In Big Coats We Fell
Kate Weinberg

The cold that night was so deep it zipped right through the shut windows and all the carpeting of our little house. It was Thanksgiving, and I hid in my room instead of eating dinner because my brother was gone. Ellis was gone, and my parents were downstairs clinking glasses and pretending there was no reason not to. Maybe they had to do it. Maybe they had to lock all the doors and switch on the artificial fireplace and play at the food tasting right in their mouths around that long, empty table, all places set and hardly anyone to fill them.

He’d shot up the liquor store down the street from our high school just before our three-day weekend and lit out for outer-town, somewhere, because he was hopped out of his mind, and what does that say about a person except they weren’t themselves, and shouldn’t that mean something? But it didn’t. They caught him trying to escape into Canada in a stolen truck and he bit their hands when they grabbed him. He drew blood. But they held him, and then they kept him. Now he was theirs, and he wore their clothes and ate their food when they told him to. And my parents were downstairs and I was up and we were free and we weren’t and the fake fireplace, oh, it blazed, casting useless heat into empty rooms.

Outside, on our flat land thick with other houses just like our own, everything seemed too still and quiet to make sense. It was the world—brutal nature and the swelling of the universe, the expansion of space and black holes and dark matter and things twitching constantly in the fabric—hammered down to small, safe houses and domestic pets, collars and leashes and carpeting. But I couldn’t see the twitching constant movement between things, the heartbeat of the moon, the feral, hungry cosmos lindy-hopping around my skin and veins. I just saw trees missing leaves and houses with the blinds drawn and minivans in driveways. It was meant to snow, it promised it would snow, on the television. The television lied all the time and was never punished for it. The television rarely did the right thing.

It hadn’t snowed on Thanksgiving since I was little—flashes of wet white through the big glass windows of my grandmother’s kitchen—all my cousins and I, protected more than anything else by the promise that snow offered. We were allowed to escape the room that held us because of it—the family rubric, the joins and fittings that ferried us there in cars to a common place to have a meal. People were dying all the time. We were the lucky ones. They reminded us of this, while we mashed the already mashed things on our plates that had come out of boxes and too much table salt. Ellis put a whoopee cushion under my Aunt Daisy’s chair. It farted out Ellis’ breath in a long, high-pitched scream when she sat on it. She wasn’t our aunt by blood; she was embarrassed and left the room for five full minutes and came back with a puffy face.

When the snow fell long enough, we found sleds and hills that took our small weight and sped us downward, skidding wet into our mouths in the dark, our hands wild in cold and the gold light of my grandparents’ house up the hill, waiting to take us back when we were through. I don’t remember stars. I remember deep-black sky and snow that looked like stars as it fell. Rapid, hungry snow that lay thickly on the hard ground and that packed well in our hands and of everything feeling endless and perfect and holy. It was the kind of night that lays tracks in your mind for all the whopping, stupid hope you hold the rest of your life to travel down. That one, singular feeling, bloomed huge in your chest. The feeling that everything might one day come back to those wide open fields and black sky and snow, your family dappling the cold with their red cheeks and puffy coats, your brother’s hand in your hand as you sped side by side, chucked down the same ceaseless hill, not knowing where you’d land when it was over or if it would be upright or smack down in the cold and it not really mattering either way.

I still don’t remember ever being happier than that night.

But this night, snowless, Ellis-less, I stayed up in my room while my parents clattered silverware and slurped gravy and lapped wine from carafes and did not miss either one of us.

Belly-down on the tea-stained carpet, I flipped through magazines of pretty women and made my face into their faces, trying to look thinner. I thought on my brother and on the law and on his own personal laws, the ones he’d always repeated, sometimes out of nowhere between spattering blood from our swift-kicking avatar’s chins in a game of Mortal Kombat. Never fuck over the good guys, he always told me, sucker-punching my Liu Kang endlessly in the stomach while cartoon bursts of light and dying alighted from her chest. But the bad ones, he murmured, blood cordoning the screen. They have it coming.

Maybe the old Pakistani man my brother nearly shot dead had a whole litany of evil-deeds only Ellis knew about—data he’d been compiling for months, in secret, when he was supposed to be in school. Maybe he’d chosen that man, that place, on purpose. To re-pay all the wrong-do, to spook the flaccid universe out of its daze. But that’s probably not it. There’s probably no karma but bad luck wrapped up in how my brother sunk them both.

