“Melted Snow” by Jeremie Guy, Maryland

Borders September 7, 2011 22:31

topic: BORDERS medium: TEXT

as submitted for the “Connected” Contest

Cory slid a calloused finger down his hip and across the scar tissue. Even after two years, feeling it made him shiver, and memories of his brother John drifted back into his head. He’d never felt more disconnected in his life.

He sighed and rolled out of bed. The mattress squeaked from the change in weight. His girlfriend Mandy groaned and opened her eyes. Standing up without a word, he walked over to his bedroom window.

The forecasters were right for a change, and the snow had only fallen for twenty-four hours. The blanket of white nearly covered the apartment complex sign. Glints of sunlight reflected off the snow and made the outskirts of the town look like it was glowing. Dunkin Donuts had found a way to clear the snow from in front of their doors, but there wasn’t anyone outside, and the other stores were still closed. Snow sagged the cloth awnings and a few looked like they would rip.

Mandy’s cold hands slid around Cory’s waist and he felt her chin press against his back. He frowned, but didn’t let her know with his voice.

“Thinking about grabbing a doughnut and some coffee. Coming?” he said, bearing her touch for another moment.

“You know I don’t like coffee,” she said, letting go and sitting back on his bed.

He turned to face her, his features firm like he had honestly forgotten. He knew she wasn’t doing it on purpose, but her presence was like an attempt to get rid of his brother’s memory. She slept where John once did. She lived in an apartment he had bought with John. She had replaced the sheets after the surgery failed, saying something about getting rid of everything that reminded him of his brother. It didn’t work. Everything she did reminded him of John, and it sickened him.

“Well, I’ll pick you up a glazed doughnut.”

She nodded with her head bowed and her straight brown hair covered her face like a veil. Cory put on his Timberland boots, grabbed his heavy coat, and walked out the apartment without another word.

Outside, the reflected light was like a weapon. He had to shield his eyes as he walked, crunching through the snow and trying his hardest not to slip.

A boy was making a snowman in the small area in front of the concrete apartment complex, and Cory sighed. He used to make great big snowmen with John when they were both little. He touched his hip and felt a wave of anger heat his veins.

Cory walked to the Dunkin Donuts, and the ding from the door opening distracted him. He bumped his leg against a metal chair. The old man sitting in the chair lowered his eyelids and glared at Cory, but Cory apologized and went to the counter. He took a look around.

Clumps of snow and doughnut crumbs peppered the floor. The sweet smell of cream, coffee, and sugar wafted about in the air. The old man was the only other customer.

Cory put his elbows on the gray surface but quickly removed them when the cold chilled him. The inside of the store was colorful, like a child had melted a box of crayons and smeared the goo on the walls.

“May I help you, sir?” asked the cashier.

“I need a moment to think,” said Cory as he debated buying himself a doughnut.

Hitting his leg on the chair caused his shin to throb, and reminded him of when he was younger. He and his brother used to be the best at three-legged races. They were used to being side by side, and so walking with one leg tied together was helpful, like taking a football player’s sneakers and giving him cleats.

“Sir, are you ready?” The cashier brushed a strand of blond hair behind her ear and pursed her lips together. She tapped her fingers up and down in a wave motion against the cash register.

“Yeah, sorry, I’ll just have a cup of coffee.”

Without saying thank you, Cory paid and took the cup of coffee. He trekked back through the ankle-deep snow. The frigid air didn’t bother him, but the thoughts of his brother caused him to forget the doughnut for his girlfriend. He could have gone back, but instead returned to his apartment complex and hoped it didn’t start a fight. He didn’t like yelling.

The boy had finished his snowman, but was nowhere to be seen. Cory stood in front of the man made from frozen water and his gut twisted. The kid didn’t put any arms on his man, and he forgot the carrot nose. He only poked holes in the face instead of using buttons for a smile.

He sipped his coffee and the steam warmed his lips. He rubbed his tongue across the front of his teeth a few times and wanted to fix the boy’s creation. John wouldn’t have been able to stand the sight of the incomplete snowman, but it belonged to the little boy so he decided to leave it alone and walk back inside.

Mandy had ventured from the bedroom into the kitchen. She was making bacon and eggs in a skillet, standing over the sizzling pot in just her bra and panties. Her hair flowed down to her back and Cory examined her figure. There was a time when he would have taken advantage of a moment like that, but he took a seat at the kitchen table.

