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One day a hole fell into a man. The hole, which had known only cold ground, took an immediate liking to the soft warm insides of the man, while the man felt no different whatsoever, complaining of no injury, no pain, which is seldom the case when the opposite happens.
– Old German Folktale
Though none among us ever admitted anything and all charges were ultimately dropped, according to our notes, if contemporaneous notes jotted after an event has transpired are to be believed, we were merely sipping concoctions of various potency in the backroom of a neighborhood ‘watering hole’ a friendly place with high-back padded stools, mood lights, plush horseshoe booths, a windowless place where a person could dull any sense of the loss of days or lack of progress, when it happened again, for the first time since the last time, years had passed because no one knew what to ask when these things kept happening, sudden fire in our bellies, a feverish ache in our throats, a burning sensation caused no doubt by a disproportionate amount of ice, nervously chewed and anxiously swallowed, leading to the rapid numbing of flesh, all our core temperatures dropped, we could barely feel our edges, our shivering felt like madness, no one said a word, we kept drinking, swallowing more ice, fueling the burn, the fire leapt in our throats, we signaled with simple hand gestures, nodding nervously, agreeing to start again, because how else, except by joining forces, taking measure, lifting glasses, rattling ice as though in celebration, ultimately the burning would cease, the stinging backs of our tongues would stop, once the ice in our glasses melted, simple science, a throat can endure a superficial cooling of tissues without cellular destruction, such brief impairments inflict no permanent damage, no reason to fret, worrying is its own disease, between sips the older men hummed lullabies taught to them by their mothers, while the younger men tried to remember what advice their fathers had shared about chewing ice too quickly, each group shook their glasses, toasting mothers and fathers without naming names, in our minds we were still boys, though we felt like old men with bad teeth, we chewed our ice, the chill bit down and back with new burning, while we waited for the numbness to fade some of us jotted notes, proposing new rules, fresh commitments, writing rapidly, crossing out passages depicting banalities (rainbows at twilight, shadowy moons, inky dark skies . . . ) blatantly metaphoric trivialities had no place in honest work, despite moments of highfaluting delight our self-determination returned, then one among us dropped, a white-haired man neither young nor old fell stone dead off his stool like a sack of cement, none of us moved to help, no one checked for a pulse, silence hummed between chomping and rattling of ice, Thank God! someone shouted, raising a glass, realizing how long it had been since anyone had spoken, Who will lead us in solemn prayer, someone asked, nowhere in our notes is it mentioned who spoke what next or how many toasted the newly deceased, like so many I still supposed the ice would melt, putting a halt to these waves of burning chill, a couple of large men crouched and lifted the lifeless body onto the bar where others took turns picking through the dead man’s pockets, the mood quickly got ugly and a quarrel erupted over the dead man’s shoes, a round of fresh drinks were poured with plenty of fresh ice, so each man raised his glass, rattling his glass, reciting his oath, toasting not to the man who had died, fuck him we agreed, that no talent bum, we pledged to defend our allegiance to celebrate our endurance, while swaying, drinking to tomorrow, when science would prove us right concerning the matter of the chill, the ice, the numbing, the burning, one man alone transcribed our notes, documenting this time, shifting voices, changing facts, burying everything.
Bob Thurber is the author of "Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel" and four collections of stories. Over the years his work has received a long list of awards, appeared in 70 anthologies, and been used in schools and colleges throughout the world. He resides in Massachusetts where, despite vision loss, he continues to write every day. Visit his website at BobThurber.net