I’m not actually stupid, you know, and I did grow up in Colorado. As far back as I can remember we used to joke that weathermen in the area go stark raving mad, and that we could get a better weather forecast by flipping a coin or using another form of divination than by listening to the so called experts.
When I was seven there was a a snow storm on my birthday. Which wouldn’t be all that weird, except that my birthday is on the fourth of July. Oh, and the storm was in the morning and by evening it was 80 degrees.
When I learned to drive at 16, mom always made sure even if I was just driving the two miles to the grocery store I had space blankets, water and power bars in the car. Summer and winter. Just in case, you know?
And in winter? In winter you were never safe. You could start out from home in clear blue skies, as I had this morning, only to find yourself, 2 hours later, stuck in a car with your asshole brother, with the snow coming out so fast that you were crawling bumper to bumper the length of Colfax avenue, unable to see the car ahead of you at all, and just sort of hoping those fuzzy lights shining through the whiteness were far enough ahead that you couldn’t accidentally bump it. Oh, and hoping that a red light wouldn’t come on somewhere and force you to stop, because you could feel you were skating on a layer of fast-forming ice over the snow.
And your brother was lecturing you on critical theory or some insane bull and telling you that you simply didn’t have the mental capacity to understand his objections to visiting dad before the surgery.
At which point I might or might not have said that I didn’t know what possessed me to come into Denver to try to convince him, when he’d hung up on mom a dozen times, and I knew he was an asshole.
But I knew exactly why I’d come. Mom had got the Irish up.
Don’t even ask me how she can get the Irish up, okay? So far as I know, her mother and grandmother were born in the US. Mom said there was Irish somewhere in her family tree, and it was kind of hard not to believe, what with that peach-perfect pale skin, the blue eyes and — when she was young — the pitch black, straight shining hair.
But I swear to you that when she got the Irish up, she got a lilt of an accent, and her eyes shone a certain way, and she would say things that made absolutely no sense except in some “ripped from a fairytale told in the green hills of Ireland for century upon century, and probably going back to some bard who had a bit too much of the mead.”
The words fae and fated would come out of her mouth, then. And it was absolutely terrifying. Not least because of how often she was absolutely right, even if it made no sense.
So, as I sat at the kitchen table, in the farmhouse, and she brought the pot of coffee to the table and set it on the coaster, and pushed the sugar bowl towards me because she knew I liked my coffee sweet enough for the spoon to stand up in, and she told me about how she couldn’t get Nort to answer the phone, and she couldn’t tell him about dad’s surgery. I’d been stirring the coffee harder and harder, till all the particles of sugar were a distant memory, and refraining from saying the word that started with a because it upset mom, when mom’s voice got that weird Irish lilt, coming through the genes or something, and she said, “It’s not his fault poor boy. He’s got a shard of ice in his eye.”
At which point I stared at her a long time, then snorted, even though I knew it wasn’t safe to snort at mom’s notions, not when she had the Irish up. “Mom, if you mean that Doctor Norton Blizzard is a prisoner of the snow queen, you kind of need to rethink it. I don’t think he’s had a girlfriend since… High school?”
Mom looked at me with that vague pitying look, her eyes still as blue as the blue in our enamel cookware, and like all of a sudden she was sorry for me too, and said, “But that’s just it, Lexi. That woman…. his advisor when he went to college, what was her name….? Can’t remember, but she got a shard of ice in his eye. Since then he sees everything through that shard of ice, and he can’t get free. The world is an endless frozen place, all bound up in bloodless theories that never applied to any real person ever. And he can’t get free. Or love anyone. Even himself.”
And she was serious and tragic enough, I was just grateful she’d spoken in modern words and not broken into any kind of rhyme or song.
She was serious enough I’d gone into town to see Norton and have a talk with him. In November. On a clear, brisk cold day in November. Which frankly was just asking for trouble.
And now I was paying for it, stuck in a car with my brother, taking him from the university to his apartment. And it wasn’t even going to be any good, was it? because he was spouting nonsense about how dad was privileged and therefore would get the best healthcare possible, and the nuclear family was a trick of the patriarchy.
And I was cutting between the road and glancing sideways at him, wondering where my brother had gone, and what had happened to what used to be a very fine mind.
You see, my brother used to be my hero. I suppose it’s inevitable, when you are ten years younger than your big brother, despite all attempts by your parents to have kids in between the two of you. You might be spoiled and cherished, but you’re also going to revere the one who was spoiled and cherished, and your parents’ only child for ten years before you were born.
And Nort, you know, he was okay. Oh, right, fine, he was great. He was the type of big brother who never got tired of playing with his bratty little sister, let the sister follow him everywhere, and got looked at funny by his friends because of the little creature at his heels.
And he was smart. Really smart. He was helping in the farm by the time I was born, of course. Farm kids learn to drive the tractor as soon as they can look over the windshield, even if a brick has to hold the gas down. And anyway, he was big for his age. And dad trusted him with stuff, and discussed stuff with him by the time he was 12. That wasn’t surprising. But he was book smart too. And he somehow found time to read …. well, everything. And remember it. One of my early memories was his getting books in the mail from the interlibrary loan program, because he’d exhausted our little library. And then mom and dad got him a computer, so he could take some classes on the net, remote, because he’d run past all the stuff in our school. And it wasn’t all Greek and Latin and poetry — though he liked those — but math and physics and all that.
