Thursday, January 25, 2007

Distorted Reflections

A rake had been left in the yard. It was just around the corner on the side of the house, hidden in the long grass, so that no one who happened to be walking through the yard could have noticed it before they stepped on it. The rake was at the front corner of the house, and a manual lawnmower—the kind that was powered solely by the person pushing it—was at the back corner. It had been left sideways in the narrow path that connected the front yard to the back.

Inside the house, she was watching television while she waited for her cookies to finish baking. The only programs on were men talking about sports, movies that no one had wanted to watch even when they were new, and people who wanted to sell things. The local news would be coming on soon, but all they talked about these days was the burglar who had been seen in numerous neighborhoods all across the town, and she had heard all she wanted to hear about him. She was currently watching a woman move a whisper-quiet vacuum cleaner across a square of carpet that had apparently been brought into the studio just for this segment. The woman was demonstrating that with this model, you could pick up rows of inch-long nails from the carpet without disturbing your husband’s football game.

Three complete outfits were lying on her couch. The tops and blouses were on the back cushions, and the skirts and slacks were on the bottom cushions. It almost looked like three were people sitting there. She took off the outfit she had been considering and threw it onto the pile in the corner of the room. Standing in the living room wearing only her underwear, she picked up the next option from the couch and tried it on.

She should have been doing this in the bathroom or her bedroom, because there were mirrors in those rooms, but she could not hear the oven timer from there and so she had compromised by bringing her wardrobe into the living room. With the lights in the room turned on and the darkness outside, the windows reflected enough for her to be able to decide whether a particular outfit was the one she should wear. She knew the reflections the windows gave were distorted, but she had decided she would have to live with that.

The oven timer went off before she had a chance to button her shirt, so with the ends of it flapping behind her, she went into the kitchen and took out the cookies. They were oatmeal chocolate chip cookies that she had made from a recipe she found in a magazine. She did not normally eat oatmeal, much less oatmeal cookies, but she had decided to try them tonight. She set them on the counter to cool and went back to look at herself in the window. She had buttoned her shirt and fixed the collar by the time she returned to the living room.

She did not especially like the way she looked in the window—she had never liked looking at herself in mirrors—but the shirt fit her well, and with the top two buttons undone, she thought she looked as good as she could. Only one of the pairs of shoes she had brought down matched the skirt she had on, so she did not even have to make a decision about that. After only a brief consideration, she decided to wear a necklace.

The cookies had cooled by now, so she put them on a plate, grabbed a chair from the kitchen table with her spare hand, and went to the front door. She had to put both items down—first the chair and then the plate on top of it—in order to be able to open the door, and because the screen door closed automatically unless it was propped open, she had to hold it open with her foot while she grabbed the chair and placed it on the porch. Now all she had to do was wait.

As she had on previous nights, she rested her back against the door and hoped she would not have to eat all of the cookies by herself. Even though they were different from what she normally made, they were good cookies—she tasted one to confirm their quality—and under different circumstances she would have eaten them gladly, even factoring in the extra workout time it would take her to burn off their calories. But that was not why she had baked them.

One of the dogs from the corner house started barking at a car, but when she saw that the car was driving past her street, she put her head back against the door. A few minutes later, the married couple who had moved next door in a few months ago jogged past. She had talked to them several times, and they had even invited her over for dinner once, but she had made up an excuse and told them she would not be able to come. She was glad the porch light was turned off and they could not see her.

Just as she was getting ready to go inside for the night, she heard a noise from the back of the house. She froze and strained to make sure that she was hearing was finally what she wanted to hear. After another few seconds it was unmistakable: Someone had moved the lawnmower out of the way and was now coming up the side of the house. She heard him reaching, searching for a window that might have been left unlocked, and she smiled, knowing that he would not find one. He would have to come around to the front of the house.

His steps were slow and cautious—it was obvious he knew what he was doing—but she allowed herself to hope. She could almost see him now, and she could have watched the entire scene if she had stood up, but she did not want to risk anything yet. Finally her patience was rewarded: He stepped on the tine end of the rake, and the handle flew up and hit him. She waited until he had landed on the ground before she moved.

