Cody opened his eyes in the dark room. He felt like he had had too much sleep, and when he looked at the red digital lights on his alarm clock, he saw why.
“Mom!” Cody yelled. You didn’t wake me up! I’m late for school!”
Cody threw back his covers and jumped out of bed in a single motion. He quickly peeled off the t-shirt he slept in, and began looking through his dresser for another to put on. It was nine-thirty already. He had overslept by an hour and a half.
Cody’s Mother pushed open the door to his room as he was putting on a pair of jeans, and turned on the light.
“I let you sleep. It’s a snow day. They cancelled school.”
Cody looked up at his mother in a mixed state of disbelief and glee. He bounded back to his bed, tugged down on the shade, and followed it up with his eyes as it coiled at the top of the window. The edges of the pane of glass were frosted, but through the middle he saw that everything outside was covered in white snow. The street, as the exception, was a slushy brown. The plough had come through while Cody was still asleep, but it couldn’t get up all the snow. Dirty tires mixed with salt and snow, creating a muddy trough in-between plough-made snow banks. Cody turned back to look at his mom, who was still standing in the doorway.
“Is Liz up?”
“She woke up maybe fifteen minutes ago. She’s downstairs eating breakfast. Do you want hot milk on your cereal?”
“Yeah!” Cody excitedly replied, and his mother went down to the kitchen.
He looked out the window again, and then hopped off his bed to continue dressing. After brushing his teeth Cody ran downstairs to eat breakfast with his mother’s special winter ingredient, warm milk. He sat down at the kitchen table next to his older sister, Liz, who was finishing her meal. She drank the last milk from the bowel, put her dishes in the sink, and ran off to watch cartoons with the dog in the playroom. Cody thought warm milk made his cereal get soggy faster than cold milk, but it was a rare treat so he loved it. Warm milk was usually reserved for snow days, and Christmas and mid-winter vacations, as they were the only days his mom had the time in the morning to heat the milk without having to worry about rushing them out to school.
Cody ate his cereal quickly so it wouldn’t get soggy, and then ran off to watch cartoons with his sister and Dublin. Dublin was an Irish Wolfhound, but he thought he was a lap dog. He didn’t bump into as many things as he used to, but still insisted on jumping up on the couch and sitting on top of people.
“Let me see him,” Cody said, pulling Dublin off Liz and onto his own lap.
Liz quickly grabbed for his collar, and held Dublin steady where she could pet him. Liz, twelve years old and three years older than Cody, had thick auburn hair like something out of a shampoo commercial. Aunts and uncles were always complementing her on her hair, though she did nothing special to keep it in such good condition. Liz actually hated being complemented on her hair, and it was a main cause of her tomboy personality.
“No. I was here first,” she answered.
Cody put both arms around Dublin’s chest, and pulled again. When Liz yanked back on his collar, Dublin stood up, jumped off the couch, and walked to the living room to sit with their mother while she read the paper.
“Look what you did,” Liz said spitefully.
“He would have stayed if you didn’t pull his collar.”
“He was with me first, moron.”
“Be nice!” their mother yelled from the next room, and they sat in silence until the cartoons were over.
“Let’s go outside,” Liz suggested when the credits began to roll, and Cody hurriedly agreed.
Cody had to go to the bathroom first, and while washing his hands he pushed back the curtain with his forehead to look at the backyard. Everything was covered in snow, and the sun glinted off the crust of ice that had formed as the top layer. Here and there some twigs rested upon this crust, but it was an unbroken layer across the entire yard. Cody liked snow like this, before people or animals had run through it, and destroyed its smoothness with their footprints. He also liked it when he could trace paw prints or three-toed bird tracks through the snow, but that wasn’t as enjoyable for him as the sheet of crisp, unbroken snow. As Cody was looking out the window he saw his sister leap from the top of the back steps. Her feet broke through the crust, and left crater-like holes in their wake as she took long strides to the middle of the yard. Once there she turned around, legs spread wide with arms away from her sides, and fell back into the snow. She proceeded to flap her arms and legs to make a snow angel, then carefully stood up to look fondly at her work. Cody was tired of watching Liz have all the fun, rushed out of the bathroom, put on his jacket and gloves, and joined her in the back yard.
