Phil picked up two burgers-to-go from the hotel kitchen and led Delorie along the sidewalk and across the street to a bench on the riverbank. The snow was just right for sculpting, and after she finished eating Delorie scrambled around in the winter twilight and made a snowman. Not a standing snowman, a lying-down-drunk one. She shaped a mound into a body, scraped snow together to mould arms and legs, added a head. Snow came in over the tops of her boots, melted through her pantyhose, made cold rings around her ankles. Phil smoked his cigarette and watched. When she’d made the head he worked his empty beer bottle into the snow so the tip of the brown stubby stuck out to make a nose. For eyes, he made Xs out of short grey twigs fallen from the surrounding spruce trees.
“Blotto,” he said. He punched her arm. “Let’s go.”
But Delorie stayed back, took off a glove and printed a message. Phil and Delorie were here. The snow melted cold against her finger and she slipped it into her mouth to warm it before she put her glove back on. The streetlight shining through the early darkness left blue shadows inside the letters. Wait up, you, she shouted to Phil, who was half a block away and showed no sign of slowing his pace.
In an upstairs room in a house on Temperance Street, Amber dragged a box out of her closet and through her bedroom, bumped it over the edge of the carpet and pulled it across the kitchen tiles. Sat down on the floor, knees bent, feet on either side of the box. The tiles were cold and she slapped her bare feet against them, left right left right left right, to juice the circulation to her toes. She made a fist and punched the box, her knuckles landing smack on the green condensed milk logo stamped on the side. My life in a box, she thought. Ha. Condensed.
She reached into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out a small oval of ornate brass – the doorbell plate from the house that had been torn down this morning. Empty round hole in the middle where the doorbell’s button should be. She let the plate drop to the floor, where it made a small clang. She’d hoped for a bigger noise.
“Forget it, Del,” Amber said to the bit of metal and her feet and the cold floor. “Who needs you?”
You can take a fat, rich word like “mother,” and when you add the word “birth” in front of it the whole big idea shrinks down to a dictionary definition. The distance Del maintained. The way she rationed words. Even the way she walked – her rapid, abbreviated stride. And her arm’s-length smile, the sense Amber got from her that she had Amber on a list of things to be periodically checked. As if when Del had given her child over to her own parents to raise, someone had told her love abhors a crowd.