I stand in the driveway as I wait for Hare’s school bus. I stand and tap my foot, and while a neighbor might read my gesture as impatience, or my warding off the December cold, the truth is I’m anxious. Her bus is twenty minutes late. It doesn’t run on a particularly tight schedule, but here I am, worried as ever, picturing several hypothetical accidents. Then, before I can see it, I hear it, the brakes screeching one street over, the engine laboring like a disgruntled beast, and the secret weight within my chest dissolves into the chilly air. I watch as the big yellow beast huffs down our street and stops three houses down to let Sonya off, who is Hare’s best friend and bus buddy.
And then it’s at our mailbox, and Hare steps off and exclaims “Daddy!” while the bus rolls away. She flings her arms around me, her head resting on the slight pouch of my gut. I hold her, glad she’s ecstatic-excited and not in hysterics. You never know which way a six-year-old will lean.
We head to the house. “How’s my girl?” I say.
“Daddy, at school Mrs. Durrell said it might snow tonight!” She watches me while prancing in place on her toes. Then her face swivels up toward the sky.
I’d seen the morning forecast, but I react, act like her news is mine. “Is that right?”
“Sonya and I crossed our fingers for snow the whole way home. And I held mine a little longer, until I got off.”
I smile down at her. “Snow would be fun,” I say, thinking of Hare in her puffy coat, of me making her a sled from old boxes. Inside the house, I move to hang her backpack in the closet. When I turn around, Hare is dancing at the window with her hands on her hips. Then she moves her hands through the air like she’s petting it, a hula dancer in miniature—albeit one inspired not by the ocean, but by the prospect of a winter wonderland. “Don’t go getting your hopes too high,” I warn. “Snow forecasts around here are usually false alarms.”
I’m not sure she hears me. Then she says, “Well I can just feel the snow on its way,” before careening toward the fridge, her hands reaching out for its distant handle as she crosses the room. “What can I have for my snack?”
“Wash hands first,” I say automatically. Then I unpeel two clementines and the lids from two tiny yogurts—our after-school ritual—and we settle at the table together. She dips into her yogurt in silence; I think she’s mesmerized by the swirls of blue and pink that paint her spoon.
When I ask if she has any homework, she shakes her head fast like a wet dog, and then begins to sway her entire body from side to side as she speaks: “Mrs. Durrell said no spelling quiz this week. Shoop, shoop, didily-doop. Hooray for no quiz, loopity-loop.”
“You’re going to spill if you keep that up, silly.”
She stills, moves her attention beyond her wiggly self for a moment to consider some family photos that hang on the wall. Although there are many pictures of her mother—and my wife, Piper, who died shortly after Hare was born, Hare has always fixated on a certain one photo. I watch her eyes meander over to it now, the selfie I took of Piper and me together one New Year’s Day. Piper Merry Jones and Ian Brent Jones Junior. Piper and Ian to most; Ian and Pips to a few select friends (though I’ve always loved her full name). In the photo we are standing outside in massive windbreakers with cold-red cheeks. Piper is holding both our takeaway coffees so I can focus on taking the picture, and yet I ended up with my spare arm around her. I know we were laughing at something I’d said, but I’ve never been able to recall what.
Hare begins the same conversation we’ve had a version of many times, pointing at the photo with her index finger held in a crook:
“Was that picture of you and Mom taken before you had me?”
“Yes, pumpkin. It was—”
“Two years before me, right?” She knows these lines well after many a rehearsal.
“And it always snowed so much in Manhattan?” I returned to my hometown of Athens, Georgia with Hare when she was just a baby, thinking it would be a safer place to raise her, so she knows nothing of big cities or actual cold.
“That’s right,” I say. “It snows every year.”
“And that was her favorite winter hat?”
“For all the time I knew her.”
“And you guys were laughing at a joke you made?”
I nod. I think this is why Hare loves that photo so much, because it’s such a palpable depiction of our joy.
Then she says something I’ve not heard yet: “I hope my hair gets as pretty as Momma’s. It’s so long, it catches all the snowflakes…” Her voice trails, and I know she’s gone far away, maybe into some imagined snowscape, maybe into the land of What Ifs.
