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Monday morning at dialysis, nurse Gretchen brought me an extra blanket so I wouldn’t freeze to death in that room they had to keep so cold, then the blue-eyed therapy dog made her rounds and put her chin in my lap while I watched Joan Crawford and Bette Davis on TCM, and at some point that song came through the speakers that meant a baby had just been born, which made everybody smile for a second, and when my three hours were up, I said, “Do I have to leave?” and nurse Gretchen said, “Yes. Go home.” She pointed to the sign above the door: Don’t live to eat, eat to live! She said, “Clarissa—try eating brazil nuts instead of doughnuts,” and I said, “Shit. How many brazil nuts does it take to make a meal?” She said she wouldn’t know, she’d never had one. Which is just some people’s luck.

They didn’t like me to drive afterwards, but I performed a little mind-trick that worked: I summoned my dead grandmother to ride shotgun so she could keep me awake. She said things like, “You better speed up. You better open your eyes. You better hold it together for those two grandbabies who have nobody else in this world to depend on. Remember how I held it together while I was raising you and had nobody else? You think I had any help? I didn’t have any help.” And she carried me home like that.

But today, another January day below zero, black clouds pressing down, I only made it as far as the driveway. When I stepped from the car, I toppled face-first to the concrete. I don’t know how long I lay there before my neighbor showed up. I’d never spoken to him, but for three years I’d seen him making his laps around the neighborhood, eyes fixed on the ground, moving slow and steady like he was doing physical therapy, younger than I was. In the summer, if I saw him when I checked my mail or watered my petunias, I’d try to say hello, but he never looked at me. He wouldn’t have looked if I’d stepped in front of him and did a naked dance and waved both arms over my head and screamed. But here he was, helping me up, keeping me steady while I found my key and opened the door, helping me inside and out of my coat and to the couch, moving the girls’ stuffed animals and computers.

I said, “Excuse the mess, I don’t have—thank you.” I lay on the couch and closed my eyes, said, “I have to go to sleep now.”

He stayed there, stood over me. He said, “Is there someone I could call?”

Like his voice was coming through water. Like he was bent over with his hands behind his back, which reminded me how Henry used to knock gently on my forehead to wake me some mornings and ask was there anybody home in there, then he’d laugh, which made me chuckle now, like I was in a good dream.

“No,” I said. “There’s nobody to call. Just pass me that blanket.”

“Can I ask,” he said, “if you don’t mind, can I ask what’s going on?”

“I’m dying, honey. You are too. That blanket back of the chair there.”

I opened my eyes and saw him looking at my pictures of Henry and Reggie and the grandbabies, and the two paintings my grandmother, who never had an art class in her life, painted of the wild horses running on the Cumberland Island beach, next to some other photos of south-Georgia where I grew up. He was probably trying to figure out where in the world I came from to end up in this small-ass Wisconsin town where I stood out like a giant flea in a pot of rice.

“That afghan,” I said. “My grandmother made it when I was a baby, 60 years ago.”

He said, “Is that Cumberland Island?”

My eyes were closed, but I saw it. “That’s right.”

“Beautiful place,” he said. “But hot. Unbelievably hot.”

Another time, I would’ve asked him to sit and tell me the story of how he knew, but I had to sleep, rest up for all I had ahead of me: pick up my grandbabies from school, get their supper and wash some clothes and pay some bills and make their lunches for the next day and get some better sleep and wake them up and get them off to school and then take myself to work where I’d work all day for the wicked witch of the Midwest, then pick up the girls and take them by the jail to visit their father, get their supper and get them bathed and off to bed and back up and off to school and take myself back to dialysis.

“Right behind you,” I said. “That afghan.”

He went to the kitchen. Said he was writing down his name and number in case I needed a ride to the emergency room. Lived just a block away. Marty.

“Smells good in here,” he said.

I’d put on a roast early that morning before I got the girls up, fixed most of it late Sunday night, peeling and chopping potatoes, carrots, garlic, onions, mushrooms, left it in the fridge over night to marinate with a half-bottle of dark beer, Worcestershire, smoked paprika, thyme, cayenne, six drops of liquid smoke, then put it on in the morning, added more paprika and cayenne, set it for twelve hours, ready by six.

