Apr/May 2023  •   Fiction


by Sara Flemington

A face in the public domain

A face in the public domain

Mary-Rose was the scientific type. It was not that she didn't Believe, so much as she liked to consider the Whole Picture, as she explained to her sisters the morning after the snow fell. Maybe there's miracles, but there's also lots of facts, she'd said.

Rachel lay tummy-side down on their bedroom floor while Ephrath undid the four long braids Rachel'd slept on the night before.

"Prove it," Rachel said to Mary-Rose. "Prove those facts then."

"Well, first of all, there's more carbon in the atmosphere since the 1950s than there ever was, ever, in millennias. Second, almost all of Greenland is melted, and there's all those pictures of skinny polar bears."

Ephrath thought Mary-Rose to be the smartest girl she'd ever known. And she didn't just think that because they were sisters. She'd think the same thing, even if they weren't.

"If you're so smart," said Rachel. "Then why did all the Jewish people take off work on nine-eleven?"

"That was a terror," said Mary-Rose. "Judaism isn't a terror religion. And it's disrespectful to talk about nine-eleven like that."

"Like what?" said Rachel.

"Like that. Like a bad attitude question."

Rachel shrugged. "You can't believe everything the newscasters and the scientists say. They're just people, too."

"So is Father Rudolph," said Ephrath.

Rachel reached round and pinched her on the arm. Ephrath yelped.

"You're always taking her side," said Rachel.

Ephrath dropped the braid in her hand. "What about the gators?"

Mary-Rose shook her head like a teacher.

"I don't know," she said. "Migrate to Canada, maybe. That's probably where it'll feel most like home."

Outside was weird. Palm trees sagged beneath the weight of the snow. When the girls breathed, it made smoke. Most of their front yard had been buried in it, junk and garbage included, but Mick was acting like nothing was any different, plopped in his lawn chair without even having knocked any of the white stuff off. Wearing only his cargo shorts and rubber boots, his head was tilted over the back, stub of a right arm resting on his bare chest and mouth hung open like he was basking.

"Should we wake him up?" Ephrath whispered to Rachel and Mary-Rose.

"Why would we do that?" Rachel snapped back. "Let him freeze, the dummy."

Ephrath looked at Mary-Rose, who was looking down at all three sets of slightly supinated prints trailed across the ground.

"Even in the snow we're identical," Ephrath said.

Neighbors were peeping out from their curtains, emerging like crabs with blankets wrapped around their heads and shoulders. The sisters stopped outside the Robsons' house to admire the Christmas lights they'd rehung early that morning, even though it was February now, and the snowman patched together with mud in the front yard.

"It's got a dildo nose," said Rachel, pointing at what was either a dildo or a flesh colored carrot. "What a piece of crap."

That's when Mr. Friend drove past, real slow, hunched up over his steering wheel with a headlamp strapped to his head. Ephrath, who was starting to shake, hugged her bare arms, since all three sisters were only wearing pyjama shirts.

"Let's go back," she said. "I'm hungry. I never had any breakfast yet."

"You have breakfast every single day," said Rachel. "Can't you go one day without?"

"I don't like it out here," said Ephrath.

"Well, get used to it," said Rachel. "According to Science Face over here, this is how it's gonna be happening from now on."

Ephrath looked to Mary-Rose, troubled.

"I don't like it," Ephrath said again.

Most people in the town knew the three sisters well because there weren't any other sets of long blonde-haired triplets, and while there were a number of motherless youngsters for one reason or another, there weren't any other triplet daughters of a dead woman. They had trouble going unnoticed, wherever they went.

"Hey, Rachel," shouted Beau Robson.

From further down the sidewalk, Beau and his friend Willy caught up to the girls. Beau was wearing an oversized yellow sweater with Goofy on it, while Willy wore a Mickey Mouse cap with two big ears sticking out the top. Beau held out an armful of colorful windbreakers.

"My mom told me to give these to you. She saw you from the window looking at our snowman."

Rachel quickly snatched up the purple and pink one for herself, handing the green and white to Ephrath, and leaving Mary-Rose stuck with the men's all taupe golf jacket.

"You guys enjoying the Miracle or whatever?" said Beau.

"No," said Rachel. "We're just out."

"Cool," said Beau.

"My Dad says it's the Chinese made the snow," said Willy. "So as to wipe out the useless eaters and make the rest of us a communist."

"That's dumb shit," said Rachel.

Rachel liked to swear around Beau.

"You wanna go check out the accident with us?" Beau said to the sisters.