I pat her arm so she looks over. Then I tell my daughter that her hair is already pretty, leaving out the fact that it doesn’t look at all like her mother’s. Piper’s was smooth and brown, while Hare’s, like mine, is curly and blond—it’s their round cheeks that are the same, the quick flash of their eyes taking in the world. I tell Hare too, for good measure and because her mother would’ve, that she’s already a very beautiful little girl, outside and in. I’m taking pains to emphasize the importance of that second point, but halfway through I can tell she’s not listening.
She springs from her chair. “I think Momma was a Snow Fairy.”
I laugh and I tell her that that was probably true, that Piper, born and raised in upstate New York, loved the cold.
Then Hare is zipping up her jacket and asking if she can go over to play at Sonya’s and when she leaves, I sit for a minute before clearing our snack remains away. The land of What Ifs is a landmine, a deceivingly perilous place.
And then—bang!—the screen door slams and our front door opens again, and Hare runs in, pulling her box of art supplies out from the closet. When she’s back in the yard, she yells out either to me or to Sonya or to the world, I’m not sure which, “Gotta have my crayons!”
I yell out to Hare, “Watch for cars in the street!” and then I walk outside to make sure she stays on the sidewalk, arrives safely. She does, and I watch Sonya’s mother opening the door to their house, the little box flashing in the sun as Hare waves it around before walking inside.
My daughter is equal parts girl and Energizer Bunny. I call her this sometimes, which she enjoys although she has no sense of the reference. Not that it matters. She does get its connection to her name. Sometimes I wonder if my calling her this ever fuels her excitability, but then I think about how young she is, of the elation that comes with her age.
At bedtime, we sit together on the carpet of her bedroom.
“Would you like to hear a riddle instead of a bedtime story tonight?” I ask.
“What’s a riddle?”
“It’s like one of your jigsaw puzzles but with words.”
“Okay,” she says. “I like my puzzles.” She actually has quite the knack for them, even though they’re thirty- or fifty-piecers; surprisingly she can sit still with one for an entire hour.
So then I dive into sharing the only riddle I know from memory, which my mother actually taught me as a child—this whole shtick about a man crossing a river with a fox and some corn and a chicken. The man has to bring all three across, but only one at a time, choosing carefully which item to bring at which point in the journey. If he leaves the chicken with the corn, the corn gets eaten. If he leaves the fox with the chicken, the chicken gets eaten. The only two items that are safe to stay together are the fox and the corn, since the fox doesn’t have much of a taste for it. Anyway, the man must make wise decisions if he wants to carry all three items safely across; he must tread with trepidation.
“Wait,” Hare interrupts, “What does trepidation mean?”
“Good question,” I say. “In this context, it means feeling uncertain about the future. And thinking everything through before acting. The man has to be careful, you see? He wants all three things to remain intact.”
“Oh,” she says, disinterested. “Okay.”
I continue with the solution—cross river with chicken, return to the other side. Cross again with fox, return with chicken. Leave chicken, cross with corn, return once more to cross with chicken. I wonder to myself: Is the chicken now cross? Who can say, but I realize too late that the riddle’s a little long and complex for a six-year-old. After a few minutes of my dry explanation, Hare’s eyes have glazed over.
She raises her head when I’m done speaking. “Is the river he crosses sorta like our pond?” Though not technically ours, there’s a small pond the size of a swimming pool back in the woods behind our neighborhood.
I help her climb into her bed. “Well sure.”
“I like that pond,” she says, smiling sleepily. “When it snows—” she stops to yawn, “I’m going to skate on it.”
I shake my head. (She doesn’t own skates. She would trip and fall. It wouldn’t be frozen all the way.) But I say nothing; some battles aren’t worth battling, especially hypothetical ones. And it’s already nine-thirty on a school night. She needs to go to sleep.
I tell her goodnight, but she’s already gone.
My phone says it’s three thirty-four in the morning when I wake, stiff and groggy in my bed. I’m generally a sound sleeper, but occasionally I’ll slip into a few nights of insomnia when I’m stressed or otherwise troubled. Tonight, however, it’s not worrying that keeps me up; it’s hoping. I seem to have resorted to my childhood self, because I wake and the first thought on my brain is that I hope it snows. For Hare’s sake, that is. Suddenly I can sense the cold that’s descended over the house and I wonder if it’s snowing now, the beauty of it pouring down and wasting away into the night for just a few bleary eyes to see.
