[flash fiction]

“Promise to tell me . . .” I can almost feel your breath in my ear. If you were standing here with me tonight, I wouldn’t say a word—and I wouldn’t have to, knowing you. You’d scoop it up like birdseed in your palm and blow it away, laughing. Your laughter, I love it—you make me laugh even when I don’t want to. Like our last night together.

You wouldn’t stop giggling as you slipped off your sandals and curled your legs around mine. You complained that the boulder we leaned against was too cold and insisted that we should snuggle under our picnic blanket. I sweated rivers. From across Lake Atitlan, the hotel lights in the Piedmont looked like a broken string of pearls scattered on black velvet. I didn’t want dawn to come; Javier would be driving me to meet the coyote at the Mexican border. You knew I didn’t want to go.

“Look for me here,” you took my hand in yours and pointed to the stars above us, “and know I’m with you.” I glared at the lights across the lake. There, the tourists danced; their night would never end. Here, the moored boats moaned; the fishermen were never late.

“Eliseo, what’s rattling around in that co-co of yours?” you messed up my hair, giggling. The lights in the distance—your hand in mine—the black water beneath us.

“Samabaj,” I mumbled.

You didn’t say anything. I don’t think you heard me. I found you tracing the constellations with your finger. I raised my hands to my lips. In the distance, the heavens slowly dissolved into red. The fishermen dropped their rods into their boats.

“Promise me something?” You rested your head on my shoulder.

Did you even have to ask? I’d promise you the world wrapped with a ribbon. But I didn’t say a word—and I didn’t have to. Of all the things to make me promise—I always laugh to think about it. On nights like this, I wander the streets, wondering what to tell you about snow.

Snow’s light but heavy.

Walking through snow has made my calves like Pele’s. After the first few dustings, I thought all the stories about blizzards were nonsense—snow didn’t stick to concrete, snow left a chalk outline around everything and, by ten in the morning, it was all gone.

One day in October, I called you from a pay phone to tell you but your line was busy. Since November, storm after storm of this stuff disappears, flake by flake, on your tongue crippled by this monstrous city.

The sidewalks were packed with jagged, icy footprints. The curbs were edged with mountains. The streets were slippery with slush. I called again and again in November and December, but each time your line was busy. One day in January, I found a huge park covered in a landslide of snow. When I called to tell you, your line was dead. I kept walking.

Snow’s cold but hot.

It doesn’t matter if its day or night, sunny or cloudy, calm or windy—it’s always freezing here. I learned early on to bundle up for my commute from Pilsen to the Loop; somewhere beneath a wool cap, vinyl gloves, woven scarf, thermal underwear, down coat, Columbia boots, goggles, and layers of Blistex was skinny me. As it got colder, I began to keep a flask of whiskey in my coat. I was insulated from the cold and the snow. Sure, sometimes I’d feel the flakes on my beard, and sometimes me and my roommates would have snowball fights, but I’d pack my snowballs with gloves on. But I never really felt snow until one Friday night in early February. I’m ashamed to say, I called you from a pay phone, drunk. Roberto and Donnie came from behind, pulled my pants down, and threw me into a snow bank. The remaining twelve blocks home, I cursed them—my backside burning. Nights after that, I’d try to get them back after we left the bars. I even devised a brilliant plan to get them. I shared it with you in my last letter. A few days ago, I found the letter in my post office box with a strange stamp. A friend at work called the post office and told me that your address no longer exists. I was going to put it with the rest but decided to make a crown out of it for my walk tonight, my ears burn.

Snow sparkles.

The park is empty at this hour. Here there is a clear view above. The tips of black branches caress the clouds, pregnant with snow. Does the view really matter in the city? Even here, I’ve never seen stars. But the other night, I made a discovery: when I searched for my flask in the snow bank, I couldn’t believe it—the purple blanket of snow sparkled under the park lamps. And there they were: your constellations. But when I traced them, they disappeared beneath my fingertips.

Tonight, the silhouettes of snowmen stand over the rows of angels the children left. The winds funnel from every direction, howling, carrying the horns of taxis and the siren of an ambulance, whipping the crown off of my head. The clouds are black. The angels have all but disappeared under the fresh snow. My laughter sounds strange in the hollow of the park. Today, the consulate told me about Mayor Esquina’s decision.

I feel your breath in my ear.

Tonight you know about snow and I know you’re with me.

Padilla photo“Snow” is from an upcoming collection of fiction entitled Si Dios Nos Presta Vida by Jesse Paul Padilla. Mr. Padilla’s work has been published by National Public Radio, Reed Magazine, and the Marquette Journal, and has earned Honorable Mention and Semi-Finalist recognitions for short-short fiction from New Millennium Writing.