Home By Winter
Fiyero Oberon

Mama always said she would be home by winter.

She caught the fever in spring and was dead by summer. Papa used to tell Angel and Mary that Mama was going away for a little while because they were too little to understand death. I knew though. Papa wouldn't let Angel and Mary go to Mama's funeral because they would cry loudly and distract the mourners. I went though. I stood there in my best shirt and a pair of trousers Mama had made me when she was alive and a new black jacket that Grandma had made for me just for the funeral. And I didn't cry. Because I'm twelve and I understand what's going on. So I didn't cry.

Angel and Mary cried though. They missed Mama. They came to me the middle of the night and wanted to sleep in my bed with me because they couldn't find Mama. I told them that they need to grow up and I pushed them away. Because I'm twelve and I understand what's going on. They just need to sharpen up and listen.

Papa cried at breakfast this morning. He didn't sob like Angel does, but I could see the tears streaking down his cheeks and disappearing into his beard. I didn't cry though. Because I'm twelve and I understand what's going on. I thought Papa wouldn't cry because he's a lot older than twelve and he should understand what's going on by now. So why is Papa crying? Maybe he skipped the age of twelve and went straight from eleven to thirteen. That might be why Papa doesn't understand what's going on.

Grandma visited us last night. She cried. I didn't cry. Because I'm twelve and I understand what's going on.

Grandpa died six years ago. I cried then. He spoke to me last and that's why I cried. I was only six then, so I didn't understand what's going on. I'm twelve now. I understand what's going on. I don't need to cry.

Papa hadn't spoken in a week. Not even Mary could get him to speak. She crawled into his lap and threw her arms around his neck and kissed his face. He pushed her away. She slipped to the floor and burst into tears and Papa didn't even blink an eye. I think maybe he's starting to understand what's going on. I understand what's going on because I'm twelve.

I got bored with Angel and Mary's crying today and I reminded them of the words Mama said when she was sick before she died: "If I go away, I'll be home by winter." I don't know what meant by that. I don't understand. I'm only twelve, I can't be expected to understand.

Angel died last night. She had had a fever for a while, almost the same fever as Mama. Papa didn't go to the funeral, but I let Mary go. Mary didn't cry. She saw that I didn't cry and she didn't cry either. She's only seven but she acts like she's twelve because I think she understands what's going on. Grandma cried. Did Grandma skip the age of twelve like Papa did?

Mary asked me this morning when Angel would be back. I asked her what she meant, because I didn't understand. She told me that Mama said she would be back by winter, so when would Angel be back? I told her Angel wouldn't be back. I told her Angel was dead. She cried. I guess she doesn't understand what's going on like I thought she did.

Spring has come and Papa is sick like Mama was and like Angel was. I'm thirteen now and even smarter than I was when I was twelve. I haven't helped, just like Papa told me to. Mary tried to give him medicine but he told her to stop so I told her to stop. If we listen to Papa, he might get better. Mary thinks that Papa will find Mama and Angel because he's sick like they were. I told her she was stupid. She cried again.

Papa died a month ago. Mary wouldn't go to the funeral. Grandma cried again. She told me it was all right to cry, but I just explained that she doesn't understand. Mary cried every night since and I yelled at her to shut up because she's stupid and doesn't understand. I threatened her too: I told her if she doesn't be quiet then the fever would come back and eat her like it ate Mama and Angel and Papa. Mary jumped on me and punched my nose. She's strong for her age. I don't understand why.

Grandma stopped visiting and I'm not sure why. Mary says that Mama and Angel and Papa found her but Mary is stupid and doesn't know what she's talking about.

Mary got sick. It's the fever that killed them. I don't even remember Mama's smile or what color Papa's eyes were or where Angel used to hide her teddy bear for me to search for. She always hid it in the same spot, but I used to pretend that I couldn't find it because she didn't understand. But now I forget where that spot was. Oh well. It's all right. Because I'm thirteen and I understand what's going on.

Mary told me last night that she thinks that when Mama said that she would be back by winter, she must have meant the next winter. She also told me she wasn't going to leave me like Papa and Mama and Angel and Grandma. She explained to me that I needed someone to be here with me. I told her she should die because then I wouldn't have to put up with her anymore. She told me she hated me and I told her I didn't care. Because I'm thirteen and I understand what's going on.

Mary died three months ago. It's the middle of winter and Mama hasn't come back yet. I'm not surprised, because I understand that when you're dead you're dead and you're not coming back. I understand that because I'm thirteen. I'm almost fourteen, actually.

I took a bath in the river this morning. I haven't had a bath since Mama died. There was snow everywhere but the ice had melted and I figured it would be all right. I took off all my clothes and jumped into the water; the freezing water bit my skin. But coldness does that. I understand that because I'm almost fourteen.

I have a fever now. I don't understand why. Maybe it was because I forgot Mama's smile. Maybe it was because I told Mary I didn't care that she hated me. Maybe it was because I bathed in a cold river. I don't know. I don't understand why my head is so warm and heavy but the rest of my body is freezing cold and light as a feather. I tried to light a fire in the fireplace, but the logs are wet. I pulled out Mama's old blanket and wrapped myself in the smell of roses. And, for the first time, I missed Mama.

When I woke up, the fire was roaring and the cabin was glowing a pretty golden color. And Mama was baking bread and Angel was playing with her teddy bear and Papa was smoking his pipe and Mary was reading a book and Grandma was asleep in her rocking chair. And Mama rushed over to me and hugged me and kissed me and told me that they had been waiting for me and that she missed me and that she loved me.

And I'm fourteen and I don't understand. But somehow, that's all right. Because Mama was back by winter, just like she promised.

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