He said, “Let me know if you need anything.”

“That blanket,” I whispered, but he’d already closed the door and disappeared.                                                                                                                                                                               How much sleep does it take to feel rested without being dead? I wouldn’t know. My phone woke me at 2:59, and I was glad—it gave me fifteen minutes to pick up the girls. It was Jill, my sister, calling from Georgia, so I didn’t answer. She only called to complain about whatever petty thing was going wrong in her life, so she’d call again soon. I got up and held the wall while a dizzy spell washed over me, prayed I wouldn’t pass out. I hadn’t meant to sleep through lunch. Found my shoes. Scarf. Coat. Gloves. Hat. Purse. Keys. Stepped into the kind of cold that felt like an army of wasps stinging my face.

Grandma said, “Buckle up. Hold it together. You know how long I went without sleep when I was raising you? Thirteen years. Did you ever notice? You never noticed. You know why you never noticed? Because I never complained, did I? You ever hear me complain? No, you didn’t. You know why? Because I never did.”

The girls had told me they could ride the bus if it made things easier for me, but I said no, it was too cold to walk two blocks from the corner. Even when the weather was good, I didn’t want them walking—there were too many mean drivers zooming across this little town, and I didn’t trust any of them. I just hoped they were organ donors. I’d been waiting seven years for a match, and I was moving up the list. Reggie had offered to give me one of his kidneys, but I told him to shut up. He needed to be healthy for his girls longer than I did. Jill had mentioned it once in passing, years ago, saying if only she had the money for a plane ticket, etc., but I didn’t want her kidney either. I wanted a kidney from a dying person. I said, “When you’re dying, give me a call.”

I hated to watch my grandbabies walking through the cold, even for the thirty seconds it took them from the building to the car, which was long enough to set their teeth to chattering. They needed better coats. Tuesday—no, there wasn’t time Tuesday, but Wednesday after dialysis, I would use my credit card and buy them better coats.

Alyx, my third grader, sat in the front, face scowling at the cold. She said, “I hate my teachers and I hate this school and I hate this place.”

Alicia, my first grader, said, “She punched this dumbass-boy square in the nose. This boy came up to her and said the President was going to put us on a boat and send us back to Mexico. She said shut up and he said make me, then she punched him square in the damn nose. Bled all over his white shirt. The teacher sent her to the principal who’s going to call you for a meeting.”

“What?” I said. “A boat to Mexico? That doesn’t make sense. We’re not even—”

“I told you,” Alicia said. “He’s a dumbass-boy.”

Alyx stared out her window. There wasn’t much to see but snow—dirty snow on the curb, snow across the yards and snow on the roofs. “A boat to Mexico,” I repeated. “That is a dumbass boy.” I tried to think of how to cheer them up. I knew my pot roast wouldn’t do it. I said, “Who wants ice cream?”

“Too damn cold for ice cream,” Alicia said.

“Well,” I said, “We’d better get some donuts.”

I got a dozen glazed, and one sourdough; promised them one before dinner, one after dinner. At home, they sat on the couch, ate their donuts while staring at their computers, each with her own headphones plugged into her ears. Before I bit into mine, the principal called, all-business, voice cold and flat as iron, explained that Alyx seemed to have instigated a violent incident and could I meet tomorrow at 3:15, along with Alyx and a counselor.

“And what about the young gentleman who insulted my granddaughter?” I said. “Will he and his parents be joining us?”

“Not at this juncture,” he said.

“Not at this juncture. Right. Yes, I’d be happy to meet.”

I sat at the table with my checkbook and that box of donuts and a pen and notepad and looked through the bills to decide what to pay now and what to pay later. From most to least there was: the credit card, the hospital (even with Obamacare), the car payment, the heating bill, car insurance, phone and internet (I’d already cut the cable). The house was paid for thanks to Henry—we’d put more money toward that while he was alive and paid it off after fifteen years, then threw ourselves a two-person party with champagne. He’d worked for twenty-nine years at Trane, moved up to shift supervisor, died at 61, nine months before he was going to retire with a good pension. Died in his sleep August 14th, three years ago, after accusing my beans of giving him indigestion. Reggie came home from Afghanistan, but couldn’t stay long. He was already different. He told me to hold it together, said he’d be back soon to help.