"K," said Rachel, and off she walked ahead with the two boys, while Mary-Rose and Ephrath followed a pace behind.

A block down and a few streets over, two cars'd collided in a nasty way at a stop sign. A young woman driving a mini yellow convertible had been knocked out cold on impact, found with a rib sticking out through her white denim jacket. The other driver, a man in a Bud Light t-shirt with a Santa belly, was gesticulating wildly with a cigarette in his hand while giving his statement to a police officer. Emergency response crews, as well as a local television station, as well as Mr. Friend in his parked car a little ways down the road, were on the scene.

Of the many TV crew members, one noticed the group of kids standing nearby. The reporter, a woman with fancy brown hair wearing an orange expedition coat over top her blue suit dress, waved.

"Children," she called out. "Children, stay there."

She clutched the arm of a camera man who walked her through the slush in her heels.

"Glad to see you're all bundled up," she said, running a pink fingernail over Willy's mouse ear. "How does it feel to have your very first snow day?"

The kids looked at each other and shrugged.

"Fine, I guess," said Beau.

"I bet. I bet it's really something. Think you kids could tell that to the camera? How it's all really something?"

They eyed one another again.

"Uh," said Rachel.

"Fantastic," the reporter said, already arranging the kids for the shot. "You stand here," she instructed to Beau while moving him into the center. She then placed Rachel and Mary-Rose on either side of him, and Ephrath and Willy in the back. "Get them a mic, Tom," she said. Ephrath felt too close to Willy. Their forearms touched.

"Now," the woman said, "let's start again, okay?" She cleared her throat. "How does it feel to have your very first snow day?"

Beau held the microphone to his lips.

"Fine," he said.

The reporter nodded, smiling so big her molars were exposed.

"And?" she said.

"And, it's really something," he said.

She gave a thumbs up. "Now pass the mic to this one," she whispered, pointing at Rachel. Beau passed her the microphone.

"What about you, sweetheart? You think this all might really be some kind of Miracle?"

Rachel cocked her hip. "People are stupid. Everyone's acting like a bunch of dumb mentals."

The reporter looked into the camera and laughed, winking.

"She says it's all the Global Warming," Rachel continued.

"Who says that?" said the reporter.

"Her. My sister." Rachel stuck the mic in Mary-Rose's face. "Tell them some facts about Global Warming."

"Well," said Mary-Rose, "due to the fact that the ocean temperatures are rising, and the carbon is clogging up the atmosphere, the weather is swapping all over the planet."

"I heard it's 'cause of cow farts," Willy cut in.

"Methane does account for a lot of atmosphere clog," said Mary-Rose.

The reporter took the microphone from Rachel and handed it to Ephrath.

"Is this the first time you've seen snow, sweetheart?"

Ephrath looked down at the microphone and poked the spongy black ball with her pinky finger.

"How'd it feel this morning when you woke up and saw the snow outside your window panes?" the reporter tried again.

Ephrath looked back up at her.

"How's looking out a window supposed to feel?" she said. "And what happened to the lady in the yellow car?"


Once before, so long past that most people alive now weren't, and those who were barely have enough memory left in their heads anymore to tell you about it anyway, it'd snowed in the town. I was a young boy then, holed up in the isolation wing with my legs newly crippled by polio. From my bed I could see it fall outside the window. All through the night I watched it fall, and when I closed my eyes, I could still see it falling, even. But I never did get to feel it underfoot. Never got to make a snowball, or let it sit cold and wet on top of my head. By the time I was out of the hospital, it'd all disappeared. Andy, my brother, had tried to save some for me in a jar in the refrigerator, but that, too, had melted to water before I'd made it home.

Regardless, I opened its lid and gave it a smell. It did smell different than just plain water. I stuck my finger in. It was a different wet, too. Then I dumped it all over my head, which caused my mother a fit, as she didn't know why I'd go and do something like that, forcing her to go through all the trouble it now took to dry me up and change my shirt. I told her, I wanted to know if it felt a different cold. And it did. It was a different cold than just plain cold water on the head.


When they got back to their house, Mick wasn't in the lawn chair anymore. He was bent over by the door using a garden spade to clear the snow from the steps, black suit jacket, the one he kept for occasions, over his bare torso, stub sleeve flapping backward in the breeze. The kids watched from the sidewalk until he noticed them there.

"Where you girls been?" he yelled.

His voice was shivery. None of the girls answered.

"Go get inside before you all wind up sick," he yelled again.

Rachel removed her windbreaker and gave it back to Beau. Mary-Rose and Ephrath did the same.

"Wanna hang out later?" Rachel said to Beau.

