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Winter

On a day like today, my father should be wearing gloves. His nose and ears are red. I watch him from my bedroom window: he is reaching for the carefully counted change in his pocket, puffs of breath leaving his mouth, his small hands trembling. No coat. Thin shoes.

outside,
my father hops
from foot to foot,
desperate for
warmth.

Upstairs, in my room, angst plays loudly and clearly. The walls vibrate. But when my eyes travel downward to where my father is standing, I hear only resounding silence. It is toasty warm in here, but outside, my father hops from foot to foot, desperate for warmth.

My arms are covered with goosebumps.

He is waiting for the bus. The twenty-minute, bumpy ride will take him to the subway station, where he will catch a train downtown. The train will be cold and noisy. His eyes will smart and his nose will run. He will rub his hands together and blow on them.

By that time, I should still be warm in bed. I won't get up for another hour. I will get a ride to school from my friend Anna. I will sit in her new car and turn up the radio. I will complain with her about the Spanish test we will have today, about how we do not want to go to track practice in this kind of weather. But I will be thinking of my father.

He will give up his seat to someone else on the train. No matter his aching back. Forget the tired feet. He will stand and not give it another thought. When the train reaches his stop, he will get off quickly and head toward the older building. Head bent low, shoulders high, hands in pocket: this is how he will scurry down Eighth Avenue. Using the side entrance, he will enter the gray building and it will not be much warmer than outside.

In Spanish, we groan as Senora passes out the tests. Greg says if he gets a bad score, she shouldn't blame him; the room is too warm and it will prevent him from thinking clearly. I laugh with everyone else but I do not join in the complaints about the heat that follow. I keep on my sweater and coat. I am so cold.

Not a single
grain of rice
will be left
uneaten.

My father will wash the windows. Yesterday was floor-scrubbing; today he gets a break. He does not chat with the other custodians, who are having coffee and stale doughnuts first. He nods hello and then starts his work. He will not stop until two.

At lunch, I will sit with my friends and we will talk about what movies we will see this weekend, what cds we need to get. I will eat my hot lunch but my goosebumps will not go away. Anna will wrinkle her nose at the lunch her maid fixed for her, and she will throw it away. I will turn my head.

At two, my father will wash his hands and eat the leftover rice and vegetables from last night. The food will be cold, packed in a cleaned-out Parkay container. Not a single grain of rice will be left uneaten. He will have a cup of lukewarm coffee to wash it down. And then he will use his cold, chapped hands to wash windows again.

I will look up
and tell them
that my father is
a custodian,
and that I want
to be a chemist.

In history, we will get off topic and discuss what kind of jobs we want to have when we are older. Each of us will tell what our parents do, and whether or not we will do the same thing. Anna will have to nudge me when it is my turn; I will be busy trying to get warm. I will look up and tell them that my father is a custodian, and that I want to be a chemist. They will sit dumb and say nothing, but I will feel their eyes burning into my back, and Anna staring at me in disbelief. And this will make me warm.

When my father returns home, still cold and now smelling of cigarettes from the train, he will take a warm shower and make us dinner. He will ask me how my day was, and I will tell him it was fine, that everything is better in the winter.

© Ruth Sarreal

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