Secrets of Sawyer’s Icehouse
by Tom Sheehan
Long before the Japanese planes took off from their aircraft carriers hiding on the broad Pacific, most of the world already awake to one kind of a storm or another, Sawyer’s Icehouse on the Cliff Road side of Lily Pond was a haven for returning icemen each winter, for hockey players needing a break from games that often lasted for a whole weekend day, and for midnight lovers getting out of a bitter north wind and breaking the frigid barrier in one manner or another.
As it was, the icehouse was used by skaters and swimmers for romantic interludes, in seasonal appreciation.
Frank Parkinson, who also had a key to the mostly secret clubhouse on Henshit Mountain, kept the icehouse availability in his back pocket. Once he told a confidant (trusting him only as far as he could toss him), “I know where one gent hides the key to his place on the pond. If it ever comes down to a quick move, I have a place to take the lady.”
Frank never spoke of a female acquaintance other than “the lady” no matter who he was talking to. Never was a name mentioned. And he’d never let on it was the icehouse he was talking about, letting his pal think it was one of the two dozen summer camps crimped about the edge of the pond. Little did any of them know that in a matter of a few years after the war out on that same wide and sandy Pacific and parts of the Atlantic, with most of Europe thrown in for kicks, they’d be jacking the camps up with cement blocks or poured foundations, winterizing them, and bringing their war-worn brides to babyhood, which brought one town wag to say, “It’s like Halloween all year over there at Lily Pond, with all that bumping going on in the night.”
He might not have been far off the mark. It was paradise for a time in the late ‘40s. Only the knots or the knotholes knew the difference. Scars as well as sutures made the trip home from the far places of the ignited globe. When Sawyer’s burned down after the war, most of the secrets went with it … except those that survived in special ways.
At Harry Bamford’s Rathole, the only pool, billiard and bowling emporium in Saugus, Frank was a connoisseur of the first table in the establishment, meaning he had first dibs in a tie for game-break. And the local ladies loved him, mostly, as it turned out, in a secret way. Frankie never breathed a word about one of them. Today, in Valhalla, in the armory of the war gods and occasional lovers along the way, he is as quiet as a frog on a lily pad. The big bite on a girl’s reputation, as far as he was concerned, might come from any direction, but never his.
Frank told his late date that night: “This is the place where Dick McDonald got himself about 200 stitches when the big ice saw went wild. Here’s where we push the ice blocks onto the ramp from the pond, then a saw, a huge band saw, cuts them in neat blocks for storage until summer. Well, it went wild and loose, that old saw, getting Dick on his arms, his legs, across a chunk of chest. ‘Just think,’ Dick told me the night he left for the army, ‘I could have lost my pecker in the whole shooting match. Where the hell would that have put me in all of this?’ Isn’t that some kind of situation to find yourself in?”
She crumbled as he entered her. “God, Frankie,” she screamed, an octave even the thick walls did not hold all the way, “I’m glad it didn’t happen happen happening to you you you.” She never knew she climaxed again and again and again in the middle of the Sahara Desert, in the middle, too, of the Panzers and German infantry after sand storms and Egypt’s sun god at his fiercest. Frankie took her on a world tour, right in the ranks with him, and never once said her name, awake or dreaming, the night full of her to an astounding reality, more than one comrade, the observant kind that might be found in some ranks, noticed Frankie’s honeymoon kind of smile on odd mornings.
Her name, it must be told from this end, was Millie, and one night, a whole war later, parked alongside the pond in the dark shadows at the side of Sawyer’s, Millie said to her boyfriend of a year or so, “I heard there are a ton of stories connected with this icehouse.” Nothing secretive would ever pass her lips, no old tale, no fresh memory, nothing.
“Oh, Millie, I’d guess there are. I worked here as a kid. If you whisper in there, it will never come out through those walls filled with sawdust more than a foot thick. Part of the insulation to keep the ice solid through the summer.” His hand, under her skirt, was at the crux of the matter, silken as a spider web, gentle as suds, and she was positive she loved him.
“Like secrets locked home forever?” fell from her open mouth, but her eyes were squeezed shut, keeping an image in its proper place.
She hadn’t seen Frank alone since he’d come home, wrapped into a bunch of scars and memories and silent announcements she never could understand. Her father, in a conciliatory manner, said, “Frank’s not the same kid that went away to save the world, Millie. He barely saved himself, and I don’t know how far that will go for him. They say he went through three kinds of hell out there if there was one. I know guys who said Africa has three kinds of faces she wears.”
With parts of France and Germany still locked in his own mind, he knew a bit of Frank’s journey past himself. He sometimes admitted sharing was the hardest part because it brought guilt and amazement about his own salvation, if he could call it that. At the edge of every image and thought came faces of lost comrades barely recognizable because they only came back in pieces, never whole except for the names. He’d admit later on that the names also went on by, all in their own time.
“He won’t even talk to me, Dad. Never says a word other than ‘Hi’ and on his way.”
“He has too much baggage, Millie. I believe he really thinks the world of you, but doesn’t want to bring too much of the baggage with him and drop it in your lap. Obviously, it’s never going to leave him. Some of the old guys down at the hall say he just walks out when they begin to hash out stories their about the war and where they’ve been, and no telling where and how far when they all get together.”
“I could handle that, Dad,” Millie said.
