The Grief of Christmas and Ymir

Danielle Shandiin Emerson | Fiction

Walks never eased her mind, but they relaxed her body. Ymir focused on the dirt beneath her feet, weeds brushing past her legs. The soft crunch of dry dirt against her toes and the sound of dogs barking in the distance. One of the smaller dogs liked to follow her. Its creamy coat tailed at her heel. She was never much of a dog person, but Ymir didn’t mind the extra company. If anyone asked, she would instantly deny comradery.

When she was a baby, no more than a month old, Ymir used to lay her head down on the warm stomach of their cat. Having just given birth to kittens a few weeks prior, the mother cat graciously welcomed another soft head to cradle. Ymir didn’t know what happened to that cat. She knew her dad had pictures somewhere, hidden in drawers or perhaps behind worn cork boards. But Ymir was always too scared to ask. And her mother didn’t like talking about that life. That’s what she called it, that life.

Her father wasn’t a bad man. As far as she knew, he didn’t do anything with the
malicious intent to be ‘bad.’ But if Ymir had to describe him, she’d mutter he was a complicated one. Ymir didn’t know the exact details; everything wasn’t laid out for her. There was no debriefing or mother-daughter meeting, not that Ymir ever expected one. But eavesdropping on ‘adult’ conversations, resting her right ear against the thin, trailer walls, she understood her father had ‘unresolved childhood traumas.’ At ten, Ymir had no idea what that meant.

She just knew that her father hated slammed doors. Ymir turned the handle before pulling the door shut softly, using the pad of her thumb as an extra precaution. That he hated the smell of burnt food. He kept repeating how much he’d like ‘to come home to a warm, cooked meal,’ despite never leaving the house, or after a month’s worth of homecooked meals. That he kept the blinds closed, warning Ymir of an invisible watcher—who, for the first few years, she believed existed, until her mother slapped Ymir across the face in the school restroom; punishment for spreading ‘lies’ to her nosey homeroom teacher. And that he spent most of his time in the garage. Hair, matted to his forehead with sweat during the summer, turned greasy after days without showering; cheeks bright red, breath visible, like smoke in the crisp winter air.

Ymir’s mother worked long hours. She left early in the morning, sun still slumbering, and returned home hours after dark. Her car tires scraped against gravel, disrupting the 2-a.m stillness. The sound always woke Ymir. She’d crawl toward the window, pull back the dark curtains, and peek an eye out. Headlights blinding as the car pulled into their driveway. Ymir watched her mother step out. She’d listen to the door handle jiggle through the wall. She’d count her mother’s footsteps, pausing as she slipped off her shoes, then turning into the bedroom down the hall. There was always a pause, followed by a tired sigh when Ymir’s mother realized her father wasn’t in bed. Some nights she’d visit the garage herself, and poke and prod until he followed her into their room. Lately, her mother simply closed the door and turned the lock with a sharp click.

That sound indicated it was Ymir’s job to make sure her father didn’t freeze to death or catch heat stroke. She hated walking into the garage. The acrid stench of gas station beer, crumpled cigarette smoke, and rotting household trash always made her feel sticky. Ymir poked her head in. Sometimes, it was easy; all Ymir had to do was ask if he was tired, and after a brief pause, he’d nod and collapse on the living room couch. Very rarely was it difficult; he’d invite Ymir to sit with him, patting a chipped Blue Bird flour bucket. Past experiences told her not to ignore him. So reluctantly, Ymir would close the door, grimacing as she stepped around spilt puddles of beer, sweat, and crushed cockroaches.

Her father liked to talk about his mother. From the stories he’d share, Ymir assumed she was a kind woman. His mother was a painter. She and her husband would attend small art shows. They’d tug along their son, a toddler at the time with two older siblings. All five of them traveled across New Mexico and Arizona, packed in an old gray truck. Ymir would let him talk for about thirty-minutes, before asking again if he was tired. If her father said no, she’d let him talk for another thirty-minutes before telling him she was tired. If timed right, a concerned look, furrowed brows, and pressed lips flooded his face. He’d apologize, stand, and let himself be guided back inside. Any irritation—impatience, disdain, anger—Ymir felt before entering the garage always seemed to vanish. Her father suddenly looked helpless, fragile. Something told her, if she gave up on him, he’d have no one left to lead him out of the garage.

Guilt, clumpy and uncomfortable, stuck to the inside of Ymir’s throat. The memory left a sour taste in her mouth. A sharp pain cut across her chest; tightening, twisting into a heavy knot. Ymir knew what was happening. She forced her breathing to slow, turning her attention towards the trees. Ymir listened as the wind shook the leaves. She listened to the birds chirp on the powerlines above. The dog brushed against her pant leg, and Ymir attempted to swat it away. It circled her, indignant; its paws kicking up dirt. Eventually, Ymir found herself focusing on the sound of the dog’s feet. It pittered-and-pattered against the dirt road, gradually turning into a steady rhythm. Strangely, Ymir found comfort in its simplicity. She did her best to match the dog’s pace. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, inhale. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, exhale. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, inhale. Pitter-patter, pitter-patter, exhale.

The dog laid down beside her feet. She continued counting. Her breathing slowed. Ymir felt the sun against her back, its heated palms grounding. She sighed as a breeze brushed past the loose hairs near her neck. Creamy—she decided to name the dog after its coat—licked shyly at her sneakers. They made eye contact.

“Thanks, I guess.” Ymir said. “But this doesn’t mean we’re friends.”

Creamy raised one side of his mouth in a lopsided smile. Ymir felt like he was teasing her. “I wouldn’t get cocky if I were you.”

Creamy kept smiling. He followed her the rest of the way, only turning back when the dirt road met the highway.


Chris spent every summer with her masaní. Her parents worked long hours at the University of New Mexico hospital in Albuquerque. This was a four-hour drive from the Yazzie farmland. The drive down was quiet, neither of Chris’ parents said anything. They all seemed preoccupied, watching juniper bushes and orange speckled mesas pass by their window.

The trip was a sudden decision. It wasn’t good for Chris to be alone. Three months of silence after nearly two weeks of grieving. So, her parents decided she was better off helping her grandmother tend to the farm.

It’s not like Chris hated her grandmother’s farm. And she certainly didn’t miss the city. City concrete felt too cramped. Though the land was flat, she couldn’t see beyond the arched crisscrossing highways and towering block-buildings. Being in Fruitland felt so much better than being in Bernalillo or downtown Albuquerque. But, since Chris transferred to a school in the city, she didn’t know any of the kids near the farm. Sure, Chris had her cousins and friends of her cousins, but they were far from close.