Outside he found Liz had already begun rolling the base of her snowman. The snow groaned as Liz pushed her ever-increasing ball along the ground. The ball picked up dirt, grass, and un-raked leaves, which made Cody think it looked more like a scarecrow than a snowman. Cody inspected the backyard for a good location to build a fort. He scanned the yard for a well-protected spot, and decided upon a little nook defended on two sides by the house, and on a third by a large evergreen bush. He too began rolling a large ball along the ground, but to serve as a defensive wall for the fourth side of this nook.
“That’s a stupid place for a snowman!” Liz shouted when she saw he had rolled his mound next to the house.
“It’ll be better than yours,” Cody replied, hoping that Liz wouldn’t notice what he was building until it was too late.
By the time Cody had his second mound in place, Liz had already placed her second ball upon the first, and had begun rolling her snowman’s head. She took interest when she noticed Cody didn’t bother to mount his second ball upon his first.
“What’s the matter? Is it too heavy for you to lift?” she laughed.
Cody only smiled, and began rolling his third and final ball towards the fort. Liz realized what Cody was building, and immediately toppled her second mound from the base of her snowman. She pushed the intended head towards the other two mounds, and shoddily set to work building the rest of her defensive wall. Her site selection was poor, however, in the middle of the yard next to her snow angel. While she tried to build more wall Cody steadily molded snowballs until he built up an arsenal of fifteen tightly packed balls. Liz wasn’t nearly finished with her wall when Cody smacked her in the head with his first snowball. She scrunched down behind her wall as best she could, but was hit again and again by Cody’s throws. With two snowballs left Cody jumped over his own wall, sprinted towards Liz, hit her at point blank range, and then retreated back into his fort. The snowball fight lasted for a while longer. Eventually Liz was able to build up enough of a wall so that she could begin making snowballs without being pelted. Once the second phase of the war began Cody’s head start and fort location were enough of an advantage that he was only hit a few times, while Liz was repeatedly tagged with snowball after snowball. Liz continued throwing for the sake of ending the game with some good hits, and after nailing Cody five times in a row with hard throws, she decided she was done.
“I’m cold,” she said.
Cody was about to argue with her in an attempt to keep the game going, but realized hot chocolate would likely be available inside, so agreed to a truce. Once inside, they asked their mother for hot cocoa, and she set about making it while they went to watch more television. The Price is Right had just started, and they played along. Liz was frequently very close to the right price, and it so annoyed Cody that he quickly started bidding one dollar on everything, hoping she’d gone over.
“Cocoa’s ready!” their mother yelled from the kitchen.
Liz and Cody bolted out of their seats to the kitchen. Once they got their mugs, however, they backtracked their steps carefully, making sure not to spill any. On the return trip to the playroom Cody called Dublin, who was lying under the dining room table, to come with them. Dublin wagged his tail twice at the mention of his name, and then rolled over and shut his eyes.
When the game show was over their mother told them it was time for lunch, and asked what they wanted.
“Can I have grilled cheese?” Liz asked.
“I want spaghettios.”
Over lunch Liz and Cody read the cartoon section of the newspaper together, only turning the page after they were both finished with it. Cody was more selective, only reading The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbs, Peanuts, Garfield, Hagar, and a few others. Liz read them all. She also read her horoscope and the show-biz news, which were in the same section. Cody felt she did this just to make him wait longer before she turned each page.
After lunch Liz went to her room to read. Cody went to his room to find plastic toys he could freeze. He had tried freezing GI Joes in the past by submerging them in a large 32 ounce souvenir cup he had gotten at a Mets game, and then leaving it outside in the cold overnight. Unfortunately, the Joes were made of hard plastic, and had hollow interiors. The water seeped into their chest cavities, and then expanded as it froze. Cody lost four men that way. Three broke open at the area between the shoulder and the neck, apparently the weakest joint in the body. The last one must have been better constructed in the shoulder area than the first three. His chest cracked open right down the middle, where his shirt buttoned. Far from disappointed, Cody thought this was cool enough that it warranted the loss. He was able to find a small screwdriver in the basement, opened up the Joes, and mixed and matched the parts of the broken toys to create one super villain he named Doom. Doom quickly became his favorite, and Cody was forced to turn him into a good guy.
