Roxana sat by the bedroom window and watched snowflakes as big and fluffy as cotton balls melt into the sidewalk. She pulled the blanket her mother had knit up around her shoulders like a cape, then dragged the ends behind her as she padded down the ground-floor apartment's hallway.
"I want to go outside," she announced to her mother, who sat at the little table in the living room with a stack of bills.
"It's too cold to go out right now," her mother said without looking up. "Besides, the steps are probably iced over, and I don’t want you to fall trying to get out. You already know we’re staying inside today, mi amor."
Marta had not grown up in the snow. Up until two years ago, she had lived her whole life among palm trees and oceans, which Roxana herself vaguely remembered, instead of evergreens and blizzards. Marta thought of the snow as a great white beast that could swallow them up in an instant. On snowy schooldays, her daughter had strict instructions to call home and confirm that the bus hadn’t crashed and that she’d made it to school in one piece, and Mrs. Cunningham at the front desk allowed it, even though students were only supposed to use the phone for emergencies. On snow days and winter weekends, Marta kept Roxana home while the other kids went sledding. Snow had power that demanded respect. If worrying about it was the price Marta paid for leaving Havana, so be it – she had plenty of other worries there in exchange.
Roxana liked the snow, though. She liked the crunchy sound it made when she walked through icy piles of it the day after a storm and the way she could blow handfuls of it into the air if it came down fine like powdered sugar. She liked wearing her mother's black gloves, too big for her own hands, so she could see the detailed flakes that landed on her fingertips more clearly. Sometimes her mother let her borrow one of those gloves while they walked to the bus stop together. Marta would stuff her bare hand into her pocket for warmth while Roxana slipped the glove over her hand and held her fingers into the air, waiting to catch a crystal so she could bring it right up to her face and inspect its intricate pattern. Her teacher, Miss Ermert, told her that no two snowflakes were exactly the same, and Roxana wished she could take a picture of each one she caught to see if it was really true.
She was trying to remember what all the snowflakes she had ever seen looked like when her mother spoke again.
"Look, I'm almost done with the mail," Marta said. "When I'm done, we'll watch TV together, okay? Go flip the channels and see if there's anything good. Do we have any chocolate packets left?"
Roxana sighed. "I'll see," she said. The only show for kids on the small TV that teetered on their dresser was Sesame Street, and that was for babies, but hot chocolate sounded good. She turned to go, twisting the blanket around her feet, and stepped out of the tangle before swishing down the hall and toward the kitchen.
Roxana imagined that she was a queen: the Queen of the Snow, as tall and elegant as the icicles that adorned the edges of the roof. She built a castle of ice in her mind, with polar bears to stand guard for her against intruders, and envisioned a crown made of pinecones and bits of glittering ice. Her pets would be white rabbits, soft and docile while they sat in her lap.
There was no more hot chocolate in the cardboard box on the counter. Roxana threw it away and walked toward the cupboard where her mother kept the instant coffee instead – maybe she could bargain for half a cup with lots of milk, just half – but stopped in front of the kitchen window. The snow was falling faster now, and it was hard to see the buildings across the street through the flurry. She wanted to go outside and walk for as long as she could while the snow kept falling around her, or at least stick out her hand and feel the weight, for just a second, of a lumpy little puff before it melted.
The world was bigger than just what she could see – Miss Ermert had told her that, too. One day her class studied the map pinned on the wall next to the whiteboard and learned that they lived in the U.S.A., just one of the dozens of splotches that made up the rest of the giant map.
“I didn’t used to live here,” Roxana said without raising her hand. “I used to live in Cuba.”
“Wow,” Miss Ermert said. “Can you show us where that is on the map?”
Roxana pushed back her chair, strode to the wall, and confidently pointed at Australia.
“Hmm, not quite,” her teacher said. “Cuba is closer than you think. Can you find a place that starts with a C near the right side of the U.S.A.?”
Roxana would have never thought to look there. Her new home and her old one were such different places that surely they existed on opposite sides of the world, in different hemispheres, but no. The world was big and small at the same time, and the only way to understand that was to be out in it, to see how far away one had to wander before nothing looked or felt the same at all.
Her mother was still at the table. Roxana hitched the blanket higher so it didn't drag on the floor, then tiptoed to the door that led straight outside. She turned the lock slowly so it wouldn't click, twisted the knob, and opened the door just wide enough that she could slip through.
Roxana looked down and saw that her mother was right – the steps wore a thick coat of ice. The landlady, a pleasant older woman who lived upstairs, had probably forgotten to sprinkle salt around doorway. It would be alright, though.
Roxana balanced herself against the door frame with one hand, still gripping her cape tight against her neck with the other, and held her head straight as she softly placed one foot and then the other on the first slick step. Then, just before feeling steady, she let go of the door and stretched her hand out to meet the falling snow.