The world was quiet when it snowed. Eugene had come to this conclusion after many days of walking home from the bus stop with his head down, as he watched his light-up sneakers glow bright red against the white frost that covered the grass. He had developed the habit of counting his strides in between the unevenly cut pavement — mainly because counting strides was part of his intrinsic nature, but it was also to pass the time and occupy his mind from the millions of snowflakes that barraged his cold, wind-bitten face. He mastered the time it took to reach the beginning of the catwalk before he heard the rumble and purr of the yellow bus behind him. Before he entered the narrow tunnel, he would inhale the acrid scent of gas that burned his throat and caused his eyes to water, as dozens of cars whizzed by like flies. Today, though, Eugene couldn’t care less about the number of strides in-between the blocks on the sidewalk or whether or not he beat the bus to the mouth of the catwalk.
When his throat dried and itched from the fumes, he thought to himself, “Good. That should stop the humming.”
Eugene didn’t understand why he counted strides or hummed. He also didn’t understand why his small, barely noticeable head-twitches bothered so many of his classmates. He couldn’t help it. It’s not as though he meant to do it; not as if he wanted to purposely aggravate others. If he didn’t hum, twitch, or count strides, an urge so strong would begin to expand from the pit of his stomach, like a balloon being filled with helium, and would grow so big that he felt like he was going to float up and away if he did not satisfy it.
The balloon would deflate back again and the blood that rushed to his head trickled back down into his veins. It provided Eugene with a temporary ecstasy, the feeling of relief that the balloon did not explode on its own. But soon, Eugene would keel over at the feeling of it swelling again. And again. And again. It was an endless cycle of blowing and popping. An endless cycle that Eugene loathed.
Today, Eugene stormed into the catwalk, his sneakers’ flashing red lights that bounced off the surface of crusted ice beneath his feet.
These were Eugene’s indoor shoes; he usually wore his Spiderman boots his mom had given him last Christmas during the winter, but a kid at school had stolen them from his cubby. He had snickered, “Come and get ’em, Twitchy.”
Unaccustomed to the lack of grip the shoes possessed, Eugene slipped on a particularly sheer patch of ice, his chin colliding onto the hard surface as a sharp pain shot up the sides of his jaw. The metallic taste of blood warmed his mouth as he cupped his chin with a trembling hand and heaved himself into a sitting position. He couldn’t hold it in anymore. Tears gushed from his eyes and froze on the tender skin of his face as a wail surged from deep inside his chest. It echoed through the lifeless streets of the neighbourhood. Eugene sat in the middle of the catwalk and wept for what seemed like hours. But not a soul heard.
Slowly but surely, the indignation that Eugene had tirelessly bottled up, day after day, began to dissipate. With each heavy sob, its strength would weaken; the energy flowing out of his body like a gentle river’s current. Then, Eugene began to hum — a soft, rhythmic hum that had to be repeated two times. No more, no less.
At last —
A place Eugene could hum without the sneering glares of the other kids burning into his back. A sudden jerk of his head caught him off guard and caused the now-dull throbbing in his chin to reignite into a frenzy of needle-sharp stings.
Giddy with pain, Eugene giggled at the thought of how silly he must have looked right then: sitting in the middle of the walkway, alone, cupping his bloody chin with his left hand while he twitched and hummed and watched the red light from his sneakers glitter off the ice like a disco ball when he stomped his feet. Suddenly more aware, Eugene realized that the snow, once falling viciously, had calmed; as if it too had let out a storm of emotion that had been brewing inside.
All was quiet now. Although he could still see cars and trucks speeding by when he turned his head, their sounds were lost in the breathtaking silence of the snowfall. Eugene tilted his head towards the grey sky, allowing snowflakes to fall quietly onto his face; cooling his hot, sticky jaw.
He liked when it snowed like this.
Yes, Eugene liked when it snowed like this.
Eugene’s world was quiet when it snowed.