e grabbed the shovel from behind the garage and limped down the drive. He kept his back to the house, crouched there darkly in the snow. But he could feel the crack in the drapes. His mother’s eyes on him. They never left him alone. Not ever again.
They worried, as people do. He was the youngest, after all. He needed special attention. They pulled him out of school and did his lessons at home. His father sold the firm and started a small consulting business on the side. His parents took turns going for groceries. He was never out of sight for long.
If he sneezed, they’d put him to bed, feed him comic books and flattened ginger ale. Pile hot water bottles around him like sandbags.
His brothers and sisters grew up, as people do. They left home, marching one by one. He was allowed to wave them off in the driveway, mother on one side and father on the other, hands latched to his shoulders. Around the corner they went, at the end of Lincoln Boulevard and on into their real lives. Some of them came back for summer vacations for a while. Now they were only a family occasionally, the way a rock skips across the dawn surface of a lake. Skip, a wedding. Skip, a baby shower. Skip, Christmas. Skip.
This was the first year no one had come home. They never would again. Not in the same way. They sent Christmas cards instead from their own homes.
The shovel scraped across the asphalt. They let him go this far, to the end of the drive. There was a timer going, back in the house. His mother had drawn up elaborate algorithms calculated to negative temperature and hypothermic probabilities.
Winter was his favourite time. The snow dragging the trees down low to meet each other up and down the boulevard. The day dying fast behind the big hunched houses. He snapped his fingers. Wink, went the lights at 542 at the end of the street. Snap. On came 577. Snap, 602, closer. Snap, 613, closer still. He conducted comings and goings on the street.
With the last layer of frost shaved from the drive, he pulled the aluminum trashcan out from beside the fence and began the salting, crisscrossing back and forth.
The shovel had been given to him by his neighbour, when his granddaughter bought him a snowblower. It was a metal one, the kind they didn’t make anymore, with an edge like an ice skate. He remembered the stories about the old man, dead now many years back. He hacked his family into pieces with the shovel. Or so they said. Things seemed so much simpler back then.
When he was done the asphalt glowed. It was like snow hadn’t even been invented yet. He snapped his fingers. The lights came on next door.
He leaned on the shovel at the end of the drive. His toes edged up to the sidewalk. His back hurt. Most things hurt these days. He’d grown a beard. A long one. And at some point it had gone grey. He’d grown old, as people do.
He turned back to the house, just as it flared up like all the Christmasses of his life. The lights were strung in the trees. The burnt strands loomed high, where the branches had carried them to die. He clomped up the drive, dragging the shovel behind him. The metal made a sound like a fork across a dinner plate. Somewhere in there his parents were wrapping the very last of the presents. They took care of him, as people do. Really good care. One day, it would be his turn.
Remember when you were a minipop, and you saw that film, you know, the one you loved that never had a sequel? Well, let's say it did. And it was just like you imagined it, only a little bit worse.