Two circular eyes, a round dot for a nose, a simple line for a mouth. The face forms in a foggy patch of my breath on the window. Last night the temperatures dropped drastically making the glass hazy and impossible to see through.
The face stares expressionlessly back at me until a drop of rain on the outside surface slices right through it. Like a teardrop streaking down the imaginary person’s face. Even the sky is crying on this sorrowful day.
With a plan formulating in my head, I snatch an umbrella from the basket near the door and pull on my usual winter gear; a warm woolen hat, a puffy marshmallow-like jacket, and fleece gloves. The winter has been especially brutal this year, pelting us with ice and slushy rain every chance it gets.
The moment I step out from the shelter of the roof, rain rushes down my broad, blue umbrella. The silver nails pound against the plastic creating a deafening sound. The rain can be relaxing sometimes, like a misty spring drizzle or pearly summer rain on a parched day. But today is different.
Today I hate the rain.
My destination is only six houses down, a home painted a bluish slate color. The mailbox at the end of the drive has a rustic teal dolphin painted on each side and the address reads 1444. An unlucky number if you ask me. I never was fond of the number four.
On a day with fair weather, the walk there would have been short and soothing. Today my boots sludge through the thick puddles of water, each step taking an enormous amount of effort. I am unlucky enough to have a concealed hole in the toe of my right boot where frigid water seeps in and soaks my socks. Because, after all, today isn’t a great day.
When I reach the residence, it feels like an extra thick blanket of gray clouds has been reserved for this spot. I stumble up the porch steps and sit down under the roof, pulling off my boots and socks. I curl my bare toes against the welcome mat, fighting to keep warm.
As I am about to knock on the front door, I hear a slight shuffle of movement to my side. Farther down on the porch, August sits with his knees curled up to his chest. His mint green eyes are trained on something vague in the distance, letting it be the only thing that exists at the moment. I make my way toward him and stop when I am standing directly above him.
A heavy silence passes where he refuses to acknowledge my presence. Then, “Aiko.”
My name coming out of his mouth tells me all I need to know. The word is passive and lacking any depth. All the carefree cheer has been sucked out of his body leaving nothing behind. Well, nothing except emptiness.
The last week has been extremely heavy on him. Probably the worst seven days of his life. I would have talked to him sooner- I tried to- but he never answered the door when I came.
On Wednesday, five days ago, his world fell to pieces. We should have been more cautious on that day. Because, if you ask me, Wednesday is an unfortunate time of the week.
We were outside when it happened, kicking a soccer ball back and forth on his front lawn. The grass was dewy, causing us to constantly slip and fall on the ground giggling the entire time. His mother had appeared at the door, telling him that he needed to come inside straight away.
We should have been suspicious right then. Looking back, it was obvious there was awful news, between her high pitched voice and the way she gripped the doorknob tightly with white knuckles.
I waited anxiously for him to come back outside, bouncing the soccer ball on my knee. When he opened the door again, he looked like an entirely different person. Sensing his pain, I reached forward and wrapped my arms around him.
“It’s Grandma,” he whispered, his throat scratchy and his voice raspy.
“What about her?”
“It was a car accident,” he pauses, shaking uncontrollably from the tears, “She’s gone.”
After uttering those words, he sunk to the ground on his knees. Letting the mud seep into his clothing. Giving in to the despair.
That was when it started to rain.
“You shouldn’t sit out here without a jacket in this weather. You’ll catch a cold.” I scold him softly. He doesn’t reply. Not even a glance in my direction. Instead of making eye contact with me he stares at the gaping windows of the house across the street.
I gently take his hand like you would for a small child and pull him up from the stiff boards. He follows me to the front door reluctantly, like a dog on a leash. He doesn’t have the energy to argue.
Inside all the curtains are shuts tight, stubbornly blocking all light from entering the house. I pull them open and let the fresh sunlight wash through the room. August takes a seat on a stool at the counter, his shoulders slouched forward. It is likely he hasn’t slept in days.