While his first experiment in freezing toys had ultimately turned out for the better, Cody didn’t want to have any more Joes broken, and pulled a box of solid, plastic army figures out from under his bed. He dumped the box onto his floor, and out poured a jumble of Green Berets, SEALS, ninjas, jungle combat troops, and laser warriors. Cody sorted them, and then picked the SEALS. He scooped them up in his shirt, and carried them downstairs to the kitchen.
“Mom, do we have any string?”
Cody’s mother found some string while he got the scissors, tape, and the 32-ounce cup. He filled the cup with water, and then set it down on the kitchen table to begin work. Two of the SEALS he plopped into the cup, and allowed sink to the bottom. He carefully tied string around the arms or legs of the other SEALS, and positioned them at different depths, taping the excess string to the outside of the cup. Cody taped the last two SEALS to the top of the cup so that they were only partially submerged, and would stick out of the ice block when it was fully frozen. After he finished positioning the figures he carried the cup out to the front stoop, and set it down to freeze. Cody shivered once, looked up and down the street, and went back inside. Dublin had come to the door to see why Cody had gone outside, but returned to his spot under the table as soon as he realized he wouldn’t be walked.
“Liz!” Cody yelled up the stairs.
“Don’t shout,” his mother scolded. “Go up and talk to her if you want to.”
Cody stomped up the stairs, and banged on his sister’s door.
“There are some kids playing down at the end of the block on the snow mound.”
“OK. I’m almost done with this chapter. I’ll meet you down there.”
Their house was on a dead end street. Whenever it snowed heavily the ploughs would come through and create a large mound, sometimes as much as seven or eight feet high, at the end of the block.
Cody rushed back downstairs, asked his mother if he could go, and put all of his snow gear back on. Dublin stood up and walked to the door with him, but once again went back to sleep under the table as soon as Cody disappeared without him. Cody rushed down to the snow pile, which was six feet high at its peak, and packed tightly. A few other kids from the block were already there, playing king of the mountain. They all said hello to Cody, and then gave him the next chance to unseat the reigning king, a boy a good thirty pounds bigger than any of the others. Cody took a few steps back, set his footing, and ran headlong up the hill only to be easily pushed to the side, and flop face-first back down the mound. The kids went on playing like that for an hour or so. Liz eventually showed up, as did a few other kids from the neighborhood, while others gradually returned home. The tittle of “king” changed hands many times, but the larger boy clearly had the longest reign. After a while the kids became bored and tired-out by king of the mountain, so began digging tunnels. When they were done an intricate system of interconnecting tunnels had been built, and they all had a good time crawling through them from one side of the mound to the other. By that time it was already past three, and after-school television had begun. The gang quickly dispersed as each kid returned to his own home.
Liz and Cody walked home with red cheeks and noses, and stomped the snow off their boots onto the mat at the front door. Cody was careful as he slid his feet out of his boots, making sure not to step in any of the snow. He always hated when his socks got wet, and when every step made his feet cold. Liz was first into the playroom, and she turned the TV to General Hospital, the only soap on after school got out. Her girlfriends had all started watching it a few months ago, and she readily joined in. Cody said that he didn’t like it. His excuse was that he only watched it because Liz had control of the TV, but he had even begun watching it alone on afternoons that she got stuck at school with an extracurricular. Cody called Dublin in to watch with them, and he pulled a blanket off the back of the couch to cover himself and the dog. The rest of the afternoon went by with cartoons, teen programming, and talk shows. At five the local news came on. They suffered through it only because there was nothing better to do, and nothing else on.
Theoretically they ate dinner at six, but that was usually pushed back depending on when their father got in. He was late again today, and at the break between local and national news they got a bag of Doritos, and returned to eat them in front of the TV.
Close to seven, while watching a rerun sitcom, they heard the old Ford rumble into the driveway, and a short time later the front door opened. Dublin jumped off the couch, and his collar jingled all the way to the door. They heard their mother’s footsteps as she went to the front door. They heard their mother mumble something in an angry tone, and their father reply jokingly before he went upstairs to change his clothes. The steps creaked as he came down a short time later, and they heard their mother say something in a shrill tone from the kitchen. He entered the playroom not long after, average height and averagely overweight, wearing slacks and a tan cardigan sweater, with a brownish drink in his hand.
“How was your snow day?”
“We’re watching this.”
“I can’t ask how my kids’ day went?”
“Oh, what are you watching?”
