The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 16, No. 4

The Hot War

by Tom Paine

My daughter fell through the ice in her ninth year. A crack opened and ate her up, her puffy red coat sinking into the black water as I watched, her new CCM hockey stick spinning like a compass needle. This was in our backyard pond. I pushed forward with my palms and slid into the water and kicked straight down. The iron stem of a mushroom anchor nailed me between the eyes, and I rolled over on my back and looked up at the hole in the ice, the murky circle of light. My fingers touched her drifting hair, and I clenched my fist and swam crazily for the surface. Somehow I shoveled her limp body up and out. I was newly divorced. She was spending Christmas with me in Montana. There was no one else.
     Halogens bathed the scene in a razor light. My great-grandfather had built the farmhouse and dug the pond and we Addisons had skated safely here in December for a hundred years. There was plenty of ice. There was no way it cracked but it cracked. I stumbled in my hockey skates with Chloe in my arms across the snow. Ten miles out of Whitefish in the woods, I wasn't waiting for an ambulance. She had a wavering pulse at her carotid, and I gave her mouth-to-mouth with her head in my lap while bombing at eighty over the frozen washboard roads. I'd never kissed her on the lips. Her eyes were wide open and dilated. She gagged up a pink, frothy spittle, and I was so excited I sideswiped a snowbank. On impact, she slid to the floor of the passenger seat. There was nothing to do but pull her up by her hair and keep driving and pumping her full of breath.

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