A Snow Globe Summer

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Although I’d only known Alejandro for a handful of birthdays, I’d learned enough by now through the pandemic to expect a few things from the start of August. One, the summer stitched its days together with a cruel thread of static and stasis that brought in nights of uncertainty. Second, it meant that he would begin his annual routine of heckling all the winter babies that the rest of us were. That’s not fair, he would say, pressing a sigh into the nape of my neck. You guys always get snow for your birthdays. August never gets any. I’d usually laugh back, thinking up some little quip like snow isn’t all that great, or you’d just get snowed in, but it never stopped him from wishing all the same. Third, was that, if anything, the pandemic had a backhanded way of bringing what you wished for. For Alejandro, it twisted into a birthday captured within a snow globe summer.

Like the day before fresh snowfall, it all started off the same. Whereas the summer sky usually created a volcanic kaleidoscope of colors spilling through the mountains, a strange white haze magnified the sky even closer. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think a snow storm was busy erasing the horizon, waiting to make landfall. The white haze brought us to somber silence as we peered through the windows of his brother’s beat-up Sonata.

“It’s kind of like a snow globe, isn’t it?” I asked, awestruck.

“It definitely feels like one lately,” he said, trailing off. Everything about the pandemic felt like an unpredictable snow globe, where you could never tell when the world would be upended. All you could do was hold on.

While snow storms harbored the presence of gentle giants, something about this one was different. Instead of rocking the city gently to sleep, it felt wild and off-center; kinetic and oppressive.

That was when he noticed it first in the rearview mirror.

“Bri, look behind you,” he said, shaking me from my daydream. He aimed a thumb at the back window. “The sun.”

It flared behind us brightly in neon reds and haloed by shimmering rays. It seemed to split the sky into summer and winter, of ice and fire. At that moment, he seemed to know immediately what it meant. Suddenly, everything about this strange snow storm clicked into place. It made sense why the Sandia mountains vanished from thin air in a shroud of white, or why we’d been feeling nauseous, heads pounding, and gasping for air through dry noses and mouths. We were trapped within this snow globe hellscape, surrendering to the endless tumbling of a world just out of reach.

The signs were there. We could’ve seen it had we chosen not to be blissfully unaware but, by the time we noticed, it was already too late. It was never snow at all, as much as we lied to ourselves, trapped together in this makeshift snow globe.

All we could breathe in was smoke.

Brianna G. Reed is a student at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

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