Their father finally laughed to himself, leaned his shoulder against the wall, crossed one foot behind the other, and stuck his free-hand into his back pocket. He remained silent for a few moments. Cody and Liz laughed at a joke on the show.
They ignored him.
“Very Jewish this show is. They’re all very Jewish.”
“We’re watching this. Be quiet.”
“Well maybe I don’t want you watching this.”
Liz had enough, and went up to her room to read. Cody’s father returned to the kitchen for another drink, and he heard his mother talk about how he had already been drinking, and how he didn’t need another. He heard his father try to laugh his way out of it, and the sound of ice clattering was quickly followed by his mother’s warning that he was “in trouble.” Cody liked it better when his father got drinks while his mother was on the phone, because then she wouldn’t yell. Cody’s father returned to the playroom to talk through the show, and Cody tried to ignore him as best he could. Another show was about to begin when Cody was called to set the table. He wanted to continue watching television, but was happy to have an excuse to leave his father.
Cody didn’t really mind setting the table. Clearing the table, he found, was usually more fun, as he got to stack dirty plates as high as he could, and carry three salad dressing bottles and the butter dish in one hand. He would carry as many things as he could on each trip from the table to the kitchen, and was never sure whether he would drop things or not. Setting the table didn’t carry that aspect of risk, but made up for it with order. Everything had its place: knife, fork, spoon, glass. Even the plate had a proper placement so that the pattern would be facing out. Cody’s mother had sown little dots onto the cloth napkins so that they could tell whose was whose. Cody’s father had one dot, his mother two, Liz three in a line, and Cody had four in a box. Cody sometimes liked the fact that his dots weren’t in a row like the others’.
“Is everything set?” Cody’s mother asked.
“Yep. Should I call everyone?”
“Go get them. Don’t yell.”
Cody ran upstairs and banged on his sister’s door until she opened it.
“Dinner,” he said, turning around to go back downstairs.
In the playroom Cody found his father lying across the couch. He told him to come to the table, and soon the entire family was gathered in the dining room. Cody’s father continued to talk throughout the meal, bemoaning this and giving his opinion about that, making up facts, shouting when he wanted to. Cody was glad it was winter, because that meant the windows were already closed. During the summers he would have to close the windows so the neighbors couldn’t hear, and that always made the meal exceedingly hot. Cody tried to ignore him, and put his head down and ate. He shoveled the food into his mouth, trying to finish his meal quickly so he could be excused. Liz was doing the same, but she frequently had to stop to defend herself against her father’s demands that she eat more vegetables.
“Can I be excused?” Cody asked his mother, putting down his fork.
“Wait till your father’s done,” his mother replied.
Cody’s father had seconds, and lavished butter on two more rolls before he was through.
“Now?” Cody asked.
“Do you want any dessert?”
“Can I have it in the playroom?”
“No,” his mother replied, “have it here.”
“I don’t want any then. Can I be excused?”
“Of course you can be excused,” his father answered.
Cody sat there, waiting for his mother’s response. She nodded her head, and he quickly got out of his chair, called Dublin, and walked to the playroom while Liz started clearing the table.
In the playroom Cody again pulled the blanket over himself and Dublin, and began flipping the channels. On a news magazine program he found a show about bullfighting. The scenes of the Spanish bullring seemed a good change from the snow, so Cody put down the remote and began watching. Not much later his father walked into the room, and began talking about bullfighting.
“Quiet, I’m watching this.”
“I know something about bullfighting.”
“I don’t care. I’m watching this. Be quiet.”
“There was once a bullfighter, the best bullfighter there ever was.”
“But he got tired of fighting bulls. He didn’t think they were a challenge anymore. This is a true story.”
“I’m watching this.”
“Just listen to me. So he went to Africa to fight rhinos. And he fought rhinos like he fought bulls, and he became great at that. After a time his money ran out, because there’s no industry or stadiums for fighting rhinos in Africa, and he had to return to Spain. In his first bullfight back he was killed—gored to death by a three-year-old bull. He had let his guard down. He thought he was too good for the cow, and he stopped paying attention.”
“Are you done? I’m watching this.”
“Fine, fine, I’m done.”
