Name: April C. Rose
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Title: Winter on Brimstone Hill
I roll over to check if the milk is frozen. It is. It’s going to be a bad day.
I pull the sleeping bag over my head. Maybe, just maybe, I’m
hallucinating. If I pretend to fall back asleep and go through the
whole process of waking again, then perhaps there’ll be a fine icy
film over the milk and nothing more. It’s worth a try.
I almost convince myself it’s going to work, but when the sleeping bag
comes down, the day looks pretty bleak. The milk, neatly stacked in
three crates of glass bottles, appears solid.
I could pray that the bottles won’t break as the room warms with
daylight. I could pray, but I won’t. In any case, there’s no use
wasting energy over frozen bottles. If it’s going to get cold, it’s
going to get cold, and all things—milk among them—freeze. There’s a
life lesson for you.
I pull the folded clothes from my nightstand into the warmth of the
sleeping bag. I am the salamander that used to live in the cellar.
Joseph and I used to amuse ourselves by enticing it with earth- or
mealworms. It shot from under the stone long enough to bite down on
the morsel before retreating. The salamander couldn’t guess we
weren’t going to hurt it. It didn’t need to move fast, but I do.
Otherwise, my body heat will escape. The chill will never leave me
At least my bedroom isn’t as damp as our cellar. That’s something.
I also manage to get my underwear on right this time. That’s also
something. You’d think I’d be a pro at dressing within the sleeping
bag’s confines by now, but it’s the price I pay to avoid more “Did you
see Sarah’s wrinkly shirt?” episodes.
My hand gropes for the boy’s aviator frames I call glasses. They
hearken back to Tom Cruise and the 1980’s, but they work. Why someone
would beg her parents to spend twenty dollars extra to buy girl’s
frames when she can have her peers make fun of her for wearing
outdated and gigantic frames is beyond me. I mean, what’s not to love?
The clock reads five a.m. My glasses let me see that.
Only sixteen more hours left in the day. Five hundred eighty-four days
Grace will sleep a while longer, being too young for chores and
school, and it’s another hour before Joseph wakes to tend the
chickens. He’s lucky; throw some scratch down and refresh their water
and they’re fine. I don’t have to be in the kitchen to know my father
sits at the head of the table with a coffee cup in one hand, and Mom
sits to his right with a deck of cards in hers.
I climb from bed to examine the bottles. The wooden floorboards,
painted grey to hide two hundred years, creak under my weight.
The milk sloshes inside the bottles as if it were on the top shelf of
a too-cold refrigerator. Oh, good. It’s not completely solid.
Just to be sure, I check an apple from the box at the foot of my
bed—even better. And the potatoes—nice. Maybe all will be well. I
don’t want to lose our farm’s entire winter store barely into
November. Last year it was almost March before that happened.
Fifteen hours and fifty-eight minutes more.
I turn off the old lamp Mom gifted to me when the storeroom became my
bedroom. They were my sixteenth birthday presents. They aren’t ideal,
but they’re mine. Sort of. If you call going from sharing a bedroom
with a one-year-old to sharing a storeroom with perishables ownership.
In the kitchen, it’s exactly as I anticipated. My parents listen to AM
radio, the steady tick tick tick of the electrical fence interrupting
the radio waves. They listen to the morning show with DJ Dan with
such frequency that he might as well be family. The only other noise
is the burble of the coffee pot on the wood stove and Mom’s cards
flicking onto the table.
I press my feet into my muck boots and shrug into Mom’s oversized wool jacket.
I’m turning the doorknob when my father speaks. “Not going to say
‘morning,’ are you?”
“Good morning,” I say, chastising myself for the slip.
“It doesn’t mean anything now that I had to tell you to say it.”
“I’m sorry.” My voice is soft, little. It’s not my real voice; it
doesn’t belong to me. He inspires this voice; it belongs to him.
“Where do you think you’re going?” he says.
“To milk the goats.”
“How many times have I told you not to mumble?”
Mom stops dealing the cards to the piles on the table.
“Sorry,” I say. “I was going to milk the goats.” I put more force
behind my words, but they still come out tight.
“Look at me when you speak to me.”
My eyes dart up to meet his. I don’t want to stare into the green we
share, but I have to. I can pretend I’m stronger than he is. This
time, my words carry. “I was going to milk the goats.”
He turns back to his coffee, Mom’s cards flick onto the table, and I
escape to the barn.
Fifteen hours and fifty-three minutes.
“Dodge,” I call. The saanen frisks her way through the pen and greets
me with a nuzzle.
I bat her through the doorway and laugh. “I know what you want, you old nanny.”
Instead of going to the milking stanchion like the others do when it’s
their turn, she persists.
One Easter, that’s all it took. Unbelievable.
Her nose presses against my pocket, knocking me against the wall.
“Hey, hey, hey,” I say. “Patience is a virtue.”
Patience lifts her head from her grain.
“Not you, silly.”
As soon as I unwrap the egg and Dodge satisfies her addiction to cheap
chocolate, she jumps on the stanchion like the good little goat she
is. Good thing Wal-mart puts the darn things on sale after Easter each
year; otherwise, I’d go broke, or Dodge would run dry.
That’s too dramatic. Actually, what happens is this: she puts up such
a stubborn fight I end up missing my bus.
My head rests against her belly, soaking in her soft warmth. She may
be annoying, but she’s always happy to see me. I guess I’d be too, if
someone came bearing chocolate and relief.
I work the bag balm into Dodge’s swollen teats, at the same time
liberally applying it to my own hands. It doesn’t matter. My hands
chap and my knuckles splinter by the time I finish milking.
My parents aren’t in the kitchen when I set the bucket of milk on the
stovetop and turn on the gas. I light a match and hold it to the
burner until the flame spits. Then I toss the expired match into the
sink. It wouldn’t do to start a fire. At the match’s sizzle, I
stopper the sink.
The heat from the woodstove behind me entices me, summons me, but I
ignore it to skim the hair and dirt from the milk. The milk’s
temperature rises. Burned hair and animal stink fill the air, and I
fight down my gag reflex. That’s how I know the milk is nearly done.