Dad on Ice by Clay Conger

I couldn’t believe a faster way to shovel snow hadn't been invented; surely something electronic, or at least with a motor. We have 3D films, daisy cutters, and Joan Rivers: why hasn't technology advanced household chores? I slid the shovel under a chunk of snow and chucked it back into the yard, watching half of it blow back to me with a sudden breeze.

There are two types of snow that gather in driveways and curbs: the kind comprising heavy boulders that test your vertebrae, and the slick kind that’s been iced over, the latter of which is always fun because you shove all your weight into it to grab more snow, only to hit ice and get chucked forwards. It’s pretty hard to appear to be cool shoveling snow.

I looked over at my Dad, who was now scooping snow just shy of our neighbor’s driveway. There’s an unspoken rule in suburbs not to mess with each other’s property, even if it’s helpful. I continued chucking rocks of snow from the curb, occasionally reeling back in pain. I’ve had lower back pain since my sophomore year, and already I was tempted to use it as an excuse to go back inside. But then I looked at Dad, who was fifty by now, and I kept shoveling. Still, every breeze that came in made my burning ears redder, and every “okay, not just one more thing,” from Dad made me want to launch the shovel into the yard. I began doing speed shifts, meaning working at a fast clip for thirty seconds, then resting. But this only tired me more; I only flipped forward from another sheet of ice, and stabbed at it hysterically with the shovel trying to get it loose. Then I heard a thud.

The sound was heavy but also high pitched, like an instrument being dropped or a glass hitting a wall but not shattering. I quickly turned around. Dad was lying on his back in our neighbor’s driveway, arms akimbo. I ran over to him, almost slipping on the ice that coated the driveway; I looked down at him, though—he didn’t look like Dad. His face was pink from shoveling but grew whiter by the moment; his eyes were pointed up at the sky, bulging white; their irises were tiny in all that white and were beginning to dart about; his top lip arched upwards, exposing a few teeth but only on one side, like Two-Face. His arms were still outstretched and so were his legs.


He said nothing for a several seconds. His eyes were moving faster now. “What happened?” he said finally.

“You fell. Are you ok?”

“I fell?”


“How did I fall?”

“I… don’t know. It’s icy.”

“Okay… and what day is it?’

“It’s Saturday, Dad.”

“And what were we doing before I fell?”

“We were shoveling snow. Are you okay?”

“Okay.” Long pause. “So what day is it?”

“Saturday.” I was frozen there, watching him.

“What we were just doing?”

“We were shoveling. Dad? Are you okay?”

“I don’t know.”

“Come on, you should get up.” With difficulty I helped him up. He began to walk to the house but instead of walking up our driveway he went back to our neighbor’s: back and forth. All the while asking me the same questions. I followed him like an IV.

“…and what day is it?”

“Saturday, Dad.”

He turned around again, rubbing the back of his head. I didn’t think he knew where our house was. Conventional wisdom somehow flooded in and I pulled him toward the house. Once inside I called my sister once.


“Dad fell on the ice. He’s asking the same questions over and over.”

The stairs rattled. Instantly she was there.

“Dad, are you okay?”

“I don’t know. What day is it?”

“Dad… why don’t you sit down for a minute?”

“Okay.” I led him to the couch, where he sat, looking about him curiously. My sister was on the phone and within minutes an ambulance arrived. My brother came downstairs right before they came and we told him what happened.

“Does that mean Dad’s going to be retarded?”

I looked over at Dad, who had tried several times to stand up before, but was now resigned to the couch. His eyes were still milky white and enormous, and his hands lay on his thighs like he was in a waiting room.

The paramedics came in: crew-cut guys in their late twenties. One approached Dad while others struggled with a stretcher. We briefly told him what happened.

“Sir? Do you know where you are now?”

“I’m home.”

“Okay, and do you remember what you were doing?”

“I was… shoveling snow.”

“And do you know what day it is?”

He squinted his face in concentration.

“Um… I don’t…. I’m not sure…”

“Who is the president, sir?”

Dad rubbed his head, massaging the answer into his head. It took a fully thirty seconds before he spoke.


“Okay. That took a long time. Sir, we’re going to take you to the hospital and run some tests. I think you may have suffered a mild concussion from hitting your head on the driveway. We’re going to put you in this stretcher, okay?”


They carefully helped him up, and eased him into the stretcher. I immediately thought of a large vase being wrapped in newspaper and placed in a cardboard box. Five men and a woman pulled heavy black straps over him, tying him tight to the stretcher. My sister was on the phone with Mom and came to me once she hung up.

“I’m going to go with Dad to the hospital. Mom’s going to meet up with us. You should look after things here and then pick us up later.”

“Okay.” I stopped and started think back for the first time. “He was asking a lot of the same things over and over.”

“Yeah. He’ll be okay......I hope.”


The screen door waved the paramedics out with Dad. She left with them. The ambulance slipped out of the driveway and quickly but calmly drove to the top of the street and out of eyesight. I let out a breath, realizing how quiet the house had become. With slow and deliberate steps I made my way over to a small ledge in our dining room and leaned my weight against it. The last room in our house was the sunroom: the walls were wide glass windows that showcased the small backyard. The yard and deck were melted together into one white field of snow. My brother softly called out from another room.

“Is he going to be okay?”

I was back with Dad at the driveway, seeing him splayed against the ice, walking with him as he trudged back and forth like a zombie, following him, wasting time, letting him struggle…

Hot water burst from my eyes. I felt it roll down my face like wax.

“He’ll be fine,” I said.

I kept watching the backyard, thinking how long it must take for it to turn white like that: for that blanket of white to come one snowflake at a time, and then get scooped and tossed aside in seconds by an impatient boy waving a shovel. I watched until my eyes blurred and milked over, and then I couldn’t see anything.