|The Snow Queen, Part One
||[Aug. 3rd, 2011|10:40 am]
Time of the Firebird
I remember the first time I held Jack’s hand.
I am twelve, and he is looking off into the distance, like he always does. I never ask why he does this, because it is something he has always done, since we were small, and when we were small, it never occurred to me to ask, and now I don’t because Jack staring into the distance is as natural as breathing.
I watch him for a long time because I can. His eyes are pale green, and his hair is black. It’s also long because that’s how boys are wearing their hair at the moment, and it looks strange and awkward on him because his face is too square for it.
It’s cold. There’s snow coming, I can tell.
I put my hand in his, because it’s the right thing to do.
‘I’m sorry, Jack,’ I say.
His shoulder’s tense and his eyes seem to suddenly zoom further and further away, further than I’ve ever seen them. But he doesn’t shove me off. He stays still and quiet.
I squease his hand to remind him I’m there, and slowly, his eyes stop searching, almost like watching a camera’s lens retract into its casing. When he’s stopped looking distant, he grips my hand back, and begins to cry.
I kissed Anna for the first time when we were fourteen.
It’s a party, and there are cans and bottles everywhere. Nearly everyone is older than us, and nearly everyone is doped up or high or drunk or something, and out of the corner of my eye, I see my older brother Alec sneaking upstairs with his friend Gwen. They’re going to have sex, there’s no question of it. Her eyes are nervous and excited as she ascends the stairs, and his eyes are hungry as he follows her, fixated on her bum, round and squeased into a pair of leggings that have lost the drawstring, so her white-pink knickers are on show.
I know Anna’s watching them. She looks quiet and disapproving. I take her hand. It’s warm, like a towel that’s been left on a radiator. We go outside.
‘It’s going to snow,’ she says as I roll a cigarette for her.
I don’t say anything. She always knows.
‘Did you like, him then?’ I ask.
She blows a smoke ring and frowns. ‘Like who?’ She looks lovely when she frowns. She has a ski slope nose and big dark eyes that wrinkle when she frowns.
‘Alec,’ I say, when she looks at me looking at her.
She shakes her head in what I think must be incredulous disbelief, and her long dark blonde ponytail swishes. ‘Jack,’ she says, ‘You do talk the most incredible shit.’
I laugh, and relief like you wouldn’t believe washes over me. I’ve been worrying about that for weeks. Months. Years even.
And I’m so relieved that I grab her and kiss her. It’s clumsy. I’m glad I didn’t open my mouth. I’m not prepared for her face when I can bear to look at her again. It’s… serene. Like someone’s lit it up from the inside. Not… happy, exactly – her eyes are wide with shock, and her lips are parted, but she’s still glowing.
‘Thanks,’ she laughs, handing me the cigarette and I snatch it and pull from it as hard as I can and look in the opposite direction, out into the distance.
She sighs next to me. ‘There,’ she mutters, but I don’t really hear her. ‘I’ve lost you again.’
I remember the day that Jack became my friend.
There’s no one to play with today because it’s snowed so much. I am eight and sitting on the window sill, picking absently at my nose and bored beyond words. I am not looking forward to Christmas. My mother is. She’s waltzing around the living room, slinging decorations into every available corner and occasionally saying things like, ‘Anna, kommen Sie mir helfen,’ (yeah, she’s German) and singing, ‘Klingelglocken,’ under her breath, though, even in my eight year old mind, I know she’s singing the wrong words.
It’s been snowing for a while, and in our street, the only thing worth looking at is the house opposite, which is not saying very much. The windows are large on the house, and the snow collects there, on the sills in large drifts. It’s beautiful, and I’m so entranced that it takes me a while to realise that through the window I’m looking at is a woman.
I’m eight, right, so obviously I’m not too bothered about being caught staring, it’s what I do for most of my days anyway: but being caught staring at this woman is different. It makes me feel like I’ve done something deadly wrong – and more than that, it gives me a swooping feeling in my stomach like missing a stair.
I start backwards, slip off the window sill and fall with a heavy thump onto the floor.
‘Anna, geben Sie acht!’ my mother says, lifting me up and looking worried, but I’m not hurt, I’m listening, because just at that moment I hear someone cry, ‘Sne Hvid!’ from next door.
‘Anna,’ my mother says, ‘Anna. Sind Sie verletzt?’
But I’m hearing the call of ‘Sne Hvid!’ from next door and not listening.
