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Crack the Whip

by Sherry Ryan 11 months ago in family
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The Coldest Winter

Rebecca absent-mindedly sipped her Sunday morning coffee, as she peered through the frosty pane. Winter had been particularly long with countless storms and cold, so very cold. Despite her dislike of winter, she marvelled at the sparkling drifts and swirls laying just beyond the window. Trees became indistinguishable beneath plump layers of crusty snow. An icicle, too heavy to sustain itself, fell crashing to the ground, bringing her back from reverie. Shards of ice scuttled outward as if in a game of crack the whip. Images of children spinning outward flooded Rebecca’s mind.

“I loathe that stupid game.” She batted at the tears stinging in her eyes. Past became the present as she heard her mother’s voice echoing around her. They followed her through the years and now bounced off the kitchen walls.

“Mr. Barton says the ice’s not safe down there at the lower end of the pond.” her mother hollered as Rebecca pushed Johnnie and Mary excitedly out the door. “So stay clear of that area,” she continued, “And don’t go playing that game. What’s it you call it? Crack the whip? Don’t go playing crack the whip! …...Becca? Do you hear me? Mind your brother and sister.”

Tears trembled down Rebecca’s cheeks as each new memory came flooding forth in full color. She swatted the air in a futile attempt to push away the buzzing fly-like memories. When the shard of ice hit the ground, it was like a key unlocking the door to her painful past. She watched as three children ran to the pond with skates cradling their shoulders. Johnnie wore a black snowsuit with a black and red ski mask that made him look like a villain or a superhero, depending on his mood. Mary wore her pink snowsuit with a matching hat. Or was it red? Through the years, colors faded one into another. Rebecca saw herself, the oldest of three, in her blue ski pants and jacket. A fluffy angora hat and scarf topped off her outfit. Style meant everything then.

The three children scurried past Mr. Barton’s farm and on to the pond at the edge of his field. Josh, Jane and Isobel were already on the ice.

“Watch me.” Isobel boasted. “I just taught myself!” pushing off with one leg and bending it into the other she twirled.

Rebecca rushed with her skates, not wanting to be outdone by her best friend. She was ready and moving toward the ice when Mary caught her fuzzy mittened hand. “Becca, do mine too!” demanded the little princess, as she sat on the snowbank, pushing her feet outward and holding herself in position with her hands.

“Mary, you need to learn to do this yourself. You’re a big girl now. You’ll be starting school next year. I’m certainly not going with you and nobody else is going to be waiting on you hand and foot!” grumbling, Rebecca bent down to help the four year old into her skates.

Johnnie was already dashing around the pond, whizzing past like a firecracker.

“Mind the far end of the pond!” She yelled.

“I know, I know!” He snarled and stuck his tongue through the red rimmed mouth hole of his ski mask.

Everyone laughed, egging him on. He stuck his tongue through the eyeholes and back down through his mouth as he glided past his two sisters at the edge of the pond. Not watching where he was going, he smacked sideways into Isobel who was just coming out of a twirl. They fell crashing to the ground in a heap.

“Smarten up and attention to where you’re going! You’re not the only one on the ice, so bug off. Fool around somewhere else.” Isobel waved him off with her hand not wanting him to see her tears.

Josh went and helped up his friend. The two sniggered away to the other side of the pond. Josh was delighted his sister was taken down a peg from showing off her superior skating skills. The boys set to work laying out their goal posts of sticks. Using branches for hockey sticks and a chunk of ice for a puck. They began playing shinny.

Mary, who had just gone from ice walking to learning to glide on her skates, was clumsily picking her way along the edge of the ice. She was determined to participate with her siblings in this frozen wonderland.

“Becca, hold my hand!” Mary demanded.

But her older sister had no intentions of being chained to the little girl. Eyeing Jane on her own unsuccessfully mimicking Isobel’s moves, Rebecca saw her chance. Jane was two years older than Mary and always felt important when they played together, because she could do everything better. Something that she never experienced with her older sister, Isobel.

“Jane, can you take Mary’s hand?" Rebecca mewed. "She just loves skating with you.” Mary looked up in protest, but was swiftly handed off to Jane. The child let out a huff as she watched her big sister glide away.

Rebecca was pleased with her escape, as she made her way over to where Isobel was practicing twirls and figure eights like a pro. The girls were best friends, but they were in constant competition, from school grades to how to dress. They even fought over the boys in their sixth grade class at school. Deep down the two admired each other, which only fed their rivalry.

After a while, the boys became bored of their game. Johnnie shouted, “Hey, do you want to play crack the whip?”

“You know mom said we aren’t allowed!” she scolded.

“Don’t be such a sucky baby. How’s mom going to know what we are doing down here? She’s busy making bread and talking on the phone. She won’t know if we don’t tell!” He urged.

“But, what about Mary? You know she will tell.” Rebecca reasoned.

“I won’t tell, if you let me play too.” The four year old insisted, crossing her arms over her chest and sighing a loud harrumph.