Saving the world one light bulb at a time, was how Mandy had explained her reasons for keeping all lights out during the day, but John never liked it. He wasn’t into wasting energy, but he figured that having light was a luxury they could afford to use.

Sunlight cast a grey illumination through the windows, and it didn’t help Cory’s mood any.

A crackle from the skillet caused Mandy to holler, and Cory looked up. She wiped a spot of grease from her tummy and looked over to him.

“Did you grab my doughnut?”

Her emerald eyes sparkled and guilt squeezed around Cory’s heart. He shook his head, focusing on the table, and she turned around. Her back muscles tensed as she shook the food a little and wiped her nose.

A few minutes later she turned off the stove and put the food on plates. She grabbed two forks and gave one to Cory. He nodded without saying a word. The only noise in the room was the clanking of metal forks against glass plates, and the faint sound of chewing.

With a loud sigh, Mandy tossed her fork on the plate and stared at Cory. He glanced up, but didn’t stop eating. She started chewing on her pink, lower lip.

It had been two years since the surgeon fouled up the separation operation and John died. Cory was never one to let go of things easily, and he never had to deal with a death before his brother. His grandparents died before he was born, and his mother and father were both healthy.

Cory threw down his fork as well and licked his front teeth. He tried to keep a straight face, and had to clench his jaw together to keep from scowling. The muscles on the sides of his head bulged and started burning the longer he held his teeth together.

“You don’t understand what it’s like. You’re an only child, and even if you did have a sibling, you still wouldn’t have any idea of what it would be like to be a Siamese twin. You can’t even begin to understand what it’s like to lose someone that’s literally connected to you.”

Tears blurred his eyes, but he kept them in. His hands trembled, and he tried his hardest to hide it from her.

Bringing her eyebrows together and wrinkling her forehead, Mandy nodded. “I know, and I’m sorry for your loss, but please, try to see this from where I’m coming from.”

She scooted her chair back and picked it up, taking it around the table and setting it beside him. When she touched his hand, the anger and frustration in his blood cooled down and he almost felt like everything was okay.

Cory’s trial was the next day, and he didn’t have doubts about winning. Surgeons just couldn’t go around performing surgery with unsterile tools, and leaving dirty instruments inside of patients definitely wasn’t a good thing.

Mandy, squeezed his hand until he looked her in the eyes. “You’ll be fine, Cory. It will all get better with time.”

He sighed. “Thanks for trying. I still feel like it’s somehow my fault too.”

“Look, you have to stop blaming yourself for surviving. Your body was strong, and it wasn’t your time to go so you survived the infection. John’s in a better place now. You have to let go. It’s been two years for Christ’s sake!” Her eyes were blazing with intensity as she stared. “Have you started going to your psychiatrist again?”

Cory shook his head and rubbed his hand over his hair. It was short enough to tickle his palms. When he and his brother were younger, their mother would give them buzz cuts and they would rub their palms over each other’s head, laughing like it was the funniest thing in the world. Fuzzy Wuzzy was a bear. Fuzzy Wuzzy had no hair. Fuzzy Wuzzy wasn’t very fuzzy was he? The old song his mother used to sing to them came ringing back in his ears.

Without another word Mandy kissed him on the cheek and went back to her side of the table. Despite their conversation, the meal continued in silence. Her words bounced around in his head, but he didn’t feel their impact. She’d said time would help, but it hadn’t so far.

When he was finished Cory tossed his plates with the other dirty dishes, and went back into his bedroom. He hadn’t changed yet, but the powder blue sheets on his bed caught his eye. John hated blue. He thought the red sheets they had shared before the surgery complimented the black paint on the bedroom walls a lot nicer.

He glanced out the window again. He could barely make out the back of the little boy’s snowman.

“Mandy,” he yelled, waiting for her to respond before he continued. “Do you want to make a snowman with me?”

Poking her head in the doorway and smirking she said, “Sure. I haven’t been out yet. Is the snow good for packing?”

Cory nodded and watched her slip on her clothes. She loved the color blue, and everything she wore, save for her boots, was blue. Her mother had given her the puffy, cobalt blue coat, which she wore during the winter time like nothing else was warm.