The credit card bill had the new water heater on it, a new car muffler, and the girls’ laptop computers I got them for Christmas because they’d been begging, saying they needed them for school, that every other child in the world had one. The heating bill was $280. I wrote that check and put it in an envelope with a stamp to mail in the morning. I took the girls each a bowl of pot roast, scolded them to eat more, gave them their other donut. I made their lunches. While I cleaned the kitchen, my phone rang—Jill again. I had no energy for her. It was all I could do to get the girls to close their computers and get a bath and into bed by 9 p.m.

From beneath her blankets, Alyx said, “Tomorrow’s my turn to see Daddy.”

“Right after we talk to your principal.”

“My principal’s a dumbass. You’ll see.”

“Probably so,” I said. “Let’s try to get some sleep anyway.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                I raised my head quickly at 5 a.m., came up out of another dream of falling through the same spot on an icy lake while nurse Gretchen stood on the shore holding a blanket, Hope sitting beside her. I made coffee. Ate a donut. Put in a load of clothes. Took out the load I’d left in the dryer and folded them. Ate another doughnut. Woke the girls. Put their cereal in front of them. Packed their lunches. Got them dressed. Bundled them up. Drove them to school through another grey and freezing day in this place where the sun was a stranger too.

Outside the school, I said, “I’ll meet y’all outside the principal’s office at 3:15. Let’s see if we can get through the day without hitting anybody.”

I watched their backs until they got inside. Then I drove to work, toward Ms. Schultz’s house, the lady who, for three years, I’d been wanting to punch in the nose.

Grandma said, “Be nice. She’s dying faster than you are.”

But her problem was she didn’t know it, so it didn’t do her any good. She was ninety, in good shape from the neck down. From the neck up, she was in bad enough shape to think her meanness made her smart. Some people’s dementia turned them into nice kids, but hers made her meaner. I would’ve rather changed the bedpans and cleaned the asses of any of my former clients than spend a half-hour with Ms. Schultz.

My phone rang—Jill calling.

“Talk to your sister,” Grandma said.

“No,” I said. At a red light, I looked into the car next to mine at a woman in her bulky coat, scarf and hat, holding her wheel with both gloved hands, looking straight ahead like a zombie facing the all-day job she must’ve dreaded going to as much as I dreaded going to mine.

Grandma said, “Damn. That lady reminds me of me. Turn on the radio.”

In the five seconds before I could turn it off again, I heard too much about the new President’s first priority, taking away my health insurance. Ms. Schultz loved his stupid ass. She loved him when he was on TV firing people. She thought she voted for him, but she didn’t. When I drove her to vote on Nov. 8, I pulled up to the handicapped spot, and when the lady came out with the ballot, Ms. Schultz asked me to fill it out. I read the choices and filled in the bubbles next to the names Ms. Schultz didn’t want. Then the lady handed me the I Voted! sticker, and I pressed it onto Ms. Schultz’s collar. She was so happy with herself she suggested we drive through the DQ on the way home, get a couple Blizzards, her treat, she said, and she gave me a ten-dollar bill and made me count back the change two times.

“She’s had a hard time,” Grandma said. “Try to sympathize.”

Her husband killed himself when he was 75, after 49 years of marriage. How he lasted that long, I don’t know. Her daughter was in her third alcohol-rehab facility after losing custody of her three children to her ex-husband, who took them to Oregon. Her son lived in Barcelona with his boyfriend and never called. She’d outlived her friends, if she’d ever had any. I tried to think of all this while I drove through her nice neighborhood full of trees and big yards. I tried to remind myself that even rich people had problems, that most everybody was suffering in some way.

“That’s the spirit,” Grandma said. “You think I had a selfish bone in my body all those years I was sacrificing for you, when I could’ve moved to Hawaii and married a prince?”

“Shit,” I said. “You never thought of going to Hawaii.”

“That’s what I’m saying,” she said. “I couldn’t think of myself for one second. Now, get in there and give that old bitch a good smile.”

I walked in and smiled and shouted good morning because she was facing her Fox-News-blaring TV, and before I could take off my coat, she said, “It’s 8:05, Clarissa; there are plenty of people who would be happy to show up on time with smiles on their faces.”

