I see a flock of white sprites falling from the sky. They are small, insignificant beings made of ice with a guaranteed lifespan of nothing more than a few seconds. My face is so close to the glass that I can feel the frigid air slip in through the small wooden openings. I see our parents outside digging up the graves. Dad’s gray overcoat is unnaturally thick, stiffening his movements, while Mom stands beside him, hovering and wearing a long black dress that dangles slightly above the frosty ground.
Today resonates a bit differently with me. I wish you were here, that you had let me take your place. Mom and Dad keep busy; digging up the graves, making space in the cemetery for new tributes that will soon occupy their freshly carved burials. I imagine that they ceaselessly think of you. Maybe while they’re out there with their shovels, they speak to you. Mom probably tears up while recalling little fragments of your younger days. Dad probably keeps his emotions restrained beneath his brute armored persona, suffocating himself while choking back his tears, only to keep Mom from witnessing what he feels. I think Mom is the strong one, that she better copes with death; after all, the cemetery does belong to her family, she still prepares the bodies of the deceased, while Dad’s only responsibility is to help out digging the holes.
It’s not the first day of winter, but the snowiest day by far. White fluff decorates the gravestone in our family's cemetery, masking some of the letters on the tombs and killing off the flowers that any visitors may have left behind. The day has an odd peacefulness, a looming silence. I hear your voice in the back of my head say, "What a beautiful day to die."
Past the cemetery, I can spot the frozen lake. I see images of our younger selves skating along the thin ice. Your doppelganger looks at the younger version of me, helps her keep balance by locking hands. They smile at each other, your copy pulls my copy further to the center of our private rink and they then glide like petals following a gentle swirling current.
I hate seeing us out there. I detest what the lake reminds me of; it makes me think of you, of us and causes my eyes to swell and burn.
“Why did you do it?” I whisper to myself, hoping that my question reaches your spirit on the lake. “Why did you save me? Why did you have to die?”
I hear the front door creak open, giving a chilly gale permission to invade our home and wisp past the corridors. The door slams shut, and Mom rushes past me into the kitchen. Dad walks by, his eyes meet my shoulder, he says nothing but his face leaves behind a message. The house is suddenly filled with the sounds of clanks and cabinets being opened and closed as Mom prepares breakfast.
“Tea or coffee?” she shouts.
“Tea,” Dad responds.
“Whatever,” is all I say.
I feel like a hostage in my own home. Mom and Dad sustain a routine of working in the mornings, making meals, answering telephone calls, and calming down whoever is on the other side of the line, comforting random families who have lost their loved ones. I resent them. Life is so fickle and short; death is always lurking like a shadow. Yet, on days like this one, our parents occupy themselves with work and dig up holes; they don’t seem to mourn, they don’t seem to remember.
I wonder if they let you melt and fade like the snow. It’s probably easier for our parents than it is for me. Mom and Dad just don’t see you as I do. They bury others, suffocate the remaining souls of idle and limp bodies with dirt and gravel. They bury themselves with work and responsibility; they bury me in silence. I bury myself in isolation, with blame and regret. I toy with the past and let it seep into the present. I drown myself daily in your presence. I remember you, the cemetery, the ice, how I buried you.
Business is booming; Mom and Dad just can’t sit still. Winter is profitable, especially for a family that deals with death. Every day the phone rings with calls from people who have lost someone. Patients dying from hypothermic shock at the hospital, people slipping and bashing their heads on the icy pavements of their frozen driveways.
The cobblestone path that leads to the cemetery is frozen over. The trees and branches have been coated, and the wretched lake is almost silver from all the ice. Our parents are outside, getting another gravesite ready; most likely, it will be filled by the end of the day. The telephone rings, but I refuse to answer it. I reject the idea of assisting Mom and Dad with their work. Who wants to bury someone more than once? The telephone rings again, the invasive chime crawls under my skin, causes my teeth to grit. I pick it up.
“Is this the Castor Family Mortuary?” the voice on the line questions.
“Yes, it is. Do you want me to call my parents?”
“No, that won’t be necessary. Can you give'em a message for me?”
“Alright,” I murmur.
“Tell'em a body should be arriving in about two hours.”
“What? A body? Maybe they should talk to you instead?”
My hands begin to shake. Part of me wants to hang up, to rip the cord from the phone.
“No, no. You’re their daughter, right? Just pass on the message. The body of a young boy should be arriving in about two hours.”
There’s a silence; I feel nothing; I feel numb.
The voice on the line questions irritatingly. “Hello, did you get everything?”
I choke out a response, “Yeah. Young boy. Arriving in two hours. I’ll tell them.”
“Oh, I almost forgot. The boy is a drowning victim, so the family wants a closed casket, alright?”