I spot a pile of papers on the desk in the corner and walk over to examine them. I skim through the words and become more aghast by the minute. They are orders for flowers, caskets, and headstones. The ink on the pages is blotted, as if he had been sobbing while he worked.
Now I understand. He wasn’t just curled up in bed escaping reality all day, he was working tirelessly to organize the funeral and support his family. To make his grandmother proud. He shouldn’t have had to do this alone, but he did. Because he never knew his father, he doesn’t have any siblings, and his mom is, well...
His mom has been gone all week, leaving him to handle everything alone. She just took off after it happened. She didn’t tell him where she was going or when she would be back. She left without a word.
I want to yell at her. Ask her if she really is completely clueless, or just abominably selfish. We all deal with pain differently, but no matter how you feel, the people that depend on you are still your responsibility. I know for a fact that the last thing August needs right now is family abruptly leaving. That already happened.
I walk over to the counter and lean against the tile, watching August carefully. He dusts off nonexistence dust from the counter absentmindedly.
“So, what did you have in mind?” His question takes me by surprise. But I know exactly what he means. What did I come here to do?
“I thought we could bake, maybe.” I tell him slowly.
“Yes,” I say the next part cautiously, worried that his reaction will be explosive, “We could make snowball cookies.”
He quickly averts his eyes, but I still catch sight of how his eyes well up at the mention of this particular dessert. His grandmother used to bake them, she would make little round chocolate fudge cookies then coat them with powdered sugar to mimic snow.
“We don’t have to. If you don’t want to. I just thought it would be a good way to… remember, I guess.” I correct myself immediately, not wanting to upset him any further. I was hoping he would agree, though. I rehearsed this line in my head the whole time I was walking over here.
“Yeah. No it’s okay. That might be nice, I suppose.”
I smile encouragingly at him. The brightness is forced, but at least it is better than our shared glum looks. He tries to return the expression, I know he does, but he can’t quite turn up the corners of his mouth.
Without her, he seems to have forgotten how to smile.
I can’t help but notice how barren his cupboards and refrigerator are as I gather the ingredients. August joins me in front of the mixing bowl right as I set the last bag in front of us. We alternate back and forth, taking turns pouring flour, sugar, oil, and cocoa powder into the purple-tinted glass bowl.
We used to always bake these on the holidays. Our families would gather around in a room draped with holly and sing Christmas carols while decorating the tree. The smell of chocolate and evergreen always mixed together, creating a beautiful aroma. It was my favorite time of the year.
I loved spending time with my own family, I really did, but there was something special about knowing your company was wanted here. His grandmother was probably the kindest person I ever met.
She was ambitious, passionate, always looking for a goal to commit herself to. But despite all the work she did, there was never an instance where she didn’t have time for August. Or me.
And, above all, she was funny. The type of funny that didn’t take much effort, that came naturally. She could make even the most stony, grumpy adults crack a smile.
She was light that blended into the background. Someone that was always there when you needed them. I didn’t notice how much I relied on her until she wasn’t there anymore.
I want to say something to tell August he isn’t alone. To let him know I share his pain. Offering my condolences sounds shallow, like a polite formality exchanged between near strangers. I could tell him I’m sorry, but no amount of apologies could fill the gaping hole she left behind.
“I really miss her.” I settle for this instead. It is the bare truth. It is genuine.
He nods, his head most likely playing a never ending movie of the best and worst moments he spent with her. Then, his eyes lighten and he reaches into the bag of chalky sugar, grabbing a fistful of elusive dust. August tosses it into the air above us letting us sprinkle down onto our heads.
The milky white powder is barely visible against my light blonde hair But he, on the other hand, looks like a snowman. The powdered sugar contrasts with his dark hair making it stand out. We are standing in the middle of our own winter wonderland.
As the last few flakes of snowy sugar fall upon our heads, August finally meets my gaze. His eyes sparkle and his lips curl upward into a grin. It is weary and exhausted yet radiant.
I’ll call that a success for today. This isn’t the end, we still have years left of healing together. And I will be there at his door every morning, ready to spend the day by his side.
They say time heals all wounds, but I disagree.
I say laughter, good company, and powdered sugar is the remedy.