She remembered growing up with four of them. The two older ones, now fully-grown adults, didn’t hang around the house much. And if they did, it was reluctantly to babysit. Before Chris’s parents started working in the city a few years back, they all used to live here. Squashed together in the backroom of her masaní’s gray trailer. Three bedrooms—one for her grandparents, one for her two older cousins, and one for Chris and her parents. The rooms were small, their queen-sized bed in the corner barely left any walking space between the door and the closet. Chris slept in between her parents, curled into a tight ball, resting the flat of her forehead against her mother’s chest. In the middle of the night, Chris listened to her cousins sneak in and out of the trailer. The hallway floor creaked and groaned, worn and covered with dollar store welcome mats. At the time, Chris might’ve looked down on it all. ‘It’ being the farm. Fruitland. Her family, and perhaps even her childhood.

It might’ve been small. It might’ve been loud. It might’ve been dusty, sweaty, dry, flat, tiring, simple, and, at times, itchy. But it was also lively, colorful, bright, warm, open, earthy, fresh, and, almost always, comforting. The emptiness Chris felt—a pair of heavy hands on her shoulders—was never, in all her memories, felt here.

Chris couldn’t ignore the knot in her throat. As she stepped outside, the feeling of wholeness, or perhaps, content, failed to find its home at the base of her stomach. The delicious, earthy smell of wet dirt. The light press of heat on her cheeks. The chirps of wild birds, hanging around the power lines and trees. Chris wanted to feel better. Her parents and her grandmother wanted Chris to feel better. But everything still felt empty. A bit clear headed, and a bit warmer, but still empty.

“March loved the farm.” Chris’s grandmother took her hand, “He’ll find his way back.” Despite her hopeful words, the touch felt cold. She wanted to pull away. Instead, Chris forced herself to lean in. She knew her grandmother didn’t mean March, alive and well, would return. She meant March’s spirit, dead and out of reach, would seek rest at home; where the smoke of his belongings would guide him. But March deserved more than that.

“He’s out there.” Chris said. “He’s not gone.”

The birds suddenly went quiet. “You’re right, yazhí.” Her grandmother said, “He’s not gone. But you still have to step away.”

Dried weeds danced in the wind, wrapped in a small twister. Stray cars sped across the highway. Their engines sputtering alongside bugs and dogs. Water babbled, murmuring soft whispers as it flowed along the ditch bank. Nobody looked for March anymore. Because nobody believed he was still alive—nobody who could help that is. Chris felt like they all left him behind. And the world had the fucking nerve to carry on.

“You have to burn his stuff.” Her grandmother said, tightening her grip. “I know it’s hard. But it’s not good to hang onto those things. Your parents helped bring them?”

“Yeah,” Chris allowed herself to be led back in the house. “They’re in those boxes.”

Her grandmother smiled softly, “If your parents could be here, they would. But you’re still not doing this alone.”

Chris bit back a retort, settling instead for a slow nod, “Right.”


The morning after Ymir’s mother ran away, her first thought wasn’t ‘why did she leave?’ It was ‘why didn’t she take me with her?’ Her mother was always home late, so Ymir didn’t think much of it when—close to 1 a.m.—she checked outside and saw the driveway empty. She also didn’t worry when, later the next morning, she checked her parent’s bedroom and noticed her purse and car keys were still missing. She worked long hours; it was commonplace for Ymir to miss her in the morning. It wasn’t until Ymir returned from school, with groceries for dinner, and found yesterday’s leftovers untouched, that she felt something was off.

Ymir waited all night. She sat up by her window, jumping at any car that passed. She could hear her father in the garage. His beat-up radio playing old Christmas songs. Though it was early November, their family found solace in holiday music. If she listened closely, Ymir could hear a low gruff voice singing along. And above all this bustle you hear, silver bells, silver bells, It’s Christmas time in the city.

Her father didn’t know the lyrics very well, so he repeated the chorus. Silver bells, silver bells, soon it will be Christmas day.

Ymir thought it was very fitting, her mother disappearing with her favorite Christmas song playing in the background. The cold from the window sent shivers down her spine. The cold followed her into the next morning. She didn’t know if her father ever came in from the garage. Ymir didn’t know if he made it to his bedroom or if he collapsed on the couch. But as the sun rose, casting a wide ray of light across her bedroom floor, Ymir knew, without looking, that the driveway was empty.

Her father forgot to turn off the radio. Ymir laid her head back against the window, the frost seemed to collect at the base of her neck. She didn’t have a favorite Christmas song, like her mother did, but she did favor a couple. And so, I’m offering this simple phrase to kids from one to ninety-two, although it’s been said, many times many ways, Merry Christmas to you. Ymir sang along softly, though like her father, she didn’t know all of the lyrics. She mumbled something along the lines of singing Yule tide carols, wide-eyed tiny-tots, and Santa. Ymir wasn’t that close to her mother, but she loved listening to her sing during the holidays. Whatever Christmas song played on the radio Ymir’s mother almost always knew the lyrics. Her mother typically worked Christmas day. But all throughout December, she’d sing while getting ready in the morning.

If Ymir had to pick, she’d choose ‘The Christmas Song;’ the one Nat King Cole sang. The radio said they played songs randomly, but their playlist was nothing but consistent. First, around 5 a.m., it was ‘The Carol of the Bells,’ her mother hummed along to that one. Then the Carpenter’s ‘Silent Night;’ that one usually lulled Ymir back to sleep. At 6 a.m., Ymir’s alarm would go off, and she’d climb out of bed reluctantly. By this point, she’d hear her mother harmonizing with Nat King Cole; They know that Santa’s on his way, he’s loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh. Ymir and her mother weren’t close; They struggled to communicate, they refused to share their true feelings, and they often ignored her father’s decreasing health conditions. But those early December mornings, while her mother slipped on her shoes and tied back her hair, Ymir sang with her—quietly, discreetly. “Although it’s been said many times many ways, Merry Christmas to you.” In that moment, whether her mother knew it or not, Ymir felt connected—for just a few seconds.

Ymir didn’t feel like crying. She wasn’t sure if she felt disappointed or hurt or lost. The empty driveway didn’t seem that surprising anymore. If Ymir really thought about it, the untouched food in the fridge and the missing shoes seemed inevitable. In fact, Ymir sitting here by herself, her back damp from the cold window, and voice shaky as the song came to a close, felt inevitable. The cold Ymir felt to her core seemed fated, perhaps destined. She might not have noticed it, but Ymir wondered how long exactly had she felt this cold? And how much longer should she expect to be like this.