I make my way downstairs, first sticking my head into Hare’s room to hear her deep breathing and then adjusting the thermostat in the hall before taking care not to trip down the carpeted steps. In the living room, I turn on the floodlights to the backyard: no snow. Not a dusting. Our little birch tree stands alone in the grass, solemn and separate from the taller trees in the woods beyond the fence. Winter has made its remaining leaves look thin and dry and apt to fall with any breath of wind. I notice, too, in the harsh light from the house, the curls of bark peeling away from its trunk that Hare likes to remove and play with. In the past, she’s used them to draw me pirate maps the size of my finger and to wrap Christmas presents for her “woodland friends,” putting winterberries for birds and acorns for squirrels in tiny tan parcels. Most recently she’s used them to write fairy letters, which she tells me she leaves hidden under stones or in bushes.
I switch off the floodlight and walk back to the kitchen, pour myself a mug of water from the refrigerator. Piper would always laugh when I used mugs for cold drinks, saying, “What’s the point in having glasses?” Not that she really and truly cared what was used, she just liked to poke fun. Anyway, I can’t say why but there’s comfort to be found in holding a mug’s cool handle in the middle of the night. Something to do with the squat aesthetic of it, the sturdiness, the dependability. Can a mug be dependable? If there’s any dependability in this world, is it found in a mug?
I need to get back to sleep.
Hare is more than disappointed by the lack of snow outside when she wakes. She is grumpy while I’m fixing her breakfast and vengeful when I tell her to hurry picking her outfit. I don’t want to reinforce her negative behavior, but I’m feeling somewhat deflated myself from the lack of snow, so I smooth things over with the promise of eating dinner out tonight. I tell her we’ll go wherever she wants, knowing she’ll choose either IHOP or Berry’s Diner. Maple syrup is her kryptonite. At this, she is smiling as I wrap her in her scarf, and still smiling while I escort her down the driveway.
After watching her bus trundle away, I head to the office. Toward the end of my commute, as I’m driving through downtown, I hear an unexpected Christmas song on the radio—unexpected, that is, not because it’s a Christmas song, ‘tis the season, after all—but because it’s an obscure one. Sufjan Steven’s “Sister Winter.” But I know it well, and Piper knew it well. The chorus is pretty atypical for a Christmas song, melodic and haunting and so for some reason especially fitting for the snowless gray morning:
But my heart is
Returned to sister winter,
But my heart is
As cold as ice.
I’m still humming it when I turn in the drive at the financial advising firm, thinking of a December night six years past when we listened to the entire Songs for Christmas boxset. Played right through all five CDs. We were decking out our little Manhattan apartment together. Piper was almost nine months pregnant with Hare, who was born January third, but that hadn’t stopped her from making our home festive. In fact, the apartment was more festive than ever with her time off work. She would spend hours at the kitchen table making glittered paper garlands or stringing together armies of raisin-eyed gingerbread people, which she baked herself for the tree. I would tell her to relax, to rest, knowing it was not in her personality to rest. And although she wasn’t going in to work officially—she was a nurse at Lenox Hill Hospital—she seemed to be stopping by at least once a week with a basket of treats for her coworkers, for her favorite long-term patients.
It was the decking of the tree we’d been after on the night of our own Sufjan Stevens home concert. After leaving the office, I’d picked up Italian takeout for dinner. We ate in our tiny living room within the yellow glow of a few candles, and when we finished, I told Piper to hang tight and rest a few minutes while I did the dishes. I think this is when the first Sufjan CD was turned on in the living room, because I remember watching her from the kitchen as she started to unwrap ornaments we’d collected over the first four years of our marriage, moving to the music in the process. It was then that I got myself into trouble:
“Piper?” She looked up from her unwrapping. “Shouldn’t you chill out for a minute or two?” I said, drying my hands on a dish towel. A poor choice of words.
“I appreciate your care, but I’m a healthy pregnant woman, not an invalid.” She spoke warmly, but as if to prove her point, unfolded and stood on a stepladder to hang silver icicles on the highest section of the tree. “Will you bring the Tupperware of gingerbread in here?”