"Okay," said Willy.

"Yeah," Beau said.

"Thanks to your mom for the jackets," Ephrath said.

Beau and Willy crossed the street back to Beau's house. The girls walked across their front yard.

"Why am I out here doing all the work?" Mick said. "You girls are all off playing."

"Sorry," they said in unison.

"And where'd you get those fancy jackets from? Your jackets not good enough?"

Rachel pushed open the front door that always swung so hard it had its own knob dent like a pocket on the wall inside.

"We don't have jackets," she yelled.

"Don't tell me you don't have jackets," Mick yelled back. "You got jackets. I bought you jackets. You're fine with what you have."


The three sisters passed the rest of the afternoon in their bedroom, doing things like reading books and re-braiding their long blonde hair. Ephrath'd opened the window so to feel the cold air and poke little holes into the snow that had drifted up the corners of the sill between the wrought iron bars covering the glass. Hiding spots for tiny things, she imagined them to be in her head. Meanwhile, Mr. Friend had been studying the scene of the accident, searching for further signs of proof of the snow being a sign from God. He examined the tire tracks for slippage, for a patch of ice beneath the mishmash of glass chunks and spattered blood. Upon overhearing the driver of the second vehicle explain to the tow trucker that young woman'd most definitely been looking at her cell phone, her eyes were most definitely not on the road, he examined the cavity left in the driver's door of the yellow car. Aside the deflated airbag, a cellphone was rested on the passenger seat, its screen somehow perfectly intact. Eventually, he returned to his car and jotted in his memo book, car accident = no sign. Then chucked the memo book at the dash. Mr. Friend hammered the back of his head against the seat. He rubbed a hand over his whole face. He'd been searching since the snow had started falling the night before, and wanted nothing more than to be able to share something of true significance with the people of the town, who, for all these years, treated him mostly like a strange looking fish.


Mick was sat in the middle of the sofa that sunk down to the floor from his always sitting there, his one hand stuck inside a bag of white bread on his lap, still wearing his suit jacket, but only halfway. On the coffee table in front of him were his beer cans and a little bit of cocaine. The TV was playing the six o'clock news.

"Dad," Rachel yelled from the kitchen. "We're out of bread."

Mick wasn't listening. He'd turned up the volume real high so to better hear the alluring reporter on the screen. He liked her fancy brown hair, how it flowed over the shoulders of her large, orange expedition coat.

"Didn't you hear me?" Rachel yelled again. "We need bread now."

"No shopping till Thursday," Mick yelled back. "Make something else. Make some for me, too, while you're at it. Please."

Rachel slumped on the counter and fluttered her lips. Mary-Rose began looking through the cupboards. That's when the three sisters, along with Beau Robson and his friend Willy, appeared from nowhere on the television, right in front of Mick's eyes.

"Hey," Mick yelled. "Hey, girls."

Ephrath stuck her head around the wall and saw her own face there, seemingly floating between Beau and Rachel's shoulders.

"How'd you girls get in the TV?" Mick said.

Mary-Rose and Rachel went over beside Ephrath and sure enough, like an illusion, saw themselves there on the screen, talking to the reporter in their borrowed windbreakers. Rachel spoke into the microphone.

"People are stupid. Everyone's acting like a bunch of mentals."

Mick snorted. Then Rachel continued.

"She says it's all the Global Warming."

Mick frowned. Slowly pulled his hand from out the bread bag. Rachel handed the mic to Mary-Rose, and Mary-Rose elaborated.

"Due to the fact that the ocean temperatures are rising, and the carbon is clogging up the atmosphere, the weather is swapping all over the planet."

Mick looked up at the three girls.

"What's that you're saying?" he said, pointing his stub at the screen.

"The weather's swapping," said Ephrath.

"Global Warming?" said Mick. "You girls out there propagating that baloney?"

The sisters were quiet. Then Ephrath said, "We were just considering the facts."

"The facts is this. The more you go on complaining about the weather, the more higher the taxes get. And who pays those taxes in this house?"

The sisters were quiet again. Mary-Rose went back to searching the cupboards. Ephrath ventured further into the living room and sat on the floor, watching the screen. Rachel rolled her eyes.

"Can we have some money to go to the store?" Rachel said to Mick.

"What did I already say?" he responded. "I have no money to give you till Thursday."

"We can make spaghetti," Mary-Rose said to Rachel.

"There's no sauce," Rachel snapped back.

"Just use the tomato soup," Ephrath called from the living room.