He was dazed but not unconscious. Fortunately, he was able to stand up and walk by himself—she needed only to guide him to the porch. He was a large man, dressed entirely in black and with a black ski mask over his face. Though he had been startled by the rake hitting him, he retained enough of his senses to pull off the mask before they reached the porch.

“Are you all right?” she asked. She turned on the light and sat down.

The plate of cookies was now between them. He looked at them, and then at her, and said, “I think so. I’m just a little startled, is all. I’m sorry to be walking through your yard at night like that, but I was on my way home from work—I’m on second shift at the factory down the road—and I figured I’d just cut through a few yards and save me a few minutes on my trip. I’m sorry if I scared you.”

“You didn’t scare me at all. I was already out on the porch when I heard you. Some nights, I just like to sit out here and listen to the night. And tonight, I was in a baking mood, so I made some cookies to have while I sat out here. Would you like one? They’re oatmeal chocolate chip.”

“How long ago did you say they came out?”

“I didn’t, but it’s only been a few minutes. Go ahead and have one.”

She handed him a cookie in such a way that he had to touch her hand when he took it.

“So you just decided to bake cookies in the middle of the night? I’m sorry if it sounds like I’m prying, but that seems a little strange to me.”

“Well, I’m actually like you. What I mean is that I work second shift too, so I just got off work a little while ago.”

“Really? Where do you work?”

“At this little bakery on the other side of town. You probably wouldn’t have heard of it. It’s late when I’m there, of course, so I don’t actually make the bread or anything. I just organize the orders and get everything ready for the girls who come in for the morning shift.”

“So do you work with dough and flour at all?” He bit off a piece of the cookie. “’Cause you’ve certainly learned your skills from somewhere.”

“Actually, I don’t get to touch much of anything when I’m at work. I guess that’s why I get in these baking moods when I come home sometimes. You’re just lucky you came by on a night when I was in the mood. If you like them, that is.”

“Oh, they’re good cookies, all right. I’ve always liked oatmeal, too. It adds a nice texture. It’s just that I’m a little surprised they make you wear those fancy clothes when you’re at the bakery.”

“What? Oh, no, this isn’t what I wear to work. It’s just that one of my friends is coming in to see me tonight, and we’d talked about going out when she gets here, so I wanted to be ready for her when she comes.”

“Got it. When’s she supposed to come in?”


“Your friend. The one you said is coming to visit you. When’s she going to be here?”

“In a while. Why do you ask?”

“It’s just that I didn’t want to keep you here or anything. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on going out with your friend because you thought you had to take care of me or something. I’m really not that bad. It’s just that it was a shock, that’s all.”

She handed him another cookie. “Now that I think about it, she might not be coming at all tonight. She mentioned something about that. She’s driving in, and she said that if she was too tired to make it all the way here, she’d probably end up getting a hotel room somewhere. So there’s no hurry. You can stay as long as you need to.”

“This sure is a big house you’ve got here,” he said, looking around at the porch and the windows. “Do you live here all by yourself?”

“Not until two years ago. I wouldn’t have gotten to keep it, but my ex-husband’s lawyer just wasn’t as good as mine.”

“Oh. I’m sorry to hear you’re divorced.”

“Don’t be. I saw it coming way before he actually said anything, and I’m glad it’s over. I’m really better off alone.”

“But doesn’t it ever get lonely, living in this big place all by yourself? I’m sure you could rent out part of it if you wanted to, make it into an apartment.”

“I’ve thought of that, but actually, with all the stuff I still have here, there isn’t much room. I had a really good lawyer.”

Neither one looked at the other while they tried to think of something more to say. He tensed and ducked down a little when a car drove by, but she did not notice.

“I thought that might have been your friend,” he said. “Did she say how late she might be?”

“No, she didn’t, actually. I’m not sure when she might show up.”

“Do you think you might want to call her? I mean, you don’t want to wait out here all night, do you?”

“It’s a nice night, so I wouldn’t mind staying out here a little longer. Don’t feel like you need to stay here with me or anything. I like having someone to talk to while I wait, of course, but I’ve got plenty of cookies left, and I’m fine with just sitting here. But I forgot what you said. I’m sorry. You were in a hurry to get home.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You said you were going through my yard because it was going to be faster. I figured that meant you were in a hurry.”

