“This is gonna be great, Katie,” Paddy said as he patted snow around the still-nascent snowman’s bottom.
“It is!” Katie agreed. “Ye’ve still got the pumpkin stems, right?”
“Uh-huh! Daddy didn’t even ask me why I wanted some.”
Katie debated tormenting Paddy for that positively babyish way to refer to their father, but decided against it. If she teased him too much, he would run away and go play by himself. And she still needed an extra pair of hands for this project.
Oh, it was such fun being the oldest! She hadn’t thought so before; before she had thought that it was no fun at all, all work and all being on her best behavior. “Don’t shout so loud, Katie, ye’ll wake the baby up from her (or his) nap!” “Let Paddy (or Nora) share yer toys, ye’re the big sister so ye have to set a good example.” “Katie, ye’re a big girl now, so ye have to help Da and Grandpa outside in the fields. I know ye’d rather be playin’ with yer friends, but ye’ve got ter do yer part jest like everyone else.”
Well, that wouldn’t be true anymore! Paddy was a big boy now — or so Ma and Da and Grandma and Grandpa were always saying — he went to school and everything, so, by Katie’s lights, that meant he should be doing other big-boy things, too. Like helping in the fields. Not that there was much to do in the fields right now, since they were covered by a good foot of snow and all. But once the spring came …
Well, once the spring came, there would be fertilizing to do, and planting, and hoeing, and weeding, and watering. But the fields hadn’t gotten bigger over the winter, and with an extra pair of hands to help everything along, that meant that the work would be done that much quicker. And Katie would have to do that much less of it. Which meant she’d have more time for her.
She’d be smart, too. Ever since Paddy had started school and become a big boy — unfortunately after the harvest was in, but what were you going to do? — she’d been careful to sigh and mope and pretend that she missed working in the fields. She’d told him how much fun it all was, being outside with the sun shining and the birds singing, and bending near the plants to watch them grown, climbing up into the trees, oh-so-high, to grab that last bit of fruit.
She hadn’t been lying, either; those parts were fun. But she’d been careful — oh, so very careful — to tell him just how much fun weeding was. Getting down into the dirt, pulling stubborn plants up by the roots. Getting your hands dirty. Seeing the little bugs (not the bad bugs, the good ones) crawling up and down the leaves. By the time she was done describing it, Paddy was running to the window to survey the snow, praying for spring to come soon so he could get a chance to weed. He’d been floored when Katie had sighed, as if she was disappointed, and told him that she didn’t really want to do this, but since he was such a good little brother, she’d be a good big sister and let him do all the weeding when spring came.
She just hadn’t told him that she hated weeding.
“The head’s on!” Paddy called out, excited. “Now all we have ter do is add the hat, an’ the arms, an’ the–”
“Paddy, ye’ve got the sticks, righ’?” Katie interrupted.
She stared at him. “For the arms. Remember? I asked ye to get some when we started!”
“Oh — oh, righ’! The sticks! They’re — er — I left ’em behind the house! I’ll go get ’em!” And he sprinted off, probably to desperately search the snow for the kinds of sticks that would make good snowman-arms.
“Don’t ferget the pitchfork!” Katie called as he ran.
She snickered as she got the small black stones she’d swiped and started to stick them onto the snowman. Yes, she loved being a big sister. Little sibs were so gullible! They’d do anything if you put it to them the right way. And if Paddy was this gullible — and Paddy, ever since he got old enough to crawl and babble and pull her hair, had shown proper spirit — then Nora would be even better. Nora was such a happy little girl, always smiling or laughing, unless Katie or Paddy teased her. Then she started to cry, and Katie and Paddy would get yelled at. (It wouldn’t be Katie and Paddy for long, though. Katie was getting better and better at leading Nora to the brink, and then leaving for a bit to allow Paddy to start on her — and then let him take all the blame for upsetting the little one.) But if Nora was this dependent on her siblings’ approval when she was this little, she would be child’s play to manipulate once she got a little older.
As for baby Sean, he was still far too young for Katie to be able to tell whether he’d be easy to lead around, or whether he’d give her any resistance. But she was watching. Once he started to do more than eat, cry and poop, she would know. And then — she’d begin to make her plans.
But that was a long way off — four years! She’d be eleven when Sean was finally old enough to really boss around! Still, though, with her three little siblings behind her, she’d be Queen of the Playground for sure. She could hardly wait.
“I found the sticks an’ the pitchfork!” Paddy said, running around from the opposite side of the house, panting, his hands red — probably from digging through the snow. “Oh …” He stopped and frowned. “Ye’re almost done.”
“But not quite! I left the best part for ye!”
“Putting the arms on!”
“Ooh! Oh, thank ye!” Paddy cried out as he stuck the arms into the snowman’s torso.
“Ye can put the pumpkin stems on, too,” Katie added, generously — or so Paddy would think, anyway.
He turned a huge grin to her and put the pumpkin stems on the snowman’s head so that they framed the hat. Then both Brogan sibs took a step back and surveyed their handiwork.
“It’s beautiful,” Katie said softly, reverently.
“It’s amazing,” Paddy added.
“It’s –” She heard footsteps and turned to see who was making them. “Grandma!”
Katie raced up to hug her, and Lilé slowly bent to return the hug. “Hello, sweetie,” she said quietly, just as slowly rising again. Her grandma had been moving slowly ever since the seasons changed. Lilé laughed and said it was just her old bones, but part of Katie — a part that she didn’t like to acknowledge very often — was worried.
Her grandpa, now that she came to think of it, was also moving more slowly … but since he had never moved all that quickly to begin with, Katie wasn’t too worried.
