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Down the Snow Meadows

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The house was mostly quiet, except for the occasional roar from the TV room when the football game went in unexpected—or delightful—directions. In the kitchen, the dishwasher hummed away in a corner. Every few seconds it made a squeaking noise that was so familiar it faded into the background noise.

A pie plate with a congealing slick of sweet cherry glaze sat on the counter, waiting for the next load. Or maybe a helpful hand would come along and plunk it into a sinkful of sudsy water. Even with the house near to bursting with people, Molly knew that hand would probably be hers.

At least the snow had finally stopped. It started before dawn, thick clumps of wet snowflakes that clung to her hair and eyelashes when she went out to salt the steps.The yard itself was a wreck of trails the kids had stomped through the snow, muddy down the middle of each where they'd reached the dirt. The occasional shriek of laughter even managed to carry through the new windows with their thick triple panes.

Molly's hip hurt. It always did after too long on her feet, putting this in the oven and carrying that to the table. She felt the pull of old scar tissue deep in her lower back, the pain starting to wrap around and grab at muscles that clenched tighter whether she kept moving or stopped altogether. It was a pull that was making itself more of a nuisance every day. Soon enough she'd have that deep-down grind of bones that didn't quite want to fit together anymore, on top of all her other aches and pains. But for now, she wiped down the counters one last time and put what was left of the pistachio dessert back in the fridge.

"Molly?"

"Back here!" she answered, taking a seat at the little breakfast table by the back door. The chairs were harder on her behind than she remembered, but it wasn't like she spent all that much time in here anymore. Easier to grab her meals down at the restaurant or in the living room, in front of the TV in a comfy recliner. Preparing for this one big family dinner took longer than she'd spent in this kitchen in the last six months combined, and she'd picked up half of it ready-made from Lueken's.

"Lions are down by six," Greta announced. She set a stack of dishes down next to the pie plate, and opened the cabinet above to take out a clean glass.

"Mikey won't be too happy about that."

"Tell me about it. Court won't even take my bet that he blames the dome."

A sucker bet. If she had a quarter for every time she'd heard that when the Vikings took the field... "Like mother, like son."

Greta grinned. She looked so much like her dad when she did, it was like he was standing there with them. "Hey, I tried to teach the kid right from wrong, but he insists on rooting for Detroit."

"Well, you can't win 'em all."

"Don't I know it." Greta filled her glass with water from the tap and fished a pill case out of her pocket. "Cholesterol," she told Molly, pulling a face. "Figured it was time I stopped ignoring it and hoping it would go away."

"Good. Better for everybody in the long run." Lou had waited until it was too late. Molly was only a little angry about it still, all these years later.

After taking the pill and rinsing her glass, Greta flipped the faucet to hot and let the water run, chasing it with a few squirts of soap after dropping the plug in the drain. Molly felt in her pockets for the little camera she'd dug out of the bureau early that morning, hoping to get a picture to commemorate this momentous occasion. Getting the girl to do dishes had always been like pulling a wild dog's tail, once upon a time.

Greta slipped the dishes into the sink and swiped them with the sponge she found on the windowsill. Molly got up and joined her, careful to stand with her bad hip against the counter to keep it from protesting too much. She unfolded the drip-dry rack they'd used for decades and rinsed the plates as Greta passed them to her.

"I wish you'd think about moving down to Milwaukee with us," Greta said after a while. "Court and I would love to have you. We've got that apartment over the garage, you know, with the kitchenette and its own laundry and all. We're real close to the co-op and everything, that little market you liked? I don't— You'd have your own life still. It's not like we're hoping for a live-in babysitter or anything."

"Kids hardly even need one anymore, do they? They're getting so big."

"Did I tell you, Eva's already starting to talk about what kind of car she wants when she turns sixteen? Like she's getting anywhere near a car before she turns thirty. And Mikey's going to be through with elementary school this year. Can you believe it?"

"I absolutely can. Don't forget, we just watched him put away almost a whole turkey breast, all on his own."

Greta snorted. "As much food as we go through, I might as well be running a restaurant. It's like having a whole hockey squad living in my house, I swear."

"Or a pair of Grimlys. Never did understand where you two put it all. I so much as look at a pancake and it's another five pounds right on my butt."

To her credit, Greta didn't try to tell her she was talking nonsense. She barely rolled her eyes, either, before changing the subject. "You know, I'm just saying. It's not the same place it was when we moved here. Or when you were a kid."

"No, not many places are these days."

Molly rinsed the clean pie plate Greta handed to her. The snowflakes painted around the outside were faded, and a chip was missing from the rim under her thumb. It had survived every move Molly had made since she left her parents' home and crossed town to the dorms at Bemidji State.

"I should probably call them in," Greta said. As the sink drained, she watched the kids running up and down the yard, still flinging handfuls of snow at each other. "Getting to be a little chilly out there, with the sun going down."

She looked tired, too thin. The sweater she wore had a seam working itself loose at the shoulder, and Molly hadn't missed the light dusting of dog hair all over everyone's coats and hats. Things were getting tight for them, Greta had hinted, what with Court's job at the college being eliminated. They could use the rent from the garage apartment, that was for sure. Had talked about it in the past, fixing it up and using the extra income to give themselves a little bit of a cushion.

But the idea of packing up the little house where Molly had spent the last twenty years was tempting. Too tempting. Bemidji was different, Greta was right. A little harder every winter and a little lonelier, too. She hardly recognized anyone when she went uptown these days. Faces that seemed familiar at first turned blurry, half-made copies of others she had known. There was an entire generation coming up now who would only call her Chief if they remembered someone else saying it first.

"I'll think about it," Molly said.

It took a few seconds for Greta to pick up the thread she'd dropped. "Really think about it, or 'mind your own business, Greta'?"

"Well, maybe a little of both." Molly tugged at the end of Greta's braid. It was longer than she'd ever worn it before, but curls still sprang free around her face. Individual greys were sprinkled through the dark hair, still few enough that they caught the eye. "It's your dad you've got to talk to. He's a little too in love with that flat-top grill down at the coffee shop, if you ask me. Might be tough to shake him loose."

Greta shook her head and leaned in to give Molly a quick, hard squeeze. "All this time, and you act like he doesn't jump to do whatever you want."

"Hey, well," Molly said, hugging her back, "he owes me, still, you know."