Ever since the cold Sunday afternoon where her father took her to the ice rink, Emily had always dreamed of the day when she would tie up her skates and cross a frozen Pacific Ocean.
When she was a sophomore in high school, every winter morning, Emily woke up hours before school started and ran to a local pond. She would need to be in excellent physical condition to endure the long journey across the Pacific. The pond was about the size of her Algebra classroom. Emily carved circles into the ice from above as a ring of leafless trees watched from above. The sun hadn’t come out yet but Emily figured that would help prepare her for the long stretches of darkness that she would be sure to encounter.
On mornings where she was up early enough that her brain had yet to realize it no longer should be dreaming, Emily imagined her father. She imagined him right by her side, there to be balanced on, holding her the way he used to when Emily wanted to go back home because her legs were tired and the air was cold. She imagined wearing the snug, purple jacket her father had gifted her, which barely fit over her shoulders, the soothing weight of her father’s golden necklace she’d inherited heavy against her chest.
Skating on the Pacific, they could talk about all the fish that they could see just beneath the frozen surface of the sea. Maybe they would see a whale. Emily’s father used to love going on and on about whales. Every time Emily passed by an aquarium or hopped into her mother’s sedan, she remembered her father. She could hear his voice:
“Emily, Emily. Did you know that a blue whale’s tongue weighs as much as an elephant? Did you know they have hearts the size of cars? Do you get how mighty big that is, Em? Our hearts are this big,” he would say chuckling, waving his fist.
Of course, Emily couldn’t spend every morning skating. Some mornings mom would need extra help getting Charlie out the door with his books in his backpack and his lunch in his hand. Other mornings she had to go grocery shopping or make a run to the laundromat or the pharmacy. And, though she didn’t like to admit it, some mornings the promised warmth of hot chocolate, a good book, and her pink blanket, which had earned the nickname The Giant Tongue from her father, kept her off the ice.
But Emily promised herself that she would never go more than three days without skating. It was a trick her father taught her.
“It’s okay to take a day or two off, Em,” he would say. “But never let me catch you going more than three days without practicing, even if it’s only for five minutes.”
And though Emily had given up piano many years earlier, she still heard her father’s words on lazy winter mornings or when she caught a cold. She always made it out to the ice, purple jacket slung over her back, necklace pressed firmly into her chest as if pulled by her own gravity. And when it was too warm and the ice melted away, Emily put on her socks and slid around her room.
By the time she was sixteen, Emily had begun to pack for her journey. Stacks of canned tuna and packets of almonds sprawled across her bedroom floor. A pair of flashlights, a dozen batteries, and a pocket knife sat on top of maps that Emily had used to chart her way through the Pacific. She left on a warm Tuesday.
The day she died, Emily’s desk was covered with all sorts of maps, most of them drawnover and annotated with thoughts or quick reminders. They dripped sporadic, ripped edges and all. On the Northwest corner of a map charting the migration pattern of Gray Whales in the Pacific, in skipping black ink, Emily had written down another one of her father’s favorite sayings: “A fish stuck in a rip current can go its whole life working very hard to stay very still.”
Occasionally, on cold Sunday mornings, a bright gold necklace can be seen swimming alongside whales.
MAX PAIK is an incoming senior at Half Moon Bay High School. Though he has many interests, sunsets and avocados top his list of favorite things. When he’s older, he hopes to get the chance to travel the world. He also likes math, though he tries to keep that relatively private.