He wondered if he was dreaming. There was no 4 am phone call to his teacher-mother waking him and his brother with the news that enough snow had fallen and school was cancelled and they would have all that freshly fallen snow to play in all day. But he had been up late watching reruns of the Twilight Zone with his brother and maybe he slept through it. Which episode was it? The one about the fevered kid who was locked in the snow globe? How great would that be? Locked inside a globe inside the TV. Like a small warmth.
There was no morning paper opened to the sports section on the kitchen table. No father hacking up last night’s cigarettes and drink in the bathroom sink. No clothes laid out for that day’s school.
The beveled windows of the post-WWII pre-fab home only let in a bright gray light and he could smell the oil burning heater vibrating. His senses were coming alive slowly. He was dreaming. Five years old and dreaming. Five years old and alone in a house sequestered against the white cold world outside that would only last as long as he could enjoy it.
He clambered up the kitchen sink and found the box of Quisp, poured the milk in and wolfed down the sugary goodness. They were stale. The toy surprise once buried inside dredged out long ago, played with and abandoned or lost. It was a propeller, blue or green, he couldn’t recall, you’d pull the rip-cord and it would take off whirring, scraping the bottom of heaven. Now it waited for spring like a spoor of some random wind-blown flower dormant beneath several inches of late February snow. The Hi C Citrus Cooler looked a tepid yellow. He drank it down. Then he headed out to play.
His sled was a Flexible Flyer but never had much speed. They’d wax the rails. File them down with coarse sand-paper, metal files even, but sometimes a garbage can lid worked just as well if not better but you had to punch out the rivets underneath the lid but it didn’t matter because everyone stole everyone else’s so no one’s had its handle anymore. Just a perk of being a younger kid in the neighborhood.
He must’ve have made a dozen runs down the slightly-sloped front yard of Mrs. Quinn before she poked her head of the kitchen door and asked him if he shouldn’t be in school. No, he said, it’s a snow-day. Then worried himself about coming up with nine other lies.
He looked up at the sky. It was indiscernible. It only looked daunting when he kept his eyes down. The world drained of color seemed lighter. Smothered beneath the snowstorm. There was no black and white. Just gray.
His father’s shout cut through the cold air, C’mon, you’re late for school, what the hell were you thinking? He never answered the question though his father asked him twice more. He just sat bundled in the front seat of the 71 Ford Ltd as it fishtailed through the neighborhood, its navy blue paint-job overcome by the salt and winter-grime and blending with the landscape. He just figured he was only asking himself anyway. What was the word? Rhetorical.
Oh, so glad you made it today, smiled Mrs. Dowling, Did you stop to make a snowman? All the children laughed.
I was sledding, he replied, Down Mrs. Quinn’s front-yard. It was wonderful.
She laughed but he was serious and she knew it. Such a serious child. She knew this lateness was an aberration. Her words felt like a fist burning in his chest.
He hadn’t had time to change his clothes. His father was worried about time and anything drawing attention to it. No one would have said anything anyway. But if they had his old man would say he had sent him off bright and early that morning but the kid stopped on the way to school. Unbeknownst to me, he would say, he practiced that in his head as they pulled up to the elementary school and signed the boy in tardy. It was one of the ten others.
Standing at the coat-closest at the very back of the classroom he took off his winter coat and hat and gloves carefully, sad to be letting the snow fall from the cuffs and folds to puddle on the floor before disappearing, melting as if it never existed, turning from solid to liquid to gas like his older brother had once explained to him. He breathed in the last of it promising himself to always remember because who knew when it would ever fall again? Outside the sun sliced the sky from left to right in a thin orange line. Splitting something in two.