Blooms in Snow
by Conor Patrick

My son didn’t say nothing when I woke him. He sat up, still dead with sleep and the dizzying warmth of dreams, and looked at me, where I was standing in the doorway. Outside his window, the gray predawn wash of an overcast November morning lay settled among the barren poplars. When he slid from bed and hissed at the frigid wood floor against his bare feet, I knew he was awake and I disappeared back downstairs. I listened to him shuffling around while he searched out his long-johns and his half-gloves and his orange hat and some wool socks and his jeans and his boots, and then the quiet while he put them on, and then his boots thumping down the way I had come.

I put away three flapjacks drowning in maple and he put away two. When I poured myself coffee, he asked for some. He held the steaming mug in both hands while I took sips from mine, and he took each rattling page of the newspaper as I finished with it. We didn’t talk about nothing much except the snow that had dusted our property overnight and how it might crunch under the teeth of our boots once we reached the mountain, and then his ma came down in her frayed robe and her mussed yellow hair and laid her hand on the top of his head as she passed behind him at the table. She had coffee for breakfast and asked if we wanted any particulars from the grocery. He gave her some while she made sandwiches to send along with us, and then I told him it was time to go.

We didn’t talk about nothing much as we drove up the track road leading away from the house. Morning freeze had left the air and the grass the same shade of white and the engine of the truck chugged in the cold until we came to the big iron gate at the edge of our land. I told the boy to open it. He looked over at me but he didn’t say nothing. I had never asked this of him before.

He slid from the truck and I watched him. The gate was clasped with the iron chain like always and I could see from here that it had frosted in the night. He set upon it as best as he could but the chain was coiled ice-white. His fingers slipped from the metal again and again, until he came back and opened the truck door. His cheeks were pink and his breath showed and his nose ran and he said he couldn’t open it. Try again, I told him. Take your gloves off this time.

He pulled his gloves from his hands and stuffed them into his pockets. He huffed while he tangled with the chain, fumbling as if it were white-hot. I waited and watched as he freed it. He turned to look at me with the chain in his hands, his dark hair jutting from under his cap. He held it up for me to see.

I gave him a nod and pulled the truck through, and then he shut the gate behind us and clambered back inside the cab. I asked him if he was ready and he said he was. We played the radio as we cruised up the road toward the mountain.

The snow only drifted down at first. In that time we passed three other cars and the rigid carcass of a doe on the side of the road, its neck bent acutely. My son watched it sail by, craning to watch it disappear behind us. When it was gone he turned back around and fiddled with the radio.

The wind picked up and the snow came in sideways. Big flakes swept across the windshield and we flew through a maelstrom of white and wind, which buffeted the truck and howled through the seams of the door. The snow drifted and drew itself in chaos threads across the road, and I wondered aloud if we’d have any luck or if the herds might hunker down. The boy was looking out the window.

There isn’t nothing we can do either way, he said, and pressed his forehead against the glass and watched for anything. I didn’t know what to say to that.

By the time he looked up again we had turned off the main road and the mountain shrouded in white rose up before us like a titan. The wind had calmed and the snow came in flurries. In the mirrors the storm was black. We pulled onto a rutted dirt road speckled with snow and ice and creaked up it for a good while until we were in the pines.

The higher we went, the deeper the snow got. We went on uphill, listening to the tires kick up ice and cinder, until the forest closed around us and the road faded completely and we rolled to a stop. We sat, with the truck’s rhythmic grumble coming up through the seats, and we didn’t say nothing much. Then I killed the engine, and we sat for a minute in the quiet.

When I opened my door, he opened his, and he slid down to the ground where his boots crunched in the snow. I collected our gear and shut the door. My son came around the back and I handed him a gun. Quiet now, I told him.

The forest was still. The snow was deep as my shins but I plowed through it. My boy put his boots where mine had been, and we ascended drifts and weaved among the silent trunks of trees and watched for sticks that might snap under our boots and echo out into the wood. Afte