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When It Snows

by Ai Jiang, 10th January 2023
 

There was no snow during Christmas this year, and our cottage trip this holiday season was rockier than usual. The children cried and cried, whined and whined, tugging at my hair with their high-pitched voices, clutching crumbled bits of cookie and glasses of milk in their grubby hands with my paycheck withered away under the tree of untouched gifts. They were so alike me as a child, far from perfect—what a lie I had told myself when the twins were born, thinking they would be anything different than me, thinking they would be gentle souls like my wife, like my father. And maybe that was how I justified being so opposite of my father, so similar to my grandmother. Perhaps because my children were so much like me, so ungrateful, they were undeserving of love, too.

 

My wife was out, frantic, trying to find the gifts on the twins’ lists this year, anxious that she might miss something again which would put a bitter taste in the girls' mouths for the rest of the month—snotty looks, crossed arms, and doors slams that were not unusual but just loud enough to inform us of their displeasure. I was a little worse, I guess.

 

But this year, they complained about something that we couldn’t control.

 

"It's not Christmas without snow. How will Santa's sleigh make its way to us now!" Their wails died in the crackle coming from the fireplace. Their echoes carried up the chimney with the smoke. Sometimes I wished the smoke would carry the twins with it. But as soon as the thoughts came, I felt guilty and scrapped my mind clean. I discovered my nails clawing towards my tongue and lowered my hand, hoping neither the children nor my wife noticed.

 

Last year, the year prior, and all the Christmases that came before, I'd dress in the worn Santa suit passed down from my father, who'd later complained about how he spoiled me and my sister—ironically, or perhaps unironically, we were also twins. How his love drove away my sister and his kindness bored my mother. And how I would be the only to stay because we were too unalike.

 

I didn't have his unending patience. I didn't have his easygoing nature. I didn't have his gentle voice. And as hard as I tried, I couldn't be him. That was my sister. And he would also get us mixed up, somehow.

 

The twins, still tugging at my sleeves, finally paused when I squatted down to face the two of them no longer with a smile.

 

"I am Santa," I said, face bare, without my Santa costume, and they stared at me in horror when they realized this was no lie.

 

I pulled forward the ragged suit I was trying to hide in a garbage bag by the fireplace when they tumbled in but gave up halfway and held up the greying white beard infested with dust bunnies from the year's disuse. With my breath held, I brought the beard up to my nose.

 

"Ho, ho, ho."

 

Then I stood and left the room, after tossing each piece of the Santa disguise—one by one—into the fire. The twins stood side by side, mouth hanging, silent. I think of my father, his potential disappointment, his gravestone at the cemetery nearby our home. I like to think that it was my sister’s and mother’s fault that he passed. That heartache was the case rather than heart disease. But there was no difference really—both would eat Father whole from the inside.

 

It snowed the next day, but the children no longer cared.

 

I left the house, the fire, the wordless children, walking into the blinding white, but I knew I would return anyhow in a matter of hours, if not minutes, and the cottage would still be there, and so would my indifferent family. My father would have done the same. He would have gone and purchased a new suit, enter the house all bashful and apologize, and we would forgive him. But I would buy no suit, and instead bring a gift, though it was from no store. I returned to the cottage, steps lighter than before, too light for the living. And I would melt like snow through the wooden walls, intertwine with the flames and the remaining ashes from the suit, and face my family.

 

“Ho, ho, ho.”

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