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Winter Child

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I.

I wake in the darkness and there he is once again, my winter child whose skin I have never seen.

“Alone,” he sometimes whimpers, eyes bright with unshed tears, standing forlorn and tiny on the vast floor, backlit by the endless night sky beyond my windows.

I always cradle him to me, and run my fingers through his unruly mop of black hair to soothe him. “Alone,” he sometimes whispers as he clutches me tightly as if he thinks I will vanish away and leave him behind forever. And I sometimes see it then, though it is a thing my eyes have never beheld - endless walls of ice around me, sheets of ice beneath me, indigo blue in the near darkness. And I hear the silence that fell when everyone walked away, their voices fading, their footsteps vanishing, with nothing left but an infant’s voice crying for comfort.

I did not realize, then, how you always eluded your nursemaids when you wanted to come to me. But only a handful of years passed before I understood. How great your talent, even then. How great your burden.

“They were at the window,” he sometimes cries, shaking in my arms. “The monsters. They were clawing at the window.”

I have forbidden this, these tales to frighten children, but I may as well try to command the wind. These tales seep through walls, sometimes in the voice of my older son, repeating stories meant to caution children and frighten them into right action. Tales meant to define who we are. And who we are not.

Sometimes he settles right away. Other times, longer times, he trembles helplessly before he finds comfort in my arms.

My hands become still upon his cool skin, which warms to my touch, as some distant light strikes a note of crimson in his wide far-seeing eyes. Is it a reflection striking something deep in his eyes, some ruby glint, gone when I look again? And in the dim light from the starry sky outside, is his skin tinged blue?

I gather him to my arms and sing to him, embracing the tiny body cuddled next to mine. He is shaking slightly, his small voice still whispering of the monsters in the night.

Did I ever look to see it? The winter child inside my pale son? Yes, of course I did. I wondered then, whether he could ever revert to his frozen scarlet-eyed form.

I know the answer now.