by Gay Degani
Polar winds bang the windows, rake the roof. Inside, relatives, friends, and the homeless guy who lives in a lean-to behind the liquor store, all sit down to a glazed-ham dinner. Aileen wipes her forehead, relieved to finally have scalloped potatoes, green beans, Waldorf salad, and crusty rolls on the extended dining table. On the sideboard, three fruit pies scent the air.
Megan always began with pies, so this morning, Aileen began with pies. She started early, following her big sister’s timetable, the good china washed and the table set, all ingredients grouped by dish on the kitchen counter.
Two months ago, Aileen’s cell phone rang. A policeman. A cement pylon. Megan’s crumpled Jetta. How very sorry he was. Now, remembering, she glances at her mother over the Santa candles. Their watery eyes meet.
A rush of cold air whistles down the chimney. Aileen shivers and remembers how her sister loved a bracing chill. Waking to windows polished with frost, Megan was always the first one out the door when they were kids, teasing Aileen into making a host of angels in soft white snow.
The house rattles and pops and the lights go out. Murmurs and gasps go round the table. Aunt Rae says in her croaky voice, “Well, hell.” And they all laugh.
Digging in the utility drawer, Aileen finds Megan’s stash of plastic window scrapers, knit gloves, ski-wax, flares, smelling salts, and finally a rubber-banded batch of stubby candles. Megan, the Girl Scout, was always prepared, the one who cared about everything and everyone. Aileen had invited the homeless man knowing her sister would’ve insisted.
After dinner, warmed by wine, candles, and hearth, they settle into the living room to sing along while Aileen plays “Silent Night” and “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” on the violin, her sister’s soft soprano in her ear. If she blurs her eyes, she can almost see Megan beyond the picture window, snow whirling around her, whipping her long dark hair. Memory, Aileen thinks, is like that, gifting you with something you want, you need, but it’s only a ghost of the real thing.
One by one, the singers stop because Aileen is no longer playing. They laugh gently at her startled face. She jumps from her seat and bows deeply. Excusing herself, she heads into the bathroom where she blows her nose, wipes her reddened eyes.
Later, Aileen stares at the snow gusting outside the window as her young co-worker regales them with tales of being snowbound in a Bavarian hostel. Her uncle slouches in the wing chair as the homeless man lectures him on the merits of Mickey Mantle vs. Roger Maris. Aunt Rae yawns in the rocker. Her mother dozes on the couch. The storm outside begins to taper off, leaving no place for a ghost to appear.
After everyone leaves and her mother’s in bed, Aileen turns off the house lights and wanders into the living room. She picks up wine glasses, then stops to stare out the picture window. The wind and snow have stopped. Moonlight glimmers across the white. She presses her nose against the cold pane, waiting, and then behind the cloud of her breath, there’s Megan. Beckoning. Aileen opens the front door and trudges into the snow to search for snow angels.
Gay Degani has received various nominations and honors for her work including Pushcart consideration and Best Small Fictions. She won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. She’s published a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She occasionally blogs at Words in Place.