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Jens Birk


“We had snow today,” Emil said on the phone from his office in Manhattan. “We had snow,” he repeated. It shouldn’t be so unusual, he remembered thinking to himself. It shouldn’t be. It isn’t, he had to remind himself, surprised for a second, then forgetting.

He didn’t know why he’d mentioned it. It wasn’t important, not anymore. Not now. Telling his father about the snow that day in New York, after what had just happened. But it was the only thing he could think of saying.

It was January, after all. January 15.

His mother’s birthday.


Three weeks earlier, he’d arrived at his cabin on the deserted west coast of Denmark. He would be joining his parents at their nearby beach house, for Christmas eve.

Walking along the frozen beach, his breath had formed a fragile cloud of warm air. It had been a sunny day, the snow in the night having blanketed the faded green and sandy areas. A thin layer of ice floated on the sea, breaking in pieces along the poles of the pier, its planks disassembled for winter.

His mother had finally agreed to Christmas there, although it meant bringing everything from home: decorations, food, gifts. In previous years, she’d refused. She’d wanted him, their only remaining child, to come to their real home. But she’d given in.

He’d wondered why.

Christmas eve dinner: the traditional songs, the tree, the opening of presents, their faces finally giving in to a happiness so rare the rest of the year.

Just the three of them now.

“We’re so old” she’d said, “maybe this is our last Christmas together.” She had stopped believing. He’d seen it, but had wanted to look away.

The waves had managed to break the ice in a few more places. He’d looked at a floating piece of the thin, transparent frozen substance, the sun hitting it and the reflections almost blinding him.

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