Barefoot on Frozen Ground

It was winter. The ground was frozen and icy, but no snow had fallen. The lack of snow made my mother nervous about her Christmas plans, but it made me feel easier about my own. My younger siblings complained about winter without snow, and I was sick of it.

“Don’t you want to run around outside in your bare feet in the dead of winter?” I asked them.

“That’s stupid,” said Shirley, the clever nine-year-old. “No one does that.”

“Not really,” I admitted. “But doesn’t it sound like something you could brag about?”

“No,” Shirley said, and she turned and ran away toward the living room, where Mom watched the television.

“I do,” whispered Tyler, the shy six-year-old. “I want to run outside.”

“That’s great, Tyler,” I said. ” Do you want to go now?” He nodded, his big brown eyes staring at me in wonder. I led him to the door, but before we could leave, Mom called me from the living room. Tyler looked between me and the living room expectantly. Disappointment was written across his face, but he knew as well as I did that I disobeyed Mom too much to ignore when she called.

“Stay here,” I told Tyler. “I’ll be right back.” I winked at him and ran to Mom’s chair.

She stood to face me. “Your sister tells me you plan to run around barefoot outside?”

Shirley looked stricken. She was a tattler, but never acknowledged it and always managed to avoid being mentioned if an issue came up where the information came from. I glared at her.

“It’s not her fault, you know,” Mom said.

“Well, I know it’s not her fault,” I said. “But I can still blame her.”

“Just leave her out of this,” Mom said. “You were going to take her and Tyler outside barefoot?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” I said. She hummed and raised her eyebrows at me. I raised mine right back. She sighed.

“We can’t keep doing this,” she said. I remained silent. “Running outside barefoot is a safety hazard.

“Everything’s a safety hazard these days,” I mumbled.

“Michael,” Mom scolded. “This is serious.”

I nodded. “Yes, Mother.” I may have put too much sass in the phrase, but it was worth it. She got angry.

“Damn it, Michael Lee!” She yelled. “We’re talking about the safety of your younger siblings! This is not about your stupid friends, or your stuck up girlfriend, or your damned reputation!”

“I never said it was,” I said. It was hard not to smile and laugh. She was short, so when she got mad, her anger had nowhere to go. Watching her trying to take control of it was like watching a baby horse learn to walk. She took a deep breath and did some motions with her arms that were meant for relaxing.

Once she’d gotten a hold of herself, she said, “You’re almost seventeen. Please just take care of your younger siblings over the break.”

“I am looking after them,” I said. “I’ve watched them for the past week without complaint, but I just don’t get why you can’t watch them. All you do is sit in your chair and watch the TV. We’re all right here, Mom!” I shouted at her. I rarely shouted. My goal in life was fly on the wall. Shouting put you front and center.

Shirley, who had watched this whole thing without comment or concern, cringed. The front door slammed shut, and we all turned. Tyler had gone outside without me. He hadn’t waited. We all rushed to the front door. I made it first, and I burst outside wearing only socks.

Tyler was stomping around the front yard with a big smile on his face. He looked up when I came out.

“Look, Mike!” he shouted. “No shoes!” He squealed as his bare foot broke through the ice of a small puddle, and he laughed when his foot came out wet and cold.

“Tyler!” Mom shouted, and she ran over to him before he put his foot down on the frozen ground. “Don’t do that,” she said. “Your feet will get cold, and you could get sick.”

“But my feet are already cold,” he said. His nose was bright red, and his dark hair stuck up from the wind.

“Oh, baby,” Mom said, and she brought him back inside. She gave me a dirty look as she passed me.

Tyler laughed. “Mike doesn’t have shoes, either.” I looked down at my socked feet and shrugged. Shirley and I followed Mom and Tyler inside. She brought him over to the kitchen sink and sat him down.

“Let’s get your feet warm again, huh baby?” Mom said. Shirley and I exchanged a look of disgust. Mom ran the warm water over his feet a few times until Tyler said his feet were warm again. She kept rubbing his feet and smiling gently at him.

Youngest children. They’re adorable, and you’ve got to love them, but you hate them so much because they steal the parents away.

“Michael,” Mom said. “Could you get some socks for Tyler?” I rolled my eyes, but went to do it. As I left the room, I heard her say to Tyler, “What happened to your socks? Weren’t you wearing them earlier?” I also heard Tyler’s giggle and response.

“Michael wanted to run barefoot outside, and it sounded like fun.”

Mom scolded him softly. “It only sounded fun because Michael suggested it,” she said.

I scoffed and went to find some tiny socks for my six-year-old brother.

fiction prose Writings

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