The Ice Shelf

The Ice Shelf

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The Ice Shelf: an eco-comedy

On the eve of flying to Antarctica to take up an arts fellowship, thirty-something Janice, recently separated, has a long night of remembrance, regret and realisation as she goes about the city looking for a friend to take care of her fridge while she’s away. En route she discards section after section of her manuscript in the spirit of editing The Ice Shelf into a stronger, sleeker work of literature.

The Ice Shelf is an electrifying allegory for the dangers of wasting love and other non-renewable resources.

Cover illustration: Ant Sang

Anne Kennedy is a poet, novelist and screenplay editor who lives in Auckland. Her first book was the poetry collection 100 Traditional Smiles (VUP, 1988). She has twice won the New Zealand Book Award for Poetry, for Sing-Song in 2004 and The Darling North in 2013. Her novel The Last Days of the National Costume (2013) was shortlisted for the New Zealand Post Book Award for Fiction in 2014. Anne was Victoria University of Wellington Writer in Residence in 2016, and her latest novel is The Ice Shelf (2018).

From: The Ice Shelf, by Anne Kennedy


First and foremost, I would like to thank the person who made all this possible, my ex-partner. This book would never have been written without his warm, witty and intellectually stimulating influence. So thanks to Miles from the very bottom of my heart. There are not many real thinkers in this world, but I had the good fortune to spend nearly three years of my life with one and continue to this day, despite our differences, to have a stellar friendship with a true Ideas Man. I will be forever in his debt. In all honesty, I can lay claim to little of what sparked The Ice Shelf.

My next debt is of course to Arts New Zealand who so generously sponsor the marvellous Antarctica Residency. I am humbled to have been offered the once-in-a-lifetime (even less for some people) opportunity to respond creatively to the ice. I hope the story that follows goes some way towards expressing my gratitude, as I share my contemplations about the cold expanse that lies not too far away from our islands and perhaps even closer to the New Zealand psyche. Thank you, Arts New Zealand.

I would also like to extend my deepest and most grateful thanks to the other recipients of the Antarctica Residency—for friendship, encouragement and the odd good-humoured jibe, not to mention sharing a quaff or two of vodka. We made a vibrant group as we flew the flag for our various artistic media—dancer Beatrice Grant, visual artist Tom Atutola and composer Clement de Saint-Antoine-Smith, all of whom need longer introductions than I have space for here; and, of course, yours truly. I want to particularly thank the artists for their actions on the night of the Antarctica Awards ceremony when we made plans to go for a drink afterwards so we could get to know each other even better before being thrown together willy-nilly at Scott Base. I am very lucky; I don’t know many writers who have had as many encouraging spurs. When a group of fellow artists with whom you will go to Antarctica abandons you in a bar while you are visiting the bathroom, you grasp that moment by the horns and turn it to your greatest advantage.

Before I continue with my Acknowledgements (and there are a lot of them—I have many friends, and I know for certain that I couldn’t have done this without each and every one of you), I would like to take a moment to reflect briefly on the notion of thankfulness. It resides, I have no doubt now, at the very heart of creativity. Our appreciation of the bounty of Earth and the fragile gift of existence is precisely what moves us to invent in the first place. Furthermore, in the process of writing The Ice Shelf, I have come to believe that the reverse is true, that *in*gratitude is not merely a neutral state but a destructive force. Take the sorry state of the planet as a case in point. The wholesale lack of regard for our majestic forests and mountains, our sublime rivers and lakes, our vast oceans and continents, and not least our marbly mysterious ice, has led us to the position we now find ourselves in, teetering on the brink of ecological disaster. I suggest that instead of continuing on the well-worn path of heedless destruction, a path fast-tracking us to catastrophe, we all literally thank our lucky stars and create rather than destroy.

I for one will be taking stock of my personal good fortune in these next few pages. I have much to be thankful for—the extraordinary good luck of having my first little book Utter and Terrible Destruction published, even though it doesn’t have a spine; the humbling honour of being accepted into ENG 209: Theory of Creative Writing as part of my BA (which I’m in the process of finishing) although initially I was waitlisted (someone apparently more talented than me was perhaps run over by a bus, not that I’m pleased about that I hasten to add); the amazing course in creative writing I took at the Global School under the tutelage of Clancy McKinney. I am also thankful for the vibrant community of literary bloggers, tweeters and Facebookers that I am privileged to count myself part of.

