They were burning beef in their backyards, brown burly men with beer cans. The women were wild, whipping children around and around, catching one and trading it for another one. The breath was steam from everyone’s lips, and the yards became a sauna of breath and hahaha and ohh sure, I know the Patersons. It was November, the time when the neighborhood stepped outside to see faces and shake hands and stamp the cold stiff out of aging legs and feet. The young ones clustered together in the corners of the fences, the few that were still standing, and tried to hide their cigarette smoke with the hot of their breath, huddling close to one another and murmured about where they would be if they weren’t stuck in this God-Forsaken Place. When the food was cooked, or thought to be, the mismatched paper and plastic and occasionally glass plates were passed with coordinating utensils atop, cold fingers bumping together the menagerie of sides and potatoes and cups of beer or wine or cider or cocoa. It was all very warm and also chilly, slightly damp and a little uncomfortable, trying to shift your plate across your knee to keep your cup from sloshing against your coat. But the beef was beefy, the gravy smooth and salty, the things cold that should be and hot that ought to be. When the sun began to set the fires came out, one by one in each yard, and the neighborhood shifted slowly, counterclockwise, from lot to lot. Promises were made to yes yes let’s do dinner, and the warmth of the fires moved inwards until the neighborhood was cozy and comfortable and forgetting all about how the snow is making everyone quite wet at this point.
And then it was silent. Each family packed up and bringing each can and cup and napkin inside their respective homes, the snow continuing to fall and hide any trace of their revelry. The silence is the kind that can only come from a decent layer of snowfall, each surface trading its original texture and color for a thick spread of white. You swear you can hear the snow landing on its counterparts, almost a tiny hiss or crackle.
And that’s when it happens. One by one, the children sneak from their homes, their cozy and safe and quiet and neighborly homes, and walk single file down the snow covered road. They do not say a word, but follow one another dutifully until they reach the Willow Tree at the end of the block. Then, as quick as you might blink, they each seem to twist, just for a moment, in a way that looks like it would be quite painful, and then they are gone.
“Dorothy, please keep up, darling.” Her mother calls as she sifts through the frozen entree selection. Six year old Dorothy was very much keeping up, but her mother wanted the grocery boy stocking the tall shelf of bread to very much realize not only that this was her daughter, but also that she was very proud of her.
“Clarice!” A voice called out, shortly accompanied by a bouncing (in every sense of the word) woman with unnaturally blonde and perfect curls, and suspiciously red lipstick. “Clarice.” The woman said again, smiling as she approached Dorothy’s mother.
“Well, Felicity, this is a delightful surprise.” Clarice was everything as smooth as could be as she spoke, simultaneously finding Dorothy’s small hand and holding it against the side of her leg, adjusting her hair, and hiding the frozen entrees beneath a healthy bag of fresh spinach, all before turning to face the woman standing before her.
“Indeed it is, Clarice. A delightful surprise indeed.” Felicity’s smile and eyes were seized upon Clarice’s dark eyes