Black Ice A Novel by Bill Hubiak

Marcie never looked in the mirror anymore. Even the slightest glimpse of her own reflection filled her with self-loathing and resurrected horrendous images she wished to forget. Now here she was, all four-foot-ten of her, in broad daylight mirrored in a store window on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder. Her heart knotted in her chest. Was this troll in the window the wretched creature she had become? Her horrifying appearance pulled at her like a magnet; her mind processing her likeness in staccato impressions like an old black and white newsreel skipping every other frame of film. Transfixed, she shuffled toward the freakish reflection. Each step seemed to take an eternity; plenty of time for the form that so captivated her to crystallize into shocking reality. With her nose pressed against the windowpane, she brushed the hair back from her face. Her front teeth clicked together in nervous spasms, sounding like an obsolete typewriter, as she traced what remained of the fading thin white scar that split her forehead and ran across her left cheek. Most of the physical damage was hidden beneath her hair. She twirled the thick auburn tendrils around her fingers. It was all broken ends, snarls, and knots. She hadn’t washed it in . . . how long had it been? Six. . . maybe nine months? Hadn’t bathed in nearly as long. Flashing lights exploded along the perimeter of her consciousness, adding confusion to her already scrambled thoughts. Is this really me? Her eyes, sunken in puffy

pools of blackened flesh were little more than slits—lusterless, the green bordering on yellow, raw and burning as if grains of sand ground the orbs in their sockets. Her reflection stared back unsympathetically as she gaped, disbelieving, her diminished sense of being alive lessening with each passing second. Deprived of sleep, she felt a million years old. Her head pounded from fatigue and the soul-shredding despair that assaulted her. Her hip throbbed with pain whenever she lay down and the annoyance of nasal drip and headaches added to her nighttime woes. There seemed no relief. The doctors had told her the damage would have been much worse had she not been of such diminutive stature. For the most part, her physical wounds had mended. Still, she tossed and turned at night, reconstructing all of life’s most painful memories, amending her responses to change the outcomes of her pointless existence. “Look at me,” she murmured through cracked lips, pawing at her rough and blotchy chin. A few of the rashes on her face had crusted over, hard and ocher, where she absently picked. Her head involuntarily twitched sideward. “I can’t weigh but eighty pounds!” Yet, she ate. Yesterday, she thought. Yes, yesterday, she nodded. “Taco Bell,” she said aloud. It wasn’t as if she couldn’t afford food. The settlement she’d received from the accident more than accommodated all her living expenses. She still had the house, and if she so chose, she could indulge her every material whim. However, there was nothing she wanted any longer, except to escape the pain she carried. There was nothing worth living for, not since her hopes and dreams had been shattered with terrifying abruptness. Not since she killed her baby.

If she could, she would cry, but tears had dried up long ago. She had padlocked her heart against the paralyzing grief and creeping panic that once permeated every inch of her being. Now, she felt utterly numbed and empty. Now, there were only the voices-bitter, hateful, never ceasing. Not just her own, but a choir of voices that wouldn’t leave her alone. Her father’s voice. David’s voice. Her hands balled into fists. Grinding her teeth, Marcie turned away from her reflection. “This isn’t living! I can’t go on this way,” she screamed aloud at the mutterings in her brain. She wanted to crawl in a hole and die. “I’m lost. Please end this miserable life,” she pleaded to nobody or nothing in particular. A few heads turned in her direction, a couple of teenage boys laughed unsympathetically but her screams went otherwise unacknowledged, as always. She had disconnected from the rest of humanity, become a voyeur, not a participant in life; one of the walking dead. Even now, surrounded by hundreds of people, laughing and happy, enjoying the sunny weather and street entertainers on the Mall, she felt invisible. Everybody seemed to stare yet nobody reciprocated eye contact; not that she attempted to connect anymore. Life was simpler without seeing the pity and disgust reflected on the faces of strangers. As much as she hated venturing out in public, she loathed staying home even more. Colorfully adorned children scampered passed her, hunting Easter Eggs, shrieking with glee at each new addition to their baskets. “Why do I torture myself this way? Why be here now?” she wondered aloud to herself as repressed feelings and fears clawed to the surface of her consciousness from

