Mom bequeathed me two things before she passed. First were keys to the Vermont Bed & Breakfast where I grew up. She managed the business with perfect elegance: polished woodwork, superbly manicured lawn, and spotless sidewalks every winter. At twenty-four I was destined to fill her shoes.
The second item Mom left was the snow shovel.
She never explained where it came from or why it was special. To me and my little brother her observations just sounded peculiar, like: “Kincaid and Conrad, I’m sorry the shovel didn’t glow for Daddy…” Weird.
Dad had a stroke while clearing snow shortly after my sixteenth birthday. Mom said the shovel was there when she found him in the snowdrift, but it couldn’t help. “Only that which hasn’t already run its course can be reversed.” Whatever that meant. They’d just celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary, and apparently that was course enough.
But today, when beautiful Crystal Fitzimmons died in my arms, the course had only just begun.
I should probably back up.
I was scooping the last bit of snow off the sidewalk when Crystal strolled up.
“Hello, Crystal.” I stopped and squinted a smile through frozen breath. Crystal made me pleasantly nervous.
“Sorry about your mom,” she said.
“You doing okay?”
“I’m getting by.”
“Nine inches of snow sure doesn’t help, huh?” She cocked her head to the side.
“All part of the job.” I tilted my face to match. That’s when she slipped. Dammit.
It was a stubborn bit of snowpack I’d missed. Her left foot slid on it, and she toppled straight into me. My arms caught her at the sidewalk, but I couldn’t stop her forehead from cracking on cement just beyond my right hand.
That’s when the shovel started glowing.
Honestly, that first time was instinct. I frantically grabbed the shovel and tightly clasped the handle. BAM, there I sat the night before, ready to go out and clear nine inches of snow before Crystal arrived again.
I started with that stubborn bit of snowpack.
“Sidewalk looks good, you must’ve been out early.”
I leaned on the shovel, grinning. “All in a day’s work.”
“You’re looking good, too,” she said.
“Oh, well, I –”
“I mean, you look like you’re dealing okay with your mom being gone and all.” Crystal pushed her hands deeper into her wool pockets.
“Sure,” I said. “Dealing. Not jumping for joy or anything, but keeping busy.”
She nodded. “Well, I better get going.”
As she walked past, Crystal took a mittened hand out of her pocket and lightly brushed my arm. Delightfully stunned, I didn’t turn to see her trip over a crack in the snowless sidewalk. Instead, the shovel’s glow relayed the bad news. I took a deep breath of frigid air and compressed its handle again.
“Crystal, is that you?”
“Yeah!” Her shout was muffled by the mountain of snow I’d deposited on the center of the sidewalk in the direction of her approach. “I can’t see you around this pile!”
“Sorry, no thru traffic,” I quipped. “I’m clearing snow on both edges of the sidewalk to repair a cracked section. Maybe the street would be safer?”
“I was hoping to talk, but I suppose there’s always tomorrow.” I heard snow crunching as Crystal detoured out to the curb.
Hoping to talk, eh? A smirk crept over my lips before I noticed the shovel was glowing. Gripping the handle, I heard a snow plow rumble by and wondered why the City hired such incompetent drivers. God. Dammit. Clench.
“Hello… wow! Kincaid!”
Crystal marveled at my handiwork. I’d spent all night keeping up with the snow falling on the sidewalk and street outside the B&B, sprinkling enough salt to dissolve the Morton Salt girl’s umbrella. It practically looked like spring.
“Hiya, Crystal.” I offered my free arm. “Snow’s gone, but there’s a nasty crack I haven’t had time to fix. Let me escort you.”
“My hero!” Crystal giggled and hooked her arm through mine, our thick coats generating a satisfying friction. She stepped high over the crack and giggled some more.
I smiled when we reached the end of the property. “Looks like we made it! I’ll get to see you tomorrow, finally!”
Crystal stopped, untangling her arm from mine.
“Never mind. Just seems like I’ve been shoveling for days, and it’s supposed to warm up tomorrow.”
“Oh, okay,” she replied.
I saw distraction in her green eyes as she turned to cross the street. Distraction enough that she didn’t see the car coming. It slid through the deep slush, and I would have hurled that glowing shovel as far as I could if I didn’t need it so much.
I sat on unshoveled steps, chin buried deep in my scarf and upturned mittens.
Crystal shuffled her boots. “You okay? You seem… tired.” There were no words. I couldn’t tell her this was the twenty-third time we’d met this morning. I couldn’t tell her all the ways I’d seen her go. And I couldn’t tell her I was falling for her. I glanced at the shovel and wondered what the point was. A piano would probably fall on her this time.
“You want some cocoa?” I sighed.
“Yeah. I need to warm up.” I stood and motioned to the door.
“I hope your brother’s home?” Crystal clapped her mittens together.
My brother? “Yeah, Conrad’s making breakfast, but —”
Crystal squealed with joy and bounded safely up the steps. She wasn’t excited about cocoa. Or me. My fingers wrapped around the shovel’s dull handle. Grip. Grip. Nothing.
Don’t worry about me. The B&B is thriving, my brother and Crystal are very happy together, and I’m happy for them.
Yesterday, I noticed the lawn mower sort of shimmering. Not sure why Mom never told me — maybe she didn’t know.
I only have the one brother. He’s already on his course. I’m looking forward to summer.
Joseph Kaufman lives in the Madison area with his beautiful wife, lovely daughters, a cat, and his collection of over 1,250 beer bottles. He is the Applications Development Manager for the world’s largest rodenticide company. He has done a fair bit of writing and reading in online communities and contests, and completed his first paid editing job in 2015.