They stood face to face, and after a prolonged moment heard the sound of footfalls coming from behind Ana’s bedroom door.
“You have to go,” she said in a muted tone. She reached for the icy-cold door handle, opened it and, gingerly yet resourcefully, pushed him onto the balcony, saying all the while, “Go back into the darkness. Go now.” The deathless wind transformed the snow into a sandpapery sheet, and once the door was closed, an eerie silence blanketed the room.
Anna crossed the room. “Can I come in?” said the shrilly soprano behind the door.
Having at once recognized the voice she rolled her eyes and said, “Yes, Alexa, come in.”
The door opened slowly and the unwelcomed girl stepped into the cocoonlike room, made her way to the bed, and sat down on the quilted duvet (the one whose colors reminded her of the riotous russet hues of autumn).
Alexa had her sleek black laptop tucked under her arm. “You’re going to do your homework here?” exclaimed Ana, unable to conceal her desperation at the thought that Alexa should choose this evening, the one with an august moon and a frozen boy waiting hopelessly on the balcony, to commandeer her room.
“I have an essay to write. Do you mind if I work here?” said the tall-as-a-skyscraper girl, pushing her hair back and exposing a snow-white ear, the other still sequestered behind a lavish curtain of gold.
“No. I mean why can’t you do that in your room?” asked Ana, her face reddening with an access of fury.
“I don’t want to sit in the dark,” replied Alexa, pausing and then smacking her lips..
“Couldn’t you put the lights on? You’re such a putz,” said Ana incredulously, after which she stood up and started pacing the room like a caged bobcat.
“Don’t ask so many questions–besides you wouldn’t understand,” continued Alexa, well aware that the small but important difference in their age gave her the upper hand in matters of fashion, for one, but primarily in the sanctimonious arena of unassailable logic.
“I hate you,” retorted Ana, stopping directly in front of Alexa and stomping her foot with a thud.
“No wonder you get sent home from school a lot,” said Alexa in the authoritarian tone of a rosy-faced dictator.
Ana was in no mood for vacuous pontifications. “Mind your own business.”
Her elder sister’s long lashes now dithered as she typed on her wafer-thin keyboard, and the silver barrette in her spring-garden hair shone brutishly in the light. “Do the kids at school still tease you? You don’t make it easy on yourself, you know.” The rumor that Ana had made an impolitic remark while at school swirled around the neighborhood like water draining from a bathtub. “You should really learn to hold your tongue,” added Alexa impassively.
“I’m the most popular girl in my class,” chirped Ana.
“In your dreams!” exclaimed Alexa, who lay curled on the bed like a soulless sultana. And with the swing of a malevolent arm she pushed a stuffed rabbit onto the flat weave carpet saying, “You’re fifteen. Why do you have children’s things?” Ana sat silently on a burgundy chaise clutching a soft percale dress that needed mending.
“You know, it’s freezing in here,” said Alexa. “Aren’t you cold?”
“No. But if you’re so cold you can just leave.”
“I told you, I have work to do,” said Alexa with frustration. “And why do you keep looking outside? You’re making me nervous.”
Unaware that she was interposing in her younger sister’s affairs and that, apart from anything else, reading aloud a short passage with the dull intonations of a librarian would only serve to heighten Ana’s belief that the stars, pinpricks in a dark, unmanageable fabric, were actively conspiring against her, Alexa nonetheless persisted in her recitation: “The Eloi are meek artisans that live on fruit and the Morlocks, who live underground, surface on moonless nights to feed on the Eloi.” From a comfortable repose, Alexa slid her feet from the bed onto a dense carmine throw rug. “Where are you going?” asked Ana with growing alarm.
“I’m going to see if there’s a moon out.”
“Don’t you dare,” objected Ana. “I told you there is one. Can’t you see it’s bright out?”
Alexa marched defiantly to the glass door to see the moon for herself. Unseen specks of snow at her feet, whose propinquity to the glass door kept them intact, were improvident and glistening reminders of Ana’s stolid secret.
“You’re right. I see it now, behind a cloud,” said Alexa, returning to the warmth of the bed. From that time on not a word was spoken, and sleep drifted stealthily into the room like a curled puff of smoke, and the insufferable bliss of having been given a magnificent feather was for Ana suspended over a pool of limpid dreams.