deep within her psyche. Her left hand frantically searched her pocket, found the remnant of cloth that resided there, and began to knead it with her fingers. Blankie. A young couple helped their toddler spot a pink and yellow plastic egg at the base of a bronze stature of a woman on a swing. They looked right through her. The world raced by at hyper-speed as if she existed in another dimension, unable to catch up or to slow it down. Here surroundings were blurred, voices muted as if her ears were stuffed with cotton balls. “There must be something terrible wrong with you, Marcella Roselli,” she chastened herself. She had spent most of her thirty-four years starved of affection; yet fearful she would not know how to surrender herself to true love should ever it appear. Painfully shy, she had lived her life like a frightened mouse. Relationships came hard, and mostly not at all. The rare glimpses of romance she caught faded quickly, seldom permitted a chance to bloom. When she had met David she had mistaken a lustful, attentive courtship for love and her extreme loneliness allowed her to surrender herself to it. They married quickly, after which he had turned cold and distant. Like her father, David proved to be an arrogant and self-centered bastard. He abandoned her less than a year later for one of his graduate assistants. Not, however, before he had planted within her the greatest of all imaginable gifts . . . Jewel. At long last, if only for a brief time, she connected, had someone to hold on to, a love that made living bearable. She channeled to her daughter every minute particle of affection she had stored up over three decades of emotional isolation. She lifted Blankie to her nostrils. The clean fragrance of Jewel’s hair, baby

shampoo--soft, fluffy, and healthy--played across her memory. Fresh smells of oiled and powdered baby skin stuck to her senses. The memories were tangible. Her infant’s gentle breathing like a kitten’s rhythmic purring as Marcie lay on the floor listening to old Cat Steven’s CDs with Jewel asleep, nestled in her arms. Her own heart drummed against her child’s, calming, peaceful, knowing with all certainty that Jewel felt safe in her arms and that she at long last was needed. No time, before or since, did Marcie’s heart beat with more purpose or ease. Such bittersweet memories accentuated the emptiness of the barren, emotion-numbing existence she now suffered. The flower boxes that lined the outdoor mall in Boulder, Colorado, already blossomed with a tapestry of red and yellow tulips—and here it was only . . . March . . . maybe April. Jewel had loved flowers, all kinds, but especially the tulips. On long-past, sunny afternoon strolls along Pearl Street, Jewel would stop and sit next to the flowerbeds. Just sat, she never touched. She was such a beautiful child, so unlike her mother even though many had remarked, no doubt out of some misguided social consciousness to avoid insulting her, that they were clones. Jesus! There she was, again; her precious Jewel, sitting on the brick ledge that enveloped the flowerbeds. A lump rose in Marcie’s throat. She felt dizzy. Her hands shook. Jaws clenched, she reached out to touch her baby but her fantasy burst and she grasped only air. Every place they had visited together seemed to cling to particles of her child’s essence. Identically wardrobed twin girls with jet-black hair, pretty faces and button noses, skipped across the brick sidewalk toward her, holding hands and singing. They looked about five years old, the same age her baby had been when she . . . passed . . . died . . .

was killed. “Say it, you miserable bitch. Say you murdered your own daughter,” Marcie’s inner voice raged. She quickened her step, but couldn’t outdistance the censoring. Suddenly, a wave of laughter thundered into her ears with such force that her knees buckled and she felt disoriented, as if a shock wave from an earthquake had rolled under her. Jarred from her trance, she turned, more as a reflex than out of interest. A crowd had gathered outside Peppercorn. At its epicenter a hyperactive man pranced about the interior diameter of the throng, flicking his arms and long bony fingers in front of him in exaggerated, almost cartoonish gestures. The Zip Code Man. During her previous existence, when her reality was more in sync with the universe of other people, she had stopped to be entertained and astounded by his total recall of all zip codes in the world. “The zip code for Franklin, Pennsylvania would be 1-6-2-1-4!” the street entertainer bellowed, his body animated, his face emanating a comical air. “I thought that everyone moved out after Joy Manufacturing closed its doors.” To that, the mouth on a pot-bellied man in a Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap dropped open. Usually, when she heard other people speak, their voices had a sandpaper quality that sounded like they spoke to her from an old 1930s record or from far in the distance. These tones were crystal clear, however, in real time. She tucked the tangled strands of hair that fell across her face behind her ears and listened. The Zip Code Man said, “You must be one of the lucky ones who works for ConAire.”