Christmas and March were a lively pair. Which their parents didn’t expect, considering the circumstances of each of their births. Chris wasn’t expected until early May. That’s what the doctors said, “Your daughter will be a spring baby.” But their mother’s health suddenly declined, and, as May neared, the doctors worried for Chris’s life. Years later, her birth was described as difficult by her parents. Though they recalled it fondly now, Chris knew the story.

The doctors pulled her parents aside and said she only had a couple of months to live. Chris’s father shook his head, “How—? My wife is in perfect health.” Her parents took each other’s hands. The doctor offered a consoling look, clasping his own hands against his clipboard. Her mother noticed the callouses, lining the sides of his fingers, whitening at the tips. Together, she and her father wondered if his hands were cold—or if they were still warm from the blood of the delivery, the procedure conducted no more than two hours ago. Chris could hear her father’s voice, deep and serious as he retold the tale—many times before—over dinner, “Your daughter might have a chance.’ The doctor said, ‘If she makes it past the spring, through the fall, and into the winter.”

What they understood was this—if their daughter made it to December, she’d grow and live a full life; a long existence into the new year, and each following holiday season. So, while surrounded by beeping machines, a faltering air conditioner, and the sharp click-clack of sleek hospital shoes, Chris’s parents cradled her close. The question of the doctor’s cold hands forgotten and decided to speak her survival into existence. Each felt the warmth of the other, the smell of the hospital room turned muddy, no longer sharp and nauseating; losing the sting of disinfectant. In strong voices, the Yazzie family named her Christmas Mae Yazzie.

Chris hated repeating the story almost as much as she hated hearing it told. Sure, she was a miracle child. And yes, Chris could never express enough gratitude towards the hospital staff or whatever higher-being granted her special attention. But everything else about her name was a nuisance. Each new school year, her teachers always paused in the middle of morning roll call to ask the obvious question, ‘Christmas? Where’d your parents get that name?’ Chris hated being the center of attention. The first few years, she told the story reluctantly. Shortening it to, ‘I was born sick, but the doctors said if I made it past the winter, I’d survive. So, my parents named me Christmas.’ And then, ‘I wasn’t expected to live past the winter, but my parents had hope and named me Christmas.’ Soon, becoming, ‘Christmas is important to my parents.’ And finally settling at, ‘It’s their favorite holiday.’

In fifth grade, Chris remembered Mrs. Blackwater’s face, while reading through the class roster, contorting with confusion, disbelief, then amusement. “Christmas Yazzie?” She called.

Chris raised her hand, “Here.”

“Your name, is there a story?”

The rest of the class peered at her curiously. Chris refused to meet any of their eyes. She looked at Mrs. Blackwater and drew a tight smile, “No. It’s just my parent’s favorite holiday.”

Mrs. Blackwater nodded, “I’m sure there’s an interesting story, you should ask your parents.” She turned her attention back to the computer, making a couple of quick clicks with her mouse.

“I go by Chris.” The clicking stopped. Mrs. Blackwater tilted her head, looking over her glasses at Chris. “Christmas is what my parents call me.”

Mrs. Blackwater smiled, “Whatever you say, yazh.” A sudden realization, a mischievous glint reflected over her glasses, “Aoo’, Késhmish yazhí.”

A couple of students snickered. Chris didn’t know what was funny. She looked around at the other students. Her confusion must have shown on her face, because Mrs. Blackwater asked, “Ní Diné Bizaad k’éji?”

Chris shook her head and shrugged, “I don’t—”

“Your name. It’s similar to Késhmish yazhí. Little Christmas—or Thanksgiving.”


“It’s just funny.”


Mrs. Blackwater carried on with rollcall. In the back of her mind, Chris could hear names being called over the blood rushing in her ears. She knew no one cared, not really. But being put on the spot like that, being stared at, talked about, Chris’s heart hammered till lunchtime. During recess, a group of kids jokingly called her Késhmish. She simply forced a smile and walked away.

It wasn’t until school let out, that Chris noticed three students were absent: a Koby Clyde, an Elizabeth Tsosie, and a Ymir Bekis-Begaye. Koby and Elizabeth showed up the next day. But Ymir didn’t come to school for a while. Chris didn’t know her, but soon it was hard for anyone to completely ignore the empty desk near the front. And if Ymir wasn’t absent, she was always late. Shuffling into class at the last minute, or timidly knocking at the door twenty minutes after morning roll call.

Chris was known by her peers as Késhmish, just as Ymir was known for her cryptic, tardy nature.


Her father was eventually questioned by the local police. Ymir’s mother had an older sister, an aunt she’d never met. They came a couple weeks after, brandishing old badges and notepads. That morning, Ymir’s father passed out on the couch. He lumbered his way out of the garage and settled comfortably between two pillows. She was just about to wake him. Even in his hungover state, Ymir felt safer walking to the bus stop at nearly 6 a.m. with him.

Their doorbell disturbed them both. Ymir slipped on a jacket and open the door, just enough to peek an eye out. The men looked old, time seemed to pull at their eyelids, stretching the skin on their face. They wore faded Navajo Nation Police uniforms. The patches on their right arms were peeling slightly, the stitching coming undone in certain places. One had old wire-ring glasses. The end pieces looked broken, barely held together with green duct tape. The other had grey hair, though you could tell he dyed it. The roots looked white in the morning sun. Both officers shared a quick look before displaying their badges. “Is this Eleanor Bekis-Begay’s home?”

Ymir frowned at the name; it sat uncomfortably in her mouth. Eleanor. She hadn’t heard her mother’s name spoken in months, maybe years—she was always mom, or honey, or dear, never Eleanor.

“Kid, is your father home?” The other policeman asked, adjusting his glasses. He
shuffled his feet, clearly restless. The other office glanced behind her.

Ymir considered lying. Maybe claiming he was at work or visiting a family member. Or out looking for work with a family member. But the officers looked intimidating, calloused. If Ymir lied, they might not take it lightly. She cleared her throat, “Yeah, he’s here.”

“May we speak to him?” The officer with white roots stepped forward, “It’s important.”

Ymir doubted they’d listen if she said no. “Sure. I’ll go get him.” Before Ymir could
close the door, they both caught it, “We’d like to be invited inside to speak with Mr. Begaye, if you don’t mind.”