But bear with me while I unpack in a little more detail the connection between gratitude and creativity. To do that, I need to first consider creativity in general and writing in particular—without sounding too pompous, I hope. I invite you, Reader, into the Theory of Creative Writing classroom of 2011 (my first year, I might add, with the spectacular Miles).

*Why write?* This was something we asked ourselves in the class (which consisted of the anointed, and, having submitted a writing sample, I was lucky enough to find myself with an oily patch on my forehead). I have a big thank you to make vis-à-vis that happy experience and will do so in due course. But for the moment—*why write?* The variety of answers from the students, including me, indicated that creativity’s birth is unknowable, much like the curious fecundity of our planet. In search of answers, the class researched widely. We read Aristotle and Plato, we read Sartre and Nietzsche, Lorca and Gardiner, Pound and Stern, Lodge and Doctorow, even Stephen King. No texts by women, but what can you expect when the lecturer is a male chauvinist pig? Excuse my little joke, my retro rhetoric! In fact, I am sincerely grateful that I was able to get to know one of the last still oinking. Thank you, Professor Julian ‘Big Julie’ Major. But seriously, what *is* it that catapults a person into, let’s face it, a crazy state of make-believe? Why *do* some people jettison the real world for a world of pretend, of verisimilitude? I still don’t know all the answers to the questions we posed in the class, but I do know now that circumstance has something to do with it, and for that I return to thankfulness, to these Acknowledgements, and to Miles. Without Miles, I would not be the creative person I am today, and I certainly would never have written this book.

It was Miles’s idea that we should finally go our separate ways. That radical and profound change was undoubtedly responsible for the freeing state in which I found myself in early 2014 and from where, I discovered happily, I was fully able to embrace writing. Calling it quits was not something I would’ve thought of myself, but how thankful I am that Miles, always in the vanguard, had the foresight to imagine a new way of being. Miles was the first to recognise that he and I had fallen out of love. Ah well, it happens! It’s all so much easier when both parties are in agreement on the issue, and thankfully we were.

Looking back, things had been unravelling slowly for a while, but we’d naïvely ignored the signs, at least I had. I blame my trusting nature. It’s true that I had called off the relationship three or four times over the previous few months, but none of that was serious. We trundled along, Miles and me. As for our eventual demise, with the wisdom of hindsight, one evening in particular stands out as being portentous.

It was a mild night weather-wise, which was unusual in itself; indeed, the still days, the balmy nights that had been going on for some weeks, made Wellingtonians nervous. I didn’t even have clothes for the high-twenties temperatures but instead steamed gently in my leggings and big shirt. Perhaps we were already primed then, Miles and me, for something strange to happen.

We were having dinner at home in the apartment, but I don’t even think about that anymore because I’m not a materialist. I bear absolutely no malice towards Miles that he ended up in full ownership of the 1950s fourth-storey apartment with gleaming wood floors, smooth stuccoed walls and a panoramic view over the harbour, while I live in an unstable series of cheap rentals and am even sometimes reduced to couch-surfing. In short, I have a life. Visitors to the apartment these days—friends of Miles’s, who are no doubt in ignorance of the true legal history of the estate or they wouldn’t be speaking to him, and some of you reading this might fall into that category—might notice the teal paintwork in the kitchen, rather nicely executed in my humble opinion, and the living-room curtains with their surreal blue leaves. No prizes for guessing who inserted 234 plastic hooks in the rufflette tape, hauled the enormous weight of lined linen up a ladder and beached last every juddery hook.