“Well, I can see how you’d take it that way, but what I really meant was that I don’t like walking around town at night. It can be dangerous out there, you know.”

“Oh. So know that you’re here, you not in a hurry anymore?”

“Not at all. Could I have another cookie?”

She let him see that she was smiling. “You know what I just realized?”

“No, I don’t, actually.”

“We still don’t know each other’s names. We’ve been sitting here, eating cookies and talking, but we never introduced ourselves.”

“Call me Jacob,” he said. “Who are you?”


“That’s a pretty name. But you know what? I can’t stop thinking about that friend of yours. Don’t you think you should maybe go inside and call her?”

“I guess I could, just to make sure she’s okay.”

She did not know if he would follow her inside and so did not look to see if he was. She would have been too disappointed, now, if she looked and did not see what she wanted to see.

His steps were silent behind her as she went to the phone. She turned sideways to pick up the receiver and saw him out of the corner of her eye, just before he swung and hit her. The cordless receiver landed on the floor a second after she did, its batteries spilling from the back of it.

“Now, where’s your most valuable stuff, stuff like that necklace you’ve got on? I’m not interested in the cheap crap. Just tell me what I want to know and I won’t hurt you.”

“Upstairs, the first door on the right. That’s my jewelry room. I’ve been collecting jewelry for years. There are diamonds and pearls, and there’s even some gold, too. That’s where should go.”

He tied her hands and feet together with a rope he had in his back pocket. His hands had felt cold at first, but they warmed against her skin as they worked the knots. He was breathing hard now and he blew air over her neck and into one of her ears. The knots were tight and she could not have gotten away if she had wanted to.

She listened while he banged open the door that had never been locked and began searching the jewelry room. She could hear his hands working quickly: He sorted through her necklaces, rings, and other valuable trinkets, putting the ones that were worth money into his pockets and throwing the others on the floor. Some of the least valuable pieces were the most precious to her, because she could remember why those had been given to her and who had told her she was pretty when she had received them. Now he was throwing those on the floor and breaking them.

He paused in the doorway on his way out. He told her, “My name isn’t Jacob.”

“Are you leaving right away?” she asked.

He was already gone when she started to wonder how long it would be before someone found her and untied her. She had to smile when she thought that someone would do that for her.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Wonders of the World

His favorite thing about sitting at the top of the monkey bars was that he was up so high; it felt like he could see everything. All of the other kids playing around him, the seagull skimming over the surface of the lake, the reflected gray of its wings swallowed by the encompassing reflection of the clouds, the dog on one side of the park and the two older kids on another. They were too old to still be kids, one a boy and the other a girl, but they were not quite adults yet, either; they were both waiting in the between time. Right now the boy was sitting in the chair swing watching the girl, who was holding her shoes in her hands while she walked on the edge of the water. From his perch atop the monkey bars, Jared could not tell what the boy was thinking about, but he felt sure he was thinking about something. It had been a long time since he had moved.

Jared had watched several other boys, and even a few girls, jump down from the top of the monkey bars. It looked easy when they did it, like falling was the simplest thing in the world. Jared knew it really was, and it was not the falling he was scared of; it was in the seconds of waiting to let go that he always decided to climb down instead. That was how he had gotten up in the first place, which meant he would not have to do anything he had not done before, even though he had to do it backwards.

He walked around the swing set, where kids were jumping off and flying–but only for a few seconds, of course. The dog was at the end of the parking lot, his leash wrapped around a pole while the owner bought a bottle of water from a vending machine. They had just sat down to share the water when Jared walked past them. He liked most dogs, but this one was big and looked like he could be dangerous. Water splashed on the ground as the dog lapped it from the bottle.

There was no sidewalk on the road back to his house, so Jared walked with one foot on the curb and one in the grass. He only stayed on the road until it ran into the railroad tracks, and then he walked beside those. His parents had told him about the shortcut a long time ago, before he was old enough to walk to the park by himself.

While he was walking along the base the small gravel hill beside the tracks, he heard what he thought was the sound of someone crying, or rather, the sounds someone makes when they are almost finished crying. He looked around but did not see anyone on his side of the tracks, so he climbed up the gravel to see if it was coming from over there. A few feet in front of him, an old man was lying on the tracks, his shoulders not quite touching the rails on either side of him. The sound had come from him.

