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Stranded on the Coldest Day of the Year | A Cold Day for a Swim

Stranded on the Coldest Day of the Year | A Cold Day for a Swim
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Norm Libby and his wife, who lived about a half mile down the road, had just returned from a half day’s work at his father’s boat shop. They sat down in the living room to watch TV with their daughter Tara. At about 2:15 the dog started barking. “Dad,” Tara said. “There’s a man coming. He looks — wet.” They heard a wild pounding at the door. Norm opened his front door to find a strange frozen man. His hair and beard had matted into ice. His skin was whitened and shiny, like wax, his lips blue, his eyes dull. “Roger!” The man shouted. “Roger. He’s down at the shore. Go get him.” Norm backed up, startled. The man slurred like a drunk, he stumbled inside and began to undress, clumsily pulling clothes from his brittle skin.”Roger who?”

“Roger Chandler!” said the man. “He’s down at Lindsay’s cottage. I had to leave him. We’ve been in the water.” Norm recognized his cousin’s name. He called for his wife and daughter to help the man into the shower and get him blankets. Norm left for Lindsay’s cottage, expecting to find a corpse.

* * *

Phil Rossi’s sister, Cindy Fagonde, had been the resident EMT on Beals Island for four years. People trust her so much that they often call her at home, when she’s off duty, with their emergencies. They don’t take chances on professionals they don’t know.
At 2:20 p.m. she picked up the ringing phone. A young woman’s voice said, “Quick. They need help.”

“Who?”

“Your brother and Roger Chandler. They’re in the water. Come quick!” The phone went dead.

Cindy had no idea her brother Phil was in the area, and the caller — it was Tara Libby — had failed to tell her where he might be or even to identify herself. Cindy called the ambulance in Jonesport, heard a busy signal, and slammed down the phone. She ordered her husband to go for the ambulance in his car, and then she jumped into her own car to look for Phil’s truck. She drove crazily, stopping people on the street to ask them if they knew where Phil was. She knew he could be dying.

A swimmer will lose mobility in icy water within eight minutes. Even if Phil hadn’t drowned, his chances of survival after suffering even moderate hypothermia would be less than 50 percent. He could still have a heart attack or stroke; he might fall into a coma. He might already have suffered brain damage. She knew that if his core temperature dropped below 93 degrees, he could become too confused to seek help — or too angry to accept it.

Finally the ambulance caught up to her. Cindy stopped, left her car running, and got in with the ambulance driver. All they could do was drive around the island until one of them spotted Phil’s truck.

* * *

Norm Libby couldn’t even find a body at the Lindsay cottage. He saw where they’d launched. He saw footprints coming from a different direction, leading up to where the truck had been parked. Norm was about to follow those footprints along the shore, when he heard a noise, a crackling in the woods. Norm ran and shouted in the direction of the noise.

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