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  • A Scatter of Snow
  • Brian Doyle (bio)

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one time many years ago my family drove up to the country to have a celebratory dinner with our cousins. I disremember the occasion but I remember it was not religious, because my aunt did not offer to pray to Jesus with her usual vehemence. There was a scatter of snow on the epic grass and hunched trees and scraggly hedges at the house when we arrived. There [End Page 87] had been a good deal of pushing and punching in the back seats of the station wagon and everyone was disgruntled. As usual the cousins’ immense untrammeled dog shot out of the garage where he had been housed like a missile in a silo and he attacked us ostensibly affectionately but not. One of my brothers screamed and another one hit me in the shoulder as hard as he could because I was distracted by the dog and had lowered my deflector shields and he knew an opening when he saw one, for which you have to admire him, especially as he was the youngest and hardly ever got to play offense.

Once inside we counted cousins and noticed that our one male cousin was not in the living room where the football game was on, or in the kitchen where his father was cooking dinner, or in the garage where the dog was nursing a grudge, or in the dank moist basement where the older cousins went ostensibly to play records but actually not. My brothers divvied up in the house according to their tastes and predilections but I was curious about our missing cousin whom I liked and admired and who had just returned from serving in the Army in the war despite being skinny as a thread and as peaceful a guy as you could ever meet. He also had a mustache which we thought was very cool even though it looked like someone had drawn it on his lip with his sister’s mascara pen.

I went out back into what was called the backyard but was really a thicket of unmown grass and headlong bramble and deceased toys and ancient footballs that had been left out for years and now were small oval cities of moss and lichen. Once there had been a swing out here but years ago the seat broke off and now the ropes were coated in ice and snow and hung there pale and stiff as bones.

I found my cousin sitting on what I thought was an old washing machine but he said, “No, this is the dryer,” and he waved me up on to the dryer, which was piebald with splotches of rust. I climbed up and we sat companionably in silence for a while. Then I asked him a couple of questions and he tried to answer coherently without any luck and I realized he was stoned in a way I had never seen him stoned before. People don’t talk about being stoned much in regular conversations but most people who grew up in America during the second half of the twentieth century learned to distinguish what a friend of mine called the levels and manners of stonage without too much effort; too much beer was different than too much wine, and too much marijuana was different than too much hashish, or cocaine, or pills, or acid, or whatever your favorite medicine was. So here, on the dryer, in the scatter of snow, I was curious and worried, because my cousin whom I liked and admired was neither as amused as he usually was on marijuana nor as cheerful as he was on beer. He was adrift, is probably the best word for it, [End Page 88] and I realized after a while that the five words he had said to me about the dryer were probably his last words for the afternoon, until whatever tide he was under receded.

He was wholly conscious, however, and something about my curiosity and admiration, and his silence, and the fact that we were actually alone for once, in the thin snow, in what felt...


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pp. 87-90
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