A Girl Builds a Snowman by Ruth Joffre

Her windows smell like ice. Frost like delicate threads of lace embroidered in the glass. It refuses to melt when the dawn hits the panes, like a surprise slap in the face. Her cheeks are flush with heat after a night spent under her mountain of blankets. One by one, she presses them on the cold sheet of glass, pretending she is an alpinist resting on her ascent of a snow-capped peak. She knows even before she turns on the radio that school will be cancelled. A blizzard has descended, hiding the pits and curves in the road, smoothing the curbs until she can’t tell where the sidewalk ends and the backyard begins. Enough snow has accumulated on the windowsill to bury a bird. If she were to leap into the snowbank now, it would swallow her whole. Sometimes she wishes her parents’ bank would get the whole mess over with already, take the house and the yard, stop giving her parents those predatory loans. Life would be simpler then. Smaller, colder.

For once, she wants to be sure of what comes next.

Her parents take turns shoveling the driveway while she eats breakfast in her slippers. No one notices when she dollops peanut butter into her bowl or sneaks a little ginger cookie from the cabinet. Or perhaps no one minds. Nothing matters on a snow day, it seems. Nothing counts. She could while away the hours reading comic books on the floor or making snow angels outside, but come tomorrow the world would be just as still and the day would be just the same: oatmeal in the morning, soup in the afternoon, canned chili for dinner, the flavors identical, all options exact but for minor variations in the bowl being used, the curve of the only clean spoon, the quality of light reflecting off the icicles in the windows. She can do whatever she wants in these periods between meals. Sled down the hill. Throw snowballs at the neighbor kids. Build a snowman and pretend it will never melt.

All of this is extra. A heart over an “i.” A spell that stops time. Why waste it?

After breakfast, she pulls on her winter gear, her waterproof pants, her big puffy coat that makes her look like a walking sleeping bag with teeth. Outside, she cinches the hood so tight, her field of vision narrows to a point, pinching away the extraneous, the prepubescent nuisances who might distract her from her goal. One snowman isn’t enough. She plans to build dozens. Not only men but people of all genders and of no gender, people more properly defined as witches from an ephemeral snow coven that emerges once a year, after the first big snowfall. What do they want? What spells do they whisper into the frozen heart of the cauldron? The girl cannot say. She is just the sculptor tasked with building containers for their magical spirits. She doesn’t understand their ways any more than she understands her parents’ jobs.

What she does know is this: snow is like love—it collects, it drifts. It takes on unexpected shapes reflecting the source of desire, not the object. You could say that the girl has fallen in love with the one witch at her school, but you would be wrong. It would be more accurate to say: love is the only magic sustaining her as she waits for the other shoe to drop. For months, she has been gathering its power in the bottle of her body, storing up magical moments with the witch—a pale afternoon spent panting on the swings; a portrait unit in art class, where she was the artist and the witch the model; the stray lock of hair the witch allowed her to tuck behind an ear. Now, she will draw on that magic to build her miniature coven. Their pointed hats. Their arcane symbols. Their brooms made out of twigs. She thinks they’re perfect just as they are.

 

Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Kenyon ReviewLightspeedPleiades, The Florida Review OnlineFlash Fiction OnlineWigleafBaffling Magazine, and the anthologies Best Microfiction 2021 2022Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales of Insatiable Darkness, and Evergreen: Grim Tales & Verses from the Gloomy Northwest. She lives in Seattle, where she serves as the 2020-2022 Prose Writer-in-Residence at Hugo House.

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