I know the sound of snow.
Sister taught me how to listen to it whenever Mom and Dad fought. She told me that snow was the sky coming down—Heaven touching the ground with little tip-toes.
Once, I listened so carefully by the window that I didn’t even know the window broke. Sister pulled me from the glass while Mom and Dad threw more things through it. She touched the cuts on my face, she touched the tears on hers, she smeared her cheeks red. She led me to her room and shut the door—the cold reached through under it and tickled my ankles. Sister sang a song while she put clothes in our backpacks. She knew which were my favorite and folded them carefully.
She put everything inside and zipped the bags. She wrapped me in more clothes and closed a coat around me. She called me an astronaut, safe in my suit, and told me we were going to the moon. When she opened her window, we climbed into space and watched the stars fall. She shut the window and erased our tracks while we walked.
We walked until the sky fell faster. The trees turned white and the houses were icebergs. I waited in Sister’s footprints and watched her climb the floating ice. She crawled into its caves. Her flashlight sparkled like an icicle wand.
She waved to me and I followed her inside, brushing our footprints behind me. The cave was big and empty. We found old bottles and boxes, leftovers from other explorers. We found a tub full of mud and a bed full of bugs. They were dead. They fell on the floor like sand.
Sister unrolled her sleeping bag and turned off her light. She put me inside and we shared the bag. I felt her breath on my cheek and her stomach shake. She started to shiver. I turned around but she turned away. I listened to her. She wanted to go home.
“We can go back now,” I said, “we can come again tomorrow.” The moon and the iceberg and the cave were not fun anymore.
Sister was quiet for a long time.
“We can’t,” she whispered.
“It’s not safe,” she said, “just listen to the snow. Go to sleep.”
I woke from deep inside the whale’s belly. The sleeping bag swallowed me. There was enough room now for me to swim, to reach, to wonder where Sister went. I squirmed from the bag like a cocoon. I walked to the window. The sun melted the snow and made it smell like rain.
Sister was in the backyard picking up snowballs. A snowman held her hat in his skinny hand. An igloo sat like a sea turtle on the beach. Sister crawled inside the white shell. I ran outside following her footprints.
“Why didn’t you cover your tracks?” I asked.
Sister stuck her head out from the shell, “Because we’re safe here.” She smiled and tucked back inside. I tucked inside, too. The turtle shell was just big enough for us, and quiet enough for us to hear our breaths and heartbeats—and our stomachs.
“Where are you going?” I asked when Sister ducked out the turtle’s neck.
“Getting our stuff. I brought snacks!”
She disappeared into the brightness outside. I listened to her footsteps munch the snow. Inside, the sun glowed through the shell like a cloudy day. I lied down and tried to guess where the sun was. I listened to it melt the snow. I poked a hole into the ceiling, peeked out, and tried to spot the sun. I knew I found it when a little lightning bolt shot inside.
Then I heard thunder.
I crawled from the igloo and found a mountain. It was black, brown, and made of broken wood. I looked at the other dark houses, but they were not the cave.
I followed Sister’s tracks to the mountain, but she did not come out.
I tried to climb it, but the steps kept moving, the mountain kept breaking. I watched the wood and waited.
Then I heard Sister’s shivers.
I put my ear to the mountain’s side and tried not to breathe.
But her breaths stopped instead, and all I heard was the sound of snow.
©Evan Pham, 2016 (Written Dec. 11-13, 2016)