Zora slams the door behind her, the frosted glass shaking in its panes. It’s not even windy, but the cold air seems to hit her with a blast that lodges in her bones. Yet, in comparison to the frigid scene she just left behind indoors, it’s practically balmy.
She shimmies the zipper of her parka up its track, and draws her fair isle mitten over her winter-cracked knuckles. The skin splits open again with the movement, and she winces as she covers the slivers of crimson that have appeared at the bends of her fingers. It happens more often than not when the temperatures stay low enough to keep the red of the thermometer from rising beyond its bulb.
But this time, it is not Mother Nature Zora cusses out. It’s her sister, Zelda, who stole her lotion from her dresser and returned an empty bottle. In the terms of the wrongdoings Zelda’s committed, this is a minor infraction, but it adds to the heap that’s been building for the past few years.
Why couldn’t she drive it off a cliff? Zora clomps down the few stairs to the grass, where her brown and black boots sink into the snow with barely a crunch, the powder too light and sparkly for packing. She sets her sights at the edge of the all-limb, no-foliage maples, where the mostly level terrain veers downward, and, in other seasons, the waters of the Bryson Creek lap at the mud and tall grasses. In the spring and summer, she would practice her 200 meter sprint in this expanse of land, propelling herself ever-forward, even as sweat burned her eyes, strands of her red hair stuck to her cheek, and her legs felt like a cross between stiff, leaded boards and melting ice cream.
At times, Zelda ran beside her, but most of the time, she stayed within the trees’ shade, constructing a wall out of the creek’s rocks, or videos of cloud formations. Until one of them pissed the other off, and the sprinting turned to charging, and the videos to mockery.
Their parents named them after two famous writers, so it should’ve been no surprise that both daughters were packed with personality, both fiery and having a flair for the dramatic.
What was the surprise was how volatile they were together, like hairspray and a flame. One stray comment and the whole house could go ablaze.
They were nearly inseparable, “attached at the hip,” their parents would say as they ran from room to room giggling and playing together. Then the growing pains of adolescence descended upon the sisters and changed their whole dynamic. Once-contagious laughter became grating. Weekend hangouts petered out into brushes in the hall on the way to the bathroom or kitchen. Their roads diverged until they merged into rocky terrain over and over, each collision destroying another part of what they had been.
At times, though, when Zora felt more ache than anger, guilt than grudge, she felt the urge to rebuild the bond they once had—a sisterhood steeped in friendship. But, just a quick as her nostalgic feeling flicked on, it flicked back off again, as Zelda instigated another fight. But deep down, Zora still held on to her wish to go back to those days when their roads hadn’t diverged, and where the pavement between them wasn’t as worn thin and broken.
The bitter winter froze the creek before the calendar flipped to December, and hadn’t relented to let it thaw since, making her feel safe to press her full weight onto it and slide across. The activity is calming in its simplicity—back and forth, back and forth. She hears nothing but the squeak of the rubber against the ice, and the whistle of the wind. Peaceful.
“Did you really have to come all the way out here?” Or, was peaceful.
Zora doesn’t bother to swallow the grunt as she turns around to see Zelda, her obsidian hair tucked beneath her rose beanie. A few feet away from the ice, she shifts from foot to foot, her gloved hands balled up at her side.
“You mean into our backyard and not ten miles down the road where I can’t go anymore?” Zora says. “Yes, I did, but you didn’t.”
A sardonic laugh comes from Zelda’s lips. “Right, because your big march out of the house wasn’t asking for someone to follow you.”
Zora stares up at the sky, where the clouds are as thick and gray as the blanket their nana knitted 5 years back. Zora had wanted it, but she and Zelda put up such a fight about it. Neither of them got to claim it as their own.
“I’ll give you six feet of it, but that’s it.” Zelda sets her stance in the snow, as if she’s freezing herself there.
“Wow,” Zora scoffs. “How low is your self-awareness that you think you can call the shots?”
“No lower than yours.” As Zora pushes off, sending her body in one direction and an unending side-eye in Zelda’s. Zora’s not saying she’s the most aware person in the world, but she’s done plenty of self-talk in the mirror and knows herself and her intentions. Zora knows in her heart that she’s not the reason their relationship is headed further on its road to destruction.
“Okay, fine, Zora. Maybe your self-awareness is a bit higher, but I think mine’s higher than you think it is. I am out here, trying to talk to you, despite the fact you’re being an ass.”
“Oh, sorry if I’m a bit irritable, Zel. You see, I’m still a bit sore from when you threw me under the bus.” She could practically feel the metaphorical tread marks across her spine.
Zelda sighs, producing a sizable cloud of condensation, and crosses her arms over her magenta peacoat. “I didn’t mean to throw you under the bus.”
“Well, I mean you literally pointed your finger right at me when Mom asked who snuck out, so.”
Had she left when she wasn’t supposed to? Yes, and as she crept back in the house under the cover of 1:00 A.M. darkness, she knew she would have to accept the consequences of it. But she didn’t need her sister to hand her to the judge like a bounty hunter.
“That—that was involuntary,” Zelda stammers and points at her. “And, maybe don’t go so far. I’m not sure the ice is good over there.”
Zora ignores her, lengthening her steps and elevating her voice. “You know what really sucks? You sneak out a lot more than me and I’ve never turned you in. Maybe that has to change.”
“I don’t want it to. Listen, I don’t want it to be like this between us all the time,” she calls, seeming closer, which, with a look over her shoulder, Zora realizes is because Zelda is following her along the bank. “Also, can you please stop? I’m serious about the ice. Mom said some of it was dicey.”
“No!” But Zora pivots on her heel, the slippery ground turning her a few degrees more than needed. She realigns for her target and stomps towards her. “Don’t you get it? It’s going to be like this all the time! We’re barely sisters anymore! Why do you think that’s going to change? How?”
Zora watches the words land on Zelda with the smack of 10 snowballs, and once again, the guilt of the roads not taken gnaws at her. But what is untrue in that statement? Their relationship is on thin ice.
Just like Zora as she feels the sheet crack beneath her foot before giving way to frigid water.