by Anna Zumbro
The sound of barking caused Stacy to jump and nearly spill her tea onto her computer keyboard. In the too-empty apartment, even a Scottish Terrier’s yaps echoed like thunder.
Setting down her tea carefully, she looked again at the weather forecast on the screen and wondered what the forecaster meant by “conversational snow.” She supposed it referred to the light flurries that offered little more than the opportunity to turn to another and say, “Oh, it’s snowing.” But her roommate had moved out a week earlier, and the only conversation partner left in her apartment was Brutus.
The dog scampered to the door and barked again. Stacy buckled him into the harness and leash and put on her jacket.
Five floors down, she stepped into the chilly air and let Brutus lead her to a strip of grass at the edge of the sidewalk. Large flakes were scattered sparsely like a handful of riders in a subway car, avoiding any unnecessary closeness. Points of white dotted Brutus’s dark fur and disappeared. Stacy held out a gloved hand to catch snowflakes while she waited for Brutus to decide which patch of ground to water.
How are you doing?
The whisper sounded in Stacy’s ear, as if spoken by the snow.
Same as always, came a response. Stacy smiled. That was her usual answer to the flippant how-are-yous that peppered her shifts at the coffee shop and her monthly phone calls with her parents. If she wasn’t the same as always, she was usually feeling worse. This month, for example, her ex-roommate moved in with her boyfriend while Stacy lingered alone and searched for a new stranger with whom to split the rent. But no one needed to hear that.
Haven’t you found a job yet? Stacy shivered and tugged on the leash to move Brutus along. Her mother always asked her that, even though she knew full well that Stacy was employed as a barista. She had been thinking about emailing her mother; that was why she kept imagining these whispers. She shook her head to clear her mind, sending snowflakes flying from her hair.
I twisted my ankle. Twisted my ankle.
I’m sorry, but I’m not surprised.
You want to make me miserable.
I only want what’s best for you. Best for you.
Dancing is my dream. My dream, my dream.
I don’t want you to be heartbroken when you fail. Fail.
Stacy jogged in place, trying to distract herself. A slight twinge of pain shot through her left ankle, which had never fully healed. At last, Brutus lifted his leg over a soggy newspaper lying abandoned next to a bench.
“Good boy,” Stacy said. She’d had enough of the too-conversational snow.
Nastya, idi syudi!
Stacy froze. She hadn’t been Nastya since she was five, when her American parents adopted her from a Ukrainian orphanage and turned Anastasiya Fomova into Stacy Richardson.
“Khto tam?” Stacy asked, reaching back into the language she barely remembered. “Who’s there?”
The snow did not reply. It had thinned by now, leaving the ground wet and the air mostly clear. She had to strain to see a few tardy flakes making their way to earth. One landed on Brutus’s nose. He whined. It was not the begging whine he used with Stacy, but a tone of pain and fear. The tiny dog’s trembling reminded Stacy of the timid creature she had rescued from the shelter, and she wondered if Brutus, too, heard something in the snow.
“Don’t worry,” Stacy soothed. “Shh, you’re a good boy. No crying.” She picked up Brutus and walked to the main entrance of her building.
She heard her mother’s voice. You’re welcome any time. Come home, Stacy. Any time.
Stacy wiped her cheek with the back of her glove, unsure if the moisture was a snowflake or a tear.
Anna Zumbro lives in Washington, DC, and writes short speculative and literary fiction. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Plasma Frequency, Fantasy Scroll, Kazka Press, and other publications.
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