The Winter Festival
By Evan Berkow
The morning of the Winter Festival, I woke to the dull pounding of hammer on nail on wood. The Michigan winter made the sounds thick and sluggish, as if even noises needed to keep bundled.
My brother Joe was already up, tugging idly at his eyebrow ring and staring out the window.
“You keep pulling that, it’ll get infected.” I corrected myself. “More infected.”
Joe laughed. “Thanks for the warning, little sis.”
I swiveled out from under my covers and tested the bedroom floor. Even with footie pajamas it was frigid. I danced over icy wood to my brother and stood beside him at the window.
We lived in a February Town miles north of the Detroit ruins. Our home was just townhouse in a larger block, about twenty of them arranged in a ring facing outward against the world. The block was a closed loop, a circle of wagons defending a raggedy little park where a swing set slumped in trampled winter grass.
The park was full that morning, the block parents all working together to prepare for the evening’s festivities. I immediately made out our father. He was hunkered over a long slice of lumber in a way that seemed impossible given his chubbiness, his thick padded coat making him look like a yellow marshmallow. He was hammering a series of wooden triangles, like dragon’s teeth, into the plank. His face was flushed from exertion and the bite of the lake wind.
Other parents were equally busy. Some were painting slats, others were assembling a great iron skeleton in the middle of the park. No way to make out its shape, but it seemed so familiar, like something out of an almost-remembered nightmare. It made me shiver.
There were other faces in windows. My friends staring out at the work being done from the backs of their houses. I could see Kelly, a shy girl whose crush Joe tolerated with a cool reserve, making a tight ball of herself in a rooftop crook. She was recognizable only for the bright red hair that burst from beneath her cap. I tugged on some strands of my own mud-brown frizz, feeling just as jealous as every other time I saw her.