Cody’s father walked away at the end of the segment on bullfighting. He went into the living room, and lay down to take a nap. He fell asleep, and began mumbling, sometimes in Latin or French. There was nothing on TV, so Cody went upstairs to play with his GI Joes. As soon as he got upstairs he remembered his frozen SEALS outside, and ran back down to get them. He got the cup off the front stoop, and brought it into the kitchen where his mother was talking on the phone. He tried to dump the ice right out into a big bowel, but it wouldn’t come. Cody tugged on the figures he had left sticking out of the top, but it was still stuck.
“Run it under some warm water,” his mother suggested, momentarily breaking away from her conversation.
Cody took her advice, and held the cup under the running faucet until he heard the ice begin to crack and separate itself from the cup. The ice fell out, and banged with a metallic ding around the sink. Now free from the opaque blue and orange cup, Cody could see that everything had frozen exactly in place like he wanted it. A few SEALS were permanently exploring the bottom, a few were permanently swimming above them, and a few more were permanently surfacing, with their heads, chests, and arms rising out of the ice. Cody spun the block around in the sink, and it made so much noise that his mother had to move to the dining room to continue her conversation, the curled phone cord extending almost into a straight line. Cody continued to play with the ice block in the sink, knowing the toy only had a limited existence. He pressed his fingers into the ice, held them there until the pain of the cold forced him to remove them, and then examined the depressions he had melted. He stared at the ice crystals in the center of the block, and thought of a story behind how the SEALS came to be frozen there, perhaps after attacking a Russian sub in the Arctic. Gradually, all the ice melted as Cody ran more hot water over the block, and one by one his men were freed. He knew he didn’t have time tonight for another block to freeze, but decided to set one up so that it would freeze tonight and be ready in the morning.
After placing the cup back on the front stoop he returned to the playroom to see if any better shows had come on. He found his father lying on the couch with the blanket over himself and Dublin. The TV was on, and Dublin was sound asleep with his head resting on Cody’s father’s lap. Dublin loved Cody’s father.
“Come on, Dublin!” Cody said excitedly.
Dublin opened his eyes at the sound of Cody’s voice, but kept his head in place.
“Come on, Dublin! Wanna go for a walk? Walk! Come on Dublin!”
“He’s sleeping. Let him Stay here. He wants to Stay,” Cody’s father said, putting a hand over Dublin to keep him in place.
“No. He want’s to go Out. Out!”
Dublin knew the words “walk,” “sit,” “out,” and “stay,” and even understood when people would spell them.
“Let him Stay,” Cody’s father pleaded. “He wants to Stay. Let him Stay.”
“No. He wants to go Out for a Walk. Out! Come on! Walk!”
Cody’s father pressed down on Dublin to hold him in place.
“Come on, boy! Wanna go Out! Go Out for a Walk!”
“Out! Out! Out!”
There was no way Cody’s father could keep him still. Dublin squirmed his way from under the afghan, stepped off the couch, and followed Cody to the front door. Cody put on his jacket and boots, put the leash on Dublin, and took him for a walk.
Outside it had cooled off significantly since the afternoon. Cody flipped up his collar, and tried to scrunch down his neck to make more effective use of the jacket. The snow had frozen, and crunched with every step he took. A few streetlights gave off an orange glow, but it wasn’t bright enough for Cody to tell if he was stepping onto a sheet of ice or not. The muscles in his legs tensed up, and he took small cautious steps to make sure he didn’t fall. He and Dublin walked slowly around the block, and didn’t see anyone else except for two cars that turned off the street before they got close. When Cody got back to the house he stayed up for a little while longer, and then showered and went to bed.
School was back on the next morning, and he didn’t have time for hot-milk cereal. The sun came out during the day, and though it never got warm, the temperature did rise above freezing. By the time Cody and Liz got home from school the streets and sidewalks were free of snow, though there were still patches of white on the grass. Walking up the front steps, Cody realized he had forgotten to bring his SEALS inside to the freezer in the morning. Whatever may have frozen overnight had completely melted during the day, and he wouldn’t be able to play with it now.
About the Author: John Power
I was born and raised in and around New York City, graduated from college in rural Virginia, lived and wrote for a year in Warsaw, Poland, and currently reside in Chicago.
My short stories have been published in Hemingway Shorts Vol. 2, Thoughtful Dog Magazine, The Great Lakes Review, and the Journal of Legal Education. My most recent novel, "Participation", and an earlier "Toy With the Flame" are available on amazon.com. My first novel, "Golden Freedom", is available on lulu.com.