By L B Gschwandtner

“Am I going to die, Daddy?”

“No, Pumpkin. I wouldn’t let that happen.”

“Mommy died.”

“Yes I know. But that was different. Mommy was very sick.”

“I’m sick.”

“Yes you are. But you’re not sick the way Mommy was. You’re going to get better.”

He pushed his five-year-old daughter’s bangs away from her eyes. Her mother always took her to have her hair cut. He didn’t even know where. Studying her little face, he saw in it so much of her mother that a tightness took hold of his throat and he had to look away.

“Mommy didn’t get better.”

She was right of course.

“I know.” He was aware that she was studying him, looking to him for clues about how to feel, what to do.

“How about getting some sleep now?”

“What if I don’t wake up?”

“Will you believe me if I say you will wake up?”

“I don’t know.”

“How about if I say something out of the ordinary will be waiting for you in the morning?”

“Ow-da-or-der-rarey?” She sounded it out slowly, piece by piece.

“Sure.”

“What’s that?”

“Something special.”

“And good?”

“Yes. Definitely good. Like a message in the clouds.”

“From Mommy?”

“Maybe. But you’ll never know unless you go to sleep for a little while.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I have some paperwork from the office.”

Daddies always had paperwork. And they went to the office. And they came home. Mommies stayed home most of the time. They made cookies. They read stories. They sang songs. Sometimes they took brushes and paints outside and painted clouds and mountains. Sometimes they let you paint flowers and families and a sun. Sometimes they went to get their hair done. Sometimes they went to the hospital. Sometimes they got very tired. And they didn’t go to get their hair done anymore. And they wore a big scarf all wrapped round and round. And they held you very close. And you saw them cry – sometimes.

Her mouth opened in a long oval and she yawned deeply, with her whole body. Her eyelids fluttered a bit and he could see her relax. She held his hand lightly and didn’t wake up when he moved away.

He sat at the dining room table doing his paperwork until a faint clicking sound interrupted his concentration. He looked up to see little chunks of ice ticking at the skylight over the living room and tap tapping at the kitchen windows. The gray afternoon sky had given way to a mysterious, soft darkness before dusk.

He stood up and switched on the outside lights. Illuminated in the darkness of the January night, little specks of ice showered the winter air. He watched for a little while and soon fluffy, dry snow began to fall, quickly becoming a thick mass of specks peppering the night.

He left the papers and walked to the sliding glass door that led to the deck facing Big Oak Mountain. They had chosen the site together, had planned the house together, had made the baby in this house. They had eaten summer dinners on that deck and lifted their glasses of white wine to their good fortune and their love for each other and for this spot. Life was like spring daffodils.

Small tears pricked at the edges of his eyes. They stung like vinegar in a cut. He tried to hold back the tears, tried to bottle his grief but the tears overflowed his eyelids. The snow came down thicker. He turned off the inside lights and cried freely watching the storm build around his house.

Later thick snow covered the deck boards, blurring the dark spaces between planks. Tree branches were divided into two worlds, dark and definite below, soft and powdery-white above. Mounds of snow amassed on green pine boughs, drooping them toward the ground that swelled to meet them. Hills of snow transformed the land into a soft approximation of forms.

From where he watched, the night was a wild and soundless symphony. He could see the wind whipping the snow into a frenzy but inside all he could hear was the muffled sound of his own sobs.

Icicles began to form at the edge of the roof eaves where drips of snow melting from the heat vent above were sliding to meet the cold metal of the gutter. If the storm kept up, there would be huge stalactites of ice in the morning.

He went to the closet and put on his coat and gloves, pulled his ski cap down over his ears, tied on his hiking boots, the ones with the heavy treads for gripping. He went to the storage room and took out the ladder. In the kitchen he opened the cabinet where she had stored the food and found a big box of packets left over from summer. He stuffed them all into his jacket pocket.

Outside on the deck he positioned the ladder against the house and to one side of the drip. Carefully wiping snow as it gathered on each tread, he climbed the ladder until he reached the edge of the roof, then stepped off the ladder, taking care not to slip by digging each foot into the snow down to the asphalt shingles below. Only then did he take a cautious step. He repeated this until he was just above the vent pipe, above his daughter’s room, where heat from the house created the melting spot. Cold air stung his face. Snowflakes collected on his eyebrows. He breathed out billowy clouds of warm fog that vanished into the night.

He knelt down, keeping one foot on the asphalt roof for balance and traction. Then he reached into his pocket and lifted out the first packet. He tore the corner open with his teeth and shook out the powdered Kool Aid. It was brilliant orange against the pure, new snow. He repeated this with the next packet. It was lime green. Then raspberry red. He shook out a strawberry, lighter red, then blueberry and lemon and another orange and a lime and raspberry again, shaking them over the roof, painting the snow in the nighttime storm while tears stung his eyes and snowflakes built nests on his eyebrows, until finally all the packets were empty and the snowy roof was dappled like an artist’s canvas. He stayed there for a little time watching the powdered Kool Aid mix with the melting snow. Soon they joined forces and began to run ever so slowly toward the edge of the roof where small icicles were already forming in an uneven row. Snow fell on top of his roof painting covering the bright reds and greens and yellows and blues in cool white, but underneath, below the snowy surface, where the heat escaped the warm house that still held life, they blended with the melting snow.

Slowly, he descended the roof and climbed back down the ladder, sweeping away the snow that had collected on each tread by pushing his boot sideways, watching the extra powder land in small clumps, sinking into the fresh snow like droplets of water into powdered sugar. He carried the ladder back into the house and put it away, hung up his jacket, took off his hat and shook off the melted snow, unlaced his boots and put them away in the closet. He took the empty packets and stashed them in an old piece of newspaper and put the bunched paper into the kitchen trash. Then he went back to his papers.

At midnight, before putting out the lights and getting into his bed, he stood looking out at the falling snow and the icicles that were growing off the eave. Already there was a thick ice ledge along the gutter tapering down to a necklace of hanging spikes, smooth and glittering, spectacular crystalline jewels in colors of summer adorning their house.

Before turning out the floodlights, he spoke to the night.

“I’m sorry, Pumpkin. I know this is ow-da-or-der-rarey. But we’ll do the best we can.”