I spoke instead, stalling. “Look. I know you know yourself and I know you know all about pregnancy. I’m just saying that I also know you’ve been doing things all day. You said you made extra gingerbread for your friend?” I avoided using her friend’s name even though I knew it; she and her husband were our close friends. Non-specificity always seemed to come out in our quarrels, a strange kind of verbal ammo. “Aren’t you tired?”
“Yes,” she said crossly, “But not from over-exertion.” She moved in my direction, toward the Tupperware.
“Ian,” she flashed her eyes at me when she got to the kitchen. “Jingle Bells” was playing on the stereo. “Will you please hang up the dish towel after using it? It gets all gross sitting in a wet crumple. That’s an easy recipe for growing a bacteria farm on the counter.”
“Sorry,” I said, moving away.
“I’ll hang it up to dry now,” she said. “Just remember to do that, okay?”
I hadn’t realized she’d baked non-decorative cookies, too. “Sure.”
“You’re welcome,” she said, taking one for herself and then putting an open tin in the middle of the coffee table.
She sat beside me and let out a long breath. “The baby and I will be fine come January.” And she’d been right about it (from a technical standpoint), as she was right about many things. I watched as her face melted back to its original warmth—she was never one for grudges or prolonged coldness—and I reached over for her hand. She held mine in her strong grasp for a minute, and then when she stood and stretched, readying herself for more decorating, I took another snickerdoodle from the tin. A sign and seal of my support.
In the evening, when we’re in the living room and Hare asks me to do her hair before heading to dinner—still no snow although there’s a small chance in the forecast tonight—I first turn on one of the Sufjan Stevens Christmas CDs.
“Your mother and I used to listen to this music together.”
“I like it,” she says, wincing because I’m pulling her hair into a ponytail. I’m actually not bad at making it look nice, it’s just that her hair is thick and getting a little long.
I’ve had time to learn these things.
I’ve been raising Hare alone since she was one-and-a-half months old, after Piper died in mid-February. In the beginning, people expected I’d need a lot of help with things, with buying appropriate clothes and cooking healthy meals, but I’ve mostly done just fine in those areas. What I worry about most for Hare is that I stifle her with my concern for her safety, with my worrying. I try very hard to mimic the objectivity that Piper possessed, the coolness that served her so well as a nurse. But I fear that as time passes, I lose what I learned from those qualities of hers. Also, unlike myself, Piper rarely cried—and not because she was holding things back. She would tell me that while she had feelings, like everybody does, they were stored inside her, “like books on a shelf that don’t ask to be flipped through.” She was strong in that way. And yet she never belittled my inner emotions and entanglements, in fact, at times she was more attuned to them than I was. In truth, Piper was invaluable to me, defining and helping me through my young adult years, and as Hare continues to grow up, I know she’ll miss the powers her mother wielded.
“Hooray!” Hare exclaims from the backseat as we pull in front of her restaurant of choice.
“Ready for pancakes and maple syrup?” I ask her, realizing she’s about to become the Energizer Bunny on crack.
Within IHOP, at a table by a window, she points her fork at the powdered sugar on her pancakes: “Daddy look!” and then, “Snow!”
Piper and I had been out to dinner for the first time with infant Hare when we decided about her name. We had friends who wouldn’t go out to eat or to see other people for entire years after having a baby, but we quickly felt the need to get out of the apartment, into the fresh air and the city. It helped that Hare was generally a happy baby. Her full name, which we’d decided on together before she was born, is Harriet Grace Jones.
“Do you think Harriet is warm enough?” I asked when we were seated, peering at our tiny angel swaddled in a fluffy blanket.
“I do,” Piper said, but she readjusted the swaddle. “You know, I know we both love the name Harriet, but it does seem a bit formal for a baby.”
Our waiter came by with some waters. When he left, I peered over at the slumbering face within the carrier. “We could call her Hare.”
“Hare,” repeated Piper. “Like a rabbit? Or the hair on her head?” For an infant she did have a shocking amount of blond hair.
“I don’t know, I think I like it.”
By the end of the meal, Piper liked the name, too; she more than liked it. She thought it was spunky and unusual. She said it made it sound like our child came from a fairy tale. She loved that it had been my idea, since I usually don’t have such wild ones. I liked that both of my girls would have similar names. Piper and Hare—bird and bunny—yes, straight from a fairy tale was my little family.