Mandy and John never got along, but they always acted civilized around one another. She’d met Cory and John before the surgery, and was the one who pushed them to get it done. They’d gone their entire lives joined at the hip. Their mother asked them, when they were younger, if they wanted to be apart, and the unanimous answer was no. Separating into two people had never crossed their minds before Mandy. Cory wasn’t sure, but since he hadn’t been intimate with Mandy before the surgery, he wondered if that’s why she wanted them apart.

Mandy grabbed his hand, leading him outside like a child. She acted as if he didn’t know how to get out on his own. They stopped in front of the apartment complex.

Their breath drifted out from their lips like puffs of cigarette smoke. The air was dry and the wind whistled every so often when it blew. Mandy spotted the little boy’s snowman and hop-walked through the snow to get a better look.

Cory looked off to the wooded area that was on the left side of the outskirts of town. The evergreens drooped from the snow, and a few clumps would fall off every so often. A snow bunny jumped in and out through the snow like a dolphin spearing through the surface of the ocean, and John flashed in front of Cory’s mind.

Neither brother was an outdoorsman, but they had a friend named Buck that went hunting on the weekends in the winter. He was never able to persuade John and Cory to tag along, but Buck brought them back some of his bounty. They would eat the meat if it hadn’t already spoiled, and John’s favorite was rabbit. Everyone would laugh when John would say, What’s up Doc after taking the first bite.

“Come on, Cory. Stop daydreaming and help me build this thing.”

He snapped back to reality and trudged over to help. The snow was thick and heavy, and they were able to roll a large base. The middle section was a lot easier to make, but Cory had to run inside to find arms. He grabbed an old broomstick out of the closet and jogged back out.

“How are you going to break that?” said Mandy, packing together a ball for the head.

“With my manly muscles,” said Cory with a chuckle.

With a crack and a yelp, he discovered that broomsticks were harder to break across the knee than he thought. He rubbed his knee and placed the stick on the ground, stepping on the center. He grabbed both ends and pulled up and tried snapping it, but it didn’t give.

Mandy giggled as she watched, taunting in the background, and Cory smiled before yielding to the wood. He licked the front of his teeth, picked up the broom, and speared it through the middle section as it was.

“There, I used my brain powers instead.”

“But the sweeping part is still attached,” said Mandy, a grin still dimpling her cheeks.

“Yeah, but it’s his glove.”

Mandy chuckled and continued packing the head. Cory turned and looked down at the street that went to the center of town. Icicles dripped water on the sidewalk. The plow hadn’t made it to the road yet, and the idea of shoveling snow reminded him of when he still lived at home with his mother.

It took them twenty-five years to move out their mother’s house, and every year until then, they had to shovel the driveway. Their father had broken his back in the army, and was wheelchair bound, so they had to go at it without any help. Mother always rewarded them with a cup of hot chocolate and a plate of cinnamon buns when they finished, but the time together was reward enough.

“Here, help me with the head,” said Mandy, struggling to pick up the last piece of the snowman.

He helped her plop it on the body and they both stood back to look at it. She walked over to the front and poked holes for the mouth with her index finger.

“What are you doing?” Cory said, walking up and stopping her.

“Making a mouth.”

“You can’t just poke holes for the mouth. You have to use buttons for the smile and a carrot for the nose.”

“Stop being stupid. Why waste buttons when it looks just as nice to poke holes.”

Her words scorched through Cory’s ears. His hands started trembling and he licked his front teeth. “John agreed with me, why can’t you?”

She grunted. “Not again. Why would you want to keep doing a tradition that reminds you of him? You need to get on with your life. You had the surgery, now separate from him already. Jeez.”

Cory looked at the ground and started regretting ever listening to her. He started wishing John hadn’t agreed to do the surgery. Life had been fine the way it was. Working in the power plant didn’t pay much, but they were together.

He could feel his heart thumping its way into his temple. His mouth went dry, and trying to swallow felt like packing sand down his throat.

“I’m done.”

“Well go inside then, I’ll finish this on my own.”

“No, I’m done with this.” He couldn’t bear to look at her anymore. His stomach twisted and he wanted to vomit. “With everything.”

She narrowed her eyes and held her arms akimbo. “What are you trying to say?”

“I’m saying that we’re through!”

