Afterwards, you look back across the frozen lake and see the tracks left behind. The careful circle you walked for months, circling, circling, cutting a trail through the snow that grows hard-edged and easy to follow; a kind of moat to protect the smooth white expanse of untouched snow. After awhile, you didn’t even have to think to walk that path, which is a good thing. When you are this tired the most you can do is put one foot in front of the other.
But when it finally happens, when he dies that night, when the strength of your childhood disintegrates in your hands, even though you saw it coming, even though you knew it would be this way, when it finally happens you feel yourself falling, falling. When it finally happens you cannot stop yourself. You break from the trail and run to him out there in the middle, throwing yourself to the snow, again and again, damaging the smooth surface, silent, unable to say a single word that means anything.
You leave his body that night and go to a cheap hotel down the street. You cannot go back with the others to cups of tea and boxes of tissues; you cannot chat or soothe or comfort. You know that you cannot, that night, hear anyone speak his name without your whole body shattering like an icicle dropped on the cement.
When you have driven away, not more than four blocks, you realize you’ve forgotten already, the shape of his fingernails. Already.
So you wheel the truck around and drive back fast, running to the door, ringing the midnight bell, explaining that you forgot something. And this is true. You slip down the night time hall to the empty room to study his hands one last time. It will be weeks before you can get up from this iced lake and walk again.
You are failing as a step-daughter. You are unable to comfort, to reach out, to hold up, to help heal, to embrace. Instead you sit in a cabin on a frozen lake for four days, 40 kilometers from town, with no one but the fire for company, watching the snow fall, studying the photos you’ve managed to find, seeing your father through these photos as if for first time. This, you think, is exactly as you need it to be. This is how you will get up off the ice.
And afterwards, when it’s all over, you look at the mess that’s been made, the tracks now frozen solid, the stomping of footprints from all the people who loved him. The snow records everything. All you can do really is wait for the thaw.