It all happened when the polar bear chased me to the end of the glacier and I was so, so frightened to leap in the icy waters. You see, I had no faith left to leap with. Just a heart that was somehow still warm, somehow still beating. But then I saw the glaring white fox, just over there, nestled in the cleavage of an iceberg. Its black eyes looked so curious and so amused, and its little black nose sniffed the air like, “I don’t know what you’re freaking out about, you still have legs don’t you?” It was right, and just then a beluga spouted a fountain from its blowhole, distracting the polar bear, and for some reason, I really wanted to give the fox a hug. It seemed so fluffy. So, I dove.
The truth is that it all happened when you burnt our only tent, crushed my compass under your boot and ran off with the snow mobile. You took the pen but left your journal. I still have it in a pocket of my parka. You kept meticulous notes of all the fish we didn’t catch. I named the fox Snowball. Together we found our way to a more manageable plot of tundra. He brought me lemmings, and sang fox songs, and right before sleep, he sniffed my gloves, but he still wouldn’t let me touch him.
The real truth is that it all happened when I was a child and the bedtime routine was that mom would plunk me in a warm bubble bath, keep the bathroom door open and leave me to the toy fish and dolphins and whales while she went to the kitchen to talk on the telephone for hours. I listened to her for hours while all the bubbles popped, my finger and toe skin puckered, and I got cold and colder, until I became one violent shiver. I could see my warm bed from there, but I just couldn’t, couldn’t, couldn’t get out on my own, so lonely. When I told you that story, you bought me the hugest, pinkest plush robe. Then you were like, “Oops! Look at the time! I have a thing.” Your smile hung in the room, but I couldn’t touch it. When I told Snowball that story, he started bringing different foods: white geese, seabirds, a long metal wing, the yoke of a seaplane, and then he crawled up into the cross of my lap, sighed, and released all his weight to me.
But maybe the real, real beginning was when after that long hard winter with Snowball by my side through it, feeding me, nuzzling my face, listening, scavenging pieces of an airplane I started rebuilding. The sun of my heart grew warmer and warmer, releasing the rough grasses underneath. I realized I never even really loved you and honestly, I never even really liked you. I just thought I had to because you were the one who was there. You were just the one who came to my door, like I had no choice about it. You weren’t my mother; you never fed me; you never saved me from anything, honestly, it would have been worse if you had. And suddenly it was spring. And it was time to say goodbye. Snowball leapt into my arms, finally letting me hug him, and I’ll tell you I squeezed him so tight I wasn’t surprised when he crumbled apart in my embrace, falling to the rest of the melting snow.
Caroljean Gavin’s work is forthcoming in Best Small Fictions 2021 and has appeared in places such as Milk Candy Review, Barrelhouse, and Pithead Chapel. She’s the editor of What I Thought of Ain’t Funny, an anthology of short fiction based on the jokes of Mitch Hedberg published by Malarkey Books. She’s on Twitter @caroljeangavin