I freeze up. The phone slips through my fingers, smacks against the floor, dangles, and sways from its wire. The room expands and contracts like a lung, pounding faster and faster, until there is nothing but silence.
A shot of cold air whips against my neck and back, shivers run up my spine. Mom closes the front door, comes up behind me like a ghoul. “Is someone on the phone?” she asks. “Hello, earth to Clara, is someone on the phone?”
I dodge the question. I run to the living room; I want to run even farther.
Mom picks up the suspending phone. “Castor Family Mortuary!” she informs. “Okay. Uh-huh. Two hours got it.”
Mom hangs up. She peeks her head into the living room to catch sight of me curled up on the bay window. She sighs.
I offer her silence. The drowning sound of no response.
“Okay, then. I’ll be outside if you need anything.”
Water floods my eyes. My vision begins to blur. “H..H…How? How can you…How can you do this?”
Mom walks my way with a slow and dubious stride, like a hungry but frightened stray.
She sits by me. “What do you mean?” she asks, fully understanding the question.
“How can… How can you do this? Bury people?”
“Well, it is my family’s line of work.”
“No, not that,” I respond. “How can you keep doing this, ever since David…”
“Ever since your brother died,” she interjects.
I nod with my eyes and not my head.
“Clara, I celebrate David daily. I bury him every day, every hour. I see him in everyone, even more so when I have to bury a young man.”
Mom places her hands on my knee, it’s freezing, but it’s the warmest she has ever been.
“If you want, maybe you could come out. Um… the body should be here in a few hours.”
I’m not able to offer her an answer.
“But only if you want,” she replies.
The body of the boy will be arriving soon. The lake calls out to me, taunts me with your invocation, and cows me into a nightmare. I see you and me, our past reflections floating along the crisp ice. I lose balance and fall, crashing my knees against the thin frozen plane of the lake.
“Ouch!” I whimper.
You skate towards me, squat by my side.
“Are you okay, Clara?”
“I’m fine,” I respond all giggly.
Suddenly a crack interrupts our laughter. A series of sharp rifts stream along the ice.
“Don’t move. Stay how you are.”
“David, I’m scared.”
“It’s fine, Clara, just don’t move; we don’t want more of the ice breaking,” you say.
I hold back my fear, along with my tears. I reduce even the sound of my breath, hoping that it’s enough to calm the ice.
“Clara, I want you to get on all fours, crawl to where the ice is not cracking.”
“I…I can’t,” I protest.
“You can,” he returns. “Just crawl slowly and don’t pay attention to the ice.”
I get down on all fours. I move on my hands and knees, inching my body forward as you follow.
The cracks cut my path, the ground vibrates, it breathes. My vision sinks, and the cold darkness envelopes me. I see nothing in front of me. There’s an overlaying shadow expanding from below. I see jagged shards above, floating puzzle pieces, and specks of light.
Something wraps around my waist, it’s you, David. You hug me, hold me tight. You launch our tethered bodies forward, you reach for an edge above the water. Your iron grip takes hold of the frozen extremity of the lake. You pull me like an anchor, toss me to safety, beach me like a whale.
“Clara, are you okay?” You tap my body like a drum. My eyes open. “Clara, can you hear me?”
“Yes,” I weakly reply.
“Thank goodness!” You smile. Your weight relaxes, and your shoulders loosen. You rest your hands behind your back, your palms slightly push against the ice.
Cracks ring around your body, enclose you rapidly, split the ice between us. Your eyes widen. I swear, I see you gulp. The lake draws you in. I turn and extend my arm. I see your body dipping into the water, your hand setting like the sun. I touch the end of your fingers, feel their frozen tips. Your blurry silhouette melts in the water. Fades. I let you go, I can’t save you, so I let the water bury you instead.
The body of the young boy arrives, a black van parks outside our home. Mom and Dad are waiting by the cemetery entrance. I look further behind the graves, peering to your old burial sight that is the frozen lake. I see you, and you look at me. Your skin isn't sallow. You don’t appear to be cold. White droplets surround you, and for a moment, you look perfect.
I'm going to imagine that the boy in the casket is you. Mom buries you every day, I think Dad does too. I stand, make my way for the door. I’m greeted by the cold air and by a performance of dancing snow. I make way to the cobblestone path that leads to the cemetery, the place where I will bury you. The trail is stone cold, my feet begin to curl. I waddle; I take small steps. Mom and Dad are now already inside the cemetery.
“Wait for me!” I fire. “I’m coming!” The path is slippery, and I’m not good at moving on ice; you know that David; but I'm almost there.