All day, I wondered how I could kill her. My job was to clean and keep her company, make her lunch and tea, deliver her pills on a tray, bring in wood and make a fire when she wanted one, take her to the grocery store on double-coupon Wednesdays. Today, I got straight to work so I could avoid her: swiped my dust cloth around in every room, moved her miniature lighthouses so she’d think I’d gotten between them, then pushed her heavy vacuum cleaner across her thick shag carpet, swept and mopped her kitchen, cleaned her toilets. Then she said wouldn’t a fire be nice? I carried in wood from the garage and made a fire, went back for another load so I could keep feeding it, all while the Fox News loud-mouths shouted between commercials. She refused to wear her hearing aids unless she was going out because what was the point of hearing me?

After she ate the pimiento cheese sandwich I cut into triangles, she said, “Wouldn’t some ice cream be good?” I gave her an extra-large portion so it would knock her out. And soon after she finished clanking her bowl to scrape up every tiny little morsel, she started snoring. I muted the TV, sat down and closed my eyes. A minute later, she was standing over me, knocking my leg with her cane, shouting in German, like she did when she got upset.

I said, “What the hell is wrong with you?”

In English, she said, “It’s snowing, Clarissa!”

I looked out—fat flakes were falling in big chunks, but it couldn’t have been falling long.

She said, “The city will fine me if the sidewalks remain impassable. If I receive a fine, I’ll be forced to dock your pay.”

This fine—I happened to know because I’d gotten one a couple years ago—was handed out if you didn’t shovel within 24 hours after it stopped snowing, not 24 seconds after it started. But I thought, hell, being outside in the freezing cold would prevent me from choking her. I put on my coat, scarves, hat, gloves, and shoes and went to shovel her corner lot, which meant two sidewalks, plus her driveway and walk. Heavy snow. I made two scoops and stopped for a breath. Two scoops and a breath. Then one scoop and a breath. I stayed out too long. I kept looking at the young man next door pushing his snow-blower down his little strip of a sidewalk, ten feet away, some of it blowing into my face—looked at him in case he needed my permission to push his blower down Ms. Schultz’s sidewalk. He ignored me. When I finally finished and went back in, I must’ve looked half-dead. Ms. Schultz said, “Oh, Clarissa, you look frozen. Add some wood to the fire and make us some warm tea.”

My lips were too numb to move. I put another log on the fire, poked it, going slow so I could warm up. I made her tea decaf so she’d doze off. But I dozed off too, even with the loud news. When I woke, she was staring at me. She said, “Clarissa, you were sleeping on the job.”

I tried to reason with her, say something she might sympathize with. “Those grandbabies,” I said. “They keep me up too late.” She couldn’t hear me because a Fox News know-it-all was bashing Obamacare. But I saw her looking at me softly, head cocked to the side, a new expression, like she was ready to trade secrets. I moved to the chair beside her better ear.

“Truth is,” I said, speaking so loudly it was work—“I’m taking dialysis three times a week, so it’s wearing me down a little, but not enough to keep me from working. And I need to work because of my grandbabies. I feel better on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. And I’m high on the list to get a transplant as soon as somebody with a matching kidney dies. Soon as I get a new kidney, I can work full-time.”

Ms. Schultz said, “You poor old woman.”

I didn’t think the old was necessary, but at least she was on the verge of sympathy.

She said, “You should’ve said something sooner.”

“I’ll be better Thursday, after I rest up a little bit.”

She said, “Maybe you should stay home. Get some proper rest. Maybe you shouldn’t come back at all, dear.”

“No. I’ll be okay, Thursday.”

“You should call someone who could look after you the way you look after me.”

I laughed at this, imagining I could pay someone to serve me. “No,” I said. “I’m okay. I just shoveled that sidewalk and driveway, so I’m a little tired.”

“I’m going to insist, Clarissa. I don’t want to be responsible for contributing to your deteriorating condition, and I can’t put you in a position that might jeopardize my well-being. What if you fell asleep while the house was on fire? What if I went into cardiac arrest and needed you to call 911?”

“I’m okay. I can call 911 if I need to. I’m just a little extra tired today, but I’m okay.”