“What are you doing?” Jared asked. “Are you hurt or something? I can try and help you if you are.”

The old man put up his hand. It looked like a flower growing out of the tracks. “I’m not hurt. I’m just lying here, that’s all.”


“I’m waiting.”

Waiting was not a bad thing, but Jared was pretty sure the old man had not picked a very good place to do it. “Isn’t it dangerous to wait here? A train could come by.”

The old man sat up. He was about as old as Jared’s grandfather, and he had been holding a pair of glasses in his hand. He put them on and said, “Yes, you’re right. Waiting here is dangerous, mainly because a train could come by.”

“Why are you waiting here, then? There’s lots of safer places to wait.”

“I’m waiting here because I have to.”

Jared tried, but he could not think of a reason why that could be true. “I don’t understand,” he said to the old man.

“No, I don’t expect you would. You’re too young.”

“But I’m pretty smart. I get all A’s, actually.”

“That’s not the kind of young I was talking about. I meant that you haven’t lived enough to understand.”

“Well, even if I won’t understand, could you tell me what you’re doing anyway? I would like to know.”

The man pulled his legs toward his chest and rested his elbows on his knees. His clothes were dusty from lying between the train tracks. “I was lying here waiting for a train to come. I’m going to let it pass over me.”

“That’s dangerous! Do you even know if you’ll fit? You’d die if there wasn’t enough room.”

“I know that this is dangerous. And no, I don’t know if I’m going to fit or not. I think I will, but I’m not entirely sure.”

“You could check, though. I bet if you went on the internet you could find out just how high off the ground the cars are.”

“You’re probably right about that.”

“So why don’t you check, then?”

“Because if I knew, it wouldn’t be dangerous anymore.”

“I don’t understand.”

“I told you you wouldn’t. You’re too young. When you’ve lived as long as I have and know as much as I do, there aren’t many dangerous things left in the world. There are a lot of stupid and foolish things I could do, but they wouldn’t be dangerous. I’ve either seen them done, or heard a story from someone who’s one of them, or learned about them, and I would know what would happen before I even started. With this, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

“I still don’t understand.”

“I’m sorry, but you can’t understand what I’m doing now. Maybe you will when you’re older.”

“Why maybe?”

A train whistled. The man lay down and said, “Because you might be braver than me. Now you need to get out of the way.”

Jared went to the edge of the gravel and sat down. He would be safe there, and he wanted to be there to help the man afterward.

The train did not look like it was moving very fast at first. As it got closer, though, its speed seemed to keep increasing until, by the time it went over the man, it felt like it was flying. The words on the cars flashed by too quickly for Jared to read them. He hoped the man would be all right.

It was louder than he would have believed, even if a really convincing person had tried to tell him about it. It was a constant noise, like sitting at the shore of the ocean if every wave crashed with the force of a thunderbolt. There was a kind of pulse to the noise too, because air was pulled through the gap between the cars and came whooshing out above him. A new gap flashed in front of him every second, but it somehow seemed slower than that.

When all the cars had finally passed, Jared wished the train were longer, because each car meant that he had to wait a little longer to go up and look at the man. He had never seen real blood up close; he had scraped his knees and elbows before, but that was different somehow. He knew what how that would look–could figure it out by how far he had slid or onto what surface he had fallen–without having to actually see it.

There was no blood. The man was shaking, but it was not like shivering in the cold. There was a reason for that kind of shaking and a remedy for it, but if there was a remedy for the old man’s shaking, Jared did not know what it was. His ears and even his lips were quivering just as much as his feet and hands. Whatever had happened to him, it was happening to all of him.

“Are you okay?” Jared whispered in the old man’s ear.

The old man did not answer. He did not appear to have even heard the question, or to have noticed the boy standing above him. His eyes stared. Jared did not know if shaking him would help, and he thought it might even make him worse, so he did not try.

