All afternoon the girls slice curls and lines with their skates in the frail light of the winter sun: shllsh, shllsh. They trudge home through crusted snow, to Kendra’s house, on feet they can no longer feel. “Frostbite,” Kendra’s mother says. “Go upstairs and run a bath.” Lily, the younger girl, the one that lives in a house up the street with parents too busy noticing each other to notice her, whispers the word to herself. Frostbite. Frost. Bite.
Kendra yells at her sister to get out of the bathroom while her mother searches the laundry for towels. The mother, a pink-faced pear of a woman, comes in the room with a gray one draped over her arm. There’s a hole in her sweater. Through the hole, Lily sees the edge of a lacy birthmark. She stares at the mark as she sits on the toilet lid and pulls off her boots. Beads of frozen snow fall out onto the tiles: clink, clink.
Lily’s own mother looks like a movie star. Short crow-black hair, ice-pink lips. In the car, or at the park, or even at the dinner table, Lily’s father’s hands hover above her mother’s cleavage, slide down the tan length of her legs. His fingers play with the dark hair that sprouts on her arm. His eyes always flit from her mother, to Lily, and back to her mother again.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” Kendra’s mother yells when she sees her daughter’s toes. “Get in the bath.” The girls stand in the ankle high water and feel nothing. It’s only after the mother starts to tremble that Lily begins to feel the pain. Searing hot pain. Her toes throb at the end of her feet to the pulse of her heart: wah, wah, wah.
Kendra’s wail begins low in her throat and rises to pierce the sweaty, low ceiling.
Lily relishes her pain in silence. She imagines going home to supper, listening to her parents talk to each other through her, their world exclusive and foreign. She’ll listen to their coded language, be the half-melted cube of ice that tempers their passion, all the while holding close the fact that she feels something they don’t. Finally.