In today’s New Voices short story, Noah Codega explores the delicate nature of family and the balance between love and addiction. “Snow Angels” follows Em as she tries to unpack her complicated relationship with her father, the morning after he dies in snowbank on the streets of Portland.
Maybe Dad loved us, somehow, but Dad wasn’t addicted to family. His well-being didn’t depend on having a good supply of family. He didn’t start selling little white pills to support his family habit. He didn’t go through family withdrawal any of the half-dozen times he was dumped in York County Jail. At least not that we knew of.
The call that Dad had frozen to death in a snowbank in Deering Oaks Park came from Mom. She liked keeping me abreast of family matters, even though Dad hadn’t been family for years.
In my more cynical moments I thought of family as strange outlying islets, related only by caprices of geography, the waters between crossed by bridges that weren’t so easy to burn. Not like friends, who drifted close or offshore or somewhere in the middle distance, but ultimately untethered, free to float off with the tides. Bridges may corrode with the years of salt spray that chew them into spans of twisted trash, uncrossable without considerable risk to life and limb, but they don’t fall so easily into the sea. These bridges linked me to businessman uncles talking about stocks and bonds and other monetary instruments that sound made-up. Sun-pecked cousins passing around pictures of diving trips with their boyfriends to Turks and Caicos, showing off tans and necklaces of equatorial whelks. Boston aunts who opened dingy-by-design coffee shops, hoping that they would become gathering places for whatever last shreds of the city’s Boheme hadn’t fled for cheaper rents.
The islet of Dad, though, I didn’t think of as family at all. A lone rock unreachable.
“So the funeral will be Wednesday,” Mom said, her voice distracted. I heard some clinking sounds in the background. Maybe she was unloading the dishwasher. “I think they said Wednesday.”
“Won’t be meeting your father.” Mom’s voice shook a little. I pictured her twirling a phone cord around her finger like she was talking to her girlfriends in a 1960s sitcom, something to keep her hands occupied. “Your uncle Jack is taking care of everything. All we’ve got to do is show up. Long enough since we’ve been to a church, isn’t it?”
“Did he…” I realized how stupid what I was about to say sounded but said it anyway. “Did he suffer at all?”
“They said there was enough alcohol in his system to slaughter a pack of frat boys, so no, Em. I don’t think he suffered.” The soft incandescent flare in her voice—the Dad Tone, my brother and I called it when we were kids, a specially beveled edge reserved for words to him, for him, against him. No duller now that he was gone.
“Listen, I’ve got to run. I’ll talk to you tonight, okay?”
“Yeah. Bye, Mom.”
I dropped my phone on the avocado-green sofa next to me and stared out the window. It was a Sunday morning, snowing outside. My apartment wasn’t that far from the park—I mean, Portland’s a small city. Nobody’s apartment is that far from the park. Knowing that I could pull on my hat and boots and walk the eight minutes to the place where Dad had died the night before, where they held farmers’ markets and free Shakespeare productions in the summer, was… it was weird. Right up the road.
My roommate, Moira, was a student at the Maine College of Art. She studied sculpture and was really into mixed media and found materials. The college gave her studio space, but I guess she didn’t feel comfortable unless her living space was also a studio, so she brought home pieces of abandoned bicycles, shreds of discarded clothing, and one time, a shopping bag filled with every single cigarette butt she’d picked up on a journey from one end of Cumberland Ave to the other. I made her throw it in the trash outside our building, despite her protests that she was going to make a “snipe-mobile” out of them, whatever that was.