While Mary-Rose prepared a pot of water, an interview clip with a scientist appeared on the TV. Ephrath reached for the remote and turned up the volume. The scientist explained how the warming temperatures in the arctic could push the jet stream south, thus bringing the cold weather along with it. Mick opened a can of beer and drank it all in one go.

"See?" Ephrath said to Mick. "It's 'cause the jet stream. Like the scientist says."

Mick stood his can amongst the others.

"Give me that," he said.

"I wanna listen to the scientist," said Ephrath.

"Give me the remote, Mary-Rose," said Mick.

"I'm not Mary-Rose," Ephrath said.

Mick stomped his foot, hard. It shook the table. Ephrath jumped. Whatever cans that were empty wobbled and toppled over.

"Goddammit, Mary-Rose," he said. "The guy's not even a real scientist."

Ephrath lobbed the remote. It bounced off Mick's knee then landed on the floor, knocking some cans down with it. The back popped off and the batteries rolled under the couch. Mick blinked.

"Sorry," Ephrath said.

He sucked in his already sunken cheeks. Then he looked up at Rachel and Mary-Rose, who'd returned to standing side by side in the kitchen doorway. Then back down at Ephrath. Looking at all three of them like that made him feel like he was swimming. He stood from the couch and stepped toward Ephrath. Walking also felt much like swimming. He stood over her, grabbed her wrist and raised his uncloaked stub, the muscles twitching.

What happened next happened fast, so much that the girls couldn't recount it too clearly afteward. Rachel said he'd lost his balance and hit his head off the table. Mary-Rose said Rachel'd thrown the can of tomato soup, but missed. Ephrath said her eyes were closed, and all she'd heard was a thud. When she opened them again, Mick was in the process of standing himself back up, and Mary-Rose was pulling her back by the arm. Mick touched behind his ear, then looked at his hand. He reached for a slice of bread from the floor and pressed it against his head, sopping up the blood that was beginning to drip down his neck. Then turned to Rachel, who was standing by the front door now, and charged.

"This is all your fault," she shouted at her sisters as she kicked open the door and ran, wearing nothing but too short sweatpants on her legs and ankle-length socks on her feet. Mick stopped at the door. He tried to pull on his rubber boots to chase after her but fell on all threes, dropping his bread. Pulling himself back up against the doorframe, he yelled to Mary-Rose and Ephrath to go straight to their goddamned room and not come out till he was back with their goddamned sister. The house trembled as he slammed the door shut.


How Willadeene died was a freak accident. Her and Mick and their three daughters were out in the mud boat, as they liked to be on Sundays, after morning service and when Mick didn't have weekend work. They'd saddled up the girls in their swimsuits and life jackets, tossed some granola bars into the beer cooler, and Mick took turns piggybacking each one as they walked all the way down past the Kmart to the riverbank where they kept the boat docked.

About three quarters of an hour after they'd left, Rachel and Mary-Rose'd come running back crying for help. Willadeene'd fallen off the boat somehow. Rachel said she'd been standing up, goofing around, making them laugh with some funny story like she was always doing, and at that moment, when she was doing her dancing bit, they hit something big and hard and the whole boat heaved. Mary-Rose said nothing could be seen, due to the murk. Mick tried to pull her back in, realized he was in a tug of war, and jumped out the boat too, trying to fight the creature off of her. But Willadeene'd been caught by the waist, and Mick'd been caught by the hand. The two humans had lost, and the alligator had won.


Rachel stood on the front porch of the Robson's house, shaking, with drenched, numb feet, and rang the doorbell. Beau opened the door.

"You wanna hang out still?" said Rachel.

Beau looked down.

"You don't have any shoes on," he said.

"I just forgot," said Rachel.

"K. One sec."

Leaving the door opened, Beau ran up the stairs. Rachel peered into the Robson's house. It looked like hers but with a rug, and more tidied. Beau returned with a ball of socks.

"You can borrow these," he said. "And my sister's old boots."

Rachel bent to pull her own socks off. Her toes were white and wrinkled up. She put on the new pair and the boots. It felt good. Beau pulled the windbreakers from earlier off a hook and gave her the pink and purple one once again. He left the others in a lump on the floor, then put his own boots and jacket on, and the two began to walk.

They walked down the block and past the site of the accident, then further to the Kmart, down to the bank of the river where the old dock was a quarter submerged in the water and rotting green all over the sides. The snow was deeper there from the hill's slant, and the cattails were falling over from the weight of it. The water was covered in a thin layer of ice. Out in the middle of the river, a grey rock looking thing jutted out, making smoke puffs like their mouths did. Rachel squinted, trying to figure out what it was.

