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All Fades to Gray
Life out here was bleak. I stared up at the ashen sky, shivering as cold wind blew across the bridge. Winter seemed to suck the life—and color—out of everything here. The town was reduced to forty-five shades of institutional gray that blended together like medium quality grayscale. At one point, I wondered if I was going colorblind. Then I realized the problem wasn’t with my eyes—it was with this town.
It wasn’t quite night time, yet, but the sun was no longer visible. It had long since disappeared behind the endless mass of darkening cumulus clouds. Over the edge of the bridge rail, I could see the river had already been partially frozen over—the banks were now solid and white. Winters in Dover were brutal. I hugged my arms and lowered my face into my scarf, willing myself to start walking. I needed to get home.
My boots crunched firmly against the snow as I got closer to the neighborhood. No one bothered with clearing the snow on the sidewalks here. When I finally reached my home—a small colonial style house with a steep roof and rectangular windows—I fished my keys out of my black jacket’s front pocket and pushed my way through the door.
“Welcome home!” Seth shouted. My little brother, endlessly excited, ran up and hugged my legs. I tousled his hair before pushing him away so that I could shed my combat-grade snow boots.
“Is Dad home yet?” I asked, though a quick glance around the living room gave me the answer.
“No,” Seth replied, his voice low. "He said he can’t make it back. The roads were all iced up or something so he’s staying in the city.”
“Guess it’s just you and me again,” I said with a sigh, stepping into the living room with my brother, who was once again clinging to my leg.
“What’s for dinner?” he asked, brown eyes glittering with expectation.
For a second, I was annoyed. Why should I know? I wasn’t supposed to be the parent in this household. Dad was. I bit back my stinging reply—it wasn't Seth’s fault that Dad decided to move us to this stupid town. I silently wondered if Dad was intentionally staying in the city to avoid us. Ever since the funeral, he always looked at us with anguish in his eyes. I guess we reminded him too much of Mom.
I stopped myself from dwelling further and walked into the kitchen. The fridge was still stocked with groceries from the shopping trip Dad had made over the weekend. I wasn’t the greatest cook, but I could probably throw something together. I’d been doing that a lot, recently. Seth hadn't complained about the food quality yet, so I figured it couldn’t be horrible.
“What do you want for dinner?” I called as I searched the fridge. Seth had disappeared from my side, and the tell-tale buzz of the TV switching on told me he was still in the living room.
“I don’t know!” he replied.
I reached inside the refrigerator and grabbed the pack of egg noodles. They’d have to do. “We’re having noodles!” I said. Seth didn't respond, but I could tell he was already captivated by the cartoon sea sponge on the TV.
Dinner was uneventful and took place on the living room couch. I knew Dad would disapprove, but I felt that if I was the one making dinner, I should be able to dictate where we could eat it. Or maybe I was just trying to be silently rebellious.
After eating, I retreated to our room to work on my homework, and Seth stayed in the living room to watch more TV. As I tried to come up with a good thesis for my essay on civil rights, the lights went out. I could tell by the resounding silence in the house that the TV had gone out as well. I got up as quickly as I could and stumbled towards the living room. I still wasn’t used to the layout of this house, and I couldn’t navigate it in the dark without bumping into things. Seth was still on the couch, only now he was holding a blanket over his head, looking petrified.
“Seth, are you okay?” I whispered quietly.
He threw himself into my arms. I took it as a “No.”
I wondered what to do. The electricity had presumably gone out, so the heater had stopped. The house was ancient and had very poor insulation. It was what—eight o’ clock? Nine? The outside temperature was probably approaching 15°F. Soon, the house would be freezing.
“Seth, we need to put on warmer clothes,” I said, picking him up. I took my cell phone from the counter I’d left it on earlier and tried to use it as a flashlight. We made it back to the room without much trouble, but Seth wouldn't get dressed.
“I don't want to!” he said, turning away from the closet. He didn’t like wearing his puffy jacket—it restrained him. However, it was the only winter coat he had, and I knew he’d need it.
“Come on, you’ll be really cold soon,” I said, trying to reason with him. “I’ll make hot chocolate later if you wear your coat.”
It didn’t work.
“I’ll tell Dad,” I threatened.
He begrudgingly put it on. “I hate this jacket,” he said, trying to cross his arms. The jacket puffs made it impossible for him to do so. I laughed, but seeing my breath condense in the air made me realize how rapidly the temperature was dropping. My smile dimmed. Soon, a winter coat wouldn't be enough.
After putting a blue scarf and a knitted hat on Seth, I bundled up myself and led him back to the living room. We both got under the patchwork quilt, huddling together. The battery-powered clock on the wall indicated it was getting close to ten. The complete darkness had left me feeling tired. I tried to fight it, but I knew melatonin was slowly seeping through my brain, causing unwanted drowsiness.
It was eleven. Seth had fallen asleep long ago, but I knew that I ought to stay up. I needed to make sure it wouldn’t get any colder. Didn't sleeping in freezing temperatures make for the possibility of never waking up?
The clock beeped, signaling that it was midnight. My eyelids drooped. Sleep sounded so good right now. My body felt numb, but I couldn’t tell if it was due to the sleepiness or the cold. Was it too cold? I couldn’t tell anymore. I just wanted to sleep. Maybe just a few seconds…
My eyes closed, and I felt myself drift into the darkness.
I hope Dad makes it home okay.