Josh Russell


We’re relieved to see our boys’ matching L.L.Bean backpacks sitting side by side in the kitchen the Friday afternoon the snowstorm sends us home early from work. Neither answers when we holler We’re home, but we figure they’re deafened by earbuds. We go to our bedroom and change into sweatpants and weekend T-shirts. The walls are thin, the house is quiet as snow falls on and around it, and we hear moaning from our older boy’s room. Never before have we heard either of our sons make these kinds of noises—and then we hear a woman. We tiptoe down the hall and find the younger boy’s room empty. No one’s in the family room, living room, dining room. Two backpacks in the kitchen, sounds of sex, brothers aged fifteen and seventeen, Wi-Fi, new Christmas laptops: they’re watching internet pornography, we’re sure—but then our younger son opens the back door and greets us loudly and happily, his shoulders and the brim of his Braves cap frosted with snow. When he drops his backpack, there are three in a row. He heads for the basement to hunt for the sled. Shortly thereafter our older boy comes into the kitchen wild-eyed and followed by a pretty girl we know but not by name. Their clothes are carefully buttoned. We make hot chocolate and sit sipping it in the breakfast nook and study our boy and his friend while we chat about the storm and watch his brother climb the short hill behind the house and slide down, climb and slide, climb and slide. We cut our boy’s fingernails until he was eleven. This girl’s parents probably trimmed hers until she was that old. He’ll walk her home soon, he says, he’ll make sure she gets through the blizzard OK. She smiles but doesn’t look at him. They’re trying to keep a chaste distance between themselves, but the distance grows smaller each time we check the falling snow.