Ellis was becoming a Buddhist and yamming loads of pills at the same time. Thought very highly of the man who’d started selling him drugs—an anarchist he’d met outside of the back entrance of the mall. They’d played guitar with a tie-died strap together hours, trading songs, spitting at cars close enough to reach, sharing a pretzel from Auntie Anne’s. I picture them both wiping grease and pretzel salt onto their jeans, factory smoke settled in the sky, the mall concrete and bleak at their backs as they meditate on the nature of consumerism, convinced they are separate from it.

I listened to my parents purr downstairs over the heat and cinnamon and mulberry smells. They missed him, but they weren’t surprised by him any more. That he was safe somewhere, eating someone else’s food and wearing someone else’s clothes—that was their Thanksgiving. It made me angry, hearing them just keep going, not stop, even to pray over his lostness. I’d never know how often they sat up, late into the night, drinking and twisting their fingers in bed-sheets, stifling the hard noises of waiting and giving-in. They were sick of hoping for him.

But I didn’t want that. Didn’t want to stop trying to be better. Wanted to find him wandering in the dark, looking for us to take him back. Wanted to leave this place and not return until everything was already decided and it had all gone exactly as I’d planned. Wanted everyone I ever met to think I was beautiful even if they never said it out loud. Wanted to go back to the snow of that night, the hills and the gold light that waited for us, the whopping bigness of our chests as I held his hand and in big coats we fell.

I lay in my bed and touched my own skin, feeling how warm it was, how full of blood. I couldn’t picture it ever changing, or that one day the heart that kept it blood-warm would stop beating and my skin would melt away and I would not be able to lie in bed touching myself anymore. I would not want to. I would be horrible to myself. I didn’t want to be horrible to myself.

I crept out of bed to shut the lights out and opened my window all the way, shocks of cold air sluicing in. The grass outside was brittle and dying. The slats of our roof were thick with ice crystals glittering beneath the moon, which was huge and round and watchful. It looked like it was waiting for someone to grab it, lasso it into her arms. I wondered if Ellis was watching this same moon from the concrete and toilet-smells of his new room, which would have no carpeting. I wondered if there were windows there, or if maybe the moon was forced to abandon those places which kept people who’d done the wrong thing and been caught for it. But Shawn Levinson had graffitied the word slut on my locker with a sharpie the week before and I bet he still had full view of that big-mother-moon.

He’d never been caught, but I knew it was him. Went bonkers after I refused him a handjob during a school dance, when we’d snuck off into the too-bright hallway together to kiss. I’d given him one before, on a dare, months before, but I hadn’t felt like it that night, or any night since that first night. He couldn’t understand why I hadn’t wanted to try and weasel the cream out of his tiny, sweaty dick again; it was unfathomable to him.

I heard the sound of my mother choke-laughing or maybe crying from my colding room; imagined the ghosts of my grandparents stood behind them, wishing for solid mouths so they might swallow all that leftover turkey. They never would have allowed all that food to waste. Not how they were raised—in cramped apartments in a cramped city over grocery stores their crush-faced immigrant parents built, every shrink-wrapped slice of bread meaning more life, or not. That was how the story always went. But now, all they could do was wait, growing hungrier, staying dead.

The moon blinkered. My skin was hot and breathing, wild with that big, aching thing that often settled in the belly-dark center of me at night, when I was alone and wake-dreaming. It had since that first Thanksgiving I’d learned it, and it would until my mouth met the earth and stayed there.

I spidered myself out the window and landed barefoot on the icy roof. Pulled off my sweatshirt and waited for the cold neighborhood and all its distant, darkened, identical houses to wake up and notice the girl in t-shirt and white underwear, buzzing in the dark. I wanted the moon to take me, to take me back. There were no hills anywhere to hide any of us from each other. There was no snow.

Kate Weinberg started writing poems and stories as a child to make her parents love her more than her brother. Baltimore-bred, she trained as an actor and improviser in Chicago, has walked across the north of Spain, and now lives in Brooklyn. She has poems and stories published or forthcoming from places like Armchair/Shotgun, BlazeVOX, the San Pedro River Review, and the Saturday Evening Post.