The man with the leather or rubber apron and the chainsaw paced the raised platform amid a dozen or so earlier creations. Dragon. Fish. Penguin. Octopus. Waving bear.
He patted the block of ice, gave statistics on its weight. 300 pounds. He and a young woman grabbed it with large metal pincers, set it on the short table.
He called for suggestions from the small crowd huddled around the surrounding fence. They called fish, penguin, bear. He rejected them all, pulling what looked like an awl out of his back pocket to start scratching out a shape for the crowd to guess at.
The chainsaw came next, huge blocks coming out between the frog’s fingers, around its eyes and taut, hopping legs. The man in the leather or rubber apron carved sprayed in a snowstorm of his own devising.
In the time it takes to carve a frog from a giant block of ice, you can walk a lap around the Lincoln Park Zoo at night. You can take in the last weekend of Zoo Lights, watching chilluns run and scream and laugh at the shimmering displays synched to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
You can stroll with a cup of hot chocolate, your first of the season you note as you stroll by glowing fake zebras the color of Fruit Stripe gum, by twinkle-clad trees, by a brief lighted animation of a chameleon tongue-snapping a passing fly.
The chimpanzees were asleep in the primate house, seeming not to mind, not to notice or at least to have become inured to the throng of humans pointing and gaping at them through the glass.
Toward the back of the park, where the food stands are fewer and the species less exciting, the lights wrapped around trees and between cages spill out into the lights of the city beyond. It’s pretty.
By the time you got back, he had carved a frog. Webbed toes to bulging eyes to the texture and warp of its backside, it was intricate and beautiful.
In the time it takes to carve a frog, the holidays are over.
No more Zoo Lights among sleeping chimps, no more calls for Santa, stars leading to mangers, cocoa and snowflakes telling you to spend a little more. No more charity bell ringers, no more fake-wrapped presents at stores. No more menorahs, kinaras, dropping Times Square balls.
Our bells have been jingled, our auld acquaintances forgot. By the moment you get back and see the frog, you know somehow the holidays are over. It feels good, like going to bed at the end of a long day.
The next morning you wake up and the world doesn’t feel like jingly lights in darkness. That yuletide feel of light in the night ended with the frog. You take a walk, not sure yet what the world does feel like.
You wander down a cold, fresh street in early January and look up at the milk-white sky of sun behind clouds, realizing at once you’re going to have to end this story on a mixed metaphor.
You’re struck for a moment how the sky is the color of a sheet of typing paper.
In the time it takes to carve a frog, the season of twinkles shining in darkness ended. Now, on lightening skies the color of paper, it’s time to write the year to come.