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The Cornelian Prize for 1999


They cut his heel off today, the man my mother married. He can’t walk for weeks and will have to use a bedpan, his leg wrapped in styrofoam like a tasty hot treat. I am the ambivalent stepdaughter who never lived under his roof. He was a figment, a Cabarrus County shelter for my mother’s sexuality and dreams.

It was January, that day when the snowstorm began at four a.m. in Charlotte and the schools closed. I went back to sleep, woke late, and watched the wicked holly leaves hiding their spikes in snow. My mother was wrapped up at the man’s house near Concord, unable to return home.

My brother had already heard the news, and was gone. Having searched the musty garage for the sled, he set out to Freedom Park with the rest of the neighborhood, surfing down the bouncy incline known as Hippie Hill. Ben and his hefty friend Matt were well-versed when they returned home for me. The walk was longer and more tedious than usual, but we checked each yard for transformations, like cruising for the tackiest Christmas lights. We ate ice impersonating leaves off stooping trees and bushes.

When we reached the hill, Ben lay stomach-down on the sled and motioned me to jump on top. As usual I was afraid but Ben’s irrepressible grin bore me onward. Suddenly there was the thud of Matt landing on my back. I howled as we careened over five bumps, the icy sidewalk, and slammed into a sewer grate.

That night the snow was still falling. Mom could not come home. I made fish sticks and green beans, hot chocolate and marshmallows like my mother, and my father for that matter, had always done when it snowed. Ben and I tried to accept the silence of the huge house, making a family after the divorce. I wasn’t sure how I liked the responsibility, or the fear of some unforseen menace: a burglar, a sledding accident, the power or the pilot light going out.

Today is February, and the forecast is snow. I should be in Charlotte helping my mother make sense of this cancer; I should be there to comfort my brother, mother, stepfather. But I keep my adult distance. Who can say if it is love, distance, or snow between us?

“Snowstorm” copyright © 1999 by Laura Maschal

© Robert J. O’Hara 2000–2021