“You can’t even skate.” Johnnie chuckled.

“I can too, watch me.” she moved half walking across the ice without falling. Beaming, she said, “see?”

“You did a good job, Sissy, but we’re not playing today. Mom said no.” asserted the big sister, who was afraid if they got caught they would lose their privilege to come to the pond to skate.

“Besides, mom always finds out. You are too rough, Johnnie. Someone always ends up getting hurt!”

Johnnie couldn’t resist the exhilarating game. He loved the rush of air across his face. It thrilled him to fly out of control, like spinning tops never knowing where they would all land. In truth, they all loved it. Rebecca, as the oldest, was responsible for everyone’s safety. She’d be the one in her room without supper, if they got caught.

Johnnie begged her as the afternoon wore on. “I’ll clean up your room.” He suggested as he sailed by.

“No way, I don’t want you looking through my stuff!” she scowled.

“I’ll carry your books,” he fawned, swirling around her. “I'll do your chores?” He slid to one knee, as if to propose matrimony. “I’ll even tie Mary’s skates next time? What do you say? Come on, sis….so much fun, so much fun!”

Rebecca enjoyed this game of offering, especially when he got down on his knees. She couldn’t take it anymore and finally agreed.

Johnnie whooped! “I’m at the end!” He jumped up ordering everyone to get in line.

Rebecca decided to let Mary join as a safety measure for going slower and to ensure the little tattle tale would keep her mouth shut.

Everyone joined hands, mitten to mitten. Mary held tight between Jane and Johnnie. Josh was at the center. As everyone began to spin around faster and faster.

Mary began to cry, “Too fast, too fast! STOP!”

Nobody heard her, as centripetal force propelled the group outward. Suddenly, Johnnie, Mary and Jane released their grips and were sent spinning across the ice. Mary fell and spun effortlessly toward the thin ice. Her body fell through and disappeared beneath the surface. The children skidded to a stop. At that moment everything froze. Time stopped. Sound was sucked into the hole with the small child. Even the frosty breath of each child seemed to crystalize in the space around them.

Johnnie broke the silence first. “Quick, do something!” He blurted.

“Grab a stick, Josh!” Rebecca ordered. “Oh my God! Oh my God! Mary! Mary!” she took in the gravity of the situation.

Mary was nowhere to be seen. Rebecca remembered that if they all laid down on the ice and made a chain, they might use the stick to reach their sister. The problem was, Mary was below the surface. Despite this, Rebecca told everyone to get down on the ice and form a chain. It was all in vain. The back of Mary’s snowsuit poked up through the hole, as she hung lifeless in suspension.

“We need to get help!” Rebecca gasped.

“I’ll go.” Johnnie breathed, bolting up to his feet. He flew to Mr. Barton’s house for help.

The farmer grabbed his jacket and ran to the pond, ignoring the kids still laying on the ice. Galloping toward the hole, like a fine stead, the old man’s weight and force could not be supported and the ice collapsed beneath him. Nonetheless, Mr. Barton continued waist deep in the frigid water toward the submerged child. In one swift move, he scooped her up into his arms and turned her face to him. It was drained of all colour and her lips an eerie blue.

“No, no, no! Mary, wake up!” The old man screamed and then began to do mouth to mouth resuscitation on the lifeless child. He stood in the freezing pond with Mary in his arms. Time stood still.

Back in the Kitchen, Rebecca stood frozen in that moment. Her heart ached. How could she have let this happen all those years ago? Why didn’t she listen to her mother’s warnings? She dug her fingernails into the wrist of her other arm. She loathed herself and her decision that day.

Suddenly, voices called her away from her thoughts. People were making their way to the kitchen. She could hear laughter and chatter in the distance. Quickly rubbing away the tears, Rebecca turned back to the window. In the far field she saw the flicker of pink. Or was it red? She could never quite be sure. But every winter for twenty some years she saw that shadow in the distance no matter how hard she tried not to see it.

Today was the second day of rehab. Her mother found her lying in a snowbank in an alley. She begged her to get help and brought her to this facility. It was impossible to imagine how that woman still loved her after all the pain she had caused. Rebecca spent most of her teens and adult life trying to delete the memory that so vividly stole into every sober hour of her waking life. Was there any way to heal a wound that large? It was a gaping black hole in the center of her heart, like the one in the pond that took the life of both her sister and Mr. Barton. He was a hero that day, but succumbed to hypothermia a few days later.

Now, today, for her mother, Rebecca would try once more to heal the pain. She knew that it wasn’t enough, but it was a start. She turned to the group of fellow addicts who were busy making coffee and getting breakfast. She joined the idle chit chat, but the memory loomed.

“One day at a time.” came a soft voice in the distance. Rebecca turned toward it. A pink wisp faded into the corner of the kitchen.

family

About the author

Sherry Ryan

I have ink in my veins. It is a curse and a joy. Reality makes it challenging to devote myself to the pen. I have finally succumbed to my daemon blood and hereby commit myself to making it the reality of my life. Perhaps I will find peace.

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