The man’s body continued to shake. A tear from Jared’s eye fell onto the man’s cheek. He wanted his parents here, to explain what was happening and tell him it would be okay. They were good at explaining things to him, even hard things like why seawater has salt in it. But there was a fear in him, and he was crying because the fear was that even his parents could not explain the old shaking man lying between the rails.

His body finally stopped shaking, and his arm went into the air. It took a minute for Jared to figure out, first, that he was not dead, and second, that he wanted help getting up. After he had helped the man to his feet, which took a long time because he was heavy and stiff, Jared asked him again if he was okay. The man pointed to his ears and shook his head. Losing his hearing was his price for lying under the train.

He was smiling, though. It was not a huge smile, like he was seeing his grandchild for the first time or had just heard an extremely funny joke. His smile was smaller and more private, as if he knew a secret and was not going to share it with anyone, no matter how many times they asked. It was also the kind of smile that lasts longer than a normal one. Jared wondered if he could have told his secret, even if he wanted to.

The man patted him on the back and started walking away. Jared watched him to see if he would look back, either at him or at the tracks, but he did not.

Just before he got home, Jared saw the same man and dog from the park. They were walking on the opposite side of the road, so he had to speak loudly to ask if he could pet the dog.

“Sure you can,” the owner said. “His name is Cairo, and he loves children. Come on over.”

While Jared was petting the dog’s head and scratching his throat, Cairo licked his face, which made him laugh. That was his price. He was still smiling when he thanked the owner, and when he went inside, and even after he had washed his face and hands for dinner.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The Snowman

At first, Miles had thought about building the snowman first and then putting it in something to move it, but he wanted to build a big snowman, one that would be too big for him to pick up and carry. The first snowball would be the hardest, since it was the biggest. If he could figure out how to move that one, the rest of it would be easy.

There was a tray in the garage that they had put their TV set on before they got their entertainment center last year. They did not use it anymore, but it was still in the garage because they had not thrown it away. But when he looked at it, he knew it would not work because even though it had wheels, it was not big enough. Miles wanted to build a big snowman.

Next he went to the shed in the back yard. There were lots of tools in there, but they were all for gardening and painting and working with wood, so they could not help him build a snowman. There was a wheelbarrow, though. Normally wheelbarrows were used to move dirt and stuff like that from one place to another, but there was no reason they could not be used to move snow. It had wheels and a big bucket kind of thing–Miles thought that was the barrow, but he was not sure–and it even had handles. He could use those to move it around in the snow, and he could also tip it down and roll the first part of the snowman in that way, in case it was too big for him to pick up.

He had planned to build the snowman in the front yard, but when he was rolling the wheelbarrow out of the shed, he looked around and figured out that there was more snow in the back yard, so he decided to build it back there. And since he had the wheelbarrow, it did not matter where he built it. The snow was thick and wet, which is the best kind for building snowmen. Miles knew that snow is really just frozen water and so all snow is wet, but some kinds of snow feel wetter than other kinds.

Before he started building the snowman, he walked slowly from the shed, which was at the very back of the yard, toward the house. Next he walked from one side of the yard to the other. He counted his steps as he went, because he knew that the farther he rolled the first snowball, the bigger it would be, and he wanted to make the biggest snowman he could. It took him 26 steps to walk across the yard and only 21 to go from the shed to the house, so it seemed like that would be the best way to go. When Miles thought about it some more, though, he figured out that if he started in the very back corner of the yard, rolled all the way past the side of the house, and kept going into the front, he would have a really big snowball, a lot bigger than if he just stayed in the back yard. He counted 53 steps from the back yard to the front. He hoped he would be strong enough to push the snowball when it got that big.

Finally confident that he was going to make the biggest snowman he could, Miles started rolling. He gathered up the snow in the back corner of the yard and started packing it the way his dad had shown him, and he soon had a snowball that was big enough to start rolling. He did not understand exactly how it worked, but when he rolled his snowball, it picked up the snow from the ground in front of it and got bigger. He thought that maybe the little antler parts of the snowflakes in the ball caught the antler parts of the snow on the ground and took them along for the ride, and then those new flakes caught even more from the ground, but he was not sure that was how it worked. He reminded himself to ask Mrs. Campbell, his teacher, if she knew when he went back to school. Mrs. Campbell was a good teacher and knew answers to lots of questions like that.

