I pulled my fingers deeper into my gloves, finding warmth in the confines of the wool. I pulled back my shoulders so that my elbows were awkwardly placed in my down jacket, but at least then my palms could grasp onto the sleeves and tuck themselves in, and I wasn’t quite shivering anymore. The inside of my head felt like a tornado had settled in, whooshing and rushing, picking up pieces and dropping them forcefully back into the wrong places. If I could have stopped shivering for a moment I might have pushed my hands against my ears and zipped my eyes shut. I wasn’t the only one feeling my toes shrinking from the cold, we were all huddled outside a good fifty metres from the cottage. We stood on a small patch of stomped snow and our teeth clattered, as if to the beat of the music.
Before leaving the warmth of the toasty fireplace and coming out to this loud and hectic gathering, I’d been warned. Year after year I’d heard Dad and Michel tell stories of parties like these as we would sit by the fireplace, snug and warm, cuddling with my grandpa. Amongst us children we would always laugh and kid that our parents were exaggerating— music couldn’t possibly make a building vibrate.
“Ah, the story of the ever-growing fish— it always gets louder every time they tell it!” we’d giggle to each other, smirking. It did make our brows furrow a bit, however, when they’d constantly never let us join them.
“Just trust us, you won’t like it.” They’d pat our heads and go off into the night, dressed all sparkly and pretty.
“They just want to have fun without having to babysit us kids,” Charlie would grumble back, frustrated.
“Hey, we’re not kids!” my brother said, flailing his arms like a little cartoon character.
“You’re right, I’m older than all of you. I’m clearly old enough. The rest of you are kids” said Charlie.
I wanted to go, of course, like the rest of us. I knew that Dad kept telling us that it was too loud and that it was just a bunch of old people, but I also knew that I should trust my other cousins— they had so much more life experience than me. A whole grade higher used to make a big difference back when I was seven. So I kept fidgeting, my mind darting back and forth between the two opposites and my eyes staring at my slippers, examining the crooks that my grandmother’s tight knitting had made. I think we’d decided as group (or had they decided and I went along?) that we would riot: demand that next year our parents allow us to attend the annual Plessisville Deaf and Dumb People’s Christmas Party. In our little gob-sacked minds, it was the event the year. The event that we were never allowed to go to, even though we knew that other children were. There was a kid that sat down two rows from Gaby in class, and two years ago she had found out that he went to the party with his parents (his mom was deaf) every year. After that we developed a fascination quite akin to the fascination we all had with ant colonies, and we absolutely had to go to the party.
I had grown a bit taller since, but I now wished I was back home, stroking my face against Grandpa’s wooly, scratchy sweater. Instead I was rubbing it against the unwelcoming softness of my winter scarf.
“Charlie, this is all your fault!” Sacha wailed, his hands pushing away at the corner of his wet eyes. He sniffled a bit, leaning into me as I pulled him, rubbing his arms to create some sort of heat.
“Oh stop complaining, you crybaby, you know you wanted to come to this party as much as we all did.” Simon-Louis said, annoyed at the youngest cousin who it seemed was always in the need of their care.
“Stop it. He’s just cold.” It was hard not to defend my brother when his big brown eyes were staring back at me through strands of brown hair. He smiled that awkward, childish smile of his. “It doesn’t really matter anyway. We’re all at fault here.”
“Odre’s right, we all wanted to come to this stupid party,” said Gaby.
“I want to go inside.” Sacha wailed. The rest of us gave him one of those quick looks that don’t need a response and he quivered and backed away. “I want Mom.” Charlie and Simon-Louis sighed and rolled their eyes simultaneously.
“Come on.” I pulled Sacha aside, not sure whether he was shaking or shivering. “We can go back closer to the cottage if you want. Like that Mom and Dad will see us if they come out.” He nodded and I gave him another smile, grabbed his hand and steered him back towards the direction of the loud, resonating music. We found a picnic table and using the waterproof side of my jacketed arm I brushed the snow aside. I sat down, pulling Sacha onto my lap.
“I can sit by myself.”
“Your snow pants are thinner than mine… you know you’ll get cold in no time if you sit on the picnic table.”
“Okay.” It was a soft answer, but he settled himself into my lap. We fell into a comfortable silence, yawning and shivering once in a while as the roar of the music became a habitual hum. The trees behind us whistled in the distance and I was momentarily happy: at least I could somewhat hear them. “Odre?” Sacha whispered from under my chin.
“Next Christmas, can we ask Mom and Dad if we can stay behind and not come to the party?”
“Hey, look! It’s Dad!” Sacha leaped up and jumped up and down, pointing one finger at a shadow that was coming towards us. I stood up too, wiping the snow off my snow pants and letting out a shiver. It travelled from my toes to my forehead, sending a swift jolt of warmth through my body. Sacha ran towards Dad, jumping into his outstretched arms with a loud giggle. I dragged my feet behind, trying to look like the mature older sister compared to Sacha. By the time I got there Sacha had forgotten his giddiness and he was enveloped in Dad’s arms, sniffling. “…don’t like it here.” I caught the snippet of their conversation as I reached Dad’s side.
“I told you guys…” he replied, giving me a tender smile as a welcome.
“We know Dad, we know.”
“It’s too loud.” Another sniffle from Sacha.
“We shouldn’t have doubted you.”
“Simon-Louis was bullying me.”
“Wow. He’s tired.”
“Yeah, he’s been cuddly and crying all night.”
“Sacha… would you want to go to bed now?” Sacha nodded, but then crunched up his nose, looking back at the noisy cottage. “Don’t worry, you won’t have to sleep with the music being too too loud.” He pulled out a couple of small, weird-looking, colourful cylinders. “Here,” he took one and put Sacha’s tuque aside, inserting the wax into his ear so that it took the right form. “Wax earplugs… they block out enough. Odre, put yours in.” He handed me two hot pink pieces and I went ahead with the task, shivering when my ears touched the cold air. Once we were all set he put Sacha back on the ground and signed to me to get back into the cottage with him. I took my brother’s hand and we trudged through the snow, the building in front of us not so menacing anymore. Looking back, I could see Dad handing out earplugs to the rest of my cousins.
“Thanks.” He signed and then clenched my hand softly. I smiled. We went inside.