They didn’t wait for response. Ymir nearly collapsed backward with the amount of force they used to push past her. She watched helplessly as they tore into their living room. “Mr. Begaye,” the officer with glasses spotted his sleeping form on the couch. “Mr. Begaye,” he attempted shaking him awake, “I’m with the Navajo Nation Police. We’d like to take you in for questioning.”

Ymir’s father grumbled a string of incoherent words. The officer with white roots sat him upright, “Mr. Begaye, we need you and your daughter to come with us.”

“He didn’t do anything,” Ymir spoke up, tears threatening to spill. “My mom just ran away. The car’s gone. We don’t know anything.” The officers shared another look, a longer one. Ymir wasn’t a proud child, nowhere near confident or arrogant. But even she hated how heavy their eyes looked, brimming with lackluster pity towards a thirteen-year-old girl. White roots placed a hand on her shoulder. It took everything in Ymir not to shake it off—not to bite it.

“We still need both of you to come with us. Your aunt, Ms. Nanabah Bekis, is worried about you and your mother.”

“My aunt—?” Ymir couldn’t hide the surprise in her voice. “My mother never—they never talked about her.”

Ymir’s father finally garnered a bit of sense. He swayed on his feet, as the officer with glasses helped him stand up. He mumbled something along the lines of it being too early for the law, how he didn’t drink that much last night, and ‘Ymir, make sure to have dinner ready when we get back.’ They all ignored him. Ymir watched as they loaded him in the car, only cuffing his hands after he tried swatting one of their faces, claiming he saw bugs. Though Ymir wore a heavy jacket, long sleeves, and thick socks underneath her pants, she still felt cold. It reminded her of that morning. The cold that crept slowly up her neck. The cold that still bit at Ymir’s toes and fingertips in the middle of the night. The cold that came with knowing—understanding that
she’d never see her mother again.

As white roots walked back to the front door, Ymir looked around their living room. She eyed the clean, unfolded laundry on the couch. Counted the amount of un-shelved books, laying discarded across the kitchen table. She looked in the closet, sorting through the collection of hastily hung jackets and sweaters. There were a couple of photographs pinned to a corkboard by the front window. Ymir quickly stuffed them into her pocket, along with the spare key hanging nearby.

“Ready to go?” White roots nodded towards the cop car. “Your father’s gettin’ restless.”

“Yeah, just let me—” Ymir slipped on her father’s old, knitted hat, a soft gradient of grey and black, before stepping outside and locking the door. She hoped this wasn’t the last time she saw her house. “We’re coming back, right?” Ymir asked, “I’m coming back, right?”

The officer didn’t say anything. He just led her to the vehicle and closed the door behind her. Ymir watched their house slowly disappear. Her father fell back asleep, he leaned heavily against her shoulder; bits of drool wet her jacket. Ymir suddenly felt the clock ticking. Though her father was close, she felt as if it were only a matter of time until he too disappeared.


Chris didn’t think of Ymir much. Nobody really gave her a passing glance. At school, Chris usually hung out with her younger brother, March. They’d sit by themselves at the back of the library. Chris worked on homework while her brother read manga. Every now and then, the school librarian walked by; she’d smile warmly at Chris but frown harshly at March.

It wasn’t a secret. March didn’t like being told what to do. But that’s not what they said. Teachers used the word troublesome. Counselors used at-risk. Their parent’s liked careless.

Teachers remembered March. He was always ‘that kid,’—’that kid who locked himself in the boy’s bathroom, that kid who tried breaking into the school with a baseball bat, that kid who skateboarded in the school parking lot, despite multiple warnings and two suspensions.’ Authority figures hated March, and March hated authority figures. That’s how their small world spun, round and round, year after year. But what teachers, administrators, police, and their parents didn’t see was March’s kindness. His dorky personality. The part of his nose that crinkled before reciting a worn-out joke. No, March wasn’t as bad as people thought. He was Christmas lights in spring, hung all year round. He was ‘Carol of the Bells,’ glut and uncanny to some, but a rhythmic arrangement, intertwined and meant to be appreciated in its entirety to those who listened closely. Chris saw March, and she wanted nothing more than for others to see him too.

So, Chris did everything she could to help him. March struggled with his classes. Chris tutored him afterschool in the library. March hated meeting with the middle school counselor. Chris bought him Hot Fries and 99-cent Arizona Tea on their walk home. March was being harassed by his old father. Chris wanted to drive twenty miles, knock on Mr. Benally’s apartment door, and punch him; but she settled for their parents filing a restraining order. Chris dedicated herself to March. For the two years they’ve known each other, March and Christmas never left each other’s side.


Cream-of-wheat simmered on the stove above a quiet flame, while a modest coffee pot trickled on the counter. Though the kitchen felt more like a bathroom, sink wedged in the corner and two burners crowded on a rectangular stove, it smelt like a small family restaurant. Specks of cinnamon and brown sugar made the air sweet, like honey on Ymir’s nose. She wasn’t used to it—somebody cooking breakfast in the morning. There were too many things in Nanabah’s house that Ymir wasn’t used to. Some were tangible, like her cabinets of food and a variety of detailed dishes, or the car rides to school and into town.

Others were more conceptual—a bit harder to name, but easy to recognize. The first night, Ymir didn’t know where she could sit. She didn’t know anything about Nanabah’s house; what things she could touch, what words she could say, or what sounds and smells she could indulge in. An hour after settling in, Ymir and Nanabah shared soup around the kitchen table, a small wooden square with blocky legs. They parted for the night with few words. There wasn’t an extra room, so Ymir slept on the couch.

Meeting a family member for the first time made Ymir nervous. She quickly realized it’s no better than meeting a complete stranger. Nanabah—An older woman in her late forties, dressed in plain clothes and faded high-tops. Black hair tied back into a thick braid, reading glasses nestled on her head. Nanabah was quiet. Her emotions well contained behind a still face. Unlike her parents, Nanabah felt whole. If she looked under the table, Ymir expected to see roots in place of her aunt’s feet. And if she blinked, cedar branches were definitely going to sprout from her shoulders.

If Ymir is honest, this is the first time she’s felt it, the existence of ‘wholeness.’ She was told ‘wholeness’ and ‘content’ came with a roll of the dice. Though, Ymir’s father called it ‘living comfortable.’ He pulled her aside and said, “Each time you get up in the morning. Each time you slip on your shoes and go to work. Every meal you eat. Every place you visit. Every person you talk to. You’re rollin’ the dice.”

They sat in their driveway; car doors locked. If she remembered correctly, it was nearly 2 a.m. Her father claimed a man had bugged their house and ten-year-old Ymir didn’t know any better.