“How was yer day at school?” Lilé asked as she rubbed her back.
“Oh, it was great! The teacher wanted us ter read some fairy stories, an’ she put Billy Thatcher and me together ter read one — um — I think it was called Rapunzel or somethin’ silly like that — anyway, it was really very silly, about some girl who was stuck up in a tower, an’ her hair was so long that it reached the ground! An’ a prince came an’ he climbed up it, an’ the witch — ’cause it was a witch who was keepin’ her in the tower — kicked Rapunzel out of the tower after she found out …” Katie frowned. “Grandma, why would a witch kick a girl out of a tower fer gettin’ fat? Ma an’ Da wouldn’t kick me out if I got fat, would they?”
Lilé blinked, but recovered quickly. “It ain’t that kind o’ fat. It — oh, ask yer ma, Wright knows I’ve fielded more ‘an my share o’ these kind o’ questions.” She rolled her shoulders and cracked her back. “What that the only fun thing that happened today?”
“No, no! Paddy an’ I made a snowman!”
“A snowman? How nice.”
“Ye wanna see?”
If Katie had been a little less perceptive, she wouldn’t have noticed the fleeting glance Lilé paid to the snug, warm house. But she wasn’t, and she did. The glance, however, was overshadowed by the smile that went all the way to her eyes. “O’ course, love. Show me.”
“Great! Come on!” Katie sprinted away, but luckily for Lilé, the snowman was right beside the front steps. “Ta-da!” Katie called out, waving her hand toward the snowman.
Lilé passed her hand before her eyes, but when she pulled it down, the snowman was still just as it had been before.
“Katie,” Lilé asked, “are those supposed to be horns?”
“Paddy put them on,” Katie said.
“I’m sure he did,” Lilé replied. “Are they horns?”
Katie stared at the snow. “Yes …”
“Horn like on a cow?”
“Tell the truth.”
“No,” Katie mumbled to the snow.
“Horns like on what, then?”
Katie shrunk into herself. “A demon …”
“A demon,” Lilé said slowly. “Why, Katie, would ye put a demon-snowman in our front yard?”
“It was Paddy’s–“
Katie’s shoulders slumped. “Well, Brother Tuck, in church, is always sayin’ how the demons are tricksy an’ sneaky, an’ always out to get our souls …”
“An’ — well — Paddy an’ me thought, if we put a demon-snowman on the front yard — then real demons might see it, an’ think that there’s a bigger, badder demon here, an’ they’d get scared and not bother us none!”
Lilé covered her eyes again. “Oh, Katie. Is that what ye really thought?”
Lilé shook her head. Then she went into the house, in search of her husband. Katie followed her in and scooted up the ladder into the loft.
She found him exactly where she thought she’d find him — on the couch, snoring. “Finley,” she said, shaking his shoulder. Then, louder, “Finley!”
“Eh? Eh, what?” he asked, slowly rising.
“Ye were supposed to be watchin’ the kids, weren’t ye?” Lilé asked, her hands on her hips, one foot tapping the dusty floorboards.
“Babies are down fer a nap,” Finley grumbled into his beard.
“I ain’t askin’ about the babies.”
“Paddy an’ Katie are playin’ outside. They’ve been quiet, figured they was all right.”
“Oh, they’re fine. But ye know what I saw in the snow?”
Finley sighed. “Aw, fer Wright’s sake, Lil, it ain’t that big a deal.”
“Not that big a deal? Finley! Yer son’s still tryin’ to run a shop! What would the customers think if they could saw that?”
“They probably wouldn’t even notice — I still can’t see how ye did.”
“They wouldn’t notice?”
“Aye. He’s a little lad, can’t make that much water.”
Lilé blinked. “Water?”
“Aye. Ter write his name?” Lilé simply looked at him. “In the snow?”
Write his name in — “Oh, Finley! That’s disgustin’!”
“Aw, he’s just a little boy, an’ he thought it were the coolest thing, he did. ‘Sides, ain’t like there’s harm in it –“
“Harm? No. But that ain’t –“
What she was about to say was interrupted by Grady throwing open the door and marching inside. “Why,” he shouted at almost the top of his lungs, “is there a DEMON SNOWMAN standin’ in the front yard?”
Sometime later — after Grady, Lilé and even Finley had vented their spleens upon poor Katie and Paddy’s heads, the two trudged outside.
The snowman couldn’t stay. Never mind that it was supposed to protect the house from real demons, it still couldn’t say. The neighbors would see it, Lilé said, and think they were raising a pair of hellions. The customers would see it, Grady said, and be offended, and might not buy anything from the shop. “Yer shenanigans interrupted me nap!” Finley snapped. He’d only looked more put out when Grady’s shouting interrupted the babies’ naps, and he had to go see to them.
“It’s too bad,” Paddy said, looking upon the snowman with a sigh. “It was a good snowman.”
“It was,” Katie said, taking the pitchfork and putting it off to the side. Their grandma had been especially mad about the pitchfork. “Ye could’ve put an eye out!” she’d shouted. “But it would have just melted, come spring, anyway.”
“It would’ve,” Paddy agreed. “But what’s gonna keep the demons away, now?”
“I think Da’s yelling scared off any that were lurkin’ around here.”
“That’s good. But we’re still gonna have ter think o’ somethin’ else.” And Paddy sighed and put the carrot from the snowman’s nose into his pocket.
“Wait,” Katie said, grabbing his arm. “Da an’ Grandma only said we had to take the snowman down — they didn’t say we couldn’t have no fun doin’ it.”
Paddy looked at her, his head tilted to one side — then he grinned.
Never before had a snowman been quite so much to put up. And never, never before had it been quite so much fun to take down.