Lydia Copeland Gwyn

Thaw

It’s mid­day and sheets of ice slide off the roof of the house. I star­tle every time and keep think­ing a win­dow is break­ing some­where. I can hear the cat’s foot­steps on the stairs, the whir of the sound machine in my children’s room. A water­fall of sta­t­ic. My daugh­ter makes a blan­ket cave in her bed. She’ll bur­row in and nap that way. I watch her from the hole where the door knob used to be.

Downstairs, fail­ure waits at the kitchen table where my husband’s black work gloves rest palm to palm like the sin­gu­lar clap of a large man—a lum­ber­jack shak­ing the podi­um at which he speaks. Failure paces the room like my high school alge­bra teacher, her shriv­eled polio hand curled the pock­et of a JC Penney cardi­gan. The night my broth­er died, I was there in the phone’s ring. I called and called and left my voice on the answer­ing machine in the din­ing room. On the oth­er side of the wall my broth­er unfold­ed a note. I sit in the floor, in the clear­ing I made from my son’s Legos, look­ing in at my daugh­ter, at the breath­ing mass of bed clothes.

Last night, I dreamed my broth­er held my hand like we used to do when we were chil­dren wait­ing in the dark at the neighbor’s house for the bus. He was alive, and he led me to our family’s old refrig­er­a­tor. I want­ed to call my par­ents and tell them every­one was wrong—to meet me at the grave­yard and bring the shov­els. But soon his shoul­der weighed against mine, and his head slumped to his chest. When I looked at him again, he was in a body bag, which was unzipped to his neck. I kept try­ing to feed him. Carrots from the crisper. Cold hot dogs. The Tylenol our par­ents kept in the but­ter door. His lips were rub­ber. I plugged the hole in his fore­head with my fin­ger.

When my daugh­ter sleeps, I’ll watch a show about preg­nant teenagers, or I’ll read Samuel Pepys’s diary. I might knit and purl a few rows. My hus­band will come home with our son and bags from the stores they vis­it­ed. My son will be speak­ing to me before the front door opens. All the things I missed. The seag­ulls in the park­ing lots, a dead deer on our road, the desert song about the name­less horse on the radio. I’ll watch his lips mov­ing through the win­dow. He’ll kick his snow boots against the front door. “It’s melt­ing,” some­one will say. My hus­band will slip on his work gloves, the per­ma­nent shape of his hands still inside, and grab a spade to break up the ice.

Lydia Copeland Gwyn’s sto­ries have appeared or are forth­com­ing in NANO Fiction, Metazen, Glimmer Train, Elm Leaves Journal, and oth­ers. She lives in New Jersey with her hus­band, son, and daugh­ter.