Join Our Newsletter

Read a sample mystery every week


...or Read FREE Stories on Your Phone
The Big Thaw
About the Author: Michael Compton is a screenwriter and novelist from Memphis, Tennessee. His poetry and short fiction have appeared in African American Review, The Baltimore Review, and The Tulane Review, among others. He teaches English at The University of Memphis.

Old Jock Kilabuk watched the approaching forkful of scrambled eggs and kippers with the cross-eyed concentration of a man hoping not to get stung on the nose by a honeybee. The fork paused, a bee in a headwind, inches from his mouth. His shaking right hand could bring it no closer. The harder he tried, the more his hand shook. He could feel his wife, Mae, pretending not to watch him as she sipped her coffee, holding back the encouraging words that only further aggravated him. The fork began to list, eggs dribbling off the edge of his plate. He lunged forward—the very thing he’d been told a hundred times not to do—and the fork slipped from his grasp, clattering onto the tabletop in a rain of egg and fish bits.

Mae braced herself for the curse words—Jock always cursed in English—but they didn’t come. Instead, there was only a grunt, the kind that comes from a man who is very old and very tired. Reaching across the plate, he picked up the fork with his left hand.

“The therapist said you should only use your right—” She bit the sentence short, wishing she had just kept quiet, even though it was for his own good.

“Maybe when I’m not so hungry.”

His left hand was steadier, but unpracticed. When he shoved his fork into the eggs, they nudged the kippers right off the plate.

Mae drowned a smirk in her coffee cup. Jock pretended not to notice and slapped the confounded utensil onto the table. He picked up his own cup—again, with the left hand—and held it as if making a toast.

“At least I won’t die of thirst.”

The Grise Fiord Inuit Co-op was busy, as it was most mornings, with people stopping in for coffee or a bite to eat, or hunters and fishermen grabbing a few supplies before an excursion. There were even a couple of tourists, though Jock had heard them correct Alicie, the girl at the counter, that they were “actually scientists.”  In this settlement of under a hundred-fifty souls—the northernmost on the continent—the Co-op had always been the main gathering place, especially since St. Peter’s burned. The insurance company was being a problem, and after more than a year, the little blue-and-white barn with the red-topped steeple was still just a boarded-up shell.

In the little clutch of Formica-topped tables, a couple of young men watched the old couple with amusement. Jock’s care with his coffee was of special interest.

“Hey, Pops,” one of them called. “What’s that floating in your coffee?”

“Ice,” Jock replied. “Ever heard of it?”

Mae had taken to adding a bit of cold water or ice to anything hot that Jock drank. Since the stroke, it helped him keep from burning his tongue.

“You put ice in your coffee?” The two young men smirked at one another in anticipation of his reply. Jock was known for his sharp tongue.

“They call it a Frappuccino,” Jock rejoined, as quick as a stage comic. “Ain’t you never been to Starbucks?”

The young men laughed mildly. They were both only three years out of high school, one round and shortish, the other tall and hungry-looking. It was the tall one who did all the talking.

“Seems like you’d want something to warm you up,” he said. “I thought you old guys were all cold-blooded.”

“Not me. I’m hot-blooded.”

Jock winked at Mae, but she only frowned and turned on the young man.

“Tommy Oopik, you need to respect your elders.”

She said this in Inuktitut to drive home the point. He gave an appeasing shrug in return.

“Aw, leave ’em alone, Mae,” Jock said quietly. “They’re just having a little fun.”

“What’s going on?”

It was their son, Alornerk. Jock had dubbed him that for being always underfoot, and Mae regretted now that she had gone along with it. They called him “Al” for short. May noticed that he’d tracked snowmelt all the way in from outside, right up to their table. She started to reply that the young these days have no respect, but she reminded herself that Al was middle aged now. His own son was nearly Tommy Oopik’s age, talking about going to college in Iqaluit.

Jock gestured broadly with his coffee cup. “Just enjoying the ambience.”

Al had little patience for his father’s repartee. “Well, the boat’s ready. Let’s go.”

Mae asked, “Aren’t you eating anything?”

“I’ve got bannock and jerky in the boat. You ready, Pop?”

This story appears in our MAY 2021 Issue
(Visit Amazon for a print version)

Buy MAY 2021 Issue

Buy It Now

Digital Subscription

Price $24.75 Cdn

You will immediately receive the current issue.
Future issues are emailed on the 1st of each month.

Reader Discussion

Add Your Comments

Read stories on your phone