Even though I was much younger and a girl, I’d never been the favorite. Mom and dad looked at Nort as if they were in awe of him. Like they weren’t sure why they’d been given this really special son.
The best part is I didn’t even mind. I was in awe of him too. I took him to show and tell when I was in kindergarten, and just had him answer questions, to show how smart my brother was. And he let me, which meant he was kind too. And not just to me. He always noticed if someone was sad or feeling down, and found the right way to cheer them up or look after them, without seeming to be doing it. Like when he’d noticed mom was not feeling well before thanksgiving and convinced her he really wanted to learn to make the apple pies, and then made her sit down and give him instruction, so she wasn’t on her feet.
And then he’d gone to college. And mom said he’d got a shard of ice in his eye.
The last time he’d been by — not for thanksgiving, because it was a colonialist holiday — he’d lectured dad — who already wasn’t feeling too great, though we didn’t know why — on how dad was a white oppressor. And when dad asked who he was supposed to be oppressing, out in the middle of nowhere Colorado, and paying the going wages when he needed help, Nort had raved and ranted about insitutional privilege. And when Dad said that no, it was just hard work, and look at him, he’d worked hard and now he was a professor in Denver and had a much better life than our parents, Nort had said that all those books mom and dad had arranged for him to borrow, and the computer, all of it was white privilege, and that Dad was a white supremacist.
Which is when dad had said something, I don’t know what, because I couldn’t hear it, that had made Nort storm out of the house.
And now he was telling me why he wouldn’t come and see his own father before the surgery that might or might not remove most of the stomach cancer.
“Until Father educates himself and understood his white privilege, he–“
Which was when I — having checked that we hadn’t gotten any closer to the snow-fuzzy lights in front of us — saw the glint in his eye, just at the edge. And heck, it looked like a little shard of glass, or ice. It was so close to the edge of the eye, so close.
I checked in front of us once more, still stuck in a long line of cars, still unable to see much of anything, still praying a car going through a cross street wouldn’t t-bone us.
And then I heard mom’s voice. He’s got a shard of ice in his eye.
I did what came naturally. In between his “So, if father only apologized” and his “For his privilege” I leaned over, reached, and slapped the back of his head with all the force that had made me a menace at softball.
I turned back ahead almost immediately, but I was aware he stopped, there was a pause. He didn’t even say “ow” and was just blinking eyes, really fast.
Looking down, I saw something glittering on the console between us, picked it up, and put it in my pocket. The weird thing? it was about the size of the very top of my pinkie, but cold radiated from it, making my whole thigh numb.
“Why did you do that?” Nort asked, sounding vaguely surprised and hurt, but not angry at all.
I considered about ten different answers, then I said “Mom said there was a shard of ice in your eye.”
This time his voice was also not angry, but vaguely puzzled, “I wasn’t captured by the snow queen.”
I didn’t say anything, because it would sound demented. And besides, the little shard of ice was almost painfully cold through my jeans. What would it be like to have that in your eye?
Also, the snow was slowing down, clearing, and I could see a little ahead, which was a relief, and we were almost at his place, in a high rise near city park. He’d only got in the car with me because the snow was starting and there was no uber in sight.
He didn’t say anything a while, either, and then said, “I don’t have a car, you know? It’s not worth it in good weather.”
“I know,” I said.
He cleared his throat. “Is it really serious? Dad, I mean?”
“Yeah. they think it hasn’t metastasized yet, but there’s some shadows, so they won’t know for sure until they cut.”
“Damn it, I thought…. I don’t know what I thought. It’s all… cold and fuzzy. Like I wanted to be really all pure reason, and no emotion. I don’t know.” I slid into a parking space in front of his building, the operative word being slid, but we didn’t hit anything, because the whole street was more or less deserted.
“If I get an overnight back, will you… I mean, I’ll need a lift back tomorrow, or to rent a car or something.”
“No problem,” I said. I’ll bring you back.
“I won’t be a minute.”
And he wasn’t a minute, and dad was really happy to see him, and no privilege or skin color were mentioned at all. In fact, Nort came to the hospital when dad went in for surgery, and spent a lot of time there, until dad was sent home again.
It turned out they got all the cancer too, so dad had chemo, but it’s now been three years with him cancer free.
Nort changed a lot after that, became more like the brother I remembered. He quit academia, too, and decided to put his physics degree to some sort of use in industry, not that I get it. I think part of the attraction was working from home, because he got married a year after that drive in the sudden blizzard. They’re coming for thanksgiving and bringing their week old infant. Mom and dad can’t wait. Okay. I can’t either. I always wanted a niece.
And okay, you can say maybe it was all because he was so shocked I smacked him, that it knocked some sort of sense into him.
But I never told anyone, not even mom, about that ice shard. You see, it was still solid in my pocket, in the hot car by the time we got to the farm. And yeah, I thought of just throwing it out, but we have a lot of wind, and what if it blew into someone else’s eye.
So while Nort was visiting with Dad, I’d put it in a pan, on the stove. It took a long time to melt, but when it did, I poured it down the sink, straight into the sceptic tank.
Where no one else can get that particular shard of ice in his eye.
And I never told mom, because the last thing we need is for her to get her Irish back up again. It’s bad enough she’s been telling me about Paul, the guy who came to fix the tractor last week, and dropped by yesterday to make sure it was still fine, and how she has a feeling–
Just because he stayed for dinner, and asked if I might maybe want to join his gaming group.
Mom makes no sense sometimes. But she’s scary when she gets the Irish up.