By: Tony Dews
Meg looked out of the window. Overnight the rain had given way to snow, enough to veil the world as far as you could see. At least as far as the barn anyways. Trees that had long lost their leaves were now coated with white down. The country that often looked like it had snowed when it hadn’t was a fulfilled promise. The winter birds were still active at the bird feeder as always; red cardinals—bright blood splashes against the snow—jostled with finches and chickadees for the sunflower seeds and a hunting woodpecker hammered at a tree. The rhythmic staccato carried far on days like this like whale song. Meg crossed herself. Blessings for getting me through the night Lord.
Meg filled the coffee pot and turned it on before going outside, shivering in the iced air that pricked her skin. She pulled her robe tight around her, pushing her hands under her arms. There was always a price to pay when the world turned to white and it was the cold. She knew would never truly like it but the world was so pretty like this. She could tolerate it. ‘Sides, I’m way too old for different. Soon it would cover the land so completely it would be hard to imagine that the green would return. She recalled memories of snow angels, snow men and rambunctious snowball fights with her brothers and sisters. She touched the spot on her forehead where years before, her younger brother Benny had scored a hit with a snowball with a rock in the middle. She’d needed stitches and Benny earned a padded cushion for a week after Pa had finished with him.
That was so many years ago now, but she had never left the house, staying while the others left to find their way in the world. Benny had left to join the army in 1942. Letters arrived hinting at a brutality she could not imagine until they stopped as sudden as night. A uniformed man had arrived one night to say he’d died and her mother had first collapsed into her father then further into herself until she died, a living statue that didn’t age as much as eroded. Walter, the eldest brother of all of them and 4F’ed out of the war, died later that same year in a crash transporting moonshine, the whiskey blaze so intense he and the car had melted into each other. The coffin had been closed for that, hardly been enough found to fill a matchbox she’d heard people say when they thought she wasn’t around.
Her father’s despair had made him a recluse then. Meg looked after him and kept the old place going while he sat in his room, barely going out. Eventually even his old friends stopped coming by until there were only the two of them walking around each other in a deep silence that couldn’t be measured. She had stayed out of love first and finally out of obligation. She couldn’t remember now how it had gone from one to the other. It was so quiet and smooth, a shift in thought that lasted until he died. His last years were gripped by Alzheimer’s that had broken the barriers between then and now, real and fantasy, and memories and dreams and brought them closer together as strangers than they had ever been as family, reliant on someone they no longer knew. Her only sister Naomi had left—or escaped—years before that; unable to cope with what she knew was coming and what had been. No word had come from her other than a yearly Christmas card with no return address. She had grieved then for that loss and all the others that had gone past while she had survived and stayed, but not now. Time had erased the grief but not the memories; they came back to her as unbidden whispers.
Meg let them knowing that nothing would stop them, they would sneak back anyway so better to leave the doors open so they can come in openly not skulking like thieves. It was much better that way. Back then, before the world changed and loss became normal, the area she lived was corn and beans as far as you could see. Ellen and her brothers and sister would ride rickety bicycles down dirt roads, pick the corn and eat the sweet and juicy ears until they were fit to bust. They would lie down by creeks and watch, intent, for trout-perch and chub to try and catch bare-handed. My Lordy they was good times. The large fields and the fish too were long gone as progress had turned large areas into housing, the big farms to smallholdings, and the clean rivers to polluted drains.
Meg turned to go back inside, thin arms goose-bumping under her gown. “Durn cold now, Benny. Guess my time is gettin’ closer.” Maybe I’m getting old, she thought, talking to Benny like he’s standing right next to me. They were always closer to each other than the others, an enclave within a clan despite the rock-filled snowball, and it wasn’t the first time she’d talked like this. And not be the last time I expect. She smiled to herself. It was getting too cold to stay out much in these quick-cold winter days. The penalties of age were often less obvious than wrinkled skin, rheumy eyes and dewlapped jaws. The ability to stay outside when the cold was bone-snapping was just one that vanished with youth. Ah mercy, at least they’ll find me inside by the fire not stiff and cold out by the barn and there’s only dust in there now. Meg climbed the back steps to go back into the house, leaving behind dust and memories. She went inside and closed the door on the snow.