“Hand me my purse. I’ll settle up with you for this week, and you can go home early, get some proper rest. Sue will be here at three and can see about replacing you. She may want the extra shift herself. She’s a very good worker, Sue is. My purse, dear.”

I stared at the woman’s old face, her pouty lips, those cold blue eyes behind her glasses. I thought: here is the smiling lady who leads you to the gas.

She kept her purse beneath her chair so she could touch it occasionally with her foot. I had to get on one knee—like I was genuflecting for the Queen—just to pull it out from between her legs, then I placed it on her lap. She handed me her checkbook, said, “Make it out to yourself for $60, and let me sign it.”

She couldn’t see well enough to write her own checks, and she couldn’t hold a pen tightly enough. I was tempted to make it out for $6,000. Instead, I took two twenties from her purse, called it my severance package. I did this while she held the check up against her glasses to make sure I’d written $60. Then I put a book in her lap so she could sign it. I put her checkbook back in her purse and slid her purse back between her legs under her chair. She said, “Will you return this book to its proper place?” I returned the book to the coffee table in front of her. I put on my coat, gloves, scarf, hat, and shoes without a word. I did not punch her in the nose.

“Good luck,” Ms. Schultz said.

I lifted my middle finger to her back. I stepped from the house into the cold and snow, legs heavy as cypress stumps. It was coming down in thick sheets now, heavier than I’d ever seen. Good luck, I said, and laughed. Grandma said, “You’ve messed up now. You thought you could tell that woman you were feeling weak? I could’ve told you she’d be on you like a lion chasing a one-legged gazelle. Never tell the boss you’re feeling weak.”

I thought I’d seen an invitation to confide something.

“Hold it together,” Grandma said. “Here we go.”

Tomorrow, after dialysis, I would look for another job. I got a small disability check every month, and I had a tiny bit in savings—enough for a couple weeks’ worth of food, but I’d have to find something else soon. Maybe I’d ask the principal if he knew of anything. I had an hour before I went to his office. What could I do with an hour? I pictured my own driveway and sidewalks—I had a corner lot too, knew I should shovel some now, some later, then gather up a little care package to take Reggie—a couple books he’d asked for, a notebook to write in.

Grandma said, “Better call the jail.”

They had strict rules. Visiting hours were 4-8 p.m. Tu/Th/Sat, twenty minutes per visit, only one child per visit, and only if you called first to get on the list. If you called and didn’t show up, you lost visiting privileges for a month.

I got my phone out.

“Better wait ‘till we get home. If we get home.”

I backed out of Ms. Schultz’s driveway, turned my wipers on high, went slowly through her neighborhood out toward the main road. The snow was sticking, piling up. Last winter, the mechanic who put a new battery in my ’96 Corolla (190,000 miles) tried to sell me new tires. He said my tread was as bald as his head. I told him I’d wait.

Grandma said, “Better speed up. You’re going to get us run over and killed.”

Out on the main road through town, I’d managed to get in front of a city snow plow who was riding my ass, looking like he was ready to throw me to the curb.

My phone rang. Jill.

“Don’t answer that. Look at the road.”

I couldn’t see the road.

“Keep on truckin.’”

I thought of Reggie. I wouldn’t tell him I’d been fired. He had enough to worry about. His court date had been delayed because his appointed lawyer either quit or dropped dead, and his new lawyer hadn’t made time to meet. His last lawyer said he was facing somewhere between six months and six years, depending on the judge. I knew he smoked pot. I knew about his gun. When he came back from Afghanistan he couldn’t sit still and he couldn’t be in public. The pot relaxed him enough to leave the house and look for work. He didn’t smoke around me or the girls. Then on November 9 is when he got the gun, the day after that fool got elected, which was the same morning we woke up and saw somebody had spray-painted our front door with the words, “Niggers go home!” This was the same door I’d been going through since 1985, when Henry and I bought the house. It was three months after we’d come here from Georgia to visit his aunt and uncle, which is when he saw that job at Trane, applied for it and got it, then we lived with them and saved up the down payment. I was glad Reggie had the gun. Somebody else in the neighborhood with a Hillary sign had a brick thrown through their windows. He kept his gun under his car seat, then brought it in and kept it on a high shelf in his closet. He sat us all down at the kitchen table, told us about it, told us never to go inside his closet.

“Watch out, fool,” Grandma said.

