By Aaron Murray
Alban McAllister was the first to notice the snow. It was recess, a cold day in that long-ago March when the fat flakes began to fall from the sky.
“Snow!” shouted Alban, and threw himself into the air, swatting at the snowflakes like a cat.
“We should go inside!” Elizabeth said. She was from Florida.
“Catch them on your tongue!” said Monty.
That’s what we did.
We ran, our heads pointed skyward, our mouths open and tongues out. We must have looked like happy fools.
I don’t know what the others were thinking, maybe like most children their heads swam with hopes of candy or the latest toys, dreams of superpowers and online fame. Or maybe they knew exactly what was going on. I do know that I was too focused on the task at hand to think of anything at all.
“I caught one!” Nour cried, her smile wide and victorious.
“Me too!” echoed Dominic.
I added my voice to the chorus. We were a band of brothers and sisters, a conquering army, the champions of the world, and all we had was a few drifting slivers of crystallized ice.
And joy. I suppose we had that, too.
Snow can be light and sharp and bitterly cold, each flake an icy pinprick. But this was not January or February snow. It was March snow. And while the day was cold, it was not bitterly so. Thus, the snowflakes were plump and wet and melted almost immediately as they hit my tongue.
They tasted of nothing at all, as snowflakes always do. How was I to know they were special?
Later, we compared notes.
“I think I caught ten,” said Monty.
“Eighteen!” said Skunk. (This was not his real name, of course, but I am unable to remember anyone calling him anything else. I have a clear memory of playing video games at his house where even his mother called him “Skunk.” Who am I to judge?)
“Forty-one!” said Elizabeth.
We all assumed she was lying, but no one protested. I caught exactly twelve of the snowflakes. I told my friends I caught twenty-three.
Even twelve would have been enough if you think about it.
I think about it a lot.
Looking back, I can’t decide which was more miraculous, that each snowflake granted a wish that day, or that my friends, only fourth graders, spent theirs so wisely.
Alban now has his own television show about the animal rehabilitation center he built for injured lions and tigers and elephants. The show features his wife—a beautiful and successful photographer—and his daughter, Rebecca, who rides the elephants, sings operatically with one of the seals, and plays chess with the bonobos.
There are rumors of other animals on the premises, never caught on camera. A bear with wings. A pair of pandas that communicate in rhyming couplets.
They call Dominic the next Babe Ruth, partly for his success at leading the Red Sox to five straight World Series wins but mostly because he did it with the body of a beer-league softball player.
Monty is a movie star, whose assignations are rivaled only by the acclaim he’s received for his craft. His trademark is his death scenes, so real, some claim, as to be impossible to fake. But of course, he’s always smiling and charming for the next film, putting the lie to any theory beyond special effects and good acting.
Nour became the first person to set foot on the Moon since Gene Cernan in 1972. Conspiracy theorists tell stories of how she strolled and jumped on the surface without her spacesuit, executing Earth-impossible gymnastics. NASA denies it, but also won’t release the footage from the mission.
And of course Elizabeth. If I told you who Elizabeth had become, you would know her immediately. She’s the kind of celebrity who seems able to swim through fame with the ease and joy of a dolphin cutting through the emerald Caribbean. Her fans report a sense of rapture when watching her videos, as though Elizabeth is communing with each of them individually.
Maybe she is.
I can find no information on Skunk. Perhaps with one of his eighteen wishes, he changed his name.
I don’t know whether they understood everything on the day it snowed wishes and simply chose not to tell me, or whether the normal human condition is to continuously make wishes and there is something sad and small and bleak about me.
I don’t know which idea hurts more.
Because if you make no wishes at all, then none of your wishes will come true.