"I think it's a gator nose," said Beau.

"What's a gator doing that for?" said Rachel.

"I guess he needs to breathe," said Beau.

Both of them were turning the same pale purple around their lips. Now that the sun was almost gone, it was getting colder again, and they wouldn't be able to stay out long. Rachel bent down and picked up a chunk of snow and dirt and chucked it out at the ice, then wiped her hand on the side of her pants.

"That's shit," said Rachel.

Beau put his arm around her ribcage. He kept his hand pulled up inside the sleeve of his jacket.

"Maybe they'll just stay underwater then," said Beau. "When the Global Warming starts. With their noses stuck up out the ice for air."

"They should all just move up to Canada already," Rachel said. Then she shouted, "Hey, gator."

It didn't move.

"Let's go," she said.

They climbed back up the bank and over the fence again, and walked out across the parking lot. Meanwhile, Mary-Rose and Ephrath were huddled in their living room, each picking at a piece of bread, waiting for Mick to bust back into the house any second. Neither one of them knew how much time was passing by, and they didn't know where their sister could have gone with no shoes. But it wasn't the first time Rachel'd run out the door in that way, and it wasn't the first time Mick'd gone chasing after her, either. It was just the first time both things had happened in the snow.

Then, curious, the doorbell rang. The sisters looked at each other first. Then Mary-Rose stood and went over to the door, stopping a foot in front of it. The bell rang again.

"Yeah?" she called. "Who is it?"

"It's Nathan. Nathan Friend."

Mary-Rose turned back around, making a stink face at her sister who, at the exact same moment was making the same stink face, only hers a little bit more nervous looking.

"Our Dad isn't home right now," Mary-Rose called out. "You can come back later."

"It's very important," said Mr. Friend.

Mary-Rose chewed her lip. Then she picked up the garden spade from the middle of the floor where Mick'd left it after shoveling, and opened the door a crack.

"Mary-Rose," he said, "Go get the phone."

"What for?"

Mary-Rose tried to look out past Mr. Friend, but he blocked her view. So she opened the door all the way to see around him. What she saw then was Mick, out in the middle of the front yard, face down in the snow, limbs spread at his sides. She started out the door, forcing Mr. Friend down from the steps, then stopped. Turned back for her boots. Pulled them on, and ran out to Mick.

Mr. Friend turned to Ephrath.

"Ephrath," he said, "The phone."

Ephrath went over to the door and looked out at her sister, crouched on her knees beside her dad, her long blonde hair pendulous above the snow. From up the street, Rachel and Beau appeared, holding hands. Upon seeing Mary-Rose, Rachel let go.

Ephrath pulled on her boots and went out into the yard, too. She stood on one side of Mary-Rose while Rachel stood on the other. Beau ran across the street, calling for his parents. Mr. Friend went into the sisters' house to find a phone.

Soon, the Robson's were walking fast as they could to the girls, pulling on their windbreakers as they came. Then, soon again, emergency lights were flashing, and even though it was getting dark, everything was still visible for the light of the moon on the white and wet ground. So neighbors were peeking out their windows and stepping out their front doors again. I rolled out onto the porch. A police officer was looping yellow tape around Mick's chair and the other junk and garbage he'd tripped over. The paramedics scooped up the body and placed it on a stretcher, then wheeled it into the back of an ambulance. Mr. Friend stood with the sisters, and the four gazed down at the imprint left behind in the snow. A body hedged by a semi-circle, a ring of yellow vomit above the head.

"It looks an angel," said Mary-Rose.

"It's only got one wing," said Ephrath.

Soon, Father Rudolph would arrive.


Before they left the town, Ephrath'd come knocking on my door. She wanted to know if I had any books about the alligators, or the history of the town, or about great mysteries like the pyramids, or the dancing plague. She nosed through the stacks in my den, poking the gushy or extra worn spines. "Old books feel different than new books," she'd said. "It's funny how same things can feel different." She borrowed an encyclopedia and said one day she would return it, as she wouldn't be gone forever. I told her she could keep it, as I was an old man and I didn't need to be reading encyclopedias anymore. Still, she said. After that, the three sisters moved north to the border to live with their aunt, where it would snow every year, and they'd have to learn to like it. They'd get their own colorful jackets, and they'd meet new boys. They'd see bison farms, and sometimes deer in the yard. Sometimes tracks like from a fox crawled out of its den, but maybe actually a coyote, or wolf. They'd learn some things were more visible than others that way. While others, though exceptional, preferred to stay hidden from peoples' sight.