The days became longer and soft and gray.
Sarah watched her brother sleep under the Wing, that long protruding board, and observed the darkness of his eyelids. His hair was parted at sleeping angles over his forehead and ears. Quiet breathing. She re-tucked his feet into the bedcovers. Too small for twelve.
The window up there was crooked, frame splintered from too few nails and far too much winter, and it made the trees outside seem taller. Looming into their small backyard with wolf-like expressions growing in the bark. The door was clapping downstairs, free of the catch, and Sarah could feel the cold through the floorboards, her dress and leggings torn, white fabric washed gray, cold mingling with the warm from the wood stove. Probably smothering the ember.
In moments like this, she often thought of the lake—the way the series of doors had slammed and feet had fallen across the snow like a dozen bucks plowing into the field, heading toward the gaping mouth in the ice, two twelve-year-old hands reaching. Too small.
She’d been the last to arrive, again. Running through the town and knocking on every door left her winded, and she’d run as quickly as any thirteen-year-old could, back through the town, over the park gates and through the trees, stepping into the clearing that was freshly populated with people and vehicle bodies.
Taking a shovel, her body opened and plunged into the ice with a fury she’d never felt, tearing deeper and deeper into the break, her arms reverberating with the meeting of metal and ice.
Sarah hadn’t been able to wait any longer, her lungs losing air as surely as his were, and she’d thrown herself to her knees, her stomach, her small breasts clasping the edge of the icy hole. The head of the shovel went down into the water and disappeared, lost in the murk, searching for hands she could no longer see. A pull came that was weaker than a fish-on-line until she lifted, the weight seeming fuller, wetter, the catch on the end seeming to be not much more than a deadened body and wet clothes.
It’s time to let go, they’d say, it’s time to let go—but it could never be time. The small girl had imagined freezing, vanishing, into nothing, into her brother, giving him breath and heat in the middle of winter.
His first words were flowers, he wanted to see flowers, and she promised to bring him winter lilies, thinking it was too far off, thinking she could never run again, not like that, not with a shovel in hand that, over and over, disappeared inside and out of a hat.