One Winter Night Alone on the Porch Steps
Take a deep breath and remember where you are. Try not to worry about the fact that your brother is leaving tomorrow and inhale that sweet nostalgic air and remember. It’s cold out. Like always, the air bites at the chapped skin of your ungloved hands. Droplets of blood on your knuckles. Let the smoke escape your chest before you toss the cigarette to the ground and press it hard into the pavement beneath your boot. Then cup your hands, draw them to your lips, and gently exhale an enveloping cloud of warm air.
How amazing–when that air entered your lungs, it was as cold as the rest of winter. But because your heart was thumping and your neurons were firing, all the cells in your body were able to muster up the strength to warm your body and keep you from freezing to death on this frigid February night. Billions of years of evolution brought you here—sitting alone on the porch steps, a cigarette’s dying embers your only company among the frosted silence. The warmth of your breath has dissipated as fast as entropy could take it. Millions of molecules spreading farther and farther apart.
You think of the distance between you and the City your brother will soon reside in. Only a few hundred miles away in distance, but impossibly far in spirit. What will it be like, you wonder, not to see him every day? Unlike him, you could never leave this place. This icy taiga is all you’ve ever known. You can predict the way the wind will rustle your hair when you leave for work in the morning. You know the smell of the air as well as you know the smell of your mother’s perfume. Without the owls hooting and screeching late at night, you cannot sleep.
This is home.
Take another breath. It’s gotten even colder now that the effects of the nicotine have worn off. You could go inside, but it’s a bright clear night out. A nearly full-moon hangs low in the sky, just beyond the tips of the pine trees. The boreal forest of your childhood sprawls out in every direction as far as the eye can see. Breathtaking. That’s the word that stumbles down to your tongue, falling back into the recesses of your mind before you manage to speak it aloud.
Soft moonlight traces the edges of the house across the road, a stocky, vinyl-paneled structure not unlike your rental. The neighbor’s house is mostly hidden behind a thicket of trees and bushes, but the emaciated branches of the leafy trees, even covered in patchy snow, don’t manage to conceal the property completely. You realize never introduced your neighbors to your brother. You could have invited them to Mikey’s goodbye party, but you didn’t. Tomorrow—when you’re sober—you’ll wish you had gone over just once in the past two years, knocked on the door, and invited Mr. Peterson over to watch the match with you and Mikey. They’d have been good friends, actually. Yeah. Good friends.
The front door opens behind you. Chatter drifts from the house into the silence keeping you company and your girlfriend beckons you inside. It’s too cold to sit outside and smoke, she says. Besides, the house is warm and the beer is waiting for you. You tell her you’ll be right in, and she disappears back into the place you call home. It’s not home as much as a house to live in. A box to keep your stuff in. Mikey says this place doesn’t feel like home anymore since Mom and Dad died, but you don’t see it that way. Home is all around you; it’s the trees you and Mikey climbed as kids and the snow you shovel in the mornings and the corner store where you buy three packs a week and the dirt road through town that curves alongside your now-sold childhood home and it’s the way that everything familiar wraps itself around you like a warm blanket on a cold, cold night like tonight.
Why would anyone ever abandon this place? This boundless, beautiful, mystic place?
You stand and brush the snow off your jeans. You glance up at the stars and wonder how different the night sky must look from the City. No sprawling blackness. No vivid Milky Way. Just a murky orange haze hovering between the Earth and the sky. You can’t help but think your brother doesn’t ponder these kinds of things, otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to leave. He can’t realize what it is he’s giving up. What he’s leaving behind. Who he’s leaving behind.
With one last bracing breath, you step up onto the porch and return to the warmth of indoors. As the door latches behind you, you wish you had taken a moment to gaze up at the stars with your baby brother one more time.
Anna Moritz is a U.S. based writer and artist who received her B.A. in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. She has had work published in Hair Trigger, The Lab Review, and has work forthcoming in Stonecrop Review. Currently, Anna is the editor-in-chief of Mental Papercuts.