I sat with my mother in her darkened kitchen and we drank blue liquor. We were drunk, just a touch, and I felt loose as the snow drove past the windows and fell hard against the ground. It was late, well past one in the morning, and the sky was a hard steely black, the color of winter night in deep January.

“Well, James,” said my mother. “Your time’s almost up, isn't it?”

I nodded, listening to the gutters rattle against the side of the house. The smell of dog rose up from our feet as Daisy scratched herself beneath the table. “Two more days,” I said.

I was on the road, out from the sunny west to visit the family in the snowy east. Eight days I had spent in my mother’s house, sleeping on her couch, keeping the driveway free of snow, getting out of her way when she began to shout. That last was a hard one; my mother’s anger was large, and I’d been gone a long time.

“When do you think you’ll be back?” my mother asked.

“Don’t know. Summer maybe.”

“Maybe? That’s the best you can do?”

I shrugged. “We’ll see, Mom.”

My nephew Tony padded out to the back porch in his socks. He’d gotten used to staying up late with all the days off from school because of the snow. He wore his ski cap perched delicately atop his head.

“What are you guys doing?” he asked. “Drinkin’?”

My mother took a sip of her drink and rapped her glass on the table top. “Never you mind, you.” she said. “That’s our business.” She glared, narrow eyes and teeth, until Tony padded back out of the room. “There’s one that’s always under foot.”

We got out the deck of cards and I dealt out a few hands of gin rummy. We played, drank, watched the snow fill the yard for about an hour. My mother was quiet except when she was’t sure which card to play. Then she muttered under her breath, cursing as she tossed her card on the pile. Finally, tired of losing, she threw her whole hand down on the table. “God damn it, James. God damn you.”

I gathered up the cards and slid them into their checkered box. “Sorry,” I said.

A word stretched across my mother’s lips and then faded. She reached over and touched me on the back, her fingers barely there, the liquor swimming in her eyes. “See you in the morning,” she said.

“OK. See you in the morning.”

In a minute, I got up from my chair and went in to the living room to see what my nephew was doing. He lay on the couch, his head propped up with a pillow, watching a late night movie. The TV flashed blue, white, yellow in the dark of the room. The sound was so low, I couldn’t see how Tony could hear it at all.

“Hey,” I said. “You wanna go out and pass the football around?”

Tony looked at me, brows crossed, mouth screwed down. “Now?”

“Yeah,” I said. “Why not?”

He shrugged. “OK. I’ll get my coat and boots.”

We got outside and marched through the newly fallen snow that covered the ground. The air was crisp, cold for a night of such heavy snow. Under the streetlights, out in the street, the air was a maze of white flake, the ball fading away as it arched in the sky, reappearing as it found our gloved hands.

“This is cool,” I said, thinking how everyone in every house on the block was asleep.

“Yeah,” Tony replied.

After about fifteen minutes, my sister, Tony’s mother, came chugging up the street in her beat-up Chrysler. She swung around widely, wheels spinning and sliding, into my mother's drive. The car idling, she rolled down her window and sent out a white cloud of cigarette smoke.

“Hey, brother. Hey, son,” she said.

Tony and I sidled up to the car. My sister reached out with her bare hand and shook both our hands. Her hair was tousled and her breath smelled of beer and smoke. She wore a black shirt with strands of gold thread woven into the fabric.

“Where have you been?” I asked. “All dressed up?”

My sister laughed. “The bars. Want a beer?” Reaching into the back seat, she pulled out a bottle and handed it to me. It was cold and it felt good to be drinking it in the falling snow.

“Where’s Mom?” she asked, tilting her head toward the house. “Asleep?”


“How was she tonight?”

I shrugged, about to say “OK,” when Tony butted in.

“Grouchy,” he said, and the three of us laughed.

“Jeez, you’d think with you leaving in a few days she’d try to be nice,” my sister said. “It’s not often her only son comes to visit her.”

I sighed. The snow fell hard on the ground, the sky deep and dark, and I was drunk. “Well,” I said and listened to the chug of my sister’s engine. It filled the terribly quiet night, where we all were waiting, and there was nothing else to say.

Joseph Young lives in Baltimore, where the art of dry weather seems to be lost, but where the robins nest safely in his grape arbor. His work has appeared in Hobart, The Mississippi Review, Pindeldyboz, Word Riot, Lit Pot, Blue Moon Review, Haypenny, the-phone-book, and elsewhere. Contact him at youngjoseph21@hotmail.com.

Though I love the sun and going out in the day, I don’t think I ever feel so alive as when I’m away from home―whether far, far away, or just across town―late at night. There’s a feeling of pushing the boundaries, of witnessing something secret in life, as I watch the pale hands of people eating in a late-night diner, the fuzzy heads of other drivers on an empty road. As everybody knows, people who are out late at night are up to no good or are involved in some passion play of alcohol, love, or fear. At 2:30 a.m., the heart is either a little cold or the head is a little hot.

“Cobalt” is probably three-plus years old and has gone through a number of revisions. After I first wrote it, I gave it to some friends to read who live in a tenant house on a farm. A few days later, I ate a very late dinner at their house, and after some drinking, we took a walk. As we watched the cows stand under the moon and got our shoes wet in the tall grass, my friends told me what they liked and what they didn’t like about the story. The wind blew in the dark trees, the stream washed the stones, and I hung on every word, now plunging with disappointment, now rising with hope again.


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