A light drift of wind forced its way through the miniscule cracks on the misted glass window and swept around the room, reaching every nook and cranny until its presence had chilled and awoken me from my slumber.
Groggily, I forced my eyelids open, immediately greeted with the bright light of the winter sun as it beamed into the room, its rays cascading over the piles of clothes that were lying in disarray over my bedroom floor.
“Are you awake?” A small voice called to me from the opposite side of my bedroom door, as it always did every morning, a small smile spreading across my lips as the frigid smell of the crisp, cool winter air wafted into the room.
“Yes,” I replied, my voice slow and filled with the exhaustion that had taken over my body for the past couple of months. Watching my younger sister walk in, her dark brown curls bobbing as she hopped onto my bed, I gave her a slight wave. Her wake up call every morning had become a part of my daily routine, and I already knew what she was going to ask next, her young voice filled with naivety, “Are Mom and Dad coming home today?” She inquired, her electrifying blue eyes wide and full of the childhood sense of hope and innocence that I so desperately longed to return to.
My smile faded ever so slightly, my heart quaking as small daggers of heart threatened to penetrate the fortified walls I had built up within me. Every morning she asked the same question and each time, I gave her the same answer, my voice never wavering despite all the sadness in my body that pushed it to, “Maybe today,” I said softly, “They’ll come home soon.”
I could remember the horrible day that my parents had left as if it were just yesterday, even though it had already been two months since their departure. It hadn’t actually been a horrible day to start with; my family had spent the day outside in the snow that had piled up almost to my neck after weeks and weeks of constant blizzards. The entire day had been filled with wide smiles, rosy cheeks and sledding, for that was one of the few good things about living miles and miles from any other neighbors or human beings: you could scream as loud and joyfully as you wanted to while sledding down the steep, snow-covered hills and nobody would care. However, the overwhelming sense of happiness that had consumed me in the whirlwind of that day had quickly vanished with my parents. “We’re just going to go tend to the cows,” my Father had told us, as he put on his worn out knit cap that had gaping holes in it, large enough for his hazel brown hair to peek through, “There’s supposed to be a blizzard tonight, and we need to make sure that they’ll be okay. We’ll only be half an hour or so.”
My parents didn’t return for half an hour. As the time reached the hour mark, worry crept into my mind and a little voice whispered into the back of my head, scary thoughts appearing that I immediately pushed to the side, not wanting to confront reality. It took an entire day to pass that it began to sink in that our parents had gotten lost or stuck somewhere and there was nothing that we could do to help, for the blizzard raged on outside with absolutely no mercy, snow and hail pelting against our frail windows with the power of a dozen arrows. It was only after an entire week that we realized that our parents weren’t coming back. At least my older brother and I were able to make some sense of it, while our younger sister held out hope and made the best of the situation, as all children do.
Snapping out of my thoughts, my sister tugged on my hand, dragging me towards the kitchen where I began grabbing the supplies for breakfast as I did every morning. You’d think that my brother, being two years older, would help around the house in the loss of our parents, but he had swirled into a pit of despair, leaving me to adapt swiftly and take on the role as the head of the house.
After setting a steaming hot plate of eggs in front of my sister, I peered out of the kitchen window, which was covered in a light layer of frost that misted up my view of the snowy outside world. I squinted and made out the figure of my brother, who appeared to be lying in the fresh bed of snow outside our house, looking up at the sky. “What is he doing?” I asked with a sigh, already grabbing my wool coat and tugging on my snow boots to head outside into the frosty wonderland that surrounded us.
I opened the door and was met with a strong gust of wind and a few snow flurries that almost toppled me over. Regaining my balance, I trudged towards my brother and eventually plopped down next to him so that we were lying parallel to each other, our bodies just inches apart but our minds miles, “What are you doing?” I asked, although I had a suspicion I didn’t want to know the answer. Ever since our parents had disappeared, growing resentment had sprouted within me for my brother, despite the lengths I took to force those horrible thoughts away. I constantly tried to remind myself that he wasn’t the enemy, that it wasn’t all his fault, that he was feeling pain too, but it was hard to sympathize with him when he was lying around all day leaving me to attempt to fill the large shoes that my parents had left behind.
He pointed up at one of the towering, evergreen trees that was over us, its pine needles coated with snow, “I spotted a nest up there,” he said, his voice emotionless, “There’s several baby birds in it, all alone. I don’t know where their parents are.” Sure enough, I could hear the faint chirping from high up above us, and I suddenly began to feel the ever so present chill of the cold snow below me. Finally, my brother continued, “They’re going to die, aren’t they? The birds.”
I paused and then began to protest, “You don’t know that.”
He shook his head, “Yes I do.” We were silent for a moment, before he continued, his voice soft as if he were dreading his next few words as they parted from his mouth, “I’m leaving.”
“What?” I asked, propping myself up to face him, my eyes searching into his, looking for any sign of hope or of the brother I had known just a few months ago, “You can’t just leave us. That’s not fair!”
“Yes, I can,” he said, turning away from me, avoiding eye contact, probably scared of the anger that filled my eyes and body, “I’m going to look for them. It’s the only thing for me to do around here.”
I lightly placed my hand on his back, attempting to force down my rage and understand what he was going through, but my mind had already begun sinking into a state of despair, “There’s no point in looking for them, you know that. It’s been a lost cause since over a month ago. Please, just stay here with us… You’re not the only one feeling this sadness, I am too.”
He shook his head and reached deep into his jacket pocket, taking out the small silver pocket watch that my Father had given him shortly before his disappearance. Not daring to look me in the eye, he took my hand in his own and placed the watch into my freezing fingers, “I’m done counting each second and minute and hour since they’ve been gone. I simply can’t wait anymore… I need to go.” Finally, he looked up at me for the first time, his eyes filled with tears that matched my own, “Goodbye, sister.”
Slowly, he stood up, his hands shoved into his pockets as he turned his back to me and began walking through the forest of evergreens and mountains of snow that he used to call his home. Soon, it began snowing heavily, the miniscule flakes washing over me and beginning to cover my brother’s long trail of footprints.
Unable to bear the heartbreak and anger that had overcome me, I ran inside, all the tears that I had been holding back finally pouring out as I gripped the pocket watch tightly in my hand and counted the hours until night fell and I could sleep away my sorrows, all the while the snow kept pounding down outside.
Finally, when the pocket watch's silver hands had reached nine o’clock, and I had washed my tear filled face and tucked in my sister who continued to pretend that everything would be okay despite the tears that refused to stop rolling down my cheeks, I settled into bed.
As I stared out my bedroom window into the dark and snow filled landscape before me, I began to hear muffled sounds from outside the house, my heart beginning to beat faster and faster as hope reentered my body. Creeping out of bed, it felt as time stood entirely still as the house was flooded with the loud echo of a resounding knock on the front door.
Taking slow steps towards the door, unable to comprehend what was happening, I strained my ears and ever so faintly, I swear I could hear the soft chirps of the baby birds from earlier that day.