Falling Like Snow by Barbara Jacksha
Danielle stared out the window of the fume-spewing bus that jerked down the Nicollet Mall. She wished she were riding to school, riding anywhere else. Beside her, Great Aunt Ruth’s eyes were shut; she rocked back and forth, holy words pulling pink-stained lips this way and that. On the other side of Great Aunt Ruth, Aunt Corrine whispered to Danielle’s brother, Rudy, cradling him like she had ever since they’d picked him up.
Fat flakes of snow, just one degree from rain, splattered the roof and smeared down the glass.
Danielle wondered what it would feel like to fall like snow, to split into million of pieces and hobo a million highways through the sky. Would a piece of her thigh still think of itself as a thigh? Would a bit of thigh still recognize a bit of elbow? And would the cells of her eye still deliver a single vision or would she get a multiple, bug-eyed image like those she’d seen on TV?
She’d aim for a farmer’s field. Though dark and stubbled as an old man’s beard this time of year, the land would lift her up in the spring. She imagined herself a taut corn stalk, pushing higher and higher until late summer when blush-blonde silk would sway on warm night winds, wavy and lush like strands of her long-forgotten hair.
Danielle pressed her cheek against the frosty glass. The bus passed a man with braided hair who danced on a red raincoat spread out on the sidewalk. Beside him, a plastic tub half-filled with snow. Back home, Great Aunt Ruth boiled snow for drinking water, saying it was God’s perfect beverage and cheaper than getting the pump fixed before spring.
The clumps of snow were getting softer, sticking together. The kind of snow that practically rolled itself into snowmen. Danielle thought of saying this to Rudy, but she knew better. He’d only laugh at her. Danielle knew that if Rudy fell, he’d fall like sleet -- and everyone knows that once sleet comes, you’d best go inside and wait out the storm.
She snuck a look at Rudy. Danielle never thought she’d see him like this, never go a single hour without hearing his punk words splatting out in every direction. After Momma started getting sick, Danielle found places to hide. In the laundry room or under the stairs behind the moldy trunks where mice curled up for the winter. Once, Rudy and his friends locked Momma in her bedroom and took over the apartment for two days. Danielle hid in the park across the street until they’d gone. After that Danielle started skipping school to watch over Momma. She took a knife to the wall behind Momma’s big dresser, carving out a hollow spot big enough for two. But Rudy had found that too.
Danielle wished she’d thought to build a tunnel. A hundred times she’d imagined that tunnel barreling through the frozen ground and popping up in a field so far away only the crows would know where to go.
“I want to go home,” Danielle said.
Great Aunt Ruth stopped rocking, and Danielle felt a chill, a goose walking over her grave. The holy words stopped flowing and to be the cause suddenly seemed a mortal sin.
“I know, but we have more work to do.”
Danielle shivered, her teeth chattering despite the belch of the heater beside her feet. After Momma died and Rudy tangled with a guy meaner than him, Great Aunt Ruth and Aunt Corrine had swooped in. They’d made calls, bused around Minneapolis for days until they located Greer, Danielle and Rudy’s father. He was in prison, so on the day they did the first of their work, Danielle and Corrine waited by a greasy prison guard who farted for their amusement while Great Aunt Ruth strode inside, a single envelope in her hand. A hundred different ways, Danielle imagined Greer’s reaction when he opened the envelope of gray grit that Great Aunt Ruth handed him before walking away.
Danielle’s chill deepened as they walked the last four blocks to the peeling green house; Great Aunt Ruth said it belonged to Danielle’s grandparents on her father’s side. Corrine held tight to Rudy, looking like she’d never let him go.
“Is this really necessary?” Corrine asked. “Rudy’s a good boy. He just made some bad choices.”
Great Aunt Ruth opened the front gate and plowed her feet through slushy snow. “What was good in that boy got swallowed up by violence. Evil so old it’s been carried down through the generations. We all carry the seeds of it. That’s why we’ve got to push it back. Give him to me.”
Corrine sniffled, but handed Great Aunt Ruth the cardboard box that Rudy had become.
Ruth grabbed a handful of Rudy, then sowed him across the front yard. Rudy sank into the snow, staining it grey and black.
Corrine slapped Ruth’s hands. “Enough.”
Great Aunt Ruth shook her head. “Two sides to every family tree. We each gotta wear this.” She threw a handful of Rudy at Corrine who shrieked and fruitlessly paddled the air. Ruth dabbed a finger of ash onto her own forehead, then spun around and swabbed the same finger against Danielle’s lips. “The rest we take home to the graveyard. Pour it over your momma, her folks and theirs. Push it back far as we can.”
Danielle sobbed, feeling the smear of her brother’s ashes against her lip. He felt hot, the warm way he used to snuggle with her under the covers while Momma told them a bedtime story. Back before the evil took root. She opened her lips and felt pieces of Rudy slip into her mouth.
She decided she would keep him there, inside her, until the day she did finally fall like snow. She imagined them finding that farmer’s field together and spreading their corn silk hair on an August breeze -- each tiny bit still aware, still remembering the best of themselves and each other.