The ice fishing house had a linoleum floor—the old-fashioned kind with red-and-white squares. In the dead center sat a cast iron woodstove. I could describe the rest of the icehouse in perfect detail, but the details don’t really matter. The temperature inside, the weather outside, the time of day, the exact date this happened, none of that matters. What matters is that I punched my dad in the face, and he slammed his head on the door of the woodstove on the way down. He struck the floor, rolled over, and checked his mouth for blood, first with one hand and then the other. Both came back bright red. I braced myself against the wall and waited for him to recover. Eventually he stood, still wobbly, and—staring straight at me—began to clap, applauding me at a meditative pace, really the only compliment he ever gave me. With every clap, splatters of red shot through his fingers, landing on the floor between us, visible only on the white squares. I was fifteen, his only child. That was the last time he ever tried to hit me. He never even bothered to clean up the blood. One morning in late January, mom and I found him there, frozen to death after another night of drinking alone.
Years later, at the onset of winter, mom finally asked me what happened that day. I told her, and she began to cry. Don’t worry, I said. It doesn’t matter. Not anymore.
Fine, she said. Let’s not talk about it again. But would you clean up the icehouse for me? Mop the floor at least? I want to put it up for sale.
I went out there to have a look. A minute later I found myself tearing out that dirty linoleum floor with my bare hands, piece by piece. I couldn’t work fast enough. When all the tiles were up, I leaned against the wall to catch my breath. When I looked down at my hands, they were bright red just like his.
Steven Lang’s fiction has appeared in the anthology Fiction on a Stick, published by Milkweed Editions, in the book, The Art of Wonder, published by the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and in the literary journals CutBank and Slush Pile Magazine.