This is the sixth story in this summer’s online Flash Fiction series. You can read the entire series, and our Flash Fiction stories from previous years, here.

Snow started to leave a tinge of lifelessness on everything, and I stopped going outside, stayed indoors as much as I could, in layers of fleece. Everyone left the campus for warmer places for the break, and I stayed there, in the dorm that looked like a milk carton, with its modern shape and single gable, never went anywhere too far from it.

In the afternoons, I worked at the campus mailroom, where I watched the stacks of letters grow, unopened. I put slim envelopes in their slots. I sorted Amazon deliveries, media mail, care packages in padded envelopes sent Priority from loving parents. Dubrowsky, Dunn, Dunton. There was intimacy in watching the movements of the campus, the coming and going, even in everyone’s absence.

Then, in the evenings, I went back to my room and read until I ran out of pages. Then I called my mom on Skype.

And have you been eating? she asked. Have you been going outside? Being careful out there? Washing your undies in the shower, like I taught you?

She worried about me all alone on campus. She worried about me in the dead of winter. She worried about me living so far away, alone in America.

She’d watched a movie about a couple of girls left behind at a boarding school upstate. The snow made the campus look bleak. Emma Roberts had dark circles under her eyes. Everyone died.

Don’t go down into the basement, she said. Avoid long hallways. Don’t go out late at night.

When she heard on the news that a snowstorm was passing through Vermont, she e-mailed me to ask if I needed company. A friend to marvel at the thunder with, she wrote.

I called her as soon as I woke up, before I ate my breakfast.

I’ve never seen a snowstorm, she said. She brought her face closer to the screen. Where is it?

It’s over, I said.

I showed her my window. The sky looked blank like a sheet, icicles hanging from the frame like teeth in a child’s drawing. Sunlight flooded the Webcam, and for a moment my corner of the screen was all white. I reappeared as a silhouette, and then as my full self again.

Call me if something happens, while it’s still happening, she said. I want to see it live.

Then she went on to list every storm fact she knew.

Sandstorms on Mars, other storms on the moon. Every tragedy on Earth. Floods, tsunamis, earthquakes. She talked until I had to say, Mom, it’s getting late. I have to get ready for work.

On a particularly cold day, I sent my mother a picture of the snow falling onto the soccer field out my window, which I knew she found serene, beautiful even, but this time she found it scary.

Does walking outside feel like being buried alive? she asked.

And I said that it didn’t, though the truth was that sometimes it did. I’d have to dust the snow off my shoulders and the creases in my coat before I walked in, my legs heavy, my jaw frozen, my hands burning.

She told me to stay indoors as much as I could, not to leave my room again until it was warm outside.

Then she shook her head.

No, don’t listen to me.

She yawned then looked past me, at something behind her screen. A lock of her hair fell on her eyes, and she didn’t move it away.

It was later there than where I was, way past midnight. I let her go to bed, and I stayed up, all the lights in my room still on.

I sat in front of the computer, wondering what I should do next, now that I was alone. The Victorian novels I had to read for the upcoming semester sat unopened on my desk. I felt it would take too much effort to enter their world that night, to move between Brazil and the United States and then England in the course of a day.

The computer screen went dark, and I saw my own face reflected in it. I looked pale and tired, papery, even, as if covered in mildew. I got up and splashed cold water on my face in the bathroom down the hall, then put on my coat and boots and went out on a walk.

From the middle of the soccer field, in the dark, I could see into my bedroom on the third floor, and into the bedrooms of my neighbors. A shadow moved across a room. Two girls laughed together in another, tilting back their heads, with no sound. In my room, the window framed a perfect image of stillness. The whole world seemed to quieten down for that moment, for me to look at what my life looks like.

I called her again when I thought she’d be awake, and her face glowed in the dark, lit up by nothing but the computer screen.

Were you asleep?

The light was giving me a headache, she said, and took her hand to her brow.

Everything gave her migraines in those days. She felt dizzy, her ears rang, her eyes twitched. To protect herself, she had to live in a world of blandness, often in silence, often in the dark, warm gauze over her eyes.

It occurred to me that she’d love the milk carton and the campus. The carpeted halls and the snow muffling every sound, the dining-hall food, the constant darkness, nighttime always spilling into mornings.

I told her this, and she said, Can you imagine? If the moment I got there and ate your food and slept on your bed and walked around in your clothes I was suddenly cured?

I told her about my walk to the soccer field.

She smiled and said, So it turns out you do listen to what I say.

I do, I do.

Just don’t go on these walks when it’s dark out, she said. Have you heard about the Filipino student who got murdered somewhere in New York last week? Not too far from you.

I laughed, happy that she was back to being so unmistakably herself.

When winter break was almost over, my mother e-mailed me to say that she’d received the package I’d sent her for Christmas, a few weeks too late, when I’d already forgotten about it.

On Skype, she waited with the box on her lap so we could open it together, her hands on my address.

I can’t believe this came all the way from America, she said.

She turned the box to the screen to show me the customs label I’d filled out.

Look, I’m touching your handwriting, she said. Might as well be touching your hand.

She cut the tape open with her kitchen shears and found the card I’d written for her, a brown dog running down a snowy hill.

Read it to me, I said.

Querida mãe, she said. Feliz Natal.

But then she couldn’t make out what the rest of it said.

Your handwriting has changed, she said. I can barely recognize it.

I don’t write in cursive anymore, I said. Not since I was a kid.

That’s it, she said. It’s very grownup now. I no longer see my little girl in it.

Show it to me and I’ll read it.

She placed the open card in front of the camera and I tried to make sense of what I’d written, but all I saw was a blur. Neat lines of blur.

She went through the rest of the contents of the box: a tiny bottle of maple syrup, a little bag of peppermint candy, a blue shawl.

She put the computer on the coffee table then stood up and draped the shawl over her shoulders, swaying from side to side.

It’s like a hug, she said. A cocoon.

She sat back down and curled up on the couch, covering the length of her body with it, the shawl as a blanket, all the way up to her chin.

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