Back at the house, Hare rummages in the kitchen for a spoon to hide under her pillow, which Sonya had said would make it snow tonight. At first, she wants to use a kitchen ladle, telling me that “the bigger the better,” but I persuade her to take a smaller (albeit still hefty) soupspoon instead. Upstairs, she lays it down on her mattress with such tenderness and grace that I can’t help but smile. Then I realize she’s crashing hard from her pancake sugar-fest, so I don’t offer to read her the usual bedtime story. Instead, I kiss the top of her head, say goodnight. I turn on her nightlight, which she never asks me to do but I do anyway, in case she needs to see where she’s going if she gets up in the night.
I double-check that the doors downstairs are locked and then drift in the direction of bed myself.
Later on I wake disoriented, to darkness and the sounds of wailing. I’m in Hare’s room within seconds, before fear can materialize within me. She is standing at her window in the dark and even before she turns around, I can see she’s in wild hysterics, rage-crying into the glass, her shoulders shaking.
“What is it?” I ask, kneeling beside her. Hare’s face is red and wet, but the anger in it softens when she looks over.
“The spoon…” she trails off, weepily. “The… spoon…”
I pull her into a hug. “I know,” I say. “No snow.”
“I want to be like Momma in the snow,” she sobs. “I want to be like Momma when you lived in Manhattan and would play together in the snow.”
I start to speak, but she is taken by her rage again, pushing me away and flinging off her pillow to unearth the spoon, which sits in silent hibernation. She screams, “I hate you!” in its direction and then grabs for it. I watch as she chucks it across the room where it collides with a picture frame on her dresser, which falls and shatters across the hardwood floor.
“Hare!” I yell, caught off guard. I put out my hand to stop her from stepping toward the broken glass. Then I’m surprised by the evenness of my tone: “I need you to take a few steps back and stay there while I vacuum this up. Do Not move from where you are. Do Not move, and Do Not ‘Pass Go,’ or you’ll be penalized.”
She looks surprised, too, by the destruction she’s caused, and stands in silence, her face still streaming when I come back with my shoes on, carrying the vacuum. The broken picture frame goes in the trash, but I tuck the undamaged baby photo of Hare into her top dresser drawer. When I’m done with the vacuum, she gets back in bed, and I sit at the foot of it.
“Hey pumpkin,” I say. She wipes at her face with her sleeve. “I’m disappointed, too.”
“Why won’t it snow?” she asks in a whisper, hugging herself tight.
“I don’t know,” I say. “The weather isn’t trustworthy. There’s a chance it could snow later tonight, or tomorrow, but you shouldn’t bank on it. I’m trying not to bank on it.” As I’m speaking my brain goes beyond my words, and I think of Piper and me, of the way our life together could not be banked upon.
She burrows her face in my shoulder, not crying anymore, just tired. I keep talking for a while. I tell her a story I remembered after seeing her baby picture, of when I’d been out for a walk with Infant Hare in her stroller and a few ladies in our neighborhood scolded me for the mismatched outfit I’d put her in. This makes Nowadays Hare laugh, and before long she is falling asleep again. Just as I’m leaving, however, she pipes up:
“Daddy? Can you put the spoon back under my pillow for me?”
“Yes, Hare,” I say. I can.
I find my tired eyes open yet again in the night, and I lean over to find that my phone says it’s four in the morning. My ears ring with the phantom wailings of Hare’s tantrum. I step to my bedroom window in the dark, which looks out over our backyard. In the dim light of the moon I can see it still hasn’t snowed. Poor Hare with her poor spoon. I shiver and I reach for a sweatshirt; the temperature, at least, seems like it’s ideal. How hard, then, could it be, to sprinkle a few frozen fractals of water across the lawns and rooftops of our neighborhood? Even a light dusting would help Hare to be happy. I think long and hard about it all, picturing the possibility of snow in my mind, willing it to become a reality. It’s the closest I’ve come to praying in years, and as I do, tunnel-visioning the moon, I realize my upward thoughts are directed at the Snow Fairy herself, as christened by her daughter.
I wish and wish and the wishes multiply and contort until they all become anger. The dark world outside, the stars and the trees and the moon, are unmoving, untouched. I turn away.
