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art by Melissa Mead

Tomorrow Is Winter

Callie Snow is an actress and writer based in Cambridge, MA, where nerds reign supreme and libraries are made of awesome. She is currently writing a horror screenplay. Feel free to say hello on Twitter @snowcallie or at calliesnow.wordpress.com.

I hate going to see Granny. It wouldn't be so terrible if Mom didn't stick me in a dress and tie my hair in satiny ribbons. Then there's no chance of a peaceful time because everyone will order me to stop fidgeting, squeezing my arm too tight, breathing too hard in my face and leering.
I tried to complain once, but the electric shock made the world go black. Now I'm more careful.
Besides, tomorrow is winter. This will be the last winter because opening the dome stresses the pollution filters for months, and no one wants to pay Dad's company for extra maintenance.
The drive takes two hours. Mom and Dad talk about winter the year before, about how nice it was, a real winter with snow and everything, and how Granny said she wouldn't go out but when they took her into the natural cold, she stuck out her tongue for the snowflakes and laughed until she sobbed.
The year before, like all the years before, I couldn't leave the hospital, so this is my first winter not watched on ViaStream.
"Winter's not like the skating rink," Dad says. "When the wind numbs your cheeks, you'll feel connected to the beginning of time, to the origins of the universe. To the ice ages. Winter drove humans to fire and companionship. Winter is timeless."
"Not that timeless, apparently," Mom says. She fusses with her felt-covered hat, her cloche she calls it. She only dresses like this to see Granny, and even I can tell she's uncomfortable. But beneath the somber black felt, her brown curls are surely still iridescent.
"You know what I mean." Dad says. Sometimes, if I stir early, I find him outside on the deck, arms crossed, staring up like he hopes the sky will do something unexpected.
Granny waits for us near the entrance. Someone has taped white, glittery snowflakes to the walls and windows, to her wheelchair's handles. Granny kisses Mom, hugs and kisses Dad, then holds his hand while I'm quizzed about how I'm adjusting, what I'm doing at school and if my friends treat me nice.
"But do you feel like yourself?" she keeps asking. "How do you feel?"
Whenever I try to answer questions like this, what comes out my mouth is "I'm great." So I say nothing.
Mom and Dad are cheerful, almost giddy, because Granny's having a good day: not throwing things, not screaming that she hates Dad, that she'd rather be dead.
After a few minutes, they make an excuse about needing something to eat and go off. Since they don't tell me to follow, I stay where I am.
"Come. Meet a new friend," Granny says. She jabs at a button on her wheelchair, and it takes her into the rear lounge.
The lounge is mercifully empty except for a man with tubes stuck up his nose and a plastic bag attached to a wheeled pole. "Hello there, little Isabella," he wheezes before we even reach him.
"Isa, this is Grant. He used to be a landscape architect."
I don't know what that is, so I ask.
Grant looks surprised, then gets excited, talking fast and gesturing so animatedly that the tubes connecting him to his wheeled pole swing, making him look like a marionette. At least he's not poking or squeezing me, or making me open my mouth so he can observe how my jaw works.
When he finishes, I say politely, "You must be very excited about winter tomorrow."
"I am," Grant says. A little flap of skin hangs off his lower lip. A few months ago, I tripped all the way down the grand staircase and banged my mouth into the column at the bottom. My lip had looked a little like Grant's did, and Mom called one of Dad's engineers, who told her to just glue it back together. But I know she doesn't have glue in the tiny purse she uses for visiting Granny, so I don't suggest that Grant ask her to fix his lip. Anyway, maybe it wouldn't work.
"I'm not the least bit excited," Granny says. "If not for the family staying overnight, it'd be any other weekend."
"Sure you don't mean that, Adele."
Granny folds her long, elegant hands. "If we can't have a real winter, I'd rather not pretend. I'd prefer the memory remain untarnished."
Grant stares at me, his bushy eyebrows forced together in a thick line that vibrates with his breathing. "What do you think, Isabella? Would you rather have gone away, forever lost, or do you prefer these added moments of reunion?"
"Grant--" Granny says, her voice sharp, and I wonder if she's now having a bad day, if it's going to start right in front of me. Grant mumbles an apology.
When I first got sick, my parents took away my dolls and replaced them with easily sterilized metal toys. Birthdays, I had to watch Mom open my presents on ViaStream. I hated that.
My friends didn't visit often. They didn't like the glass wall. Lana said I was so skinny and pale, that with my bald head I looked like a skeleton.
"Moments of reunion." The words are strange in my mouth because it's opposite the answer I want to give, and an electric shock zaps through me. Luckily that happens less and less often as I learn what to say and feel.
The floor trembles, just like Dad said it would. The new safety locks around the top of the dome are being tested.
"You poor thing. My son's a sentimental fool." Granny leans back in her chair, suddenly distant.
I don't think she knows that I can hear her processors whirring. I'm not even sure she's aware of them, but I can't find a way to ask.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Author Comments

I've always been fascinated by what we do and don't know, the chasm between mere awareness of a fact and the ability to truly recognize it, process it, and act upon it. This story toys with that on several levels. But I was also enchanted by the idea of this evil genius who is, above all, weak in a way that most people--at least I hope I'm not the only one!--will find uncomfortably familiar.

- Callie Snow
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