My son’s ears are stuffed with newspaper while his father’s ears are stuffed with hair so there’s enough to hopefully keep the boy warm and the man just warm enough and yet, they are both still shivering and hungry, for you can’t stuff a belly with newspaper or hair quite as easily as you can an ear because it’s not palatable and it’s harder to swallow or digest. My lips are black and white all over because I’ve tried, tried to swallow paper A&P apples and pork loins and cabbage but I’m still cold so I fold my paper belly back into my paper dress and cut out paper cutouts of my son’s baby sister, hanging her cold white self on the clothesline, letting her dry naturally. My son’s shoes are also filled with paper but not the same as his ears because there’s never quite enough to go around; instead, it’s dot-matrix-thin from the dumpster, full of more holes than his pant cuffs or shoe cuffs, all wrapped up in Rainbow bread plastic wrappers and rubberbands that silence his holey, holy shoes that came from the church rummage bin. Each step sounds like a prayer to me, squawking in shoe Latin that the wind is mean and the world is cold and the cold is his world and my world and our neighbors’ world. We cut out paper snowflakes together and drop them on ourselves and the neighbors and the world like confetti until the drifts rise and we turn them into an igloo of sorts, one that won’t melt, but could burn. I am thankful my son can’t hear the cold world because he’s listening to the newspaper in his ears that reads out loud to him that milk is fifty cents a gallon and so-and-so died and the Sunday cartoons are funny and the musicians are playing music and the politicians are winning and the price of heating oil has gone up again.
Amy Cipolla Barnes grew up in the Midwest and has spent her adulthood in the South. She writes short stories, flash fiction, CNF, and essays that have been published at a wide range of sites. She’s an associate editor at Fractured Lit, editor for Ruby Lit, co-editor at Gone Lawn, and a reader for Narratively, CRAFT, Taco Bell Quarterly, and The MacGuffin. After a debut chapbook “Mother Figures” in June, 2021, her full-length flash collection Ambrotypes is forthcoming from word west in March, 2022.