A broad smile erupted on the porcine face of the Pennsylvanian. “Yep. Sure do.” He shook his head in amazement. The crowd exploded in applause. “Cranford, New Jersey,” a woman’s voice yelled out. Marcie’s senses sprang into attention. That was her hometown. Even in a universe of infinite possibilities, it seemed improbable to her that someone from Cranford would be on the mall at this moment. She craned her neck toward the gathering but couldn’t tell who had spoken the words. The Zip Code Man was headed towards her. “Do you live nearer the Clark or Springfield borders?” the Zip Code Man asked. The crowd giggled. “Springfield,” a woman answered. Long blonde hair swayed across the shoulders of a woman near the front of the crowd. With painful deliberation Marcie moved toward the woman’s voice. Her heart thudded. “Somewhere near Dreyer’s Farm and Union College, I bet,” the Zip Code Man said. The woman shrieked with delight. “Oh my God! Yes. I don’t believe it!” Her strong Jersey accent resounded with so much bewilderment and joy, one would have thought she had been informed that she won the lottery or just experienced the greatest orgasm of her life. The crowd’s amusement echoed through the air. The translucent bubble that often enveloped Marcie, keeping her detached from the parallel universe of other people, suddenly vibrated. It quivered and trembled, intermittently bringing her surroundings into sharper focus, making her old world appear

more palpable than it had in ages. In spite of the sunshine, she was shivering. Her mouth went dry and sour as she entered the sea of bodies. She pushed on the shoulders of those who separated her from the woman from Cranford. Electrical currents shot helter-skelter through her body, immobilizing her. Human contact . . . an ancient memory, a painful apparition. The Zip Code Man said, “It really doesn’t matter which side of town you live on. All of Cranford has a 0-8-7-1-6 zip.” “That’s right! That’s right,” the lady screamed. The crowd applauded. The street performer made a final pitch to his street patrons to demonstrate their appreciation with hard cash before she had vanquished the doubt that crept over her and was in motion again. She followed the crowd’s momentum toward the large felt top hat that was nearly filled to the brim with greenbacks, searching frantically among the sea of heads. Where was the blonde? “Black ice,” someone whispered in her ear. Blood congealed in her veins. Gravity’s force amplified and she felt twice as heavy as she had the previous moment. The Zip Code man appeared at her side. Terrified, she took a step backward, nearly stumbling, her heart knocking fiercely against her chest. The street performer steadied her with his arm. He was little taller than she was. The corners of his lips were turned up in an unpretentious smile. “Jewel needs you, but be aware of black ice.” Although fear pinched off her voice, Marcie heard herself say, “Jewel is dead.”

Her throat felt strained by her feeble attempt to communicate. “Your cousin,” the street performer said. “Your cousin, Julia, needs you. Just be careful of black ice, Dr. Roselli.” Gooseflesh crawled up the nape of her neck. ***** Black Ice. Invisible. Deadly. She had lost everything that mattered in the world to black ice. Black ice had caught her unawares and sent her reeling out of control. She squeezed her eyes shut, hoping to wring the vivid memories of February 6, 2008, from the picture screen of her mind. “Go away!” she screamed, but the movie reels continued turning, the images indelible. She had been traveling west on the tire-worn surfaces of Route 36, where the abundant daily traffic between Denver and Boulder at the base of the Rocky Mountains had imprinted ebony grooves into the thoroughfare. Sinister black clouds slithered over the Front Range ahead of her. A storm was inevitable, and from the looks of it, an ugly one. With each passing second, the skies grew darker. “Look, Mommy. Cows!” Jewel exclaimed, pointing to the bovine in the Louisville pasture herding toward shelter to escape the approaching tempest. Lately, Jewel refused to sit in the children’s safety seat. “I’m too old for a baby seat. Please, Mommy. I’m almost five,” she pleaded until Marcie had given in. She’d be fine in a seat belt Marcie reconciled. Passing beneath the shadowy overpass at McCaslin Boulevard, Marcie glimpsed

