by Charlotte Sulick
I don’t know that parents are supposed to hug. I don’t know Dad is too tired to change. I don’t know Mom is dreaming of leaving and taking us with her, that the hope she might save up enough money to move out keeps her alive. I don’t know that it will take her ten more years to get there. I don’t know a lot of things.
I do know that I’m allowed to make Dad’s coffee.
Medium cup filled a pinky-dip from the lip with stale convenience store coffee. Cream up to the top, but no sugar. A lid to close it, but no sleeve to protect it from burning your hand.
“And we’ll grab a Globe on our way out.”
I hold the cup for him while he climbs into his green Chevy truck. I’m shivering. Coffee slips from the lid and drips over my fingers, leaving tiny red streaks on my skin before landing in the snow at my feet. He tucks the paper under his arm and gestures for me to hand him his drink.
“Yup.” I smile, glad to help and relieved to let go of the bitter inferno. I wipe my hand on my pants. Scuttling over the ice in front of the truck, I get to the passenger side and heave open the door. It takes much more effort for me to get inside, the floor being at my parka-wrapped hip when I stand next to it. I manage to hop in, relying heavily on the leverage I get from handle inside the cab. But getting into the truck is a two-part process: once I open the door, I need to close it again. The weight of the steel lets the door swing wide and forcefully away from the cab. Keeping one hand on the seat for balance, I reach for the handle, but get only as far as the window crank. Dad places his coffee in the cup holder next to the cassette player.
“Need a hand?”
“No, I can do it.” I reach again, this time grazing my mark. Before I can try a third time, he reaches across me and snags the handle. Pulling the door half closed, he motions for me to take over.
“Finish the job, Scoots. It’s not the weight, it’s the reach.” He nods at me as I use my whole six-year-old weight to yank the door the rest of the way shut. The engine groans and rumbles when Dad turns the key. The air from the vents is still warm from our drive over, and I am grateful to force it against my palms and between my fingers, already cold from the winter air. Dad stuffs an old beach towel into his shirt like a bib and lays the sport’s page across the steering wheel. “Funnies?” He looks at me, handing me a meager portion of an otherwise hefty newspaper. I thoughtfully peruse the comics, deciding which I will report back on. I select Ask Shagg.
“Did you know warthogs eat dead animals?”
“I thought they ate plants?”
“Yeah, but, and tree bark and dead animals.”
“Huh…interesting.” He looks vaguely impressed as he folds the sports page and tucks it back inside the heap of newspaper on the seat between us. “The Celtics lost,” he tells me, repositioning himself in his chair. “I know you don’t really watch sports, but now if someone asks you at school, you’ll know.” He smiles at me, tired eyes somehow fully awake. “How about we head home, Mom is probably starting pancakes.”
“Sounds good.” I fold up the Funnies and stick them next to Dad’s sports page in the pile. He drinks heartily his coffee and wipes his mouth on the towel before un-tucking it from his shirt.
It snows all day. I watch from the bay window as Dad treks to and from the pile of wood outside so that we can enjoy the novelty of a fire. He shows me how to stack the wood in a way that leaves room for the fire to breathe. I watch him light newspapers with a match and stuff them in the pockets of space until the flames finally catch the dried wood.
“Throw a log on, Scoots.”
I reach for a piece of wood. “I don’t know …”. My hand hovers outside the hearth, dipping down from the weight of the log. I grimace, wary of the idea of sticking my arm anywhere near the flames after needing an oven mitt just to open the doors to the fireplace.
“Here, you’re not going to get burned if you’re quick.” Dad grabs my forearm impatiently and moves it inside the hearth, to the side of the flames. I feel the red streaks on my hand before I feel the heat crawl up my arm. “Now stack it gently so you don’t knock the whole thing down.” He moves my arm into the fire, and I drop the wood in place, like a crane. “There, you see, you did it – no big deal.” I stand in front of the fire, feeling the heat radiate even from this far back, in awe of where my hand just was. He returns to his seat on the couch.
“Hey Scoots,” I turn to face him as he finishes what's left of his morning coffee, “you make a better door than a window.”
The snow finally stops when the sun sets and the fire dies. We don’t eat dinner tonight, not the way where we sit at the table. Mom has made my sister and me homemade chicken soup. After boiling all day, the broth tastes thick and hot on my tongue – I put a few ice cubes in it to cool it down, but the mug is still uncomfortable in my hands. Dad doesn’t have soup, though. He takes coffee. Not from a pot like this morning, but a single-serve pod from the Keurig. The machine fills his travel mug, leaving no space for cream. I watch him sip a pinky-dip off the top to make room.
He always takes the cup out with him when he goes to shovel. He wraps himself carefully, layers of socks and sweaters and jackets and hats to protect him from the cold. He puts on two pairs of gloves and asks me to help pull mittens over them.
“Scoots, one quick thing,” he motions to a pair of gray mittens with his padded arm. “Hold those open.” I take a big wool mitten and hold it open like a trash bag. Dad shoves his gloved-hand in and tucks the inner-most of his shirts into it. We repeat on the other side. “Why don’t you come out with me? You and Caroline can play in the spotlight for a bit before bed. How’s that sound?” I smile, positioning the travel mug in the pocket of his outermost coat. He nods. I watch him as he trudges through the snow, making a path with the shovel he keeps by our front door as he goes.
We sit in the snow. I watch Caroline smoosh handfuls of powder together and listen to Dad scrape the shovel against the driveway in the spots he’s already gotten to the bottom of. I can’t feel the cold through my layers of insulation, but the skin on my face is numb. The gap between my gloves and my sleeves is packed with snow from making snowballs, relieving the overheating from too many layers of sweaters Mom wrapped me in. The spotlight turns on and off with our movements, and now it glistens off new falling snow. I take my gloves off in my pocket and stick my hands into layers of fresh powder. Caroline lays back and whistles, pointing at the sky. We don’t talk, we just enjoy.
I watch Dad comb the driveway up and down and back and forth. He makes many passes, but the snow keeps accumulating. Eventually, he pauses for a long time to drink his coffee and stare at Caroline and me. When he puts the coffee to his lips, I see the shirt still tucked into his sleeve. He looks tired. His face blurs, red from the cold, until it is only his blue eyes. I wave to him, eager. He nods at me slowly and takes a long drink of his coffee.
I don’t know that parents are supposed to apologize. I don’t know Mom is too tired to fight. I don’t know Dad is dreaming of keeping our family together, that the hope he might save his marriage keeps him alive. I don’t know that it will take him a lifetime to let that go. I don’t know a lot of things.
But I do know how he likes his coffee.
© Charlotte Sulick, 2019
Charlotte is expecting to graduate from Emmanuel College in Boston, MA in May of 2020 with a BA in Writing Editing & Publishing and Philosophy. She began her writing career in high school with the publication of vignette in the May 2015 edition of Teen Ink Magazine. She went on to win the Scholastic Art & Writing National Silver Medal for Writing later that year. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time tutoring both moral and existential philosophy.
No Sugar was read by josephine Cashman on March 27th, 2019 for Memories & Mementos.