the yell again. Maybe he would go back and get Bernice and they could look together.
A sudden wail escaped from his mouth. What if it was Kevin out on the ice? His breathing quickened and his old heart knocked like a withered fist against his chest wall. His shaking hands came back out of their pockets and cupped his eyes again. He called out, leaning forward a little, “Kevvie!!!” He waited, moving his hand to behind his ear and turning his ear to the lake. He heard nothing, but wasn’t sure. Where had he seen Kevin last? Was he out delivering the daily papers in the dark? He had told his son never to go out on the ice alone. He stuck his lip out again, his eyes moving from fear to anger. He would certainly have a talk with Kevin when he got back home. He would tell Bernice to keep closer tabs on the boy.
Bernice awoke with a start. She looked at the clock on the side table. It read 3:43. She reached instinctively over for Mike, but he wasn’t there. She lifted her head up off the pillow and looked toward the open bathroom door. No lights were on. “Mike?” she called out, her voice a little croaky from sleep. He wouldn’t hear that if he were out in the kitchen. “Mike!”
Bernice had been through this a few times before, and had faithfully kept a record on her wall calendar. She usually found him in the kitchen, sitting in the dark on a stool. Sometimes she found him asleep on his recliner, and she would place the blanket from the couch on him. If it was late enough toward morning, she might even stay up to start the coffee. If it were still too early, she would come back into the bedroom for her pillow and blanket and go lie on the couch to be near him.
She was so thankful her son-in-law, Bud, had installed the heavy-duty double locks on the exterior doors. She hadn’t thought it was necessary at first. It scared her to think of having to go to such trouble to get out of the house if there was ever a fire, but her daughter, Shelly, had insisted. “Mother, Bud is a carpenter. It’s what he does!” Mike himself had admired Bud’s skill at installing the locks that day. Bud was so patient with Mike, so good to him, even asking Mike to help him keep his tools straight. Mike had handed Bud a wrench when he asked for a screwdriver. Bud had just smiled and said, “Dad, can you give me the other wrench?” and pointed to the correct tool. Bernice loved that Bud called Mike, “Dad.”
Bernice yelled again, “Mike?” as she got out of bed and put on her slippers. She glanced at Mikes’ side of the bed and noticed his slippers were gone. She turned on the light and looked quickly in the bathroom. She pulled on her robe as she walked out into the hall. “Mike? Where are you, honey?” She turned on the family room light. The room was empty and she could see into the kitchen that it was empty as well. Immediately, she felt her adrenaline rise up. She yelled as loudly as she could pull herself together, “Michael!!” She walked around the room. “Michael, where are you? Please answer me, sweetie!” She turned the final corner to see the front door. It was shut, but not locked. She looked down the hall toward the garage. The door was shut and still locked. Mike was outside.
She had rehearsed this in her mind many times. She tried to remember exactly what Shelly had told her to do. “Oh, Michael!!” she yelled out as she reached to open the door. She flipped the outside light on. It was so cold! She hurried out onto the porch and yelled out into the dark yard, as loudly as she could, “Michael!! Mike!” She cupped her hands around her mouth, “Michael!”
Shelly’s words came to her again. She checked the overhead garage door. Closed. She hurried back into the house. “Call 911, Mom. That’s what they’re for. It’s their job.” She felt her hand go to her mouth as she walked straight over to the phone, the name “Michael” coming out repeatedly in soft sobs. “Call 911, and then call me. I don’t care what time it is. You call me. Okay?” Bernice remembered, and trusted her daughter… She reached for the phone and dialed.
Mike stepped a little closer to the ice and yelled out again, “Kevvie!” His frail voice bounced and skipped across the hard surface, tumbling beyond the far houses, silent and dark, dissipating into a thousand nothings in the fields beyond. Would Kevin hear him out there? He tried to yell louder, “Kevvie!! It’s Dad!!” Amazing how his voice disappeared like that, he thought. He looked harder, leaning out as far as he dared.
He stepped back and up onto the path. He jammed his cold hands back into his pockets, now cold again from their emptiness. He noticed his shoulders were shaking, and his teeth had been chattering for a while now.
What was it the doctor had said? Something about being untreatable. Don’t you say that about my Kevin, Doctor, no, no. You say that about someone else’s boy! Not my boy! Not my son! Our son! Bernice had cried so hard. Shelly, too. Mike sobbed a little, blowing a thin gruel of streaming snot from his lips. He saw the casket laid out before him. He felt Bernice’s hand holding his so tightly that it hurt, But it didn’t hurt. Not that. It felt good to remember her holding his hand like that. He was all she had. And Shelly. The casket had looked too short. Mike had never seen one that small. How did his boy fit in there? He saw him lying there, asleep in his new suit.
He looked again at the houses around the lake. He looked up and down the path. When had they built this lake? Henry T. Gunderson Lake. Mike had known Henry T. Gunderson, and his brother, Paul. Paul had been killed in the war. That had changed Henry. Never the same again. Funny how a man can change, if he wants to. Where is Bernice? He must go find her and tell her he heard Kevin. That he’s okay. “No!” he heard himself say. “No, no, no!!” His lips separated into a small grin. “I’ll go get Kevvie, and we can go tell her together! She will be so pleased!”
He turned back toward the lake. He found it more and more difficult to walk. He reached down to his legs, but he they had no feeling. He was glad it had suddenly warmed up. He wondered if it was spring. It’s usually not this warm at night when the lake is ice. He would sit and wait for Kevvie to come to him.
Shelly was at the house before the police were, holding her sobbing mother. Bud had turned on every light, inside and out, and was out in the yard with a flashlight. Out in the yard and out on the road and out in the trees behind the house. Yelling the whole time. “Dad!” Where are you?” His flashlight throwing its light back and yonder, now in the side yard, now back in the trees again. “Mike!! It’s Bud! Where are you?”
Mike decided it would be better to go out on the ice and get Kevin. It was warm now, so the ice might melt and endanger Kevin. He would leave his coat on the ground beside the ice so Bernice would know where he went in case it took him awhile. He folded it and laid it on the ground. His hands were shaking so. His legs were weak. The ice was melting. He better hurry.