I told my brother I thought he was the arsonist. Now he’s gone, and snow is filling up his boot prints.
It was funny when he talked about the arson, I guess. Funny when he said, “Don’t catch on fire out there, Carrot,” when I left to walk the dog. But when I called him the arsonist? Worse than when I said, “Just take your meds.” Worse than telling him I was only keeping him to do Mom a favor. Worse than suggesting those friends of his weren’t really friends.
I didn’t know about the snow. I’d stopped watching the news after the fires.
To keep from being too honest this week, I took James K. Polk for extra walks, left Randy to my couch and remote. The clouds were just threatening this afternoon, and I watched my dog’s tonguey breath in the air. I told him Randy would never finish high school, even if he likes his stupid cooking classes. I told him I thought we agreed we weren’t going to rescue Randy anymore. James K. Polk closed his mouth and cocked his head. But the concerned forehead wrinkles are always there. He’s happiest outside and away from men.
My neighborhood has emptied, three cars in twenty driveways. Even my ex called after the fires left a dozen sorority girls homeless and one old woman dead. But it happened three streets away. And they called in specialists. I told my ex and tell everyone it’s the safest time to live on Mahogany Ct.
I didn’t know it was going to snow all night.
I turn on the TV. I preheat the oven. I give James K. Polk an extra treat. Another.
Now I’ve done it. Randy huffed away because he can’t handle honesty. He lived with Dad in Colorado for three months, so he thinks he can manage this much snow. Mom will give me hell after he calls her on the phone she shouldn’t pay for, stranded halfway to where I rescued him from in the first place. That apartment smelled like liquor and plastic, no furniture, a pile of sleeping bags and bodies on hardwood, the aura of morning vomit.
It’s not like I even say half of what I think. It’s not like he ever says thank you.
I line a cookie sheet. Popping the cinnamon roll tube is the most satisfying thing I’ll do all day.
When Mom gives me hell, I’ll tell her the truth. I thought it was a cry for attention. I thought he just wanted me to follow him, and I didn’t. I’ll tell her a kind of truth, that I called him when I started to worry. I will call him soon.
I don’t think even Mom will rescue him in snow.
On the news there is no more arson. They have much better B-roll for snow. Cars skidding on black ice. Grocery store shelves bread barren. The reporter clutches her microphone in big gloves. The weatherman predicts eight to ten inches, snow into late morning.
I press my nose to the window, fat flakes in the streetlight, maybe a half an inch more since Randy tried to stomp out like a man an hour ago. His prints are gone.
He’ll come back, and I’ll give him some more truth. Snow is supposed to be fun. We’re supposed to throw snowballs and watch the dog roll in it. We’re supposed to celebrate with too much coffee. Look, I’ll say, another thing you ruined.
Soon enough, Randy’s toes will mutiny, his snot will freeze, and he won’t recognize the white landscape. He’ll wipe his nose on his sleeve, turn around, and still be rewarded when he comes home. Because I buy cinnamon rolls every December in hopes of snow, just like Mom always did. She’d call us in with a reward for our hard hours of play. I’d show Randy how strange it felt to run hot water over cold hands, how much stranger it felt to pee. Mom would wipe frosting off my nose and say, “Karen, you’re so good with your brother.”
Those first snow days were for celebrating, before the snow turned grey, before it felt permanent.
I know I should go after my brother. I know I should call my brother. I know my brother didn’t light any fires and that under all that haze, he’s in there. I know a lot of things.
I didn’t tell my ex or anyone else about the night of the fires, before I knew about the fires. I was walking James K. Polk and watching my breath when my arm was jerked back. He’s afraid of strangers, afraid of men, but there was no one in front of us. All the cars were in their driveways that night. Then I felt the side of my body. I felt the man watching me. Just beyond my neighbor’s lawn, almost into my neighbor’s bushes and out of the streetlamp’s reach, a silhouette. A teenager maybe, the silhouette of a baseball cap, but a large teenager. I relented to the dog’s pull.
But tonight, James K. Polk and I are safe in my warm apartment. I am frosting cinnamon rolls and he is curled on the man-free couch. It smells like a bakery in here, and outside my neighborhood looks like a syrup label.
The TV cancels Randy’s school day.
I leave the cinnamon rolls frosted on a plate. Randy will need them after his trek, and I’ll need three in the morning.
In bed I remember what I thought the night of the fires, what I thought the first night Randy stayed here. My bedroom is at the back of the apartment. But if someone comes in, I have an escape plan.