‘Anna!’ my mother says, raising her voice. ‘Are you hurt?’ I blink at her change to English – she’s irritated that she has to do it, because she’s wanted to make sure I’m a bilingual kid since I was born, but I’m not picking up German as well as my sister did.
‘Yes,’ I say, plucking myself out of her hands, and then, to please her, ‘Ja, Mama, Ich bin gut.’
She backs off slowly, and is already re-absorbed in decorating by the time I’m back on the window still and staring out, looking for the woman. She’s not there.
‘Sne Hvid!’ I hear again, and open the window a crack to look over to next door. The voice is coming from an upper window and out of the window leans a boy: thick black hair, wide eyes, staring and pointing at the house across the street. I follow his finger, sure that he’s seen the woman too, and I’m not disappointed. He’s pointing to the place where she disappeared and looking ecstatic… or afraid, I’m not really sure.
I consider, and then make a decision, shut the window, run upstairs and throw open the window in my small attic room. It’s one of those skylight windows, so I’m above the boy now, but I can see his finger, still pointing, and hear someone talking to him from inside the house – probably about to tell him to come back inside. I steal my chance.
‘HEY!’ I shout, and see his finger hesitate, and then a head peers slowly out of the window to look up at the roof – first his, and then mine.
‘Hey,’ I say, pleased to have caught his attention. ‘What’s Sne Hvid?’
He frowns, pale green eyes suspicious, and then ducks back inside.
I bite my lip, feeling rejected, but not much more than five seconds pass before I hear a scrape, and see the skylight window in his house open, with his head peering out of it.
‘Snow White,’ he says. ‘That’s what it is. I think I just saw her.’
‘That woman in the house over the road?’ I ask. ‘Was she Snow White?’
‘I think so,’ he says.
‘Oh,’ I say, intrigued. ‘Then why were you calling her Sne Hvid?’
He rolls his eyes. ‘I’m supposed to be learning Danish.’
I am briefly amazed that we can both be here, in a small Scottish village , both of us learning a language that neither of us is likely to have any need to use while we live here.
‘I’m supposed to be learning German,’ I say.
‘Why?’ he asks.
‘My Mum’s German,’ I say, ‘She wants us to be bylingwal kids.’ I raise my eyebrows impressively, sure that he’s never heard of such a word, but he nods. ‘My Mother wants me to be multilingwal,’ he says, looking depressed at the thought. ‘It’s really difficult.’
‘What’s multilingwal?’ I ask reluctantly.
‘It means you know lots of languages,’ he says.
‘Do you know lots of languages?’
‘So, was that really Snow White?’ I ask, staring down at the empty window and feeling hopeful. ‘That princess Mum told me about?’
‘I dunno,’ he murmurs, ‘I didn’t see any dwarves. I was just said “Snow White” because of the way she looked. Did you see her? She looked like a princess.’
All I remember is the feeling of the forboding, and I can’t even begin to tell you what she looked like.
‘I didn’t see her for very long,’ I say carefully, I don’t want to say it, but I think I might have imagined her, but that wouldn’t explain how he’d seen her too. His eyes look eager, and, for the first time in our life together, he turns his eyes to the distance and stares.
The first time we have sex.
Her house is empty as we tumble into her bed at two in the morning. We’ve just been watching TV and kissing on the sofa; but it feels different this time, and something’s changed in her eyes. We’ve gotten this far before – to her bed I mean, but the sex never seemed to happen. Not because of any principles we have or because our houses are strict. I just get so distracted with Anna – I don’t know which bit to focus on. Her hair, which has grown so long she can wrap it round her neck, trails between my fingers as I pull it down over her shoulder. Then I’m ripping the buttons open of her shirt, and she yanks it off, and I want the instant gratification of the sight of her breasts, hidden behind that bra. I’ve seen them before, but the familiarity of them is reassuring: round and white and smooth as I trail my mouth over them and up her throat. She smells amazing. She’s looking at me, measuring me with her eyes as she pulls off my t-shirt. I’m not embarrassed. I could gladly sink into those eyes: so dark they’re almost black – intensely so – there’s mystery there too – a mystery I might yet get to the bottom of in this bed, and for a moment the thought of that makes me so hard and ready I want it all now, but I stop and consider her.
She doesn’t say anything, but she’s daring me with a look; she’s brave and determined. We stand up off the bed and do the rest of the undressing without preamble. It’s time.
I slide into her carefully, expecting her to hurt, to wince, to turn her head. She bites her lip once, no more, and then she slides her hands up over my shoulders and leans toward me until her forehead’s touching mine. We go slowly until she writhes under me and breathes into my ear, and then I’m lost, we’re going, faster, slower –slowly.... slowly.
