You can’t grow up spending winters in New England without learning something about ice, even if you didn’t know you were learning it. When I was just a child, I learned to pile it and shape it into snow forts, and break it off tree limbs to use as a makeshift spear, or drink the cold droplets from the tip when I was thirsty and too busy to come inside. As an adolescent, I learned how to pack a hard, ragged piece of it into a snowball, so it would leave a mark on my older brother’s face when I ambushed him from behind the tool shed. I learned how to drive on it – the best way is to not drive on it at all–and once I entered culinary school I learned how to carve it, chopping a huge block of it into shape with a chainsaw, then trimming and chipping it with knives, picks and files until it almost came alive.
I can’t tell you exactly where or how I learned how to bring ice sculptures to life. It just happened one day. It was a skill that came in very handy at my older brother’s wedding.
John was three years older than me, and he had all the advantages, and besides the obvious of getting new clothes while I got hand-me-downs, John got a full ride at Brown, compliments of Dad’s business, while I had to work my way through culinary school after the business went bankrupt. And they weren’t easy jobs, either. I bussed tables, washed dishes and served as a line cook, usually working late into the night and then waking up for early classes the next day. By the time I started college, John was already a Vice President at the local bank – the president had been Dad’s friend and owed the family a favor. Apparently, Dad didn’t know anyone in the restaurant business, because I got nothing and liked it. The story of my life.
John also had a way of stealing my girlfriends, not just in college, but for as long as I can remember.
It began with Bonnie in sixth grade, and continued up until he took Lucy right out from under me. Then the son of a bitch had the nerve to ask me to carve an ice sculpture for their wedding.
“Sure,” I said, trying hard not to choke on my hatred. “What would you like?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. Be creative.”
I’d gotten used to him taking my girlfriends – he was older, and had a better job, good looks and charisma. I’d never considered myself attractive
or interesting, and even at the ripe old age of 30, I was still shy and withdrawn. Food had always been my passion, which led to a weight problem, of course, but once I found my talent with the ice, I’d managed to keep my weight under control – more or less. An ice sculpture of a fruit bowl might look very pretty, but it has neither taste nor calories. But this time it was different. I thought Lucy and I really had something going, and I’d hoped that I might be the one to put that ring on her finger. And if John hadn’t come in and sto- len the show at last year’s Halloween party, that’s probably the way it would have gone.
“The wedding’s on Halloween, right?”
“That’s right, Jeff. It’s the one year anniversary of when we met. It was at your party last year. Remember?”
I remembered all right. I nodded politely. He claimed not to have realized how serious it was between Lucy and I, and apparently, Lucy didn’t seem to realize it either, at least not when she met John.
“It’s a Friday night?”
“That’s right. At the Biltmore. The hotel is taking care of everything else. But I thought you could make us one of those cool ice things you do.”
“They’re called ice sculptures,” I reminded him for the hundredth time.
“Yeah. One of those. An ice sculpture. Something special.”
I didn’t say anything for a minute. The wheels were already turning in my mind.
“Oh, it’ll be special, all right,” I said, trying very hard to keep the sarcasm out of my voice. “It’ll be an ice sculpture to remember.”
“That’s my bro,” he said, and slapped me on the back, way too hard, as usual.
“I’ll do something Halloween related,” I said, as he walked away, barely listening.
“Whatever,” he said, with a shrug.
In order for this to be perfect, it would have to be meticulously planned. This wasn’t something I’d trust to my staff. So I delegated all of my other projects to my three employees, promising them extra pay, and I got onto the drawings right away. I made a few sketches, threw them away and then made a few more. My Dad was still ticked off that I hadn’t gone to art school – even he had to admit that I had the talent – but I know what artists make in the open market. Believe me, ice sells much better than watercolors, especially in Providence where people with MFAs are waiting tables at IHOP and waiting for their big break. I, for one, wasn’t about to be standing in that line.
It took me most of the day, but by the time Brian Williams was updating the world on the situation in the Middle East, I had it done. It looked great on paper and I knew exactly how I was going to turn it from a pencil sketch into a three-dimensional “ice thing.” This one would be my masterpiece. It would even make Dad proud, I thought with a smile.
