This is a piece I wrote for the Synesthesia Art gallery on October 30th. I teamed up with Addie Hogue, taking inspiration from her work of art (attached below) entitled “Frostbite.”
Goddess of the Hearth
Spring’s told me many stories, but none have quite stayed with me like the one she told two years ago, of the little dormouse fighting the snow to keep her fire lit and her family warm. It seemed like the mouse would never succeed, but I had hope watching my little sister spin her tale. All too soon, however, age revealed to me the truth of the world, and the fire in my chest no longer burns with unchecked optimism.
My eyes follow Spring as she skips into the café. Mother slumps into a chair, world-weary, fingers darting to her purse every second to check her phone for a call to steal her away.
I order a hot chocolate while Spring raids the stand beside the counter for coffee straws. The cashier frowns, but Mother doesn’t seem to notice.
“Spring.” I still her hand with a small shake of my head. “Go sit down with Mom, okay? I’ll be there in a second.” Her mouth falls into a pout, and I nudge her, smiling, “Sit with Mom a bit and then I’ll take you to Mary’s house for dinner. Sound good?”
Spring wilts. “Why can’t we eat together?”
“Just go keep her company. Maybe you can convince her to stay.” My tongue burns at the lie.
She sprints to sit across from mother, abandoning the coffee straws on the counter. I pay the cashier and take the straws back to the table.
Mother bristles at Spring’s words, snapping back at her awkward attempts to start a conversation. I turn Spring away from the situation. “Go wait for the chocolate, Spring. I have to talk to Mom a second.”
Mother scoffs, catching Spring’s innocent gaze before I wave her off again. I can’t even pretend to smile.
“What is it, Wynter?” Her nails trace the grain of the table. Spring’s voice filters through the air and her finger stalls. Her icy eyes meet mine in a smirk. “I hardly think you need me more than you need to get away from your father.” Mother resumes drumming her fingers against the table.
“It’s our first Christmas Eve apart, Mom. Spring needs you–”
“As if you care.” She wrenches her hand from my grip, rolling her eyes. “I know you called your aunt,” she turns to inspecting her nails, “and if there’s any reason you’d call her, it’s to get away and leave your sister here.”
“No,” I stammer, “I want to see if we can make things right between us, Mom.” My hand goes out to clasp my mother’s. “For Spring.”
“And yet, Wynter, you created a fail-safe.”
I begin to shake my head, but Mother is no longer paying attention, her eyes twinkling the prospect of escape. A red convertible flashes its lights outside. Her expression is not dissimilar to that of Dad’s when he looks at booze.
“Greg is here.” She lifts her purse, tossing me the car keys. “I’ll be having dinner at his place tonight. You can take the car home.”
“Can we go with you?” A small voice comes from the other side of the café. Spring’s rose hairline peers over the Pick-Up counter as she strains to lift her eyes enough to see.
Mother hesitates, then frowns. “You can talk to your sister. Or your father. He said he’ll be calling today, if he isn’t already passed out.”
My arm nearly dislocates as I spin around. “Mom–” But she slips out of my grasp, the door to the café closing behind her. The coffee straws fall to the ground when Spring sets the cup on the table, her small frame trembling.
My eyes shoot to the receding figure and I tear outside with the hot chocolate, staggering after her like a child seeking solace. But I spill half my drink and drop my keys in the snow, so by the time I look back up, the red convertible is gone.
The phone begins to ring.
I stare at it, gaze darting back to my concerned sister at the door, before sitting on the bench outside the café and putting it to my ear.
Maybe he won’t be drunk this time. A rosy thought.
Through the window Spring is cleaning the straws off the floor with sober determination.
My teeth clamp down on my tongue as my father speaks in his insensitive slur. My eyes focus on the little girl, her pink daffodil cheeks puffed out she collects napkins, wiping up the mess I made. Seeing Spring, back hunched like a flower half-dead, I ignite at my father’s alcoholic garble. My inferno explodes into the space around me as my words turn pained, then savage, but my father is yet unmoved by the roaring flames. The dial tone blares in my ear before I can finish.
When I sit, it’s like the world has come crashing down, suffocating me like ash does embers. The door opens, and Spring is outside, shivering, picking marshmallows from the snow where I spilled them. Her body convulses as coughs shake her, the sound catching in her throat as if she’s breathed in cinders and not air. A hot poker to my side launches me towards her, and I grasp her tight, warming her, my little dormouse.
A message notification draws my eye to the phone in my white-knuckled grip.
Spring worms out of my grasp. “Who’s that?” Her eyes shine with hope. “Mom?”
I put the phone in my pocket, but she’s already seen it. “Aunt Lucy.”
“Oh?” Her green eyes dim a little bit before a thought occurs to her with a delicate gasp. “Did she say anything about Dad?”
My hair falls about my face as I lower my gaze. “No, but she did say something about spending Christmas with her.”
“Is that good?” Her head pops into view. “It sounds like it should be,” she frowns, “but it makes me feel sad.”
“It is a good thing,” I say, seating her on my lap, “but at the same time, you wish things could’ve worked out differently.” A sigh escapes my lips at her crestfallen expression. “I know.”
She nods, face somber, before breaking out in a smile. “As your favorite sister used to say, ‘You can’t light a fire without expecting someone to put it out. You just have to be prepared to kindle it up somewhere new and try again.’”
I kiss her forehead, and she squirms, lighthearted giggles ringing in the air before she worms out of my grasp. My arm snakes around her shoulder in a half hug. “Merry Christmas.” I rest my chin on her head as she settles. “I’m sorry we can’t celebrate it the way we used to. Things are just different, you know?”
Spring nods, gaze cast down to something in her lap. “Yeah,” she says, placing a little marshmallow snowman in my palm, “they’re not together anymore, but I guess that’s okay as long as I have you.”
“I’ll keep you warm, don’t worry.”