When It Gets Cold in the South, Only the Pumpernickel Survives by Exodus Oktavia Brownlow

When It Gets Cold in the South, Only the Pumpernickel Survives

Underneath the protection of the night, a sheet of coldness, thicker than homemade grandma quilts, rested easy over Honey, Mississippi.

In the morning, this forced folks who had never experienced such an assault, who had never known of any coldness lower than 40 degrees, to bring their winter coats out of storage.

Many of these folks had mittens too, and as they placed them on their hands, staring at the alien cloth covering them from cuticle to wrist, they decided to call their northern relatives up.

The southerner, “’Cold enough to wear mittens,” claiming proudly.

The northern relative, “And it’s just…cold? That’s it? It’s not even snowing?”

The southerner, defensively, “I had to leave the faucet running all night!”

If you listen closely enough, someone is making biscuits with plenty of butter.

If you listen closely enough, someone is unthawing a frozen turkey from last year, claiming that it’s still some good.

If you listen closely enough, someone is unplugging their ‘frigerator, and setting their food outside, taking advantage of God’s gift.

At the post office, ladies show up in their never before worn faux furs, and men sport vintage leathers given to them from their fathers. At gas stations, people are pumping their trucks, and pouring free pots of coffee into their oversized Burger King cups. At any line of any kind where folks are required to stand, friendly conversations go a little something like this – “It sure is cold today!” Followed by, “ain’t it?”

If you watch closely enough, the panic is not so obvious, but it is there. It is undeniable in the way that the grocery aisles are relieved of all their jugged water, and by how quickly the bread aisles are obliterated. Only the pumpernickel survives.

If you watch closely enough, children at school play at recess, while their teachers watch from the sidelines. Their sweet faces lift up and out into the sky, wondering, and waiting, and watching for the snow to surely come.

Wood for the fireplaces with aged ashes.

No bathing, it’s too cold to bathe, you’ll catch the flu, many mamas claim.

And on the radio, Christmas music to accessorize.

If you listen closely enough, if you watch closely enough, somebody, a much older somebody, talks about a storm from the year 19 something-something.

They talk about how fun the ice on the roads had been.

They talk about the snow ice cream — fresh snow, vanilla flavoring, and a little milk.

They talk about trees, nearly thick as a giant’s leg, snapping from branch to root.

They talk about the pain of the cold, and how even today, their bones still ache.

They talk about how terrible the nights were. About the naked night cuddles beneath many blankets with their siblings, and mamas, and daddies.

They talk about killing the last hog from out back, and beans, and bread, and there being nothing else to eat.

They talk about having no Christmas that winter. Or no school on most days, and no church at all on Sundays.

They talk about the baby who’d been born at the wrong time, who never grew to learn spring.

They talk, but no one truly listens.

No one truly hears the way that the much older somebodies do.

You hear that, the older somebodies say, that ain’t no normal wind.

They watch…

In the corner of a window, in a room that is the warmest in the house, a crack appears. Sweet and soft like a snowflake at first, then suddenly, violently, and all at once, shattering.


When it gets cold in the south


Exodus Oktavia Brownlow is a Cruger, Mississippi native whose writing aesthetic includes purposeful horror, character-driven fiction, and nonfiction writing that aims to create a healthier world for us all. She is a graduate of Mississippi Valley State University with a B.A in English, and Mississippi University for Women with an MFA in Creative Writing. She is published with Electric Literature, Barren Magazine, Anti-Heroin Chic Magazine, Valley Voices, Luna Luna Magazine, X-Ray-Literary Magazine, and more. Exodus has a healthy adoration for the color green.


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Art modified CGP Grey / Rachel Whiteread CC2.0