Then I go in to check on Hare, to be reassured by the sound of her even breathing. I do this a lot in the night: the sound check. My mind always wanders to the worst possibilities, it always has, but after Piper’s death, it’s wandered all the more. Hare’s breaths are slow and tranquil, thank goodness.
In the kitchen, I fumble for tea. My mind is in a rushing mess that I don’t think chamomile can calm, but I’ll try anyway. I’m stuck on that prayer and the disappointment of the past two days and the uncertainty of it all for Hare. About Hare wailing over wanting to be like her mother. And beneath that—subtle subconscious moving to conscious—I’m thinking, for the millionth time, of the day of her death, of the phone call I got as I was taking the subway home from the office. It was February the sixteenth, a Friday. I’d noticed a lot of couples out together, probably for a belated Valentine’s dinner that couldn’t have been worked into the busy week. That’s what Piper and I were going to do that night. When her sister, Ellie, called, I waited to call back until after I stepped off at my stop, planning to walk and talk, thinking the call wasn’t a big deal. Ellie and her husband, Mitch, lived in Manhattan, too, and we would get together with them nearly every weekend. When I called her back, the first thing she asked was where I was. In her voice was a deadness.
“Why?” I demanded, already suspecting the worst, already knowing its arrival. There was still a good deal of snow along the sidewalks, but it was slush-like, browning like an exposed fruit. “Why do you want to know where I am?”
Ellie wanted to wait until I got to the hospital, where she would meet me outside to talk before we walked in. I asked her to just spit it out. She said there was nothing else to be done, that it was over, that she had just gotten a call from Lenox Hill where Piper had been showing her friends the baby. There had been a freak failure of the lungs and Piper had not made it. From there things got messier. I hung up the phone. I ran. Back to the subway. I got on. So many couples. I was headed to Lenox Hill. To my bird and my bunny.
I got off. There in front of me was the hospital: looming, impossible. I stepped inside. Ran down hallways, bypassed people in walkers and people just walking. In a hallway were Ellie and Mitch. Hare in Ellie’s arms. “Thank you.” I shuffled her to mine. Ellie and Mitch were not okay; Ellie and Mitch were so sorry. In a room was Piper. Piper in a bed. Piper in silence. Piper in stillness. Piper surrounded by her colleagues and friends, by the other nurses and doctors. Natural and not natural. “What happened?” Piper still silent, Piper still still. The nurses and doctors were so sorry, and they didn’t know—“You don’t know what happened?” They didn’t know why she had had a pulmonary embolism. “She was healthy,” I argued. They agreed with me. They were so sorry. I leaned over to hear her breathing. Sound check failure. A blood clot, they said. A compromise of the relationship between the lungs and the heart. A blockage in the pulmonary arteries. The saddle embolus, they suspected. PE. Fatal, undetected. Normally things like tachnypea help detect. They were so sorry. A clot and a compromise. Piper was the heart and I was the lungs and we had been compromised. Or maybe it was in reverse: I, the heart, and Piper, the lungs. We had been compromised. Because some time had passed, they didn’t think it was related to the pregnancy. They would run tests. “Where’s Hare?” I asked. There in your arms, they said. In my arms. A tiny weight in my arms; a tiny certainty. Certainty is certainly a liar.
When I wake in the morning, I am shocked to see drifts—drifts!—of snow out my window. It sits in a blanket across everything in our backyard: the grass, our birch tree, the bushes. Our birdfeeder, our bench beneath it. The woods. The woods are lovely, dark, and deep, my brain blurts out without a warning. Growing up I had had this picture book of Robert Frost’s poem. Everything here looks as it did in that book: scourged clean, leveled out by the whiteness, scintillating. Oh happy day, especially for a girl named Hare!
I’m so glad that I rush into her room without layering on my slippers or a sweatshirt, but her bed is empty.
“Hare!” I call out, thinking she’s in her bathroom. I peer around the open door, but nobody’s there.
I go downstairs and am surprised to see that the digital clock on the oven reads nine-thirty. Nine-thirty? It might be a Saturday, but I never sleep this late. I must’ve forgotten to set my phone’s alarm. I walk around the kitchen, the living room, the dining room; I even peek into the laundry closet.
