I am thirteen and the winter is too warm and Francesco is dead. The room is a bland salmon pink, the kind that doesn’t distract or lend much to decoration. Pictures pasted on the walls of rainbows and dogs and what we want to be when we want to be smell of sun and staleness. The windows are ajar. Outside shuffles with birds. Our coats weep rain. Then the teacher stands in the center of the room as she always does and we clump in our desks as we always do with our notebooks not opened, our pencils not touched, and she tells us with her hands red and nose runny and eyes not looking at us but somewhere at the walls or the salmon in them, moving, swimming, getting away from the winter without winter that our classmate was killed in a car accident last night.
She uses the words snow squall. She says she is sorry. She says we must pray. And we do. Hands on hardwood. Eyes closed. Mouths open. Sentences tied and connected, one after another like a circle or darkness.
Our Father. Hail Mary. Apostle Creed. Another Our Father. We ask to be delivered from evil while the day moves on with the birds outside and the freezing water. The teacher nods at the end. We nod too. Silence.
She then opens her hands to the white ceiling that is stabbed with pencils slung from rulers and blotted with smears from food fights and tells us to describe heaven as a place. I look around the class. The heads of friends bob like Jason who has a new coat which is pretty nice and black but won’t fit me and Dakota who is going to be a doctor someday and Julia with her blue painted nails and purple lipstick and eyeliner which I don’t like but she does which is okay because they are her eyes and not mine. My eyes don’t like eyeliner. They tried it during a ballet recital in a room with a single bar and mirrors on all three walls so you could see you seeing you, and you did, like another’s eyes, better too because you could fix a hand and an elbow and that guts gotta go but where except here where it is nearly lunch time and the gut growls and I haven’t written anything yet. Other students are talking about the break, saying that we’ll play tackle football because the mud will be mushy and full. What will be better than to be mushy and full, asks Jason. His new coat glimmers.
I think of Francesco and see his empty seat tucked in, his desk swallowing it whole. The two appear complete. I think of him and his family at my ballet recital last year with my eyeliner, my hand fixed, elbow straighter, my gut gone and good. I look to the pictures on the walls. I see Francesco’s. It is of him in the NHL. And I write heaven is hockey.
I give it to the teacher. She reads it. She tsks. She tells me to take this seriously. Your classmate just died, she says. Kacper, please be considerate.
I go back to my desk. The walls stink of fish. The window is a screaming mouth. Rain oozes. I hear no birds. Winter has come, maybe.