someone else

salillustration
Illustration by Maggie Meshnick

It was snowing.  As he lay in bed, Sal watched it through his window.  It was a pretty snow with thick flakes.  The wind picked them up and whirled them around, choreographing a clumsy dance.  Sal was unsure if the snow fell down or rose up, and this confusion comforted him.  The miniature clock by his bed ticked steadily and he thought it funny that this side of the window was so calm, so controlled.

It wasn’t a perfect snow because school wasn’t cancelled.  But that didn’t matter so much to Sal, not today, because today he was sick.  At 6:15, Sal’s alarm sounded and he woke to see the whirlwind on the other side of the window.  By 6:20, he decided on sickness.  At 6:30, his mother shoved a thermometer in his mouth and Sal knew he had already succeeded.  Leila moaned as she pulled her boots on to walk to school, cursing her younger brother.  She had watched him poke the thermometer through one of the openings in the space heater while her mother dressed for work.  Again.  At 6:36, when their mother came back into the kitchen to check his results, 101°F meant that Sal would stay home.  At 6:45, Leila and her mother stepped outside as usual, today without Sal.  Before locking the door behind them, Sal noticed that the wind and the snow consumed his family the moment they stepped outside, and something about that made him jealous.  But this jealousy didn’t last long – by 6:50 he was back in bed, by the window, watching the chaos.  Now it was 7:30 and Leila would be starting school.  It was Wednesday.

His sister wouldn’t be home until shortly after 3:00.  Mom, later, just after 6:00.  Sal had time.  With a shower, his not-so-sick day ritual began.  Sal generally kept himself clean, but on not-so-sick days he washed with greater care.  Beginning with his face, Sal scrubbed, hard.  As he rubbed the dirt away he felt as if he was removing a mask, or maybe putting one on.  Working down his neck and chest, past his legs, between his toes, Sal scrubbed Sal away.  Cleansed, someone else remained.

Outside, the wind blew faster.  Inside, someone else dried using a blue towel embroidered with the letters S A L.  The child stared into the mirror. With a wink, someone else wrapped Sal’s towel around their head.  This was a routine of the women who lived in the house.  Of course, Sal’s buzzed head didn’t need to wrap itself in a towel to become dry.  But someone else was different.  Someone else had long hair.  Blue hair.

She stared into the mirror once again as she puckered up and struck two soft poses – one for herself, one for the weather.  Naked still, the child walked back into Sal’s room.  The clock read 8:11.  Outside, the wind shook the snow in rebellion.  Inside, someone else remembered something, jotted a note onto a loose scrap of paper, and placed it beneath the miniature clock in Sal’s room.  She watched the clock, and as soon as it changed to 8:13, she reached for the outlet and unplugged the time.  It was quieter without the ticking but someone else did not feel calm.

She picked up speed.  First she ran to Leila’s room, straight for the closet – she knew it well.  Flinging the door open, someone else flipped through the items hanging from the rail.  Leila kept her clothes color-coded in rainbow order.  She chose three dresses that might suit her before stepping out of the closet, at which point she threw the garments on the bed.  She removed her hair, but only for a moment to try on the dresses, which she did without looking at Leila’s mirror.  It wasn’t about looking, not really.  The child settled on the orange flowery dress that fell just below her knees.  She usually chose that one because when she spun it puffed up and twirled with her.  To make sure it still worked the girl turned twice on her toes.  Delighted, she ran out of Leila’s room, but remembered that she had left her hair on Leila’s bed.  She ran back in, wrapped her head in blue, ran out again.

Almost complete, someone else ran then to Sal’s mother’s room.  She couldn’t parade around in this room like she had in Leila’s. Sal’s mother would notice – she had eyes like a hawk.  The child would only be a moment.  Sal’s mother kept her shoes lined up in a row facing the door.  Today the girl picked a pair of olive green flats that swallowed her feet.  She ran back into Sal’s room, wondering what time it was.  Close to 9:00 by now?  She shook her head and reminded herself that now was no time to worry about the time.

Then, breaking ritual, someone else did something that could only happen in the face of inclement weather such as this.  She walked toward the window in Sal’s room, lifted it open, invited confusion in.  It was cold in a way that tickled.  She giggled for three minutes, she guessed, before she ran into the kitchen and lifted open its windows as well.  She did the same in the dining room and again Leila’s room.  With the exception of Sal’s mother’s room and the locked front door, someone else made sure to keep each of the doors in the house open so that the windows could be in conversation together.  They shared whispers like screams.  Someone else stood in the middle of the house, next to the table in the dining room.  Chaos filled the space.

And she danced.  Slowly at first, not at all like the snow that rushed into the room.  There was no music but the screeching of windows.  But then she picked up speed, and as she did winter swallowed her.  The room followed suit and soon it all became consumed in lawlessness.  The floorboards rose, encapsulated her, twirled her faster than her dress ever could, and she kicked off her shoes and she pounded her feet and she danced a clumsy dance.  Her hair unraveled and fell beneath her but her small feet pounded faster still.  The stark smell of cold penetrated her nose, pierced her lungs, caused her to sneeze like a power outlet in surge. She was electricity, heat rising like fireworks from the ground.  She was avalanche tumbling down, down, down into rapturous disaster.  The room was a disaster.

Sal would return.  He had to.  He had a family.  When he did, he would clean the house and return the clothes.  His sister and then his mother would find him back in bed.  But 3:00 felt infinitely far away, and for the moment – just a moment – someone else embraced a cold chaos within her.

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