Memories of Ice
That night, Margo told Quint what Bale had asked her to do. He’d listened quietly, then said, “I don’t know what he’s playing at. This is weird, Margo.”
“I know. We have to do it though. He’ll know we’re spies if we don’t.”
So they set off from the house the next morning, spurred by Bale’s coffee and acidic looks from the Dark Bride.
The house below was beautiful, in a way. They made their way through ivy and grey stone toward the Bridge. Ahead of them, the broken marble angel rose out of the grass like a lighthouse amidst an emerald sea.
“And there’s meant to be a memory in here?” Quint said.
“Bale didn’t say much. Except that the Bridge answers your questions, if you ask them properly.”
They explored the Bridge. Other than the angel, it looked the same as the rest of the garden. But it didn’t feel the same. There was something here, something Margo couldn’t quite put into words. As if the angel was a curtain, and there was something on the other side of it that she didn’t want to see.
“Was that stuff true?” Margo said.
“The toyshop. At dinner.”
Quint didn’t look at her. “Yeah.”
Margo watched Quint – this ghost who didn’t want to be, half-transparent, lover of toy sailing ships, helping her explore a garden in a haunted world.
“You’re really strange, you know that?”
Quint shrugged again. He lived in shrugs.
Margo stared at the angel’s face. “What’s your secret, you frustrating sack of marble?”
“Maybe we should sacrifice something to it. Or say magic words.”
Margo felt the angel’s hands. They were hard and cold, but certainly didn’t feel magical.
“Open sesame seeds or something, isn’t it?”
Margo leaned close, placing her hand on the angel’s chest. But her hand didn’t touch the marble: it sank through. She didn’t even have time to be surprised. She fell forward, into the angel, moving through it as if it was liquid. The world vanished around her and a new one replaced it. She’d fallen into a memory.
Margo knew it was a memory because it was the clearest of all her memories. She’d told it to Dr Schaum so many times, each time details shifting so that she couldn’t be sure if her memory of it was truly the same thing that had happened all those years ago.
She was surrounded by white. The snow was ankle deep, piled high on either side of her. Dead trees poked out of the whiteness, so dead in fact that they were black – as if the snow and trees were conspiring to make the world look like a black and white photograph. Behind her was the road, stretching out into the mist. And ahead of her, the lake.
The surface was frozen. She’d visited this place every year in winter as a child, but the lake was only frozen once. And that was enough.
This was the Worst Day.
And she wasn’t alone.
“Margo,” said Quint.
But he didn’t say anymore. He laced the fingers of one hand through hers. She could barely feel them.
On the far bank of the lake, two children were playing. Their laughter carried across the frozen water. Margo recognized one of their voices as her own.
A younger Margo, pink-cheeked, wrapped in an outfit that showed she was very much still in her rainbow phase (but the grunge phase hovered on the horizon like a dark storm cloud) threw snowballs at a boy a few years younger than her. He was five years old. His sixth birthday would’ve been two weeks away. Margo’s parents had already bought him the gift he’d pestered them about for close to a year: a red model train set. It would sit in their attic for two more years, until a fight between Margo’s parents (“I don’t want to live with sadness everywhere I look anymore!”) would end with it finally being thrown out.
Charlie Comeau may have loved train sets, but his true raison d’etre lay in the ancient art of snowball fighting.
Margo’s brother’s snowballs were pieces of art. He put special care into making sure they were as lethal as possible. He could make them round so they’d explode into a puff of snow, he could make them hard and icy so they’d sting, he could even make them light and soft so they wouldn’t hurt as much when they hit (because Charlie rarely missed.)
Neither did this one. It struck the Margo-from-years-ago square in the chest. In typical Margo fashion, she pretended to be a solder who’d taken a bullet to the heart, spun around once, took a vow of vengeance and fell down, dead as a possum. While her brother laid a leaf on her chest in mock mourning, Margo the Memory threw a snowball at him, taking his hat clean off his head.
Could a memory make you feel cold? Perhaps it was the winter wind, but Margo the Girl’s fingers suddenly felt numb, and she pulled herself closer to Quint. She smiled at the thought that she was trying to keep warm by leaning against a ghost, but then she remembered what was coming.