“You gotta keep rollin’—rollin’ until you’re comfortable. Until you never wanna touch those dice again. Because you’re comfortable. Get it, Ymir? Christ, living comfortable. And that feeling—Jesus, Ymir—that feeling is so much better than the need to have more.”

He claimed comfort blessed only the most fortunate. Those who knew when to roll and when to quit. It all sounded larger than life. His wide eyes and jostled hair. Ymir wanted to believe he was saying something significant, spilling extraordinary thoughts while hiding from a mysterious listener. But Ymir was nine. If her father had recited the rules to Fight Club, she’d still look dumbstruck.

Maybe Nanabah was just lucky. ‘One out of three Native women are sexually assaulted.’ A giant billboard, right at the border of the reservation, posted this statistic in bold letters. A young Native woman, probably in her mid-twenties, stared at drivers with still eyes. Sometimes Ymir wondered if those numbers could be applied broadly—one out of three Native women are happy. One out of three Natives are better. One out of three Natives are whole.


Ymir forced her thoughts aside. She watched as Nanabah poured coffee into two clay mugs, muttering a soft, “Thank you.”


“Just sugar please.”

They didn’t talk much the night before. Ymir couldn’t forget the numb tingling in her throat, legs, and fingertips—all of which had faded into dull morning body aches. After dinner, Nanabah lent her some pajama bottoms and a blue oversized hoodie. They smelt like lavender and black tea bags. Ymir wanted to feel comforted, but the scent made her head dizzy.

“Were you cold last night?” Her aunt asked.

“No.” Ymir sipped at her coffee, “It was warm.”

“That’s good. Here.” She set down a bowel of cream-of-wheat. “There’s honey by the stove.”

“Thank you.” Ymir couldn’t remember that last time she had honey. In fact, Ymir
couldn’t remember the last time she had breakfast—let alone breakfast made for her.

“Your clothes are in the dryer. I was gonna wash your hat too, but you wouldn’t let me take it off you while sleeping.”

Ymir still had her father’s knitted hat pulled over her head. It smelt like cigarette smoke and black pepper. Sweat sat heavy along her bangs, matted to Ymir’s forehead. The rest of her hair drooped past her shoulders. In elementary school, Ymir’s mother liked to brush her hair. It grew past her waist, the ends sleek and straight. She called it beautiful. “Nizhoní. Keep your hair long, Ymir. It’s beautiful like this.” Her mother’s attention felt good. Fingertips gentle against her scalp. Warmth against her back, very nearly hugging. Ymir learned affection was kind and soft and rare. So, she kept her hair long.

But now—tangled and sticky—Ymir felt like cutting it. She considered reaching across the table, plucking the butter knife from her aunt’s napkin. No doubt the dull blade would hurt.

“Want me to wash it tonight?” Nanabah gestured towards the hat. Ymir’s thoughts stepped back in line, watching the knife spread strawberry jam on toast. “There’s a hamper in the bathroom. Go ahead and throw it in there when you shower.”

“Got it.” Ymir said without thinking, “Thank you.”

“You say ‘thanks’ a lot.”


“No—it’s not a bad thing.” Her aunt bit off a corner of toast, a couple of crumbs fell on the table. “Just a little surprising, I guess. Most kids are the other way.”

“Not saying ‘thank you’ enough?”

“More like not saying it at all.” Nanabah sighed. “Then again, most kids didn’t grow up like you, I guess.”

“It’s pretty normal back home.”

Nanabah raised an eyebrow.

“Growing up like ‘this.” Ymir explained.

“No kidding?”

“Had a friend last year who grew up without a father and lost his mother in an accident. ‘Was raised by his aunt. Another was left behind with her mother and two younger siblings. They lived with their grandparents for a while.”

“You talk as if they’re gone.”

“Police came for them, too.”

“Child services?”

Ymir shrugged, “Probably.” She rolled her spoon over, clinking against the bowl. “Guess we’re all that way there.”

Nanabah didn’t say anything for a while. They ate in silence, slurping at spoons and coffee mugs. The occasional clink of metal-against-glass tore at their ears. Nanabah expected Ymir to ask for seconds and maybe more coffee or orange juice. Instead, Ymir stood, asked if Nanabah was finished, took both of their plates, washed them, and thanked her again for the meal.

“Bathroom’s down the hall?” Ymir asked.

“Yeah, to the left. The dryer’s in there, too. Your clothes should be finished soon.”

“Okay. Thank you.”

“Wait—Ymir, how old are you again?”

“I’ll be fourteen in December.”

It was late June. Her aunt nodded. “Right, fourteen in December.” She watched Ymir shrug, as if to say, ‘it’s nothing special,’ then quietly slipped into the hallway. Once Nanabah heard the shower head going, she stood and pulled her phone out of her back pocket. The dialtone burned her ear. After a couple of rings, a heavy man’s voice answered. Nanabah bit her lip, “This is Ms. Nanabah Bekis from the Bekis-Begaye case. Yes—I thought about what you said. Of course, I understand. No, I—I’d like to try for full custody.”


When Ymir disappeared from school, it wasn’t like March and Christmas were too concerned. Nobody really knew Ymir. She’d been attending school in Shiprock since kindergarten, like everyone else in their grade. Teachers didn’t have anything particularly bad or good to say about her. She never failed a class; turned all her work in on time. But refused to get close to her teachers, making as little conversation as possible. Nobody knew what her parents looked like; some people suspected she was in foster care or perhaps homeless.

March and Christmas had heard all the rumors. After home games, they’ve seen her in the parking lot waiting to be picked up. Some people commented on her clothes, ‘old lady,’ ‘dingy,’ ‘too big.’ They weren’t snide comments. They were observations, kept short and whispered. No one made fun of her, bullying wasn’t common. But no one made an effort. Because making an ‘effort’ created pressure. Pressure to talk to her, to engage. Pressure to help. People don’t like to admit to being bystanders. They’ll reason ‘it’s none of their business.’ And they’re not technically wrong. But it made Ymir feel alone.

March knew that feeling, too. He was two years below Christmas and Ymir; they were settling into thirteen, while March was still getting used to eleven. Their age difference wasn’t noticeable. Not because March looked older, but because Christmas looked younger. Her short hair, cut a bit below the ears, sat flat against her head. The ends didn’t curl, they stuck up layered. Even if Christmas brushed her hair, it still looked bushy. Her face was round, cheeks full and nose wide like a river rock. Christmas didn’t look like the oldest. And March took every opportunity to introduce her as shídeezhí— his ‘younger sister.’ Christmas just laughed. She knew March always wanted siblings; a sentiment she understood wholeheartedly.

