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Deadman’s Curve by Liza Klaussmann

DeadmanCurve.jpg

When Izzy woke up that morning the air, the light, was different. Rushing across the cold floorboards to the window, she peered out. Snow. Bright and crisp across the yard, sitting white and fat on the tree branches.

She opened the heating grate in her bedroom and stood on it, watching her nightgown billow out around her. She thought about all the possibilities that lay in front of her. A day of snow; the things she and her brother could do together. She tried not to think of how her brother always liked to be in charge and never, ever waited for Izzy. For anything.

When she got downstairs, Paul was already pulling on his snow boots, his oatmeal bowl empty, brown sugar scattered on the pine table.

“Where are you going?” Izzy asked breathlessly.

“I’m going to the farmhouse,” Paul said, without even looking up.

“Paul, wait for Izzy to have her breakfast, then you can go together,” their mother said, smiling at Izzy in that way that was meant to reassure her, but only seemed to make her brother angrier.

“I wonder what pigs do in the snow,” Izzy said, wolfing down her oatmeal.

“I hate waiting for her,” Paul said, kicking the back door, his brown hair falling in his face. “She’s always so slow.”

“She’s not slow, darling, she’s six,” their mother said. “When you were six, your father and I had still had to carry you everywhere.”

“Not true,” said Paul, who was three years older than Izzy. “It was better before her.”

When Izzy finished her breakfast, her mother helped her put on her blue wool coat with the big brass buttons, and her pink mittens which were attached with clips to the cuffs. Izzy wanted to do her boots herself.

When she stepped outside the air was so sharp it bit into her nostrils, and halfway across the yard her toes started to go numb. Paul was already far ahead and Izzy called out for him to wait, but either he didn’t hear her or didn’t care.

By the time he started cutting across Portman Field, she had stopped calling his name and just made her way in the footprints he had left behind. They were bigger than her own and she slipped treacherously in them. Izzy thought to herself how the whole world – the field, the forest off to the right, the houses dotted in the distance – seemed changed; it was white and shapeless and soundless. It was how she imagined the moon.

Halfway across the field, Paul veered off to the right, away from the farmhouse.

“Paul,” she cried. But Paul didn’t turn his head, so she started running to catch up.

Paul was standing on the edge of the field, where spring flooding had shaved off part of the gentle slope, transforming it into a steep cliff.

“We were supposed to go to the farmhouse,” Izzy said when she finally reached him. “Hey Paul, I wonder what chickens do in the snow.”

“Deadman’s Curve,” Paul said, looking down the incline, which levelled out at the beginning of the forest.

“It’s not called that,” Izzy said.

“You don’t know anything,” her brother said.

Izzy was freezing. She could no longer feel her fingers or toes and running through the fresh snow had made her corduroys first wet, now stiff and icy.

“I’m going to roll down it,” Paul said. His face was shiny and red and he looked happy.

“Don’t,” she said. “Paul, I’m reallyreallyreally cold.”

“I’m going down it like a Sting Ray,” Paul yelled and then threw himself off.

Izzy watched as he made himself into a ball and tumbled and rolled and hurled himself down, gathering speed as he went. It seemed like forever before he landed at the bottom. Then he was still.

“Paul,” she called. “Paul. Paulpaulpaulpaul.”

He didn’t move. He was dead. Izzy could feel her tears freezing as they hit her cheeks. She took a deep breath and started running down the slope and then she was turning and turning and turning. Snatches of sky and snow and treetops whirled in front of her. Her face smashed against the stones peeking through the snow. Her ribs slammed into the frozen ground. She was down. She felt dizzy and sick. She lifted her head and looked at her brother, lying next to her.

“Paul.”

All at once, Paul jumped up and was laughing. “I got you, I got you. You’re such a baby. Deadman’s Curve!” He was pumping his fist in the air and hopping on one foot. Then he looked at Izzy’s face. “Hey, Izzy.” He shook her a little.

“I don’t feel well,” she said. She had never been this cold in all of her entire life.

“OK, we need to climb back up,” Paul said. He said it in his nicescared voice, the one he’d used after he’d made Izzy stick her finger in the light socket.

He picked her up and brushed off her coat and her corduroys. Izzy tried to follow him up, but she couldn’t seem to get a grip on the hard earth.

“My hands aren’t working.” Izzy started to cry again.

Paul clambered back to her. He squinted up the slope.

“All right,” he said. “Just hold on to my hand and climb after me.”

He clasped Izzy’s mitten and started pulling her behind him. Each step Paul took, he kicked out a small spot in the snow for Izzy. First for her hand, then for her foot. “It’s too far,” she said. Her legs had begun to shake.

“I wonder what cows do in the snow,” Paul said.

Izzy thought about this. She stuck her small fist into the perfect hole Paul had made for her. She imagined cows sticking their big pink noses into the snow. She imagined cows sliding down Deadman’s Curve. She imagined cows on the moon. Then, all at once, they were up. And the whole world – the field, the forest, the houses in the distance – was back. She leaned against her brother and put her wet face against his neck and breathed him in. He smelled like oatmeal.

“Come on,” Paul said, pointing to his back. “Jump on.”

“Hey Izzy,” her brother yelled as he ran her across the field, wind whizzing in her ears, “I wonder what rabbits do in the snow.”

“Hey Paul,” Izzy called back, “I wonder what sheep do in the snow.”

“Hey lzzy, I wonder…” but his words were eaten by the soundless white afternoon that lay all around them.

Tigers In Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann (£12.99, Picador) is out now in hardback

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