My kid brother is standing there with his toboggan string in his hand. He’s asking what we're supposed to do now. “What’s next?” he says.
I'm standing a few feet away from him. My black snow pants and boots are wet. My wool hat is caked with snow. I breathe slowly and my breath comes out in snack size white clouds. Little, disposable, second thoughts.
I look around.
I imagine a painter sitting on the tree line, near the far edge of the clearing. He is painting us, me and my brother.
It's the same joke you've heard before: a polar bear in a snowstorm. The painter will place two small dots on the canvas and then pack away his things, finished. That's us of course, two small black polar bear eyes.
"I don't know" I finally say to him. "Just be quiet about it, don't tell anyone."
His face is a stiff drink; panic and confusion, on the rocks.
"What the fuck, oooh… what the fuck," he says. He's too young to swear, and it sounds flat, out of tune.
I wonder at what point it becomes ok to swear. Is it when you got your first cell phone bill in the mail? Your first flat tire? Found your first dead body in a snowy field while sledding with your older brother?
I’m at a loss for words. What do you say? Cool. Welp, hot chocolate? or Alright neat, so what are we gonna get Mom for Christmas?
He sits down on the mound of snow we'd been launching over with our sleds. He’s crying. I take a deep breath and the cool air stings the inside of my lungs.
We kind of stay like that for a while, we three. The snow coming down is a brand new canvas, and I guess the dead guy can be the polar bear's nose.
©2009 Broken Chair