The first truly warm day of spring is the best time to sit by the river and watch pretty girls. They crack through their winter eggshells, dust off their cool, sunless skin, and put on their best summer dresses to pretend it is already warm enough to go sleeveless. They step off the bus with pert, painted toes in flimsy flip flops and stride, hand-in-hand as if over the winter, they forgot how to walk on their own. They turn their faces to the sun, relishing the survival of another quarrelsome winter crankier than the last. They buoy along, giving the boys sitting by the river sidelong glances, selecting which one they’d most like to flirt with, most like to rip out the heart of as they flex their claws and the memories of how to play warm-weather games flood back.
Jingle Bells has been on repeat for the last forty-five minutes. “I will rip the speakers straight from the wall if someone doesn’t change the music soon,” I whisper to my cousin, hoping for an ally in my secret longing for things warmer and less clothed.
She laughs. “I love this time of year,” she says, adjusting the mistletoe on her hat and waving to someone across the room, promptly abandoning me for someone less humbug, no doubt.
My mother floats by in her festive reindeer sweater, and I reach out to pinch her dimpled cheek because such exaggerated gestures make her smile prettily and masks my desire to be elsewhere. “Another piece? Pretty please?” I hold out my empty pumpkin pie plate. She lets me finesse a third piece from her and beams all the way to the kitchen.
Across the room, my brother’s new girlfriend clings to his arm, and I try to imagine what she looks like under the wool sweater, wool skirt, wool knee socks. She’s not a sheep, but a lamb to be devoured. She’d be a knockout in a sundress, I am sure. All curves and freckles. I make a mental note to ask him later if those freckles are all over her body. I hope he won’t beat the crap out of me.
My mother arrives with my pie and another mug of eggnog, the best of what the season has to offer. I sip and savor, feeling the days of winter trickle by. I think of my brother’s girlfriend and how if she wasn’t dating him, I could maybe get her to flirt with me if I ever saw her walking down by the river in a pretty dress. Jingle Bells starts over once more, and I tremble at the thought that the first warm day of spring can’t be more than four months away.
published 15 February 2012