art by Melissa Mead
This Always Happens Here
by Richard Larson
Tommy is a boy who lives inside a snow globe.
When you shake the snow globe, Tommy's arms fly into the air and he spins around, laughing. His parents refer to this as his job--the requirement for living inside the snow globe, where life is perpetually wonderful. "When someone shakes the snow globe," they told him when he was younger, "your arms must fly into the air and you must spin around, laughing."
But while Tommy may be laughing, he isn't happy. At least not always. Tommy is secretly in love with the uniformed man who works for the train station at the other end of the snow globe. The uniformed man directs you to your seat if you can't find it, or if you're pretending you can't find it so that you can enlist the help of the handsome uniformed man. This is what Tommy always does, fumbling for the ticket in his pocket even though he knows exactly where to find his seat, because it's always the same seat. Tommy is only truly happy with the uniformed man's hand in his, hoisting Tommy into the train and waving goodbye as the train heads back to the other end of the snow globe.
The snow globe has a clearing, a cottage, a decorated pine tree, and a train station. Tommy is standing in his usual spot in the clearing when Sarah, the girl who lives in the cottage, pokes her head out of her kitchen window. "Hi, Tommy," she says.
For the longest time, Tommy didn't know anyone even lived in the cottage. He doesn't know what Sarah's job is, because even when someone shakes the snow globe, she just stays inside the cottage. It probably doesn't even snow in cottages. And if he raised his arms into the air inside a cottage, he would probably scrape the ceiling. What if someone shook the snow globe at the wrong time? What if he wasn't ready?
"It's not snowing," says Sarah. "What do you do when it's not snowing?"
Tommy usually just thinks about the uniformed man. He waits impatiently for the next time he's able to take the train. "I look at the sky," says Tommy, only telling Sarah part of the truth. "I practice raising my arms into the air and spinning around, laughing."
"Oh," says Sarah. She slips back inside the cottage. Tommy hears a frantic clanging of pots. Then her head is back in the window. "Would you like some soup?" she asks.
The soup has carrots, which are Tommy's favorite. Tommy eats the soup and Sarah asks questions like whether he likes his job and how long he's been in the snow globe. But Tommy can't remember not being in the snow globe. "A while," he says.
"Do you ever think of leaving the snow globe?" asks Sarah. She watches Tommy eat the soup, her hands folded patiently on the windowsill. "Even for a little while? Sometimes I get sick of always making the same old soup."
Tommy suddenly drops his bowl of soup into the snow. He looks around to make sure no one heard what Sarah said. His appetite is completely gone; an unsettling feeling has filled his stomach, leaving no more room for soup.
He asks, "Why would you want to leave the snow globe?" But he knows the answer. He has seen it in the faces of the people shaking the snow globe. Those people would know what to say to the uniformed man, while Tommy doesn't know what to say at all. All he can do is keep doing his job--keep taking the train across the snow globe and keep coming back home to the clearing to raise his arms into the air, spin around, and laugh.
The uniformed man watches Tommy approach, and he breaks into a smile when Tommy is near enough to notice. "Tommy boy," he says affectionately. "Where are you off to today?"
Tommy feels instantly warm inside as soon as he sees the uniformed man, even though he has misplaced his scarf and the wind is a sheet of pressure pushing him forever backward. He is carrying brightly wrapped packages of holiday gifts that he's supposed to bring back to his parents. Always the same packages. "Oh, the usual," he says.
The uniformed man laughs like this is a funny joke, and he automatically takes Tommy by the hand because this is what he always does. "Let me see your ticket, young man. We'll find where you need to go."
There are so many things Tommy would like to say to the uniformed man. Where is he from? Does he like it here in the snow globe? What would he rather be doing instead of helping people find their seats on the train? But when it comes time for the uniformed man to hoist Tommy into the train car and wave goodbye, all Tommy can do is wave back weakly as the uniformed man becomes smaller and smaller in the distance, the train winding the bend around the lavishly decorated pine tree. Then the uniformed man is gone again.
"Why so glum?" asks Tommy's father as Tommy arrives in the clearing. Tommy drops the brightly wrapped boxes on the ground in the clearing and his mother begins to open them slowly, giggling and clutching them to her chest, which is her job in the snow globe. She always giggles the same way.
"I'm not glum," says Tommy, stomping through the snow to his spot by the tree.
His father's job is to stand next to Tommy with his hand resting protectively on his son's shoulder, telling him about all the important things that a man must know in order to succeed in the world. Both of them look off now into the impossibly expansive white distance. "You look glum," says his father, his hand resting on Tommy's shoulder.
"Have you always lived in the snow globe?" asks Tommy. "Do you like it here? Where did you meet mom? How did you first tell her that you loved her?"
The words fall out of Tommy like lumpy snowflakes tumbling too fast through the air. But his father is unfazed. "We do our jobs well and we have a good life," he says. Then Tommy's father sighs now like he is about to transfer a heavy burden. "I met your mother when she was just a girl, in another snow globe," he says. "Her job was to hang laundry outside in the freezing cold, wearing only rags, while the rich family in the mansion next to her warmed themselves by a fire. That was no life for a woman like her. Look how she giggles now! All these presents!"
They both look over at Tommy's mother for a moment, her face a mask of childlike wonder. Tommy can't imagine that she ever hung laundry while wearing only rags.
"How did you save her?" asks Tommy.
"Well," says his father slowly. "I broke the snow globe."