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50 Words For Snow: A Short Story

He does not notice the silence; the white blanket being laid carefully on the ground. He is pulling at his hair; he is tapping keys and calculators. He is taxed, life is taxing. In other rooms his children slumber, open mouthed in sleepy wonder. In other rooms a fridge ticks, a TV hums. He counts but cannot make the numbers match.

He doesn’t look up until the silence is louder than his noise. Outside the world is overlaid in alabaster. He thinks of cars. He thinks of black ice. He worries.

Downstairs the dog mews like a cat, paws at the glass, keen to explore this new land. He watches it pad a path round the garden, paint a Jackson Pollock picture with its claws. He hopes the snow will cover his tracks. Hopes his children can see the world like this, pure, innocent. Clean.

A memory then, a younger him, waking up to a sea of silver, his father banging in the shed. The sledge the kind of beauty boys desire before they discover human skin. Wooden curves like a smile.

Now he stands in the open doorway, the snow lands lightly on his hair, on his upturned face.

His head is full of words like cut and end and stop, his open mouth full of snow. Inuit’s have fifty words for it, we only have one. Is that where he went so wrong? Their experience is so much deeper.

That memory again, himself as a boy, dad’s big hands on his skinny shoulders. The squeak of ice on steel. The burn in his calves as he hefts up the hill behind his father. At the top, the whole world shrinking to one single point. Remember son, you can do anything. Sometimes you have to let go to hold one. Trust your instincts. One push then, and he is flying. Around him the colours bleed and the wind whips and his heart is a wide-open goal.

A dressing gown and slippers are no match for the weather, but his hands find the latch to the shed in the garden. His hands move in the dark over lawnmowers and artificial trees and that godawful chair from Aunt Hetty. There! There at the back, his fingers find the shape, remembering.

The street is asleep. The lamps glow orange. Snow drifts and dances in the stripes of light. The sled is as heavy as he remembers. His father no longer here to heft it up the hill for him. His father, who left for work long before his son woke and returned when he was asleep. A man who went without, contained within, his worry, his aches, his mine shaft cancer; yet carved out time for his boy. Carved a sledge out of love and spare parts. Woke him in the moonlight, took him to the top of the world, and taught him how to fly. Where did that boy go? When did he stop wishing for snow?

His father is not here, but the sledge was built to last. The world is asleep, but he is just waking up and tonight is his alone. He pushes off hard and hangs on tight, like his father taught him. The colours fade and the world bleeds, his dressing gown a superhero cape. It is as he lets go that he realises he can hold on. He is his father’s son. He will overcome. The solution comes as he flies instinctively through the night, fifty words for love on his tongue, laughter in his throat, his heart wide open.


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