Some fool kid wearing shorts and a t-shirt decided to walk across the middle of the street, ignorant of crosswalks.

Grandma said, “Maybe he’s got a matching kidney.”

Then in early December, a K-9 unit pulled Reggie over supposedly for rolling through a four-way stop, claimed he had enough pot for a distribution charge, plus the unregistered handgun, which somehow added up to a six-year max. Waiting for his court date is what was killing him. He wanted to get it over with, let his girls know how soon he’d be back out. All I could do was bring them to visit and hold it together myself when I was in front of him so he wouldn’t worry while he waited and waited. He’d been trying, lord knows. When he graduated from the state college in 2011, he owed $25,000 in student loans. He worked two different jobs for a year after college, but it wasn’t enough and then he had a two year-old girl and another on the way, both with this woman he dated in college whose name I refuse to mention, and this Marine recruiter kept calling, saying the GI Bill would pay off his loans after his four years, which was a lie. Six months after he got back, that woman disappeared, leaving him with two little girls she said she’d never wanted in the first place. He and the girls moved in with me. For a couple months, he drove me to dialysis and picked me up when it was over, then saw about supper. He had applications in all over town, and he was fighting to hold it together, even enrolled in a yoga course and started dating the teacher who said he should be the teacher. He kept telling us everything would be fine, and I could tell by the way his girls looked at him that they believed him. He told them every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and they still believed him, but the waiting was wearing on them. I tried to keep their spirits up. I wouldn’t tell any of them I’d been fired.

At a red light I watched the heavy snow coming down and piling up and knew I’d have to shovel my own driveway and sidewalk, a thought that made me close my eyes for a second. A car horn woke me.

Grandma said, “Pay attention, now. Here we go.”

After I pulled into my garage, I didn’t even go inside. I grabbed the shovel and started clearing a path as wide as the car so I could get out and back in again. When I looked over to the sidewalk, my neighbor Marty was there, clearing it away like he was on the Olympic snow-shoveling team. I walked over to thank him, snot dripping from my nose.

He said, “I’ll be back later—looks like ten more inches is on the way.” Then he was off, shovel over his shoulder, limping back toward his house, a sight that made me want to cry, because I thought he’d hurt his back by shoveling too much too fast, for me. If he could wait long enough for me to gather the ingredients and find the time and energy, I’d make him a cake, tell him to share it with his wife, who looked like she needed to put on a pound or two.

After I went inside and took off my coat, gloves, scarf, hat, and boots, I collected Reggie’s things, then I called the jail to tell them we were coming at 4 p.m. I put the morning’s wash in the dryer, washed the breakfast dishes, sat on the couch for just one blessed minute.

My phone woke me at 2:59. My first thought was that I was late to the principal’s office, so I answered fast without looking.

Jill said, “Clarissa. Listen. I have to talk to you.”

I stood too quickly, held the wall while another dizzy spell washed over me.

“I need you to come home,” she said. “You and the girls.”

“I can’t talk now,” I said. “I’ve got to—”

“I tried to call you yesterday when I found out. I—”

“I can’t find my coat,” I said.

“They’re telling me six months to a year.”

“Can’t find my damn gloves. Or scarf. Hat.”

“It came back,” she said. “Spread to my lungs.”

I went to the garage without my coat or gloves or hat. The school wasn’t far.

I said, “I’ve got to go to the damn principal’s office. You believe that?”

“My kidneys are okay, Clarissa. I need you and the girls to come home.”

I turned my wipers on high and moved slowly through the falling snow.

She said, “Are you hearing me, Clarissa?”

“No,” I said. “I’m not hearing you. I’m driving through a goddamned blizzard and it’s minus 12 damn degrees in this fucking hell-hole of a shit town and this old bitch just fired my ass and I’ve got to go to the goddamned principal’s office because Alyx punched this fucking idiot-ass kid whose fucking parents aren’t even coming, then we have to go to the jail to see Reggie for twenty damn minutes. Twenty minutes.”

Dead Grandma said, “I hope these other drivers can see that you’re on the phone!”

I couldn’t tell where the road stopped and the sky started because the sky and the road were the same color. All around my periphery was the same color, big as oceans.