The snowball was as tall as his knees by the time he got to the middle of the house. It was heavy, too. He had to push hard with his legs while his arms kept the snowball going straight, because there was not much space between the house and the neighbor’s fence, and he did not want to hit either of them.

When he got to a good stopping place in the front yard, the snowball was up to his waist. He had barely been able to roll it the last few feet, and he was not sure if he could get it onto the wheelbarrow, but he had to try. Once the wheelbarrow was in place and tipped forward, he pushed the snowball for what he hoped was the last time, but it just moved the wheelbarrow along with it. He needed something that would stop the wheelbarrow from sliding, and so that when he pushed the snowball into it, the wheelbarrow would tip right-side-up and the snowball would be sitting on top of it.

In the shed he found a roll of the black plastic they had put under the gravel by the house, which would help, but it was not enough by itself because it would roll too. He looked around for another minute before he remembered that he had left the gardening tools outside. There were two little gardening shovels, which his mother had told him were called spades, sitting on the ground. Those would work perfectly.

Back in the front yard, Miles stuck the black plastic roll in front of the wooden bars on the bottom of the wheelbarrow, and then he dug the spades into the ground behind the plastic. His plan was to have the plastic make it easier to tip the wheelbarrow back up, while the spades would keep the plastic from rolling. He took a deep breath, put his shoulder into the snowball, and pushed as hard as he could.

His plan worked just the way he hoped it would. The plastic made it easy to tip the wheelbarrow, but it almost worked too well; when he was done pushing, the wheelbarrow tipped back and forth like a rocking horse, and Miles was scared that it would fall over the other way. But it stopped after rocking back and forth a few times, and the hardest part of building the snowman was over.

He started another ball of snow and rolled it around in a circle in the front yard. Before long the middle section was as large as he wanted it to be, but he had a problem now, because he would not be able to lift the second snowball on top of the first one. He was not tall enough to do it. Miles now had to decide whether he would make the first snowball smaller so he could put the second one on top of it, or to try to figure out some other way to get the snowball up there. The first one was just the size he had been hoping for, maybe even a little bigger than that, and he really liked the way the second had turned out, too. The way he looked at it, his only real option was to figure out some way to make himself taller.

Nothing in the shed would help, because all of the tools and things in there were for working in the ground, and Miles needed to work in the air. He needed the ladder from the garage. He had used it when they repainted the house last year, and he had gotten comfortable balancing himself on the ladder while holding a paint can in one hand and a brush in the other. He picked up the second snowball to see how heavy it was. It would be hard, but he was pretty sure he would be able to hold it steady long enough to get it on top of the first snowball. He would only have to climb to the second or third step to reach it.

After he made sure the ladder would not slide on the snow, Miles positioned it next to the wheelbarrow, picked up the second snowball, and got on the ladder. He had to go up backwards, but it was not hard to keep his balance and it was not long before the snowman was two-thirds complete. He picked up some short sticks for arms and stuck them into the snowman. All he had left to do was make the third snowball, put a face on it, and take it inside.

Since it was the smallest one, the third snowball did not take long to make. Once it was in place, Miles looked around for things he could use to give the snowman a face. He broke off the end of a branch from the neighbor’s pine tree for the mouth, found two nuts on the ground for eyes, and broke off an icicle from the bumper of their car to use for a nose. After adjusting the eyes a few times to make sure they were even, Miles sat on the ladder and looked at the snowman. It looked just the way he had pictured it in his mind.

The only thing he had left to do was to measure how tall the whole thing was, including the wheelbarrow. He had to make sure it would fit through the door beforehand, because it would be a disaster if the head was knocked off while he was pushing it inside. It would probably fall in his own head, but worse than that, the snowman would be headless, and he had worked too hard to bring a headless snowman inside.

The snowman and the wheelbarrow together were almost four feet tall, which was a few inches taller than he was, but there was still plenty of room to spare. He was not sure why he had been worried. His dad walked through the door every day, and he was a very tall man.

The ramp had been put in that summer. It led straight up to the front door, and it was there so Emmy, Miles’s older sister, could get in and out of the house with her wheelchair. Miles usually did not think about the ramp much, but he was glad it was there now, because he could not have rolled the snowman inside without it. If Emmy had not been using a wheelchair, though, he would not have needed to bring the snowman inside.