Before he was Chris’s younger brother, March lived alone with his mother. They shared a small room in a downtown motel. The beds were stiff, and the carpet smelt like mildew. March remembered the showerhead, spitting and sputtering, groaning as water pressure built in the pipes. March didn’t talk much about his past family. But when asked, he’d share anecdotes about the motel. There was a black stray cat, a young couple with a beat-up Ford truck, and a motel manager with long curly hair tied back in a low ponytail. March talked fondly of a group of old ladies who sat round a glass table in the lobby. They wore matching purple hats and carried sequined handbags. March liked to assume they were a baking club. They smelt like burnt sugar cookies—sweet and frosted, tinged with smoke.

Christmas knew March’s stories by heart. March didn’t have a father. And, Christmas didn’t have a mother. They were different together.

Eventually, March’s mother won full custody. A year or two after that, she met
Christmas’ father. ‘Couple months later, they married. March was ten. Christmas was twelve, almost thirteen. The ceremony was small and quick, carried out in a local courthouse. March still called Mr. Yazzie, Mr. Yazzie, and Christmas still called Ms. Yellowman, Ms. Yellowman. Neither could see themselves calling the other anything different. Their parent’s decision felt rushed, and though March and Christmas were grateful for each other, it didn’t take them long to realize something simple: people just don’t want to be alone.

Christmas remembered her first encounter with Ymir. It was a couple months before March and Ms. Yellowman. It was snowing. Though the sun hadn’t yet set, the sky was dark. The school parking-lot lights flickered on and off, confused by the time and weather. Christmas forgot why she stayed after school so late. Maybe it was for sports, she spent a year in middle school playing basketball. Or maybe she was helping out a teacher, most let her stay after-hours to organize books and file graded papers. Whatever the reason, Christmas found herself in the school parking-lot at 6pm.

She noticed a hooded figure waiting nearby, bundled in an oversized jacket, teal knitted scarf wrapped twice around her neck. Christmas pulled out her phone. She typed a quick message—I’m done. You can pick me up now—and hit send. No more than ten seconds later, a low-pitched ding broke the silence—On my way. Christmas slipped her phone back into her pocket and looked up. The hooded figure was staring at her.

They made eye-contact; light brown meeting black. Christmas recognized her immediately. The hooded figure was a girl in her 5th and 8th hour classes. A quiet kid with long braided hair. She had a weird name too, if Christmas remembered correctly. The girl didn’t seem to recognize her. But she looked anxious. Her feet shuffled lightly, sneakers scraping against the cracked concrete. Faint whisps of breath could be seen in the light. It coiled around the girl’s neck like another scarf. Every now and then, a car rushed past, headlights reflecting in the school windows.

Shadows sat comfortably in the crevices of her face. It turned her darks eyes and hair even darker. The girl took a step forward. Bits of snow stuck to her bangs, matting them against her forehead. Her anxious expression seemed permanent—the corner of her lips downturned, jaw tight. The tip of her nose was red, highlighting a slight spatter of freckles along her cheeks. The girl took another step toward Christmas, though this time she was obviously much more hesitant.

Christmas looked away. This girl wanted to talk to her. They’ve never talked before. It’ll definitely be awkward. Christmas wondered if she should say something first, maybe wave or smile at her.

“Sorry, but can I borrow your phone?”

Christmas pretended to be unfazed, “Yeah, sure.” She pulled her phone out of her front pocket and unlocked it. “Do you need to call or text someone?”


“Got it.” Christmas nodded. She pressed the cell icon and handed it over. “Here.”

“Thank you.”

Christmas tried not to stare. The screen lit up the girl’s face, and Christmas realized her eyes weren’t black but grey. She was definitely in a couple of her classes, probably had been since first grade; this was a small town after all. How could she not remember her name?

“Ymir—” A tired voice sighed through the phone, “I’m still at work. Call your dad.”

Christmas also did her best not to eavesdrop. That was a little difficult, considering the eerie silence of the parking-lot. But Ymir—yes, her name was Ymir; definitely weird, just like Christmas’—didn’t seem to care. She talked normally. Voice steady, though her body shook from the cold.

“He’s not answering. It’s snowing and the school’s locked. The office lady just kicked me out—”

“I get off at 8pm on Friday’s. You know this.”

“Don’t you have a break around seven? I can wait till seven.”

“Call your dad again. Please, Ymir—I’m working.”


The line clicked. Christmas wasn’t sure if she should say something. Perhaps it was better to pretend not to have heard their conversation. She should just take back her phone, bid Ymir a good evening, and go home.

“Can call one more time?” Ymir stared down at her shoes, “It’ll be quick.”

It was dark by this point. The sun slipped out of view, turning the sky black. The clouds, still present, hid the stars; only a sliver of the moon could be seen. Christmas wondered why her father was taking so long, “Sure—it’s no problem.”

The dial tone seemed louder this time. Ymir kept watching her shoes. Bits of snow sat along the front of her toes. Christmas slipped her hands back into her pockets, turning over a stray quarter between her fingers. As expected, within a few seconds, an automated voice answered: We’re sorry, the person you’re trying to reach right now is unavailable. To leave a message, please—

Ymir ended the call. She quickly locked the screen and handed it back, ungloved fingers stiff. “Thank you. Sorry, it took so long.”

“It’s fine.” Christmas said. “I—uh, sorry about your whole situation.” She took her phone gingerly, brushing Ymir’s hand; it was practically frozen.

“Thanks. Don’t worry about it.”

Christmas felt like saying more, perhaps even offering to do more. But right as she opened her mouth, dim-headlights suddenly pooled around their feet. A small, tattered car turned into the school driveway, cutting across the near-empty parking lot. Tires against rough asphalt interrupted their inkling of stillness, breaking the soft sheen of ice they’d been tottering on. The car honked once and, through the front window, Christmas saw her father waving sheepishly. She waved back in acknowledgement.

“Your dad?” Ymir asked.

“Yeah,” Christmas shrugged her shoulders, not quite looking at Ymir. “I’ll see ya around, I guess.”

Ymir hummed, “See ya.”

Christmas dusted off her pants and jacket before climbing into the car. The heater welcomed her with a hug; gradually, feeling in her fingers, face, and ears returned. Though, now it stung slightly. Christmas spared a glance at Ymir, expecting to meet eyes again, but her hood obscured her face. She eventually turned away, a hunched figure no longer recognizable. It was dark and it was snowing. Ymir seemed to have mastered blending with the background. Because within seconds, Christmas couldn’t see her.

