His skin feels as soft as Mindy’s baby sister. He’s old but lives in the playroom. “Guest room, you mean,” Mom says, an embarrassed glance toward the bed. No. The room stores the toys. The toys were here first.
He points things out. “Come here, peanut. Up there. Is that a seagull?” I guess so. “A seagull in winter.” His head falls back on the pillows. “White wings on a white sky.” He accepts a plate with a thank you, pretends to take a bite of a plastic roll, shakes his head, hands it back. “Needs salt.” The kitchenette has a sink, oven, microwave, fridge, and many plastic foods. But there is no salt. “Never mind. I keep a stash. Bring it back.” He raises a shaky hand from his chest and rubs his fingers, a papery hum over the roll. Around a second fake bite: “Perfect.”
He doesn’t tell stories but remembers aloud. He had a dog named Trouble. I want a dog, I say. I’m not allowed. Was it soft? “Not really.” He turns foggy eyes on the window. “See the woods, the dun branches? Bristly. He was like that.” Done? He nods. “Dun.”
One day: “What happened to your hat?” Lost. “The scarf too?” He turns to the window and sighs. “Wait till spring. You’ll find them.” I liked that hat. The snow took it. The snow hides everything. “It covers the wind too, but that gives us a way to see it.” I have to think about this. “The wind is a white sleeve. Don’t you think so? Winter is a girl wearing long, white sleeves.”
Winter is just long. He makes it longer. “Shush,” Mom whispers. “He’s resting. Stay away.” I want my room. “Soon enough now.” There’s a rattle in her voice when she says this. The window rattles, as well. And the house creaks. Yesterday, I stood outside, no hat, no scarf, and grew an inch with snow. Now, inside the room that isn’t mine anymore, he sleeps. I take it back, all of it, Lego by Lego by Burping Baby by coloring book of unicorns by ice cream truck. In the window, snowflakes stream, big and quick. What did he say last week? “It’s how winter is. Busy. Busy like you, but quiet. Out there? That’s a fast-falling silence.”
Melissa Ostrom teaches English at Genesee Community College and lives with her husband and children in Holley, New York. Her fiction has appeared in The Florida Review, Quarter After Eight, The Baltimore Review, and Passages North, among other journals. The Beloved Wild (Macmillan, March 2018) is her YA debut. Macmillan will also be publishing her second novel, tentatively entitled The Unleaving, in March of 2019.