I slow to a stop at the intersection of 47th and Broadway, on the first almost-warm day after the polar vortex brought our city to a halt and caused the cancellation of ribbon-cuttings, spade-turnings, and the crowding of small children at corners waiting for yellow buses. As my car idles, I glance across and see two men shoveling sidewalks. I can't hear them speaking, but they gesture to each other, raising their arms, holding up one finger, pulling off a glove and signalling with a cold, raw hand.
They work in harmony. A small smile steals across my face. The grey sky rises above the old buildings flanking Main Street, but my mind drifts back to a winter's day, long ago, in another town.
My two older brothers stand in our driveway. The bare oak rises tall above us at the top of the small hill. Our house sits in a swathe of land cut across the contours of an old farm, below a T-intersection of road built when the farmer sold and development came to Jennings. The old tree bends slightly in the teasing January wind, which bites our cheeks and ruffles the icicles hanging from the eaves of the porch.
My brothers are trying to figure out what happens if you fill a plastic milk jug and freeze the water. "Will it crack?" I ask, and Kevin shakes his head. I can't be sure he knows but Kevin and Mark are four and two years older than me; they define my ten-year-old world and I am willing to accept his decision. We turn the faucet on the side of the house and watch the cold water fall into the opaque bottle. Then Kevin sets it on the ground, just under the tap, and carefully turns the handle, applying a pair of pliers. None of us wants to pay whatever price might be extracted for leaving the water running.
We look at each other. Mark and Kevin wear thin grey jackets zipped to their chins and worn, stretched stocking caps. Their eyes water behind their thick glasses, and their noses have grown red. I huddle in a coat two sizes too big for me that belongs to one of my sisters. But we don't notice these things. We see only the sparkle of conspiracy in each other's eyes.
The little boys, seven and six, have gone inside, whining, complaining about the dirty snow that has frozen with the sudden drop in temperature. But Kevin and Mark have been waiting for this cold. The streets will freeze, and they can slide down our concrete driveway in their shoes, building speed on the slick surface, oblivious to the frigid air on their faces and the burning in their feet. They can wait until the sun sets, and roam the neighborhood, drawing pictures with the sharp edges of rocks in the thick ice not yet scraped from the neighbors' cars.
We don't speak as we go inside the house for dinner.
The three of us wash dishes without mentioning Kevin's plans for the milk jug under the kitchen window. My father sits in the living room watching the six o'clock news and my mother knits in her small chair beside him. They strike poses we have seen a hundred times and will see a thousand more. They do not speak. The little boys go to bed earlier than we do, still whining, still protesting, but soon the noises from the back bedroom fade as their small bodies succumb to fatigue. I watch my older brothers shuffle homework, books, and binders, with the casual air of someone who wants to be perceived as busy. Eventually, the three of us slink off to our bedrooms.
I slip under the comforter in my clothes, and wait for the house to fall silent.
When I hear someone creeping out in the hallway, I open my door. It is Kevin. He raises one finger to his mouth and I nod. Mark eases into his jacket, pulls on his red cap, and hands a pair of gloves to Kevin. We walk single-file through the living room and soundlessly open the front door. No one has a key to it; we will not get locked out.
In the dark, windless night, the frozen snow gleams. A street light casts eerie shadows in the empty street. We mince across the yard, trying not to crunch its frozen surface. Finally we reach the side of the house. We stand in a huddle and study the milk jug. The water inside has hardened and the jug has held. I feel the same curl of thrill that must be rising in my brothers' bellies.
Kevin lifts the jug and I see from the small jerk of his arm that it is heavier than he expects. He heads back the way we've come but keeps going, up the three concrete steps to the street. I study the houses around us; darkness greets me from each window. "Come on," Kevin urges Mark who has hung back, just briefly, watching the front door. Mark takes a long stride and slides a few yards on the sole of his tennis shoes, away from Kevin, towards the north. Kevin eases back, raises the jug, and brings his arm forward, sending the frozen orb in a long, perfect spiral into his brother's waiting arms while I stand on the edge of the yard dizzy and wild with admiration.
A horn honks. I shake my head and realize that it is 2014. I am on the Plaza, south of my office, in a dirty Saturn VUE with melting snow clouding my sight of the passing traffic. I turn the wipers on, and watch the fluid streak the windshield as I continue northward to the life I have made far from home.
Saturday, January 11, 2014
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The Missouri Mugwump™
- M. Corinne Corley
- I've been many things in my life: A child, a daughter, a friend; a wife, a mother, a lawyer and a pet-owner. I've given my best to many things and my worst to a few. I live in Brookside, in an airplane bungalow. I'm an eternal optimist and a sometime-poet. If I ever got a poem published in The New Yorker, I would die a happy woman. I'm a proud supporter of the Arts in Kansas City. I vote Democrat, fly the American flag, cry at Hallmark commercials, and recycle.
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