They pulled out of the school parking lot and onto the road. Houses and trailers swept past their window. Christmas stared, counting the number of lit rooms and empty driveways. She glanced at the clock on the dashboard, 6:34 p.m. Ymir’s mother didn’t get off for another hour and a half.

“Was that your friend?”

Christmas paused, before shaking her head. “No, just someone from school.”

“Ah, right.” Her father nodded slowly, turning onto another two-way road. “Does she have someone coming? Does she need a ride?”

“She has someone. Her dad should be there.” Christmas knew it wasn’t technically a lie, since she didn’t technically know the whole situation. Ymir didn’t tell her anything. And she shouldn’t’ve been eavesdropping in the first place. But there was a dry taste in her mouth.

“Hopefully he gets there soon. It’s freezing.”

“Yeah,” Christmas pulled her phone out, navigating to her call history, “Hopefully.”

An unknown number stared back at her. Before uncertainty could cloud her judgment, Christmas pressed redial. She pulled the phone close against her ear. The same dial-tone echoed. Waiting felt like a sentence, the few seconds before judgment. Christmas wondered how Ymir felt while making these empty calls.

We’re sorry, the person you’re trying to reach right now is unavailable—

Christmas hung up. Her heartbeat slowed, blood no longer rushing against her eardrums. Within minutes, they pulled into their driveway. Her father jumped out, slippers sliding a bit in the snow, to unlock the door. Christmas climbed out of the car and slung her backpack over her shoulder. She thought about Ymir and her frozen hands, praying her father showed up. But even while thinking of Ymir, she reasoned it wasn’t her business. So, Christmas did what she thought was best, and deleted both numbers from her recent calls.


The couch wasn’t as uncomfortable as it looked. The pillows were soft, but firm, which provided great support on her neck. The cushions didn’t stick to her skin or squeak with her movement. They were plush and covered in green fabric. And her blankets weren’t itchy or hot. In fact, the room temperature was nice. Ymir should be able to sleep.

Everything was in place for her to sleep, to kick back and close her eyes. Maybe she’d dream of snow, sprinkled like sugar across their backyard. Or maybe she’d dream of her mother, tall with long hair braided back, standing at the doorway; not grimacing or frowning like she used to, but smiling. Or perhaps, Ymir would dream of her father, fragile and distant; but slowly growing stable, no longer caught in alcohol, eyes clear and focused. Ymir knew her dreams would be happy. Despite everything, she was sure God or whatever higher-being existed, would at least grant her this. But not being able to sleep, while knowing sweet dreams laid beyond closed eyelids, seemed like a new torture in itself.

Staring at the ceiling allowed ‘thoughts.’ Which allowed remembering, welcoming unwanted images, voices, and conversations. A good portion of Ymir’s memory felt static. Fixed at thirteen. The things she did remember came back in flashes, like lightning strikes; bright but practically gone in seconds. Time seemed to move like that, too. One second, she’s showering, the next, she’s eating at the table, scooping up oatmeal and eggs or soggy toast with sausage. The past month moved in fragments.

Ymir didn’t understand the jurisdictional side of everything. The papers she snuck from her aunt’s desk were difficult to read, words liked to loop and linger. While sentences seemed to repeat themselves, but with additional complex vocabulary. But what was explained to her, Ymir understood it as, ‘your-parents-can’t-take-care-off-you-and-you-can’t-take-care-of-yourself-sowe’re-giving-you-to-your-aunt-now-shut-up-about-your-goddam-father.’

Her parents weren’t present at the court hearing. Ymir’s mother had yet to turn up anywhere, and her father was receiving help at an inpatient program closer to the city. They said he couldn’t have visitors or mobility yet, but that they’d call after seeing progress in his wellbeing. He wrote Ymir a letter. It was short and the handwriting was messy, but Ymir kept it close, along with the assortment of pictures she brought from home. She read it every morning before stretching, and every night before bed. Her father wasn’t prone to obvious displays of love and affection. A lot of what he did was coined emotional and psychological abuse in court. And it’s true, there was a lot that she needed to heal from.

But Ymir wanted to push that aside for a moment and focus on the man in the letter. Kind words etched onto a torn piece of notepad paper. Confused and a little frustrated, but somehow still reassuring. He didn’t mention her mother or the imaginary men who watched their house. In a short paragraph, her father wrote about how they chose her name. As a child, her father attended art shows with his family. Both of his parents were sculptures. His two older siblings became painters. He didn’t say much more about his family, just that they traveled with him as kids. Ymir vaguely remembered from their talks in the garage.

Her father used to draw, books filled with incomplete sketches of birds, landscapes, and constellations. It was early in his art career when he met Ymir’s mother. On his own in California at eighteen, with a seventeen-year-old runaway girl named Eleanor. Needless to say, Ymir wasn’t expected. They carried her home in a plain, white blanket. Eleanor didn’t care what name they chose. Though, it was obvious she also didn’t care much about Ymir in general. Doctors said her mother would feel better after a couple of weeks, an expected case of postpartum. So, her father chose to commemorate an old artist friend, Ymir Shandiin. An older, reliable man who opened his home to her father after he emancipated. They lived three years together. Ymir Shandiin was grounded. He liked to help people. He spoke in Diné, encouraging her father to learn more words. He mentored her father’s artwork. Ymir Shandiin was whole; a man who reached the light at the end of the tunnel. And that’s all her father wanted for his daughter.

In slim letters, her father wrote, ‘To me, Ymir means promise.’ In even slimmer letters, he wrote, ‘love you.’

Ymir reached into her jacket pocket, fingers tentative against the fold of photographs. Through an outside porch light from a nearby window, Ymir could vaguely make out a couple of faces. One photo was of her mother, a toddler-aged Ymir on her lap, sitting at their old kitchen table. She looked okay in that one, smiling with both lips pressed tightly against each other. Another, slightly wrinkled in one corner, showed all three of them. Ymir was smaller, less than a year old. Her father looked surprised, eyebrows high on his forehead. It looked like they were at a small art festival, booths lined the edge of the photo. The last one was of her parents, likely before Ymir was born. They were only four and five years older than her in this photo. That thought made her chuckle, though it sounded more like a scant sob.

Her mother’s hair was the same. The photo’s flash reflected off her braids. Her father looked healthier. He probably wasn’t an alcoholic then. She turned the photo over. Written in pen across the back was a date, a place, and their names. Sept. 28th, 1998. Shiprock, NM. Eleanor Bekis and Anthony Begaye.

