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"The Snow Piles," short story excerpt

Monday 8/22/22

Martella loved to sled, though she did so much less often than when her mother was alive and they both lived in the cabin with Martella’s father.


In the past she’d had a favorite hill which she determined was the best hill there’d ever been for sledding. The first time she was too scared to start from its top, so she walked down to about the middle, trying not to fall over because of the slope, and began there.


It was an amazing ride, and not half so scary. The snow accumulated at the bottom in rounded, soft drifts that must have been ten feet high and six feet deep. They stopped the sled at the end of every run, as if that’s why they’d been made. Martella had never come out the other side of the piles, though she’d tasted many mouthfuls of snow.


She liked to race out of the cabin when everyone was happy, and then race back when she was done, so she wouldn’t miss out on the happiness. After Martella’s mother died, her father said that she would be happy again. Most of her life was yet to come, and it’d take a long while getting there. She had barely begun, he told her, but she should still make sure to remember her mother just as she did now.


Martella wanted her dad to be happy, too, so she said the same thing to him. He was only forty. Martella was good at math. He didn’t get angry, but he replied that that wasn’t how life worked, and he talked like he knew.


“You are all that matters to me now,” he finished.


They still discussed animals like before, and they read the same books and talked about them after they were both done reading. He did his paintings as he always had, but even when it was warm in spring—and spring started late here, so you were grateful when the warmth finally came—he only painted what was close to the house. When Martella’s mother was alive, he’d go way into the woods. Sometimes Martella went with him, and sometimes the three of them went together with a basket of food. He called this making a day of it. It was the same food that they ate at home, but it tasted better in one of those clearings that didn’t get too bright. That’s what you want in a clearing. A nice place to sit and stretch and be aware of the sun, but with some shade all the same.


Martella was getting older, and she wasn’t going to live in the cabin forever. Ever since she was very small, she’d been scared of that day arriving. Her father would say, “Don’t be silly, we’ll come visit you,” but that was when Martella’s mother was still alive. She wanted to go even less now, because she knew her dad wouldn’t visit much. He’d look at it like whatever he was supposed to have done was all over, and that meant he could stop doing everything else he was doing. It all tied into that one thing anyway. He’d get angry at Martella and she didn’t know why.


“What have I done wrong?” she’d ask, genuinely wanting to know, so she could put a stop to it.


“It’s not you,” he said. “You just remind me so much of your mom now.”


She was upset with herself because it sounded like she didn’t used to hurt her father this way, but she was also confused, given that she must have reminded him of other things all along, just like he did with her.


It’d been years since she’d been sledding. Martella had realized in the interim that the best part of sledding was truly loving the activity, but not being able to wait until going back home. She thought that was perfect. If death could be that way, there’d be a lot less pain. She pondered the idea often. Considered asking her dad what he thought. But again, she was getting older, and when you get older, you learn more, sometimes without even trying or wanting to.