Reaching one arm from the bathroom window, Mary watches snowflakes lighting on the fine, raised hairs of her skin: they perch for a moment in perilous, lacy wetness before retracting into even more miniscule droplets. The fan rasps its endless breath.
Last night, with the shape of her own breath above her in the silent air, she watched electric lighting coat the underside of every branch with white and brilliant fur. Beside a gnarled trunk a snowman drooped, slumping in submission to the heavy, downward pull of mud. One stone eye and a carrot nose lay buried in the slush; one branched arm was leaning on a soggy heap of earth, the other stretching higher in the gloom- some crazy yoga pose.
A girl stood in the path ahead, catching snowflakes. Dark, soft hair fell against the darker sheen of her jacket, and a cone of light held her where she stood, alone and entirely absorbed in the dancing, swift descent of snow, rising on her toes to catch bright flakes with one extended hand.
Sour lighting leaked from the kitchen window. It crept past Mary’s shoulders from behind, cast a ghostly glow along the belly of the branches, and oozed across the mottled flesh of trees; the crunch of slush and gravel grated in her stomach with each step. A raspy sigh of wind churned the snowflakes overhead, like ashes sucked into a chimney’s throat – stale breath that moans and gasps above a long-dead fire – and Mary saw a sudden vision of her doll: of graying hair she’d braided in the attic, dust motes swirling in cracks of bleached light, little knuckles mottled pink around the knobs of bone. A tangle of protruding veins had crept along her skin like long, blue worms – If I move my fingers, I can make them wriggle – like a spider with a missing leg. She had laid the baby with its empty, staring eyes into a box, shut the wooden lid, and left it sleeping there among the stale smell of books with yellow pages.
Ahead, the set flakes spin white spirals around her arms. “They’re snowflakes,” she said. “You can catch them, look! They’re snowflakes… like in the movies.” So Mary stood and caught them, collecting water drops in rows along the creases of her palm, each flake a forest with a thousand tangled branches. The space between her eyebrows ached from peering; a smile hung tightly from her ears – “Oh! They’re so beautiful.” The girl’s delighted exclamation hovered in their cloud of mingled breath and danced for just a moment with the flakes, drifting slowly dowm, where it tingled in the fringes of cold air around her collar. Mary blinks away the feathered prick of thickly clumping clusters on her eyelids; her palm shone rosy.
Leaning out the window, she watches tendrils twist around her fingers as the steam pours past her shoulders, settling over branches, a cloak of misty gauze; water sputters in the shower like someone sucking on a straw. The snowman has lost its head in the grass, one arm stretched high, the other curving under to the mud – a bow to death, an execution – and branches tremble overhead with silent, mossy laughter, holding back a faded sky. She pulls the window almost shut, leaving one last sliver of cold air, and stands among a torrent of dancing droplets, tracing with one fingertip the clash of temperatures that lingers on her skin.
PHOTO / biggertree