Today I will recall myself of you, but not by the lake. I’ll make it to the cemetery to put you to rest, and I'll grip Mom and Dad's hands tightly while you're sinking to the ground. I guess that in the end, David, today is actually a beautiful day for you to die.
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OMG, OMG , OMG! I swear, I did not think this story would be the winner. Sure I hoped for a shortlisting, but to WIN! I'm stunned!! I also want to thank everyone who read this story and gave me such valid critiques and positive words! You guys really helped a lot. All of you guys out there, who have read my stories before, who have continuously supported me, have influenced me in such a great way as a writer! THANK YOU ALL!
This story is well written and emotionally touching, to say the least. A well deserved win. Congratulations! And I think your comment about winning is my favorite Reedsy comment yet. :)
Well-deserved! Keep writing. I look forward to reading more of your stories.
This story is probably the one that I have enjoyed the most, but also the one I am most insecure about. It took me some time to get it to where I thought it should be. Plus, it was difficult to write in first person present and still bring hints of the past. I hope all who read it enjoy it and feel touched. Thanks in advanced. Feel free to comment and give your opinions!
you did amazing! I think you did a lovely job of the first person present with hints of the past. That's a really, really hard thing to attempt and you pulled it off perfectly!
Bravo. Sweet and touching. Here are some recommendations/ideas: "It’s not the first day of winter, but it is the day that has by far snowed the most." This sentence feels awkward to me. The day doesn't snow. Maybe try, "... but this is the snowiest day by far." "gliding like peddles following a gentle swirling current." Do you mean "petals?" "I detest the reminder that the lake is." This sentence doesn't quite work. It feels like there needs to be another word at the end. Maybe, "I detest what this lake reminds me of." "I feel like ...
Echoing what you said, we never get to just finish editing xD. In my defense I was going to use "get down on all fours," but it felt so "provoking" so I resisted 😂. I'm going to give this one more (maybe two) passes before it gets approved. But I agree on a lot of what was said and will be adding in your edits. Thanks!!
Congratulations! Well deserved win!
Whoop whoop! Well done. 🎉🎊
Thanks guys! David, your critique helped me a lot, I have always found you an amazing writer. To have had you read and assist was great! Heather, same to you!! Always reading and giving me such valid feedback! One of the most helpful individuals and you critique with such clarity! THANK YOU BOTH!
OK, thank u for explaining how it works - I will try to be more thoughtful and respectful, I am learning how this all works, cheers.
Perhaps I was a little harsh and apologies if I offended anyone, I am learning how this all works and seeing a lot of wonderful friendships and communication lines opening here. I will try and be more respectful and thoughtful in the future, I just think that everyone has their own way of writing and style. Thanks for the advice, cheers.
I related to your story, my younger/baby brother is named David. When David was nineteen, we had to bury him; we were the youngest so we were very close. Your story was well written and draws the reader in.
Perhaps I was a little harsh and apologies if I offended anyone, I am learning how this all works and seeing a lot of wonderful friendships and communication lines opening here. I will try and be more respectful and thoughtful in the future, I just think that everyone has their own way of writing and style. Thanks for the advice, cheers. I took my comment down.
Oh, I love this story so much. It's vivid and beautiful. Deserved win!
This story certainly drudged up very raw emotions. Very well done. I wish I had some wise critique I could offer you in comments, but instead I offer my sincere support and hope to read many more of your stories. I also need to learn to NOT read stories tagged sad while sitting in the living room.... (“no- I’m okay, I just poked my eye!”)
I know this might sound wussy, but when I started to get to the ending of the story, even I felt kinda sad (and started getting teary-eyed) for Clara. I'm happy that the story made an impact on you and I can't thank people enough who actually read my stories, comment and support my creative expression. It really does make me very excited as a writer.
Congrats on your win! Well deserved and exciting!
Your words were the first I saw last week, after I had published the story! Thanks so much Beth, you have read my stories and given me such positive energy!
I'm glad to hear it!
Hi... do you do critics... can you help me with mine favourute hobby
Congrats on your win! As I was reading this I was thinking oh no, another getting over a trauma story ... But you ended up really earning the right to tell a slightly clichéd story with your interesting language and imagery. I especially liked "your hand setting like the sun". So cool to see how excited you are 🤩 Hope it inspires you to keep going!
i love the tragedy you embedded here! your descriptions are lovely, wonderful imagery
This packs a punch. It is well written and smartly laid out. The section that begins with 'The snow outside is all-consuming.' I feel is too long. The dialogue could be cut down. Her upset at the call and the nature of the call and her reaction to its content could be expressed better. Her reaction is immature. She should have some understanding of the nature of the world she lives in. The feelings that she goes through could be expressed in a better way. In a strong piece, the flow here stumbles. This is not a criticism but if the piece nee...
