by Amber Foster
I remember the icicle.
It was a thin, elongated cone, with undulating ridges down the side
reminiscent of Saharan dunes. The thick end was a brownish-gray, with
specks of dirt where it had once made its home along the edge of our
Snowstorms were a rare and freakish thing in the heart of the Texan
desert. We lived in Del Rio, a small town dwarfed by the vast
nothingness on all sides. Our house was tiny, a two-bedroom with
peeling brown paint and a front lawn whose weeds had long ago won the
war against actual grass. Its one advantage was that it was only a few
miles from the Air Force base where my father was stationed.
I was used to the hot, summer rain that fell, warm as bath water, from
the desert sky. During these times, Mom would let us put on our
bathing suits and run around in the backyard. Sometimes, we were naked.
There are still pictures of us like that, running with our arms
upraised to the sky like members of a primitive, rain-worshiping tribe.
My mother takes them out from time to time to embarrass us at family
Snow was unthinkable in that hot, flat landscape, yet one winter
morning, there it was, a thin layer no more than a few inches deep. I
wanted nothing more than to go out and play, but I had come down with a
cold a few days earlier, and had been forbidden to go out. I gazed with
a child’s excruciated longing at the icicles that hung like stalactites
from the edge of the roof, but my cries for mercy fell on deaf maternal
ears. In that moment, I knew hatred for the first time. But not of my
Of my sister.
I watched helplessly as my father led her outside by one puffy,
purple-gloved hand. Dad was rarely home for long, and his time was
more precious to me than any of the trinkets he brought back from the
Philippines, Japan, or Guam. I imagined him holding my hand like that,
then us throwing snowballs at each other and laughing. Instead, he was
building a snowman with my sister, scouring the ground for something to
use as eyes.
Use hers, I thought.
On the roof, the icicles went drip, drip, drip, a painful reminder of
the moisture emanating from my own nose. They were already melting—by
the next day they’d be gone. I pressed my hands to the window, my
fingers leaving streaks of snot and tears. Annoyed with my hysterics,
my mother sent me to my room, where I threw myself onto the bed, put my
head under the blanket, and sobbed.
Some time later, my father shook me gently awake. He was holding
something in his gloved hand.
“I brought this for you,” he said, putting the freezing icicle into my
“Daddy,” I said, passing it from hand to hand like a hot potato, “It’s
He smiled. “We can put it in the freezer for you, and you can lick it
later, like an ice cream.”
“John,” my mother said from the doorway. “She can’t eat that.”
Dad didn’t reply. He simply winked at me, took the icicle out of my
wet hands, and walked out of the room.
Over the next few days, I’d take the icicle out of the freezer to play
with it. When I licked it, my tongue would stick for a moment and then
release as my body’s heat melted the outer layer. It didn’t taste like
much of anything, but my sister didn’t know that. In her presence, I
took long, slow licks, as if savoring the taste. My tongue quickly
became as numb and heavy as a rock in my mouth, but it was worth it.
My sister was furious.
Long after my father was gone again, the icicle remained in the
freezer, at first a solid mass, then slowly shrinking into a gray lump.
It didn’t matter. It was a souvenir of my first snow, of my father’s
kindness. So many of my memories have melted away over time, but the
icicle did not. In my memory it is intact, pristine, unmelting.