“Hare?” I call. Nothing. I look out the street-facing front yard and then look again out at the backyard and the woods. They are dark and deep. Silent and still, too. I shiver. I think of one more thing to look for: Hare’s coat. If it’s not hanging on her hook in the closet, she must be outside already.
And then I’m in the coat closet, and her big puffy jacket is in fact gone, and I’m stumbling into my own jacket and shoes. Out the door. There are her tracks—small and meandering but headed loopingly in one direction. I follow them, heading in the direction of Sonya’s house (sigh of relief), only to find that they veer off behind the row of houses before reaching it. The tracks are clearly heading to the woods. They’re heading—subtle subconscious moving to conscious—to the pond. (My relief shapeshifts; it is a monster tearing through me, pressurizing my chest). I start to run. The snow is thicker on the ground than I thought, an obstacle beneath my feet. I can be there in a minute, in half a minute. The pond. The pond will not be frozen all the way, but it will look frozen on the top. It will be deceiving.
There’s a chance I am too late. I move as fast as I can, seeing it all in my mind’s eye: a fractured pond with a gaping hole, a girl there but no sign of that girl. The quiet.
Oh, the quiet.
Then, I trip over a root buried in the snow and practically fall down the last sloping stretch to the pond.
Hare is sitting in the snow beside Sonya; there is not one girl but two. They look up at me with concerned eyes, with bits of snow in their hair. It must have been snowing just minutes ago and I didn’t notice. They have made a tiny snowman—or rather, snowwoman. Her head and back are covered with brown leaves in a cascading pattern.
“Harriet Grace,” I say. “You’re not skating.”
“Sonya doesn’t have skates, either.”
“You left the house without telling me,” I say. I’m scrambling, I’m trying not to scream.
And then I’m shouting: “I can’t believe you!” The girls were sitting still when I arrived, but now even their faces appear frozen in place. “Do you have any idea what you just did to me? You cannot leave our house without telling me! You’re only six! And this,” I gesture to the shining round beside us, “this pond, is dangerous! Very dangerous.” I stop and cover my eyes with my hands. Then I say again, subdued, “If you’d tried to step on it, it could have cracked. You could have drowned. You’re only six. Both of you. You’re only six.”
“I’m sorry,” Hare says. “It snowed.”
Then Sonya pipes up—she says that her mom and dad know they’re outside together. I wonder if her parents know where, if they know that our girls are sitting by this frozen-not-frozen pond.
But I nod and I kneel beside the two of them. I’m winded; I don’t speak.
Hare stands and puts her arms around me. I’m finding it very hard not to cry.
When I finally look at her standing beside me, the surrounding whiteness is nearly blinding. Hare is surprisingly calm. “I’m sorry,” she says again. She is not crying; she is strong of spirit. She is like her mother.
“Daddy?” Hare looks from Sonya to me with her flashing eyes.
“Are you okay?”
“I was very worried,” I say. “Promise you’ll ask me next time. Please. And promise you will never even think about skating on this pond, or any pond, without me.”
“Okay,” she says, and then: “I promise. Are you still mad?”
I shake my head.
“Okay,” Hare says, tugging at the zipper on her jacket.
“Okay,” I say. The snow is numbing. “Are you two cold yet?”
They say they’re cold. They would like breakfast. I tell them I will fix it for them—whatever they want. French toast? Sure. Sonya runs to tell her parents, and Hare and I go inside, shut the cold out lonely on our front porch when I pull the door to. We are both in our coats and both in our pajama pants. We are both shivering and wet. I walk into the living room, light a fire in the fireplace. When Hare comes into the room, she careens toward the dancing flames.
“I prayed to her for the snow,” Hare says, her palms stretched up and out before her, her face yellow in the glow. “Last night, after the spoon didn’t work, I just asked her. Nicely. And she sent it. Are you happy for the snow? It’s beautiful. Momma was so beautiful.”
“She was,” I say. I’m still reeling. My Hare. My Hare and my heart, beside me, beside this yellow fire. “She was so beautiful,” I say again. “Just like you.”
Emma Boggs is an M.F.A. fiction candidate at UNC Greensboro, where she serves as an editorial assistant to The Greensboro Review. Her work has been published in The Rumpus and The Peacock’s Feet. She tweets @emmaboggswrites.