Maybe, if the nature of the piece wasn't to be speculative. But the main character's age is not divulged, so in reality her understanding of death could actually be compromised. In fact, I actually don't believe she has any understanding of what death fully is, thus she contemplates, has such mixed feelings about it all, its almost an enigma in her life, a personal way of dealing with her trauma (as you can tell, I have grown pretty protective of this character). Thanks for the opinion though, because it does make me think. If I am to edi...
Oh it is my cup of tea. I feel it is a strong piece. Just that section does not flow as well as the rest. It is not about reveal, that is done perfectly. It is just an opinion, less dialogue here and less explanation would create a tighter piece and definitely in my opinion strengthen those goals you just revealed.
I cut out some redundancies through the convo. It's still long, but it's shorter then before, probably a bit more direct.
Have you experienced the death of a sibling . I have and you don't feel very mature if you are as close to them as I was and Clara in this story seems to be . That is the exact way I would expect her to react no matter how old she is ,
I thought it was an excellent story and deserved its win and was providing what I believed was a helpful critique in the early stages of the story. I am fan of K Antonio's writing and have followed them for a while. I am sorry if you were upset by what I said. For your information, my best friend died when I was 11. My brother died when I was 14 and I have lost both my parents. Sometimes when we review each others work it is about being able to be honest and impartial. If we allow everything to offends us and trigger us we end up on missing ...
I suggest you reread exactly what I wrote.
I am sorry for your losses. I too have lost my parents. I was not angry, sorry if it sounded that way, I reread what you wrote. I guess I am not understanding what you mean by immature, I agree we should be honest when we review others stories. I want honest reviews on mine. I thankful for all reviews on my stories.
I think you're so brave for opening up to all of us in this story. It's incredibly brave of you. Anyways, I congratulate you on your win. You truly deserved it. Your such a talented author. I love your snow descriptions, but most of all, your last sentence: "I guess that in the end, David, today is actually a beautiful day for you to die." Anyways, keep on writing. Never stop. And most of all, don't be afraid to open up, to show vulnerability. That is one of the things that makes us writers so powerful. The world needs more QUALITY writers l...
already commented on this, but i still feel the same way! beautiful story, well deserved win :)
OMG YOU WON!
I'm shaking xD
Well, it was definitely well deserved! I didn't write anything for that contest, so I wasn't expecting to get excited.
Well deserved win! HUZZAH :)
I can't believe I won! Feeling like a cool kid for once! Thanks!!
Wow. This story was so moving. I think the strongest part in the story was the way you described it. The way you described the scenes was perfect. I felt like I was really there. The way you described everything was so powerful and really pulled me in. I don’t really have any critiques. I really enjoyed this story!
Such a powerful story....you've injected it with such emotion, but with such subtly. Especially the chilly reception that Clara receives from her father, which tells us how much he really is suffering. This whole story felt very raw, cold and grey - like I could see it in my mind and it felt like an icy winter day with no sun, no fire, no hot chocolate. I think that is a sign of a really well-written, deep piece. Wonderful!
I'm happy that the subtle emotions that I hinted towards were also recognized. I'm really pleased with this story and I'm overjoyed that it turned out well-written. The images I hoped to create and the emotions I wanted to draw out were so important to me, that I'm glad of any effect it stirs up on readers. THANKS SO MUCH FOR THE READ!
I saw the title and didn't want to read it. Too many of these stories have made me cry, I was not trying to cry. I've passes your story so many times, it was like it was calling out to me. I caved, and I absolutely love it!!!! This story is magnificent. I love the way you write, it really drew me in. I have to cut this comment off short, your other stories are calling out to me. Congrats on your win!!!
Hey! Congratulations! I read your other story and didn't know you'd won this won! We're proud of you!
Congrats on the win!!! This is beautiful and so well deserved!
Thank you for writing this story. Not a subject I would normally consider writing about (except in a humorous way), much less choosing to read it. But you grabbed my attention at the beginning and didn't let go of me until I reached the end. I'm so glad that you won this week's contest. Congratulations! One possible typo: Yet, on days like this one, our parents occupy themselves with work and dig up holes; they don’t seem to mourn, they don’t seem to remember. [maybe change "dig up holes" to "digging up holes" or even "digging new gra...
Wow! That was such touching story!
I am tearing up! Not only at the heartfelt and tearjerking plot, but also at the eloquence of your writing. Every line is like a brushstroke in a marvellous work of art displayed at a gallery. I enjoyed reading every word - this is such a wholesome piece of writing and I thank you for sharing it with Reedsy and allowing us all to marvel at your work. Congratulations on winning! You deserve it 100%
Thank you so much! I'm happy you enjoyed. Your words really brightened up my day.