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.