Sometimes there was snow, and we’d leave water trickling from both faucets. I’d lie on the couch with PBS turned low, listening to the clinking in the sinks and thinking of icicles melting from eaves.
My mother would still be asleep in her room right where we left her, still wearing a coat and gloves. My brother would always carry her to bed, and I’d tuck her in, close the mini-blinds, turn on some white noise. The next morning I’d open her room, raise things, let in the light.
She’d kiss my cheek, say, “Hello sweetheart. Goodbye,” and then go back to sleep. For the rest of the day I’d walk around with a sweet whiskey smell where her lips had been.
My brother was tiny. I was tinier. We made a pact to stop eating certain things — cheese, fried chicken, snack food, chocolate. And no more sodas. I was better at the not eating part than he was, but he spent his evenings running and jumping hurdles after class.
Mostly I stayed home after school. I had paint-by-numbers and books on tape. I liked being in my room, and I liked walking around outside looking for birds’ nests, fox holes, new growth in the spring. I liked sprinkling our cat food in the snow for the squirrels to find. Our cats were wild, but my brother could coax them into flea collars with cans of tuna.
With so much cold, our windows would fog over, and I’d trace the one in my bedroom with the outline of the river, the mountains and barbed wire fences. A stick figure replica of our land. My scene would fade by the end of the day and reappear every morning like a secret message for me. Go out, it would say, into the world of crosswalks and buildings that white out the stars. Be unflappable, glamorous, tall. Wear nice dresses and speak clearly.
But those things would take years.