So Damn Warm

By Cassia Gaden Gilmartin

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Under the blankets she shivers like she’s out in the snowstorm, not curled safe in our bed with the lights out. I close the door behind me, but I don’t move to warm her. She’s piled those blankets so high tonight, so high and so heavy. The heat’s turned way up in here. Outside, the snow falls for real, thick sheets of it tumbling from clouds that block the moonlight. A few stars shine through, though. Just enough light to see her by.

“Allie?” The pillow turns her voice to a bare murmur, like the voice she uses when I’m there beside her, our hands and hair twined together, one blanket sheltering us both. Like the voice I spoke with when I started school, mumbling at my shoes, before her kindness opened me up. She blinks at the half-open curtains. “There’s snow.”

There’s snow.  I’ve just come in the door but I want to roll around in it, bunch it in my fists, let it soak through my coat. God, I haven’t even taken off my coat. “They said there would be. The forecast after the news.”

She sits up to stare at me. As she rises the sleeve of her T-shirt slips down, baring one white shoulder. I can hardly see her face, but I see the freckle on that shoulder – a little black hole drinking in the light. I’ve loved her for that more than anything. Even my Mom used to love that freckle. Kat had hers on her left shoulder; mine was on my right, its mirror image, and we pretended we were sisters. We thought we were only sisters, for a time.

“You’ve been home a while.” The pillow’s gone, but her voice stays low. “I heard the front door open.”

“I’m sorry.” Suddenly, there’s shame. I blush, and mean the words even though I never meant to say them. “It’s the first time I’ve seen her since – you know. Since Mom died.” Aunt Linda was quiet when I visited her house tonight, the sleeve of her woollen jumper unravelled. There were shadows beneath her eyes. She smiled at me, the way Mom never did since I told them about Kat. We didn’t talk about the funeral (Kat and I came together, wearing matching silver rings), or about the house, though I know she’s sold it now. We didn’t mention the tabby cat who used to come for food, or ask whether anyone still fed him.

I hang my coat across the back of our armchair and face the wall as I pull my shirt over my head. I wore purple today, with ripples in the fabric like waves. Kat always told me I should wear brighter colours.

“You okay?” Her tone is sharper now. “You said we’d talk when you got home.”

I say nothing, but tug off my jeans and unhook my bra. I leave them both on the floor and shrug on my pyjama top. It’s plain black. The lack of colour makes me bite my lip so hard it hurts. I feel her eyes on me as I struggle with the buttons. I should tell her it’s nothing. Mom died a month ago. I’ve cried for her, and Kat has held me as I cried. We’re free now, and it’s finally over. But I don’t feel free. Kat’s eyes bite into me like hooks, and I’d so love to touch the storm outside.

She swings her legs over the side and reaches out to me. I take her hand and she guides me into bed. But she pauses before pulling up the blanket, her hands balled into fists in the fabric. She looks like she wants to kill someone, and like she wants to comfort me. Just the way she did when we were only eighteen, when Mom hated us for loving each other and we were so desperate to believe it was us against the world.

“It’s okay,” I whisper. She lays the blanket over us both.

Once, I thought I’d live away from home. Get a few friends to join me maybe, and rent an apartment near college. Get a job, manage my own finances, stay up and talk every night until we were all too tired to speak. Learn to use the dishwasher. I never bothered to make ours work at home. But that’s all gone by now. Kat handles the machines, because she’s the one who’s good at things like that, and I don’t know if living here counts as away from home.

“It’s okay.” She doesn’t seem to notice the words are an echo of mine. “I’ll help you sleep.”

Some nights when we’d just discovered what we were to each other, she’d sing me a lullaby. The words were in Irish, because we agreed those sounds were softer. But she’s not thinking of a lullaby now. She kisses me, first on my forehead like she did when we were children (laughing then, but not tonight) and then on my cheek, my neck, my shoulder. Her lips are warm. I nearly let her keep going.

When I pull away she does the same. I can almost claim nothing is cut short, nothing broken. She props herself up on one arm, placing all her weight on it. It trembles. “There was another protest today. Against the new abortion law. Can you believe it?”

I saw the same thing last week, walking home with her hand in mine. I remember the staring eyes, the sea of grey coats, the gaudy pictures of Jesus and Mary. The little old ladies standing out in the rain. “Mom would have been there if she could.” Just to counteract all that grey, she’d have worn silver.

Kat pulls the blanket tight around herself. She says nothing for so long I think maybe she’s decided to stop talking forever. Then, finally: “Allie?”

Her eyes are green, like mine. Her hands are impossibly small. I’ve never known what to say to her, and all our lives she’s been the one to fill the silence, and I want to speak now more than anything. She hated my Mom. I don’t think I’ve realised before now how sweet that was, or how cold, or how unnecessary. I pull her close. We lie down face to face so our foreheads touch. “I have to –”

“Is it your Mom again – the things she said about us? She wasn’t right. You think she was right, don’t you?” She takes both my hands in one of hers, and squeezes so tight I almost tell her to let go. My hand’s sweating; I want to get it loose and run my fingers through my hair until every strand is straightened out, the way I’ve always done when I’m scared – but how can I say that to her?

Another year and they’d probably let us get married. It’s all over the news now; we’ve been watching the headlines with darting eyes that struggle not to catch one another’s. “It’s not Mom. I just can’t –” There’s so much I can’t speak out loud. That her energy chokes me, and her anger. That without her, I think I would have been kinder. That I’m still a little girl but she’s a woman now. “Do you ever feel like you’re frozen at five years old? Like before you even met me. When you still thought gay meant happy.”

She strokes my hair. It feels just like my mother’s touch. She smiles – but it’s not a smile, if we’re being honest tonight. “Not really.”

“I need to be on my own for a while.”

“I know.” I almost want her to fight. She always fights, but not today. Her breath tickles my cheek. “Do you want me to take the couch?” I can feel her chest rising. “I’d rather stay with you. Just for tonight.”

When we were five years old they taught us about snowflakes, how every one was different. I never believed it – there were millions, and all so small. “Open the window. Please.”

The hurt comes and goes from her face in the same instant, as if someone’s put our lives on fast forward. I hope not. I need this to last a little longer. She swings her body out of bed and turns towards the window. The carpet muffles her steps so I can’t hear her. Before I know it I’ve reached out to grab her hand.

She stretches out her arm, unfastens the lock and shoves the window open without letting her hand leave mine. Cold air rushes in to meet us. Her hair stirs in the wind. I never would have guessed, but she looks so beautiful like this. She’s back in bed before I have time to miss her, and I’m glad. There’ll be time enough to miss her soon (and maybe we’ll get back together someday, when I’ve lived a while on my own, when we’re old and grey and always alone because the truth is we were waiting for each other).

In weather like this we used to make snow angels. Mine were dreadful, more like dragons than angels, with huge, jagged wings. Hers were better, I thought. Hers were always better. But something’s roaring outside, and for a second I think it’s one of my dragons come again.

“You’ll be okay,” she whispers. She touches my cheek with a hand still cool from the wind. “Close your eyes.”

I must – they’re already closing. I obey her one last time, and the world just opens up.

Cassia Gaden Gilmartin