Kim looked around, startled, as he entered his bedroom where his sister was deep in sleep. Her brow was furrowed and she groaned again before rolling over. He had waited for her to nod off before creeping out onto the landing at the top of the stairs where he sat, head leaned against the railing, listening. When the door had slammed downstairs he froze against the bars. Their room was dark now, save for the open blinds where the light from the street lamps below was shining through. A shadow passed outside the window, and then another until a light snow was falling in sparse flurries.
Kim silently moved around piles of dirty clothes, books, and old toys before climbing into his own bed. He glanced around the room, at the dappled golden light on the ceiling and the walls, at the snow now falling thick and fast. He turned to watch his sister breathing slowly, cradling her pillow in her arms. Her thick black hair had fallen over her face so that it was obscured by what looked like strokes of ink. There was a creak on the stairs and Kim shut his eyes.
Last time, the door had opened again and he had heard his mother calling. The time before there was creaking and whining, the door swinging on its hinges. He had woken up enough times with a start to the sudden snap of a lock, the creaking of footsteps that paused on the landing. Tonight, he could hear his mother moving slowly down the hallway towards them. She paused, and for a moment Kim could almost see her crying in the dappled light of the streetlamp. She stood there, sharp in his mind’s eye, wrapped in a thick dressing gown, wiping her eyes. “Go back to bed!” she’d hiss, seeing him peering around the corner at her, but he wouldn’t move. They’d stare at each other for what felt like ages. He imagined he could almost see himself, a small shadow, mirrored in her glassy eyes.
Kim waited, listening hard. He couldn’t hear her, but he knew she was still there on the landing, framed against the wide window that overlooked the street. Had it been a few minutes before, she might’ve been watching his father get in the car and leave, his promises that this was the final time, that he wasn’t coming back again, still in her ears. There was another creak, and he heard her renewed footsteps as she moved down the hall. Kim wished he had shut the bedroom door behind him. She paused again, and this time Kim knew she was looking into their bedroom.
A chill was emanating from the windows and the room grew steadily darker as snow piled up on the panes. Kim felt, rather than heard, his mother shifting her weight against the doorframe. Beside him, his sister sighed. His mother stepped into the room. Kim shut his eyes more tightly, and her movements became amplified. There was another creak as she sat down on his sister’s bed. He peeked beneath his lashes and saw her brushing the hair out of his sister’s face. She leaned forward and Kim heard her lips against his sister’s round cheek.
It was a moment before Kim realized his eyes were wide open. It was another moment before he realized his mother was looking right at him, the flurries of snow casting shadows across her face. Her eyes were red, just as he had imagined. Her face tautened as she watched him, unblinking. Kim made to sit up, his mouth opening, but she twitched her head slightly to the side. She lifted a finger and pressed it to her lips. He paused for a moment, watching her, then relaxed against his pillows as she stood up. The bed springs hissed quietly as she moved; his sister sighed again. He glanced at her and then back at his mother, half wondering if she would kiss him too, but in the next moment she turned and glided silently from the room. She pulled the door behind her as she left, but did not close it all the way. Kim listened as she moved further down the hall. A door hinge squeaked; bed springs exhaled, and then there was silence. The room was suddenly dark; piled on the window was a solid mass of snow.
“Kimba, come outside and see.”
Kim opened his eyes. Pale winter light was slanting across his bedroom and his mother was standing over him, a wan smile playing on her lips. She was dressed and her hair was pulled up in a loose bun where her faint curls hung like a wiry crown around her face. Kim looked around and saw that his sister’s bed was empty. Outside, the snow had stopped and the sky was matte and soft as if someone had spread whitewash over it during the night.
“Come on, Kimba,” his mother said and helped him out of bed. “Dress warm.” She left him then but did not close the door all the way. Slightly wary, Kim moved around the room, pulling clothes from the various piles on the floor.
Soon, Kim was traipsing down the stairs, bundled in a thick, warm clothes and stiff boots. No one was in the family room or the kitchen. He looked around and could hear, rather distantly, shouts coming from the front yard. He made his way to the front door and pushed it open. The dazzling white of the sky and the snow momentarily blinded him.
“Kimba!” a voice called. Kim looked around and saw his sister running around through the snow, her cheeks flushed and hair flying. Their father stood near her, blowing bubbles through a bright orange wand. His face was dark with stubble and his eyes were lined and shadowy, red and tired. He looked around and called, “Kimba, come see!”
Their mother stood to the side of them, her arms crossed, mouth tight. She looked around at Kim; her mouth twitched, and they both looked away from each other. His father dunked his wand into the pale purple bottle he was holding, and then drew it up to his lips. He puckered them in the same way Kim used to see him do, long ago when he would ask mother for a kiss. He blew and a thick bubble ballooned from the plastic ring, shimmered for a moment, and froze over. It fell to the earth like a stone and sat glistening against the snow, looking like a spun-glass ball. As Kimba looked, he saw more frozen bubbles dotting the snowy landscape at his father’s feet. His sister ran forward and crushed one in her gloved hands. Kim walked over, watching his father blow a series of smaller bubbles quickly from the wand. They floated, light as air, and then became slick and slightly fogged. They fell. His sister caught one and kissed it. It shattered against her lips. Her father laughed and looked around again.
“Look, Kimba,” he said as Kim drew level with him. From his pocket, he withdrew a transparent blue bottle with a bright yellow bubble wand inside. Smiling widely, his father placed his own bottle at his side in the snow. He then unscrewed the cap of the new bottle, punctured the covering, and handed it to Kim. The soapy smell washed over him, sharp and sterile. He looked up at his father, who was watching him eagerly.
“What do you say?”
“Thank you,” Kim mumbled. He removed his gloves. His father nodded and patted him roughly on the head, then stood and turned away. Kim watched the scene for a moment, saw his sister running and jumping as more glassy bubbles glided through the air; saw his mother watching his father, her eyes bright. He dipped his fingers into the bottle and extracted the yellow wand. It dripped thickly; the solution glowed in the morning light. His sister shrieked with delight as his father blew another series of bubbles.
Kim held the wand, his fingers stinging with cold. He looked around at his mother, whose eyes were on him. She suddenly called out,
“Blow me a kiss, Kimba!”
Her face broke into a smile; she blinked and lifted her arms.