Miles’s parents had told him about the disease Emmy had, but he had not understood most of what they had said. The only part he really understood was that his sister was too sick to play with him, especially in winter when it was cold and there was snow everywhere. But Miles remembered how much fun they had when they built snowmen last year, and if she could not come out with him, he was going to bring a snowman to her.

It was warm inside the house, and the snowman was going to melt quickly once he got it inside, so it had to be big if it was going to last until he got it to Emmy’s room, which was all the way at the back of the house. He had not told his parents about his plan because he wanted it to be a surprise. Emmy did not get many surprises anymore, at least not good ones, and Miles knew that she liked being surprised.

The wheelbarrow was heavy, but it was not hard to push once he got it started. He slowed down once he was inside, though, because he wanted to be careful and not bump anything. He could hear his parents talking upstairs.

Emmy’s door was open, and Miles had to peek around the snowman to make sure she was in there. She was sitting on her bed, but her eyes were closed and he could not tell if she was asleep.

"Emmy? Can you hear me? I have something to show you."

Emmy laughed when she saw the snowman. It was not that she thought the snowman was funny; she was just so surprised to see one in her bedroom that it was the only way she could react. It was melting and starting to drip into the wheelbarrow, but was still a good snowman. Miles was proud of it.

"Miles, did you do this by yourself?"

"I built it for you, since you’re sick."

She motioned for him to come over and give her a hug. While she was holding him, she whispered, "It is cold?"

Miles could not figure out if she was asking this as a joke. "It’s a snowman. It has to be cold. It melts if it’s not."

"Could you bring a piece of it to me?"

"But you’re sick. I thought cold was bad for you."

"Too much of it is. But just a little bit is okay."

He scooped a chunk out of the snowman and brought it to her. She held it for a moment, enjoying the feeling of cold wetness in her hand. A drop ran down her arm and onto the sheet, and she threw the slushy ball at him. Miles, who had not been expecting her to do anything like that, gasped and looked around, as if an explanation were hiding somewhere in the room.

"You know what the best part is?" Emmy said. "You can’t get me back until I’m better. And I bet you’ll have forgotten all about it by then."

"No I won’t. I’ll write it down to make sure I won’t." He paused. "When are you going to be better?"

"Well, I’m not really sure about that, but it probably won’t be for a while. I think you’d better take it back outside before it starts melting all over the floor, though. I don’t think we need to tell Mom and Dad about this, either. It can be our secret. But thanks a lot for doing this, Miles. I didn’t think I’d get to feel snow this year. Come back in here once you’ve taken care of your snowman, okay?"

Miles carefully turned around the wheelbarrow and rolled it back outside. He dumped it out in the front yard, put the ladder back in the garage, and took the wheelbarrow and the other tools back to the shed. He stopped and looked at the remains of the snowman before he went inside. The parts that had melted, even though they were broken up and turned upside down, were already starting to freeze again.

Back in Emmy’s room, he climbed on her bed and snuggled against her. He had taken off his snow clothes at the front door. He was tired. Building a big snowman all by himself was a lot of work.

"You know what my favorite part of winter is?" she asked.


"Playing in the snow. Especially playing with you."

"But you can’t do that anymore."

"What you are you talking about? I just threw at snowball at you. Sure, it was half melted and I only got to do it once, but that still counts."


"Really. And you know what? I think that because that was the only snowball I’ll get to throw this year, I’ll remember it more than any of the other ones I’ve thrown at you."
"I could bring you another one sometime."

"Thanks, Miles. I’d like that. But not tonight." She yawned. "I’m getting pretty tired. Could you turn off the light when you leave?"

Miles closed the door behind him after he turned off the light. His mother met him on the stairs and told him to get ready for bed. She said she would be up once she checked on his sister.

"She’s already asleep," Miles said.

"Were you in there?"

"Yeah. She said she was getting tired." He wanted to add that she had thrown a snowball at him, just to see what she would say, but he did not because that was going to be his secret with Emmy. It would not be as much fun as playing in the snow, but it would still be good. And it was something they could do together. That was the best part.