The man of letters looks out over Lake Michigan, steam fog rising into the subzero air. We are stopped at a light waiting to turn left. I roll down the window and snap a series of pictures with my phone. I want the perfect photo of the man of letters but first a passing car and then a small sign get in the way. Later I look at the photos and find one that will do. I crop it.
All last week and this week, we pick up our granddaughter at her father’s house and take her to school. In the afternoon, we pick her up from school and bring her to our house and then she is fetched back home. It’s put me back into a routine I’d long forgotten, the having the be someplace every day at a certain time or risk the horrible realization that I’d left a child somewhere. I did that once, took a child to summer day camp and forgot her. She stood in the school doorway for a long hour, maybe more. It left a mark on me. I don’t know about her. I should ask.
When we drop our granddaughter off, she gets out of our truck and plops into a snowbank. I see the snow going in her boots and remark to my husband that he should have let her out where the sidewalk is shoveled to the street. The snow is crusty and up to her knees and I worry that she will have wet socks all day. But it is out of my hands.
She wades through the snow and then runs toward the school door. We’re four minutes late because of the terrible roads and she wants to get in the door before the time when she’d need a parent with her. She runs with her backpack bouncing, her black flute case in one hand, her hands bare despite my having bought her mittens just last week. Where are they now?
Our truck spun out when we came up the freeway entrance to go pick her up. It unnerved me, thinking that our big truck didn’t make us safe in bad weather. Black ice is everywhere, I conclude, and I examine every stretch of freeway for disaster. On the way from her father’s house to her school, we take city streets. Still, there are spin-outs everywhere, cars smashed, people standing off to the side, waiting for police. Two big bridges are closed so we motor slowly east on a city street until we hit Lake Drive and go north to where the man of letters sits.
Later, I see on the news that a man was killed when he lost control of his car on the icy road and it flipped over the guard wall of a bridge over the Port of Milwaukee. His car landed upside down on the ground below and he died. At first, I thought his car catapulted into the water. I don’t know what is worse – the land or the water – but I’m sick for his family. He was just going to work on a winter day. Like us, only we were going to school.
I don’t know what to make of this or anything. Tonight, while my granddaughter finds rivers and swamps and cities on a map using longitude and latitude, my husband remarks about the day’s current events. I shake my head. My granddaughter, 10 years old, flips from the side of her homework with the map questions to the side with the map. “The kids at school are still upset about it.” It was matter of fact, like this is life now, this is what it will be like. There is black ice.
The ‘man of letters’ sculpture is titled Spillover II and was created by Jaume Plensa. It is located in Shorewood, Wisconsin.