But I digress. This night, we were to eat well in the lovely apartment. Miles was cooking, which I was pleased about because I was enrolled at the Global School at the time and working on a particularly tricky section of the novel you will read later in these pages. I was perched at the dining room table, fingers riverdancing over my laptop. (Miles had the study. But aren’t *you* the writer, I can hear you ask? Sweet of you to notice, Reader, but honestly, I never minded not having an iota of personal space in the apartment. I think it made me a stronger person and of course writer.) Anyway, despite having moved into my fiction (as you do), a primal part of me antennaed the delicious smells coming from the kitchen and looked forward to dinner. Among his many other attributes, Miles is a superlative cook, not that he put his skills into practice very often during our time together. To be honest, cooking was an issue between us. Miles had indicated, in his endearing way, and I quote, that he would ‘put effort in when I did’, which was pretty unfair, because his attitude to food was quite bourgeois, and I was actually really reliable. The odd pie from the dairy never killed anyone. We never starved on my watch. Plus, I was trying to juggle everything, like when Emily Brontë was kneading bread while reading poetry, not that I’m comparing my modest talent with her genius, I hasten to add. But this night, Miles had decided to pull out all the stops.

What I realised over time was, a Miles cooking spree generally coincided with peculiar or momentous events, like his return after I’d kicked him out once or twice. The night after the big thing happened, for instance, he cooked a chicken dish, but I couldn’t swallow it. So if I’d had my wits about me on this particular night, which turned out to be our last night together, if I’d not been so distracted by writing this novel, I would’ve known that *Miles cooking* meant something was up. Instead, from my pozzy at the dining table, I noticed his shadow sailing from bench to stove only in my peripheral vision. I might’ve glanced briefly into the teal shine of the kitchen and taken in the top-heavy frame rounded in concentration, the black-wired fingers performing a delicate task in the light from the window.

Miles served the food with panache, his black clothes adding to the sense of theatre. He always dressed in black button-down shirts which he slightly burst out of, and black pants, like a stagehand who flits on half-invisibly between acts. On this evening (it was seven-ish, late summer), his permanent five o’clock shadow looked polished-on in the sunlit living room, and I noticed his hair was freshly washed, fluffy and Einsteiny. We dined, looking into the middle distance, on the melt-in-your-mouth white flesh of one of the last extant twenty-five-year-old orange roughies. The fish was lightly rolled in chopped pecans from America, fried in olive oil from Greece and served with sautéed autumn vegetables, at least autumn in the northern hemisphere. Some people might think this kind of dish pretentious, wasteful and ecologically unfriendly, but I didn’t. I ate it appreciatively.

I was vacuuming up the last slivers of pecan when Miles plinked his knife and fork together and disappeared in a Dementor-like blur around the corner into the bedroom. In retrospect, the hollow clunks that echoed through the wall as I chewed (it’s always a little weird to be left at the table on your own), the distant racing-car squeal of a zip, should’ve raised my suspicions, but because I’m quite trusting I thought nothing of it. I set up my laptop to face me like a fellow diner and started clicking on arts articles on the Pantograph Punch. When I got up to pour myself a vodka at the sideboard (art reviews can make one very depressed), I noticed a gap, like lost teeth, where Miles’s CDs and retro tapes were customarily stacked in their yellowing cases beside the stereo. Miles is an obscure-jazz buff, so the absence of the twin plastic towers was puzzling. I allowed myself a splash more vodka while I contemplated the loss.

A moment later I gashed my head painfully backing out of the sideboard cupboard; Miles had had a wowserish objection to alcohol since he’d cut down, and I’d felt his disapproving shadow like a barometer dropping. I stood and squeaked the cupboard closed behind me, fingering the tender egg on the back of my head. Miles indeed filled the room. He stooped slightly over the handle of a wheelie suitcase, serif to his inky bulk. His jaw was purplish in a gash of sunlight. The notion that I’d once considered him good-looking never ceases to amaze me. Such is love. I feel a little sorry for my spin-off in this regard—more on her later.

‘Janice,’ said Miles, in the flat tone he always used.

‘Yes,’ I said, my own inflection horizontal as Morse code. I tended to parrot Miles’s deadpan, perhaps in my desire to be a real Kiwi; I don’t know.

Miles continued levelly. ‘I think I’m probably going to leave you to eat the sago pudding on your own.’

‘There’s pudding?’ I marvelled. Miles had excelled himself.

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