Jill said, “You and the girls come live with me. I want you to have my house. How soon can you be here?”

“I’ll call you later,” I said. “I can’t—”

I heard the body hit my car before I saw it. Then the body was rolling up the hood and up the windshield, not stopping until it reached eye-level, then it paused and hovered long enough to reveal two inches of flesh between shirt and pants, a hairless little belly button I saw to its wrinkled bottom, shallow enough to belong to a child. The body rolled back down the hood. It rolled so slowly I saw all the way back to a summer day when Reggie rolled down a country hill, screaming with joy until he slowed to a stop in a patch of wildflowers. But this body fell off the hood like it had fallen off a mountain, then disappeared.

My hands didn’t know what to do. Nothing was moving out there but the snow, which kept coming down. There was a kid lying in the street. Then sitting. Scooting himself backwards by the seat of his pants, one leg bent, one leg straight, crawling back toward the curb like a hurt crab.

Grandma said, “Oh hell, honey. Hold on, now. Everybody just hold on.”

Even while I watched him reach the curb and crawl up the snowbank and sit on top of it and stare ahead in a frozen trance—even then, my mind wouldn’t tell my hands what to do.

Dead Grandma said, “I’ll wait in the car. Go on, now. Get out there, honey.”

One person, then another, came running from opposite directions toward the child.

Grandma said, “Put the car in park and turn it off.”

I did this. It was snowing. I unfastened my belt. Other people came running and huddled around the child.

“Open your door and get out there. It’ll be alright.”

The wasps stung my face. I held to my car fender like a guardrail, then stepped around to the hood, felt it dip in the middle where the body had made a dent.

People huddled around the child, two people talking on their phones, smoke coming out of their mouths, looking down the street toward the sound I’d already heard and then recognized as a siren. I couldn’t see the child. Couldn’t get to the child. Another siren came from somewhere else. Had anyone called the child’s mother? Somebody needed to call the child’s mother. I imagined getting that same call and looked for a place to vomit. The wasps were stinging my lips and face. Falling snow piled on my head and shoulders. I wanted to see the child, but there were too many bodies between us. Sirens came closer. I said, to no one, “My girls are waiting.” I took a step toward where I thought the school might be, but wasn’t sure it was the right way.

The sirens converged and stopped. People were pointing. People were clearing a path. The EMTs were rushing forward, carrying a toolbox, carrying a stretcher. Two cops were following them. People were pointing in my direction.

The EMTs disappeared into the crowd and the crowd closed around them.

The cops were walking toward me. One stepped up and removed a pen, his face cold and blank as a tombstone, very tired himself, it seemed, like he hated this job he’d been working for too many years in the kind of cold that was locked inside him now. A familiar face. Had I seen his face at the jail, or a face like his? His brother’s face?

“I’m going to the principal’s office,” I told him, or tried to, but my lips weren’t working. He said something into the walkie-talkie fastened to his shoulder, then a woman said 10-4.

“Reggie at four for twenty minutes,” I said, but my lips wouldn’t move.

The other cop was in the road, waving cars around us, trying to get people moving, but they were busy looking to see who they could blame.

Someone else came through the crowd then, moving toward me. Carrying a blanket. A woman wrapped it around me and hugged it tight. The man said, “What happened?”

He said, “Have you been drinking, or were you texting?”

The woman said, “What’s your name, honey?”

“I have to go,” I tried to say. “My girls.”

The woman said, “What’s your name? Can you tell us that? Tell us your name and your home address?”

“Jill said come home.”

“Tell me what happened,” she said.

“Somebody needs to call his mother. I’m sorry. Tell her I’m sorry. Jill said six months to a year.”

“Let’s step over here,” the woman said. “Let’s sit inside this car and get you warm.”

“Get me warm,” I said. “That’s right.”

“Right over here.” She held the door open and I sat inside and she closed the door and went around and got in behind the wheel.

“I’m ready,” I said.

Matt Cashion’s story collection Last Words of the Holy Ghost (UNT Press) won the 2015 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in short fiction, judged by Lee K. Abbott. He is also the author of two novels, Our 13 th Divorce and How the Sun Shines on Noise (both by Livingston Press). Born in North Carolina, raised in Georgia, he earned an MFA at the University of Oregon and now teaches at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

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