Two little boys, legs askew, bodies tilted in opposite directions, about two feet off the ground. One wore a green down jacket, the other was dressed in brown with a red hat. Beneath them, the sled tracked their downward progress, ready to catch them again at the end of the short flight.
Except, of course, after all that mid-air rotation, when they hit the sled again, their bodies didn’t fit neatly in, as they had when their grandparents had packed them safely at the top of the hill. So one boy’s rear end hit squarely on the edge of the plastic sled, flipping the other edge up and catapulting the brother skyward.
It ended with snow-scraped faces streaming with tears and hulking wails echoing off the sledding hill. The boys sprawled near the bottom, the sled careening happily toward the father, still crouched on the flat with his camera focused. The gray-haired grandfather in faded blue jeans, skittering down the steep slope, sledless, on his backside. And grandma, in rain-boots, bespectacled, with a thin scarf wrapped about her head, following behind.
Tooth-checks and tongue stick-outs and no immediate signs of bleeding. But the sobs continued, reverberating with each other, no longer crying about the sledding accident itself. Crying about the father’s delayed reaction, too slow to be the first to reach them, and still, maddeningly, snapping pictures. And crying about the grandparents, who hadn’t judged the crazy incline of the hill, with its minefield of adolescent-built death-jumps, too dangerous for five-year-olds on their first solo run. And crying about life itself, the great flawless freezing winter sky cut up with jet contrails, tree branches crackling, a cold, still Sunday morning.
And crying, and crying.
Ayla and I watched, unashamed, as we climbed up the hard-packed snow. She said: “They’re too little for that hill, right?” Right; and so are we.
We reached the three-quarter point on a run the teens hadn’t altered, and snuggled in our little plastic saucer. Abs flexed and fearing back injuries, I nevertheless pushed us off, wishing as I often do for more god-given butt-padding. We sped and spun our way down, with Ayla happily taking the brunt of the frozen spray in her face, coming to rest in the crunchy half-trodden snow near a willow tree.
Where we rolled off the sled to our backs, bodies separated, heads together, like an asymmetric ‘V’ or an upside-down check-mark. We were hot and sweaty under layered sweaters and doubled-up-socks, hands inside wet mittens. Breathing hard and lying on the cold snowy floor of a long-ago-drained city lake scraped out over millions of years by a melon-baller of a glacier.
The boys then tried a gentler hill, this time accompanied by their old man’s old man, who looked as though he, too, could have used some more junk in his trunk. But all was well, and the intrepid photographer even managed to run down beside them, holding the camera out with one arm and aiming the big telephoto lens somewhere in their vicinity. They made it down safe, though the brothers couldn’t seem to find the joy in it, and continued pouting.
I took Ayla up on my shoulders and we started for home, with her alternating between covering my eyes with snowy mittens, and twisting my hat around in circles. We climbed out of the bowl and away from the park, taking the plowed middle of the deserted street instead of the treacherous, icy sidewalks.
About a block from home, Ayla said “Daddy, I will miss you when you die.”
“Me too,” I said. “I will miss you a lot.”
“Because then we won’t be able to be together.” she said. “Will you miss me when I die?”
“Well,” I said. “I will probably already be dead when you die; usually daddies die before their daughters.”
“But I will miss you,” she said again, voice wobbling just a little.
“I know, honey,” I said. “But I will always be with you. You don’t have to worry.”
“Daddy,” she said, giving my hat another quarter-turn, “Talking about this is making me feel sad; I feel like I’m almost going to cry.”
“Me too,” I said.
“Let’s talk about something else,” she said. “Let’s tell mommy about our snow fort.”
“Ok,” I said. “Let’s go tell mommy.”