The year my father died, I went alone to Astrakhan. I was writing my first novel, and needed to see the Caspian.

The river was frozen thick. I walked out onto it. I watched the fishermen, bent over holes, to get the sense of what to look for in good ice; and having looked, I started south, alone, towards the inland sea.

I didn’t go out there to die. After Astrakhan, there were birchwoods and factories. There were no more fishermen. I walked the river south for hours, in a silver light, and in that time I saw no one.

It was slow going. I felt with my feet, as best I could, where the ways ahead were strong, but without really knowing how to test the temper of the ice. I didn’t know its qualities,

and once there was a groaning that spread out wide ahead of me, giant under the silver trees, its echoes following for miles.

This all happened years ago. I don’t remember now how far I walked. What I know is that I never reached the sea, and that I didn’t go to die,

only to find out if I would, and heard my warning underfoot: that ice groaned like a thing dying.

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