He saw her eyes fill with tears, and he regretted the sharpness in his voice. He wanted to spill his heart to her, to tell her that he hated her for what she had done to him. He hated being apart from his brother, and he would never have done it if wasn’t for her. He wanted her to know, but he didn’t say a word.

Crying was something that Cory never knew how to handle with anyone but John, and when Mandy started all he did was stand there. His face felt hot as her sobs echoed in his ears and he wished she would stop, but she didn’t. Not for a long time.

Still sobbing, she thrust her arms out and knocked over the snowman. It was a simple action, but it made Cory’s eyes water. The head smashed into the ground and half of it dissolved, joining with the snow on the ground.

Mandy pulled out the broomstick and stared at Cory. She was clutching the wood firm enough to make her knuckles pale. The wrinkles in her face were deepened by her frown, and her eyes had lost their sparkle. Her shoulders heaved up and down as she took long, deep breaths.

For a few seconds Cory thought she was going to assault him with the broom, but she turned and marched inside. A gust of wind tightened his skin and he stared at the ground. He wiped his eyes before anything could leak out.

As he entered the complex and walked up to the third floor, Mandy’s wails grew louder. He felt bad for what he had said, but he meant it. He knew they couldn’t be together because of what she had persuaded him to do, but he couldn’t help blame himself for what had happened as well. She didn’t force anything upon him.

Cory found her sprawled face down on the bedroom sheets. Her shoulders still jerked as she cried, and he thought about rubbing her back. He decided it couldn’t hurt, and she didn’t stop him. He rubbed until nightfall, staring at the black wall and thinking of his brother.

The plow had taken care of most of the streets by the time he woke up.

He fixed his red tie in the bedroom mirror and looked around. Mandy had left a few things behind, but she’d taken most of her belongings to her mother’s house.

Stale air filled the room. The silence echoed in his head. He put on his only suit and looked at himself in the mirror for a few minutes before grabbing something to eat. The dirty dishes mocked him, and his inability to cook left him with few options.

Opening the fridge, he sniffed the milk and realized it had soured. Hungry, he made a bowl of cereal with water, and ate in silence. The clanking of the spoon against the side of the bowl was all there was to keep him company.

A lot of the snow had melted to slush, and his shoes didn’t keep much of the water out. His feet were cold as he waited at the bus stop. There was a constant dripping sound as icicles and snow continued melting around him.

The bus came and he rode to the courthouse.

Inside, there were a lot of people, and they chattered around him. A few cops in uniforms walked by, their keys jingling, but the majority of the people wore suits and ties. The walls were white, and the floor was a shiny tile. He could see his reflection with each step, so he tried to keep his chin up and his eyes forward.

He found his courtroom and entered. The lights were bright, and almost everything was made of polished mahogany. His mother was sitting in one of the pews toward the front, and he embraced her. He kissed her on the cheek and she told him his father wasn’t feeling well so he couldn’t make it. Cory didn’t mind and took his place to the right of the judge’s bench. His eyes found the surgeon, but they didn’t greet.

There were a few other people in the courtroom, sitting behind or beside Cory’s mother, but he didn’t recognize them. Everyone else was either a lawyer or an employee.

The judge was a woman, with salt and pepper hair and a frail frame. In the end she ruled in favor of Cory. He was awarded 800,000 dollars for his pain and suffering.

The surgeon didn’t show any emotion, but Cory’s mother cried, holding her nose and smiling. He wondered how she felt about the whole situation. She never voiced anything deeper than how bad she felt about losing a son. After her father had died on the operating table, Cory’s mother had been terrified of surgeries and would only let her sons separate if it’s what they truly wanted. Knowing this made Cory wonder how much she hated Mandy.

The judge left and Cory escorted his mother to her car. He kissed her on the cheek and watched her leave. As he waited for his bus he didn’t stop staring at the ground.

When he made it home, the snow had melted enough to create streams down the edges of the street.

He went into his apartment and the emptiness surrounded him and clamped down on his head. Tossing his keys on the table, he went into his bedroom. He sat on the bed and it moaned from his weight. He looked around and realized Mandy had come for the rest of her things.

Nothing was left except things that were his. Though he was 800,000 thousand dollars richer, he was alone. John was still gone, and nothing could bring him back. Weeping, he rubbed a calloused finger down his hip and across the scar tissue, never feeling less connected with the world in all of his life.

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