the only remnants of Tuesday’s snowfall, which had come and vanished the next day as was usual for the foothills of Colorado Rockies. She scanned the white numerals on her speedometer. Fifty-five, a safe speed, and one that would allow her to go unnoticed by Boulder’s overly enthusiastic, well-mannered traffic Gestapo. Her eyes left the road for a mere second; a nanosecond--just long enough to miss the sheet of ice, blackened by the macadam beneath it, which lay like a highwayman in wait for an unsuspecting traveler. As the wheels of her Dodge Caravan lost traction and the rear of the vehicle snaked forward, the turbulent clouds swallowed up the landscape, turning it from gray to black. Black skies. Black ice. Blood pounding in her veins, Marcie turned into the skid. The movie reels in her mind played at rapid eight-millimeter speed in unsynchronized action. The rear of the vehicle whipped behind her, then sidewinded on her left. She turned the wheel in the opposite direction, but in spite of her determination the van was totally out of her control. “Mommy!” Jewel screamed, her voice seeming far away. The car spun three-hundred-and-sixty degrees. From the vortex of her wildly whirling universe, Marcie heard the ratty-tat warning of the car traversing the rippled roadway berm. A large roadway sign, anchored by telephone-pole pillars, appeared briefly in her line of sight welcoming University of Colorado Buffalo fans to Boulder. She gripped the steering wheel fiercely. In the panic-filled moment of wondering whether or not the Caravan would hit the sign, the vehicle left pavement and lurched into a somersault. A crashing blow jarred across the top of her head, sending shock waves of pain thundering down her spine. We’re dead, she thought.

Jewel’s screams orchestrated the phantasmagoria of things seen and imagined. Then, somewhere between the pangs of fear, crunching of metal, jolts of pain, and vertigo, her baby’s panicky shrieks stopped. ***** The ensuing stillness was without measure. Psssht. Psssht. Psssht. Marcie’s first cognitive connection was of thunderous splattering of antifreeze on the engine block. The overbearing smell was nauseating. She blinked perplexed at unfocused gray surroundings. Her eyes seemed to have sunken into deep wells within her skull that obscured everything but pinholes of muted light straight ahead of her. Kettledrums pounded in her head. A warm, coppery taste flooded across her tongue. Her futile attempts to swallow the annoyance elicited intense pain and a gurgling sound that was amplified by the arrhythmic heaving of her chest. Her thoughts muddled, she peered up at the cold, dark space that arched above her. White specks of light flashed in front of her eyes, settling on her face in ephemeral dabs of iciness. It was snowing she realized. The snowflakes played against a warm stickiness that enveloped her. When the outline of a crumpled metal car door materialized above her, memories, like unwelcome interlopers, leaped into her brain.

She whispered her daughter’s name in her mind. As she voiced her cloudy thoughts, the gritty crunching of broken teeth and slurred, blood-soaked mumblings rattled in her ears. “Jewel! Dear God, Jewel!” Her senses awakened, the numbness afforded by stupor now dissipated, leaving her body racked with pain. The seatbelt that pinned her to her seat felt like it was cutting her in half. Convulsing in agony, she managed to focus her eyes downward toward the passenger’s side of the Caravan, which rested like a felled bull-elephant on the ground. Blood poured profusely from her head, down her face, across the bridge of her nose, and splattered on whatever lay below. “Jewel. Jewel, honey,” she weakly called in garbled words almost indiscernible to her own ears. Reality faded in and out with pulses of suffering. Then, there were voices and beams of light jetting in front of her eyes. “Is everybody all right in there?” Marcie heard a man’s voice scream as her eyes struggled to adjust to the light. Behind the first voice, a woman said, “Do you see anyone, Dick?” “Jesus H. Christ! Don’t look, Mary,” the man said, but not before in her last moments of consciousness Marcie spied the torn and bloodied remains of the child who had been her salvation. She strained her reach, felt the touch of fabric, and with her last ounce of strength clamped it in her grasp. The world evaporated into a sensory vacuum.

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