The two memories scampered beside the frozen water. Only Margo had skates (something Charlie vocally considered “sno’ fair!”). She put them on and stepped shakily on the ice. Graceful, Margo Catherine Comeau was not. Charlie’s face brightened regardless. He watched her skate, running along the side of the lake with her, his breath puffing in the subzero air.
Then he stopped onto the ice.
Charlie was no stranger to it. He’d gone to the local ice rink many times, and even then he displayed a casualness on the ice that put other kids – who were generally either in a state of Falling or About to Fall – to shame. Now, even just in his shoes on the frozen lake, he stayed on his feet (other than one moment where he wobbled and touched the ice for support). His smile widened, to a width and goofy sincerity that only children can muster. The smile said that he was enthralled by his older sister, he was enthralled by the sharp air and white sky, he was enthralled by the distant creaks of the ice.
And then he fell.
The ice beneath him cracked and split. One piece jutted up beside him, and the piece beneath him vanished into the black water. He bobbed under it for a second, his head submerged – a second that felt longer than any second should. He burst up from the water, thrashing, making a noise that Margo had at first thought was laughter. It was the sound of him trying to breathe, but the cold air catching in his throat.
Margo the Memory shouted his name, and began half skating, half running toward him. She was on the far side of the lake, and the distance between them seemed to be the length of the equator, the distance to Timbuktu, the gap between the world and the sun. Impossibly far, and impossible to cross.
Charlie’s thick coat and scarf and shoes pulled him down. His thrashing got quieter, and his head stayed under the water for longer. By the time Margo from the past reached him, he’d been under the water for a long time. She knelt beside the ice, shouting, grabbing at him, hoisting him up. But he was sinking. He’d been drifting to the side, so that there was now solid ice above him. Margo’s fists flew at the ice, bloodying her knuckles. Finally, she broke the ice with one of her skates. By then, Charlie was a dark and peaceful shape, drifting toward the bottom of the lake.
The cracks in the ice widened as Margo fought to reach her brother, so that they looked like black veins, and it had been then – seeing them – that Margo had realized that Charlie was dying.
Margo the Memory carried her unconscious brother off the ice, wrapping him in her clothes and lying across him to keep him warm for ten minutes before the ambulance came.
Margo the Girl and Quint saw the flashing lights in the mist and the sound of the siren, and then the whiteness crumbled. They found themselves back on the grass beside the marble angel. The memory was over.
Margo and Quint didn’t talk the whole walk back to the house. If they had, Margo would have started to cry. She didn’t want to cry, especially not in front of Quint. But she also didn’t want to cry because she felt guilty. If she cried, she didn’t know if she’d be crying for her brother or herself.
But she knew one thing. She had to bring Bale the memory. She could feel it, crackling at the back of her mind like a wire hot with electricity. The Bridge had reawakened it, made it clear again. Bale would not be disappointed.
Margo found Bale in his study. He was examining a glowing thing through a magnifying glass – his semi-transparent hands wavering – and he didn’t look up from it as she entered. Instead, he asked her if she knew how to knock.
“I didn’t think you’d mind,” said Margo, “because I’ve got the memory.”
Bale raised an eyebrow. “You’re still alive? Maybe there’s more to you than I thought.” He laughed and returned his attention to the glowing object. It had begun to creep away from him, but he pulled it back.
“Don’t you want it?” Margo said, confused. She didn’t like how cold he seemed.
“I can’t get it from you,” Bale said casually, “it’s in the Bridge.”
Margo frowned for a moment. “The Bridge took the memory.”
“You really think I understand the Bridge, Margo?”
“But it’s your plan. You must know something.”
Bale sighed. “You worry too much. The memory’s safe there. When I need it, I’ll be able to extract it.”
Margo didn’t like his tone. It suggested that he had extracted memories before – and not always in the most delicate of ways.
“You can go now, Margo,” Bale said.
Margo hesitated in the doorway. She’d expected more. She thought he’d congratulate her, perhaps share some more of his plan with her. He wasn’t even looking at her, so she left. However, as she shut the door behind her, she heard Bale say under his breath, “Fool.”