“Ma, Mr Wyatt kicked over my snowman.”
“What's that, hun?”
“The snowman I made outside. I just saw Mr Wyatt kick it all to pieces.”
“I'm sure you can build another one.”
“I'll tell Pa.”
“Ethan, you'll tell your father no such thing”
It had never snowed in Ruby before. I woke up one morning and everything was covered in this cold, white stuff. It fell Monday night and still laid Wednesday morning when Mr Wyatt tore down my snowman.
My pa said he had seen snow back in Pennsylvania when he was growing up. He wasn't happy about it like me and my kid sister, Annabelle. He was all mad cause the horses didn't like the snow and couldn't walk in it. The men had to clear a path from town all the way to the mine. It took almost an entire day.
Ma put me in charge of watching Annabelle. She was only little and didn't talk much. Ma had to sow her a coat just for the cold.
“A new garment for a few days of cold,” my Pa had said, “I didn't know we were so rich.”
I made a new snowman. It didn't look quite so nice as the first one. There hadn't been any snow overnight so it was the same stuff from before. It wasn't white.
Annabelle came to me with some straw she'd found.
“Lady.” she said, then pointed at her head.
“What is it, Annabelle?”
“Lady.” she said again, then pointed at the snowman.
“Oh,” I said, “You wanna make it a lady snowman? Sure.”
I took the straw from her and laid it over the snowman's head. Annabelle smiled and clapped her hands.
“Lady!” she cried.
“It's a snowlady, that's right,” I said, “Should we show Ma?”
Annabelle nodded and grabbed my hand. Inside, Ma was scrubbing Pa's boots.
“Ma,” I said, “Annabelle and me have got something to show you.”
“I'm very busy” Ma said, “So it had better be something worth seeing.”
Annabelle raced outside, pulling me with her, and stood beside the snowlady.
“Lady.” she said.
Ma stood in the doorway, looking neither happy nor sad nor anything else.
“It's a lady snowman,” I said, “See, Ma?”
“Yes I see, Ethan,” she said, “Don't get her too excited over it. It'll be gone come morning.”
Annabelle spent the rest of the day trying to dress the snowlady. Ma was real angry when she caught Annabelle trying to wrap her good blue skirt round its waist.
“Look at the mess you've made of this, Annabelle.” Ma said.
Annabelle said something back real slow.
Annabelle got a nasty case of hypothermia, on account of her being out too long in the snow. My ma and pa got real worried. Then they got mad at one another. I could hear them screaming through the walls at night. Pa thought it was Ma's fault for leaving her out too long. Ma thought it was his fault for never being home to help out. I thought really it was my fault. Annabelle only went outside when I did. I moved our beds closer together so I could hold her hand till she fell asleep.
Annabelle didn't get out of bed much. She mostly looked out the window. The snow was starting to melt away but it made her smile to see her snowlady still standing. I did my best to keep her going. I used mud, clay, stones, old liquor bottles. Anything I could find to keep the figure upright. Before long, it was just a heap of junk with a puddle at the bottom and some straw on top. Annabelle didn't mind. She kept on waving to it from the window like a friend. I took a couple of branches from a tree in the yard, stood behind the pile and used them to wave back.
Annabelle got better but Pa left us. He wrote a note saying how he was tired of all the yelling and he was going to California to get rich off the gold they had there. He left behind most of his clothes. Ma went to the mine and asked the men Pa worked with where he was. They hadn't noticed him gone.
My Ma was a pretty lady so there were lots of men who wanted her for themselves.
“There's a man named Isaac,” Ma said, “Who wants to come live with us.”
I could tell Annabelle didn't understand. She got bored and ran outside.
“But what if Pa comes back?” I said.
“I don't think he's coming back, Ethan.”
“But if he does? He'll be mad we've got a new pa.”
“He's not a replacement for your father. You don't have to love him right away. I need someone to talk to.”
I hadn't thought of that. Ma was lonely without Pa.
“Truth be told,” Ma said, “We need someone who can provide for us.”
We hadn't been eating so well since Pa left. Ma tried to get a job in one of the stores in town but no one was hiring. She took the food they were throwing out. All the vegetables we got from the store were mushy. We took them before they went to the horses.
“I suppose it's okay.” I said.
“I'm glad,” Ma said, “You know, even when Isaac's here, you're still the man of the house.”
I wasn't yet thirteen and couldn't fight like my Pa could. I hoped Isaac would bring a better pistol than the one I hid under my pillow.
We found Annabelle outside, in front of her snowlady. The snow was long gone but Annabelle had been building the pile of mud higher each day and topping up the straw. When she stepped away, we saw a pair of Pa's slacks spread out at the bottom of the pile. All the straw had been scraped off, too.
“Annabelle,” I said, “What happened to snowlady?”
“Man,” she said. “Snowman.”
Ross Sayers' poem Moon was published by Octavius in June, and you can read it here. Tweet him at @Sayers33.