Since it was a Halloween wedding, I’d thought it would be the perfect opportunity to do something... well, horrible. I’d grown up reading all the good scary stuff – Poe, Lovecraft, Bloch, Steven King, Clive Barker, and I’d watched all the horror flicks. So my first ideas had gone in that direction, maybe a Cthulhu thing, or the Pinhead from Hellraiser, or maybe a good old-fashioned vampire. I’d considered a clown, even, or a rabid dog – King has a knack of making the mundane scary as hell.
But after spending most of the day dreaming up monstrosities, I’d finally gotten my head together and settled down. This was, after all, a wedding, even if it was being held on Halloween night. And it was my brother. I might resent the hell out of him, might hate him even, but how would it look if I wheeled in an ice sculpture of a Shoggoth or a Yeti on their wedding reception? My brother would probably laugh it off. Lucy would probably know what I was up to, but I could care less about that now. I knew my family would be so disappointed in me, though, if I tried a stunt like that, spoiling such a happy occasion with an ice zombie or a frozen werewolf. No, as tempting as it was to flirt with the terrible, I knew it was a bad idea. This time, I’d have to stick with tradition.
During the next week I ordered the block of ice, trimmed it with the chain saw, and had carved out a rough form, which I stored in the freezer and would finish up right before the reception. The design was quite intricate and I didn’t trust it to be transported, so I asked the hotel for permission to use their cooler to finalize the work. That way I could just ride it up the elevator to the ballroom, and it would be ready for John and Lucy and their guests.
The ceremony was held in the afternoon and was relatively small, since so many of the guests had to work. John gave most of his employees the day off, of course, but the scheduling was just one more example of his lack of consideration for others. I did have a couple hours after the ceremony and the pictures, and, believe me, I needed every minute to finish the sculpture in time. I did allow my ego to take over one tiny bit, though. Instead of having the sculpture already in the ballroom for the reception, I decided to wheel the thing in after the bride and groom arrived, with much fanfare. I slipped the wedding planner an extra hundred bucks to announce its arrival when I was ready.
I have to say, it was the second best moment of my life, wheeling that thing in on a decorated cart as the wedding planner gushed about the special ice sculpture that beloved brother Jeff had prepared as a special wedding gift to the bride and groom. The guests stood and applauded as I pushed it past them. Some “ooo’d” and “ahh’d” and even Dad nodded his approval. John and Lucy had no choice but to stand up and acknowledge the gift. While John made the standard “thank you to my wonderful, talented brother who makes ice things” speech, I did detect just the trace of a tear in Lucy’s eyes. Maybe she felt bad about dumping me after all.
Then, with a final round of applause, the reception continued, the food was served and the dancing began.
So, you’re wondering, what exactly was the ice thing, now aren’t you? No, it wasn’t a monster or a ghoul, or a demon. I told you, I was going to do something classical. And I did.
The ice sculpture surely was my masterpiece. I have some photos of it, if you’d like to see, but I keep them in the safe in my office because it really was special and I wouldn’t want any of my employees to try to duplicate that work of art. No, it wasn’t Frankenstein,
or The Mummy, or The Creature from the Black Lagoon, either, though I had considered him as a possibility.
My ice sculpture was a six foot tall cupid, the icon of love, with his bow cocked and pointing right at the lovely couple. So later, after nearly everyone was drunk or stoned or drunk and stoned, when Cupid came to life and put that arrow through my bastard brother’s heart, no one saw it coming. He just went down, clutching his chest, and cupid just smiled and winked at me before he turned back into a thing of melting ice, only this time, with his bow released and his arrow gone.
Lucy was the only one who saw it happen, but she’d been drinking and snorting a little coke, and who’s going to believe that an ice sculpture came alive and shot an arrow through her husband’s heart? That would just be crazy. And while the autopsy showed extensive damage to the heart, such as an arrow might have made, there was no arrow, and everyone knows that ice just doesn’t make a very good weapon anyway – on some TV show they proved that it just breaks on impact. Besides, the toxicology report didn’t look good for go-getter John, who had a coke habit to match his ego and ambition, and so that was the end of that.
It’s like I said, I don’t know exactly when or how I learned how to bring my ice things to life. But if you want one for yourself, it’s going to cost you two things. First, it has to remain a secret – and one's that’s easy, because what kind of lunatic would people think you are if you told them an ice carving could come to life? And second, I’m going to need a really, really big tip.