Mom is pregnant. In nine months, our family will never be the same. Our father won't make it. A baby will. Today we will go skiing. My mother calls for directions.
My dad puts all the woolen hats he can find into a gym bag. My hands are already cold. Already, my father says my mother’s belly looks bigger under her clothes. I try not to think about it.
My mother talks to us as she assembles the gear. She is not putting on her ski pants because, she reminds us again, she is pregnant. I can’t stop looking at her long johns—pink with roses around a little sweet phrase embroidered in cursive letters. My ears ooze castor oil from last night’s home remedy to cure their aching.
My father explains that the snow will not be real. Now, every single thing in the outside world hums with a frequency of a foreign country. I try to envision “made” snow—my dad says there’s practically no way to tell what’s real and what’s not real. He says they only make the snow when there is not enough real.
All of the sudden my mother is needle pointing like she used to do when we were the children. Now we are not children. My brother returns his fingers to the longest scarf in the world. I ask questions that only a reasonable person would ask—exactly when will the baby be born? Who is your doctor? Will you have another c-section? Is it dangerous?
If Mom is having a baby, does that mean Dad will get well? Does the baby cancel out the sick? When will this be over?
Without a single piece of equipment, we arrive at the mountain. Man on the Run is blaring through blown-out speakers over a deck of people in bright colored snow pants and sunglasses. The sun glares and the snow reflects—many children have a rope of lip balm slung around their necks. We don’t have those. We need them. A child is running back and forth to show her parents how funny it is to run in ski boots. The dad laughs, takes pictures. My father looks straight ahead, squints, and tells me to remember to put on two pairs of socks to avoid getting blisters. My brother looks up at the single mountain where a lift ferries skiiers over a patch of dead grass that they couldn’t cover up.
In waiting rooms, I read Boy’s Life. While my Dad got radiation, I learned how to tie tourniquets for snake bites, how to breathe into someone’s lungs to keep them alive. I learned about poisonous mushrooms and how to save people from drowning. I did not have a subscription to Boy’s Life and I didn’t care for any other portion, just the parts where a scout saved someone.
In the movie, The Late Great Planet Earth, experts predicted that an apocalypse would kill everyone in three years.
Beyond anything imaginable. Beyond what we can even comprehend. The blood will be up to a horse’s neck.
We had horses.
In three years, my baby brother would be three. Fence posts were roughly the height of a horse’s neck. We could sit on the fence posts. If you knew in advance that you’d be swimming through blood, you could prepare.
I made a plan to become more safety conscious. I identified escape routes. One afternoon, I walked the yard with a shovel to build an underground shelter.
::Useful facts and tips about the dangers of being alive:
Killer bees are coming from South America. Some are already in Florida.
Walking down the road at dusk is like being invisible.
No one can see you and you’ll probably get hit by a car.
If a dog bites you and it’s had it’s shots, don’t worry about it.
Snakes can’t bite you under water.
Alligators eat puppies like popcorn but alligators can only run in a straight line.
Run zig zag.
If you get caught in a riptide, don’t fight it. Let it take you.
Beat blackberry bushes with a long stick before you get too close.
The snakes will go out of there.
Don’t stand behind a horse.
Don’t scream around a horse.
Blow into its nostrils to make it your friend.
Don’t take a shower or talk on the telephone in an electrical storm.
A tornado sounds like a train.
Wear a life preserver. Always.
Singed hair smells like it could have been worse.
Dad didn’t like them either. The women from the church preyed on illness. You had to let them come over. It was their job. When they arrived in beatup flat shoes and wooden crosses, they came to sing. One time the choir director sat at the piano, took a sip of water and rolled out a complete performance of Oklahoma! We sat sorry and hostage on the couch and tried to conjure passable showtune expressions.
Outside, in a field of clover, men were working the cattle. A chute clinched the calves by their necks to hold them in place. From the sofa, you could see the pink penicillin, the enormous syringe, the plunge of a needle in the side of the thrashing, open-mouthed calf. Someone should have called the humane society.