Snow Birds

By Nicholas Panagakos


The floor drain between my legs was underneath a layer of ice. Craig and I had broken into an abandoned building on the darker edge of what may have been Skowhegan, and we decided to rest a while instead of continuing on in darkness. We had walked down the banks of the Kennebec River for a long time before I started losing feeling in my left leg. Craig wanted to keep going, but my capacity for pain had never been fantastic. The building was either a factory or an old slaughterhouse, but no one had been in there for a long time. The ideas of machines were still there in pieces, picked apart by scrappers and folks looking for copper to sell. These could have been presses or something else. I don’t know. There was metal everywhere. Cold metal under frost and snow blowing in from broken windows became our bed and blanket. The wind was low and howling lightly when Craig asked me for the bottle.

“We don’t have much left,” I said.

“Well, we are about to have less.” He took a good pull from the vodka and held the bottle against his chest.

He held it like it was his child. He looked at it like a 750ml prayer and closed his eyes tight like he was thinking. I don’t know if Craig had ever had a thought that lasted longer than the time it took a pretty girl to walk past him. If he had, then I’d never noticed. He was my older brother, but I often felt like the older one.

“Give it here,” I said.

Craig sneered at me and gave me the bottle resentfully. I took a pull and put it back in my bag.

“How much money have we got?”
he asked.

“Same as yesterday,” I said. “Eighteen dollars and forty-eight cents.”

“Let me count it.” He started to stand but fell back down.

“Why count it?” I asked. “I haven’t touched it.”

“Just let me count the damn money.” He rose again in earnest, this time steadying himself against the wall.

I dug the money out of my bag. We kept all our earnings in a plastic zip bag to keep it dry in the rain, but the bag was old and developing tears. He ripped the bag open, and coins bounced off the floor.

“You stupid ass!” I said, picking up
the coins.

“Oh, who gives a shit?” He pawed at the cash and dropped a few dollars in his haste. I brushed the snow off them and held them up while he swayed lightly. “You always have to be right, eh?” he asked me. “Little Billy always gets his way? Well you don’t matter much to me anyway.” He shuffled through the bills twice. “There’s fifteen dollars here! Where’s the rest of it?”

“You dropped three dollars,” I said, still holding up the bills. “You’re a drunk and an idiot, Craig.”

“Well you’re a wimp and a fink,” he said, snatching the money from me. “How’s your stupid leg?”

I rubbed it and still couldn’t feel much more than slight pressure. “It’s bad,” I said. “I may have to go to the clinic tomorrow.”

“We can’t go to the clinic tomorrow,” he said. “Not tomorrow or ever again. Those pigs aren’t doctors. They’re fucking pigs, Bill.”

He motioned for the bottle again, and I gave it to him. He emptied the last of the vodka into his mouth and threw the bottle across the room. It exploded against metal, and the echo rang out for a good while. With that, he lay down and covered his head with his coat. His pants had begun to drop slightly, and his bare ass was just peeking out. After a few minutes he started snoring. I watched him for a while with my back against the wall. I wasn’t sure when I’d drifted off to sleep, but when I startled myself awake, the sun had begun to rise. Craig wasn’t snoring anymore, but my leg was throbbing with pain and I wanted to go see a doctor.

I shuffled over to where Craig was, and I knew he was dead before I touched him. His skin had gone a metallic pale. He was the color of the floor. I sat next to him for a while and rubbed his arm. There was a moment where I heard some birds and the snow was falling again. I thought the snow was making the bird sounds, and I cried for a while.

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