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In January, the Westbrook Ice Disk formed. Scientists debated what created it, a confluence of warm and cool water creating a vortex, the river currents, aliens. Currents spun it like the vinyl at the club where we danced until closing. Depending on the time of day, depending on the cloud cover, they said its opacity varied. We went at sunset, when pink melted into the river and the disk looked ready for blastoff.


She was working, and I was reading. It was the flower-shop-meets-café where we met. The owner had seen an opportunity. She brought chilly café-goers into the greenhouse warmth, and they sipped lavender lattes next to daffodils, succulents, and chrysanthemums. Wooden tables stretched long, workstations for florists or remote workers. The remote workers always won.


And so did the photographers. My book lay flat before me, my latte half drunk. Next to me, two women speaking Russian screeched their saucers over pine planks to stage their shoot. They grabbed potted plants. They eyed my cell phone, which yearned into their frame.


Madeleine came and took the plant they’d employed for their composition. “I’m sorry,” she said. “This one is just no good.” The petals had withered and shook onto the table in a Cha Cha Slide.


The Russian women smiled when she returned with a cactus. “Thank you.”


“This will be nice for the picture.”


I wondered how cold their lattes had gotten. I wondered if they’d drink them before taking their pictures.


They left, and my book needed a break. She snapped stalks and arranged tulips in a vase, fluffing them like pillows, finding ways to give them depth, volume. She didn’t look up when I was at the counter.


“Could I order a bouquet?”


She massaged yellow petals. She stuck her nose into them. “There’s a forty dollar minimum.”


“That’s okay,” I said. “It’s my mom’s birthday.”


“You want delivery?” Her red hair was pulled from her face by a black ribbon. She wore corduroy overalls under her jean jacket. In the front of the café, the barista helped customers and served floral drinks. Madeleine was written in chunky red letters on her nametag.


“That okay?” I asked.


She nodded and handed me a form to fill out.


Only when I asked how many people who came here bought flowers did she show her brown eyes. Brown like the soil they investigated. Brown like the molten lava cake we shared on date two. Brown like mud. Brown like mine.


She inspected my mother’s address. Westbrook, like the ice disk. She commented on my handwriting. Suspiciously nice. She liked the Gerber daisies I’d requested.


“Meet me at six,” she said. “Let’s go for Middle Eastern.”


Once she’s gone, I see her at yoga. She is limber. She stretches into downward facing dog. She has a word tattooed on her shoulder. It’s new.


I see her at the bookstore where we heard the string quartet play. I held her from behind as the windows steamed and water dripped down the panes. I held her in my arms and thought what it is to be here, be in this city, our little city, be drinking beer we’d chosen, be with these people we don’t know and the strings we love to hear vibrate again and again.


I see her at the café. Exposed brick walls. She’s cross-stitching a sign for her mother on the couch by the fireplace as I bring her tea and my coffee. Her feet are on the table. They windshield-wipe from side to side.


I see her walking down Congress.


I see her in the crosswalk.


I see her at the florist counter in her café. Mathilde is working there. Her red-lettered nametag says so.


The Westbrook Ice Disk grew to three hundred feet. It swirled in the Presumpscot River just shy of the shore. It captured the affection of news outlets beyond Maine. Maybe it was how planetary it looked floating there. It turned and looked like our earth if we were but black sea concealed by downy clouds. It was a portal to another world, but if you dared go through it, it would bring you back to this one. This one in this place where this disk now spins the other way.



Madeleine knew she liked me when she saw me. She was quick to make a move once I spoke to her because she knew she had no time to waste.


She would have just as easily let me disappear, leave the shop, leave her orbit for that same reason.


She told me this in bed. Our feet kept each other warm as they slithered up and down our legs. Snow fell outside my bedroom window. The streetlight looked brighter, lightened by the atmosphere, the snow, cold breath, white air.


The sex was good, great, amazing. We both said it felt great. In whispers we asked each other, “How’s this?” “Do you like that?” “Tell me what is good for you.”


“I needed someone for cuffing season,” she said. I was rubbing her shoulders. I was kissing her neck.


“Cuffing season?” I asked.


She laughed, her laugh a relief, a release, a contagion and tickle. “People couple up to get through winter. They drink the sorrow of the break-up on St. Patrick’s Day,” she said, “but they never notice a difference in their heating bill.”


I scooped her hair onto the pillow and breathed in her neck so I couldn’t say I disagreed, that this was more, that she couldn’t say something like that.


When my head touched the pillow the next night, I smelled her lavender, her lilies, her orange perfume. I smelled her already gone and corned beef in the kitchen.



On Wednesday we met for ramen. My hand on the small of her back guided her up the icy steps inside. Her back gave me a trail to follow in through the black curtains that kept the cold out. They sat us at a high top and served us pints of Japanese beer.


Madeleine liked fashion, liked her gardener chic style. Tonight it was her striped turtleneck, navy fisherman’s sweater. She drew her hands into her sleeves and with the cloth protecting her palms from the frosted glass, she drank. She said the scars and cuts up her palms and fingers–flower bites, she called them–made the cold sting. She said her sleeves were functional. She didn’t want me to laugh at her but she asked me not to stop.


We took a taxi back to her place. She lived off the peninsula and kept a space heater in the sun porch. She buried me under afghans and wool blankets and pulled herself under once she’d gotten wine by the bottleneck and two glasses. She poured mine and secured it in my hands like nobody had ever cared to before. She poured her own and I held onto hers too, to see if I could care the same way.


She said the wine coat helped her stay out here, where beyond the sunroom it was black and starry and air danced down to zero. The thermometer had broken and frozen at no number.


She said it helped her tell me about Milan, where she had to go for a month for a fellowship.


“It’s from before you,” she said. “I’m sorry.”


She snuck her hand up my shirt and rubbed my back until I stopped crying. She poured me more wine and we howled at the moon.



Scientists wanted time to understand the disk, document their findings, explore the phenomenon, get it right. A man from New Jersey drove up and went out with tools, a hatchet, buzz saw, seeking to sever it, to set it free. The river ice had no legal protection, and the weather saw it destroyed.




Our howls vibrate in my chest. I asked why Milan. I asked why not New Mexico, New Hampshire, a new start with me. Just stay and we can keep going or go but let me wait for you.


But she was leaving the flower café. She had subletters coming for her place. And this was big for her and we were still having fun and could stay together until the end. We could go on our dates and she could say she wasn’t thinking about Milan and I could say I wasn’t either.


I rode the bus with her to Boston. I realized I was being indulgent when we had only ten minutes together before she went through security. I realized it was worth it when I boarded the bus back and sat in our same seats.


My mom loved the daisies. My mom told me to cheer up.


When my mom asked me to come home, she was concerned, we went for a walk by the river. Photographers had set up. Drones flew overhead. She asked if I’d yet seen the ice disk, and I told her I’d never be quite sure.




Michael Colbert is a Portland, Maine-based writer. He loves horror film (his favorites are Candyman and Rosemary's Baby) and coffee (his favorites are Ethiopian and Costa Rican). His writing has appeared in such magazines as Avidly, Maine the Way, and Eckleburg.





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Surprise me...



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