Her father coughed and started a bit in place before he replied, “Your mother couldn’t, Millie, not that she didn’t try. It was just too much of my baggage. I can say that now, looking back, but I couldn’t then. It was just too much for her.”
Europe, for him, was a horrible little animal with ragged nails that clawed at him for almost thirty years.
Millie, as she had for half a dozen years, tried hard to see her mother’s face, but it was lost in a series of quick images. Frankie’s face was clearest, even from the darkness of Sawyer’s Icehouse the night she and Frankie celebrated love and war; and departure, as it proved. A return to a moment of true passion never found any promise in her mind, though she dwelled for memorable dark hours recreating it.
By then Millie was a nurse working at Massachusetts General Hospital, loving her work, once in a while coming across a patient who had been in Egypt during the war. She found them fascinating, realizing she had a connection at hand, but none of them knew Frank until one afternoon when a strange reunion happened on her floor.
Three young ladies had come to visit one patient. Young, all beautiful to the extreme, dressed like models off the pages of a ladies magazine, they were vibrant, noisy, talkative, bringing the patient whose name was Reggie almost to tears. He laughed so hard that Millie, who had seen his chart earlier, feared stitches would loosen and mess up his surgery. Then she heard one of them say, “Was it Sawyer’s Icehouse, Reggie? We’ve heard some stories about that place.”
“So much history went down in that old icehouse,” Reggie said, “they ought to write a book about it, but the stories would have to come back from elsewhere, not from inside. There must have been a pact somewhere along the line. Nobody I know has ever let a secret out of there.”
That ‘nothing ever said’ was a huge revelation.
Something grasped him even as he spoke, feeling he was in dangerous territory. A ghost or some kind of providence was upon him, possibly a formidable robed judge whose territory included Sawyer’s ice house.
Reggie, it seemed, might have been on the verge of hidden information, but abruptly shut that route off when the nurse entered the room. There was a command in order when he saw her, her face red as if she had been the subject of the immediate conversation. There was also a familiarity about her face, a part of his past, a bit of Saugus. It came home in a hurry.
Reggie said, “I was never in the place, but I heard the usual romantic bits. It was like any place on the pond where you might take a girlfriend.”
Reggie looked at Millie and knew they had shared something. The feeling swept through him. The visiting girls were quiet, alert that they were in the middle of an exchange, though nothing was said.
Secrets always have a way of escape.
At the other end of the icehouse the night Millie and Frankie had parted, Reggie’s sister Francie sat astride Herbie Williams, pounding him into total submission, and when she said, “Good luck in the war, Herbie,” he said, “I’m never going to die out there, Francie, but I might die right here.”
All the connections had been made at the icehouse, one way or another.
Francie had told Reggie and he now told Millie when his visitors left the hospital that day, the sudden compulsion coming over him that he should get closer to her, that they ought to share a part of the past. Millie married Reggie well after his release from the hospital, the ice house connections still moving.
Thereafter, in the scheme of events, Frankie, drinking as ever to escape some of the past, was found at the end of Lily Pond one morning, where he had passed his last night in the open, the war still with him, with nothing else except the freezing cold, which also had taken hold. From where he was found, the icehouse was only a couple of hundred feet away.
When the war was over, Francie married Herbie and they had 52 great years until he fell down the stairs one day after getting several trays of ice cubes from the freezer in the cellar. She had never forgotten the night at the icehouse. Not for a minute. Some girls find it that way.
And some guys.
Reggie and Millie moved away from town, some place out there on the broad Earth. Few people had heard from them until they came to Herbie’s funeral on a terrible winter day. Millie wanted to visit Frankie’s gravesite but the weather was too bad, snow falling, the wind icy and brittle in its attack on the veterans’ section, the pond a white expanding promise, and Sawyer’s icehouse, all the old boards and beams and sawdust and secrets, long gone to ashes, then dust, then to weeds and brush.
Millie had the longest memory of all. And like most of the players, she kept it for her own.
The Municipal Subterranean
by Tom Sheehan
He comes up, goggled,
out of a manhole
in the middle of a street
in my peaceful town,
sun the sole brazier,
like an old Saharan
his tank across the four-
year stretch of sand,
shell holes filling up
quick as death.
I think of Frank Parkinson,
Tanker, Tiger of Tobruk,
now in his grass roots,
the acetylene smile
on his oil-dirty face,
the goggles still high
on his high forehead,
his forever knowing
Egypt’s two dark eyes.
Love is forever with comrades, and loyalty carries the dead ranks.
Bio note: Sheehan served in 31st Infantry Regiment, Korea, 1951. Books are Epic Cures, 2005, and Brief Cases, Short Spans, 2008, Press 53; A Collection of Friends and From the Quickening, 2009, Pocol Press; and three manuscripts tendered. He has18 Pushcart nominations, is in Dzanc Best of the Web 2009, and has 280 stories on Rope and Wire Magazine and work in four issues of Rosebud Magazine. His newest eBooks from Milspeak Publishers are Korean Echoes, 2011 and The Westering, 2012. His work is in/coming in Ocean Magazine, Greensilk Journal, Nervous Breakdown, Stone Hobo, Faith-Hope-Fiction, Canary, Subtle Tea, Red Dirt Review, Nontrue, Danse Macabre, Dew on the Kudzu, and Qarrtsiluni.