Ymir sat up, rereading their names. Eleanor Bekis and Anthony Begaye. The carpet felt foreign against her bare feet, and the house’s silence became suffocating. Eleanor Bekis and Anthony Begaye. If she thought about it too hard—their absence—Ymir’s jaw tightened. She knew she needed to cry. Perhaps scream, maybe strike the ground or kick something. But when it was done and the dust settled, Ymir wasn’t sure if she’d feel better.

Underneath the last photo was her father’s letter. Ymir had done her best to keep it in good condition, but even she couldn’t control wrinkles that rose with the slight humidity. She held it in her hands for a second, eyeing the slight bleed through of ink, before collecting the rest of the photos and returning it to her jacket pocket. ‘Promise.’ She leaned back against the couch. Her gaze drifted towards the window. ‘To me, Ymir means promise.’ The fields looked black, draped in shadows. Their porch light barely reached the dirt road. And yet, somehow, a slight glow flickered passed the ditch, stretching into the next few plots of land. Ymir didn’t hesitate to slip on her shoes and grab her phone.

Within seconds, she was outside, using the pad of her thumb to close the door. It’d been a while since her last walk. A cool breeze twisted its hand in her hair, tracing invisible loops and circles. The clear night sky danced, stars practically smiling. Early summer weather treated their farmlands well. Though Nanabah lived in a trailer, neighbors tended to the land around them. Ymir walked along the ditch, kicking pebbles into the water. The glowing figure came from a farm plot near the corner of the road. As she approached, she realized it was a small fire contained in an old metal barrel.

A sudden brush against her legs drew Ymir’s eyes down. In the flame’s light, she could see four legs, each covered in matted cream-colored fur.

“We meet again.”

Creamy wagged his tail, circling her legs excitedly.

“It’s been a while.” She reached to scratch behind his ears, “Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m still a cat person.”

Ymir ruffled his head one last time, before returning her attention to the barrel fire. But as she stepped closer, a pair of startled eyes peered back at her.


It felt strange standing outside with March’s boxed belongings. A part of her expected him to come rushing out the front door, waving his hands, telling Christmas to stop—to not burn his stuff. She could hear his voice, loud and squeaky, cracking between words. A light chuckle burned her lips. Christmas wasn’t sure if she should be laughing or smiling for that matter. She hadn’t done this before.

When Christmas’ mother passed, she could barely support her own head. The day of the ceremony didn’t exist in her memory. Honestly, Christmas was probably the least qualified person to do this. And she knew she should tell her grandmother; shake her shoulder awake, or maybe wait until morning. But Christmas just couldn’t. Call it selfishness and stubbornness; hell, the Holy People are free to look down on her. Christmas knew March was still out there. So, if anyone was going to burn his belongings, it was going to be someone who burned them, not because they thought he was dead, but because he needed help finding his way back.

Her grandmother was right, burning a loved one’s belongings after death helped them find peace at home. Christmas didn’t know whether it worked with the living, but after months of dead ends and unanswered missing persons reports, she was more than willing to try.

Nobody reported a barrel fire out on the rez. With limited dumpsites, both in number and access, burning trash outside was common. Christmas started small. Carefully placing a couple of March’s shoes at the bottom of the barrel, followed by used socks and old t-shirts.

The fire wasn’t big. The flames barely met at her waist. She tucked the matchbox into her hoodie pocket, fingernails scraping against the ignitor. A light wave of heat washed over her face. Warmth pressed its palms along her cheeks and forehead. Glowing embers rose with the smoke, only to dim in the cool breeze. Christmas closed her eyes, listening to the bits of crackling, a language all in its own.

“We meet again.”

Christmas opened her eyes, quickly surveying the area. As far as she could tell, there was no one.

“It’s been a while.”

Of course, it would be Christmas’s luck, that the one night she started a barrel fire, is the exact night her neighbors are looking to report. A shaky breath escaped her lips, as Christmas prepared to apologize.


“—I’m still a cat person.”

Behind the barrel stood a girl. She was affectionately petting the local stray, some dog her grandmother left table scraps for every now and then. If she looked closer, the girl looked familiar. They eventually locked eyes.

“Hi,” Christmas said. “I’ll be done for the night soon. Sorry, if the fire and smoke messes with anything. ‘Didn’t think I’d be doing this so late.”

The girl shrugged, “It’s not bothering me.”

Christmas waited for her to go on. But the girl merely watched the fire, before turning her attention to the stack of boxes nearby. “You’re burning those?”

“Yeah, but not all tonight—”

“Did you lose someone?”

It took a moment for Christmas settle on a response, “Kinda.”

The girl furrowed her brows, no doubt confused.

“They’re not gone.” Christmas said quickly, “They’re just not here, I guess.”

“Where’d they go?” She asked.

“I—” The girl stepped closer, and Christmas instantly recognized her; though, in the fire’s light, she didn’t look as small or fragile. “I don’t know.”

“’Think this’ll bring them back?”

Christmas wondered if Ymir recognized her, too. “No idea.” She suddenly felt the urge to wipe her eyes. The smoke had probably irritated them. “Might as well try.”

Ymir hummed in response. If Christmas were honest, she’d say Ymir looked better. Well-fed and less pale. Whether Ymir believed in the traditional ways was unknown, but she definitely knew the teachings. Christmas wondered if she should say more; ask why she’s outside at two a.m., ask if she’s alright. But Ymir didn’t seem as concerned. If Christmas had to guess, she’d say Ymir looked relieved.

She watched as Ymir reached into her front pocket, pulling out a small collection of photos and a folded piece of paper. Her gaze turned wistful, a soft air of reassurance. Ymir stared at each photo, one by one, before clutching them tight to her chest. It was hard not to be curious.

“Lose someone?” Christmas asked.

“I guess so.”

“They’re not here anymore, either?”

“Yeah,” Ymir flipped one photo over and seemed to read the back to herself, “They’re pretty far.”

“Do you think this’ll bring them back?” Christmas asked.

Ymir took a deep breath before dropping them into the fire. She watched as the photos blackened and crumpled, frayed bits rising with flying embers. “I hope so.” Ymir held onto the folded piece of paper, tucking it away neatly.

They stood in a comfortable silence. The fire reflected in their eyes, heat turning their cheeks slightly pink. It didn’t feel as strange. Christmas appreciated that she wasn’t alone. And she hoped Ymir felt the same way.