I’m sorry. But it was my first time too. All it takes is her arms around my neck to trigger me, and to be honest I nearly lose myself in the sheer intensity of it all – but not once do I look away from her face, and not once does she look away from mine.
Afterwards we lie on opposite sides of the bed with the duvet and pillows on the floor and stare at each other. There’s enough space to fit two people between us, but we seem to need the gap. The force she seems to exert over me is so powerful it’s electric, magnetic, and me over her I think. She’s smiling.
I smile back. ‘Of course I’m here, what do you mean?’
She shakes her head, and the coyness of it is all it takes. I slide across the bed and take her in my arms again.
When the snow storm comes, we shut ourselves inside. I concede that it’s probably a silly idea to go to Jack’s house now. It can wait. I call him to reschedule our plans, and when that’s decided; I close my curtains, turn off the light and go to bed.
I hear the wind. I open the window.
When the snow rushes in it hits me full on the face, and I think I feel something sharp in the corner of my eye; but when I blink and my vision clears I decide it might have been a particularly hard-edged snow flake. I wonder vaguely why I opened the window in the first place and pull it shut, frowning.
Its only when I’m awake do I hear a call. Her call.
I don’t know why, but I’d decided to put on an old record of my Dad’s.
It’s a compilation with my favourite Julie London song on (Cry Me A River) and I’m waltzing around my room, smoking and drinking a bottle of wine and waiting for Jack, because it’s Friday. I’m also peeling carrots at intervals between my dancing because I’m cooking shepherd’s pie for our supper. Mum and Dad have gone to stay with my aunt, which Dad called me earlier to grumble about, and my sister, Lena has gone to bed early so it will be plausible for her to go out, get drunk with her friends and come back home without me having too tell our parents. I love it when we can be conspiratorial without them guessing.
The phone rings as Julie London croons the last lines – it’s the last song on the album and so silence reverberates around the sound of the phone like some kind of trap.
And I don’t know why but I’m shaking as I stare at the phone, thinking, If I don’t answer... if I just let it ring...
But the phone’s in my hand before the last shrill call and I whisper into the receiver, ‘What?’
I take the dog out while my grandmother is out at Sunday morning church. I don’t go any more but I appreciate what it means to her. She doesn’t mind.
The dog is called Sally, and she likes to play, especially when it’s snowed like this. The woods are the best place. I brought Anna here last spring to look at the bluebells, like some cliché from a story. I’m meeting Anna tonight. She’s cooking, she says, and I lie and say that will be nice. It’s the only lie I’ve ever told her. Anna will never be a cook, but I think she likes to pretend she is sometimes, even through the inordinate amount of salt she puts on food. The trees get thicker through this part of the wood, and Sally looks disappointed at the lack of snow, not human enough to appreciate that every single leaf on the ground has been frosted silver, and that the earth cracks underfoot, and that the sky is seared white through cold air and cloud.
I don’t have a sixth sense or anything, but I know when someone’s watching me as I approach the epicentre of the trees. She’s waiting for me on a log that’s glittering with hoarfrost, only she’s not just on it, she’s a part of it: there are branches growing through her white hair, there’s frost and soil trailing all over her body, glinting like glass, though there’s no sun. I turn my head, this way, that way, trying to decide if she’s really there, but I don’t for one moment take my eyes off her. I’ve made that mistake before. I don’t say anything either. I just walk towards her – not slowly, not quickly either, but with determination. From somewhere at the back of my brain, I can feel that Sally has paused, and is watching me, but it’s a small part of myself. Sally has all but gone in just a few steps, and in a few more, so is my grandmother. I might be able to fight have I but to hold onto the thought of Anna, and she is the last thought I have. She will not be bidden away as easily as all my other thoughts, but clings like a hook, like a tiny heartbeat somewhere inside me.
And I do stop. I’m not strong enough to take my eyes off her, and alright, it’s more like a pause than an actual halt, but the thought of Anna does make me stop just there. Just there.
She smiles as if to praise the futile attempt I have made to show that Anna has claimed me, but in the end all she needs to do is raise both her frost-gilded arms and welcome me in.
I’m not sure what gets me over to the hospital – I can barely concentrate, let alone drive, and all the while Jack’s grandmother Lily sits beside me and says nothing, nothing even, about the fact that the car is my parents’ car, that I have not passed my test yet, but those are things that are out of context and unimportant in view of the situation.
Her words are still ringing in my head. I want to ask her a million questions but every single one of them is stuck in my throat and I’m afraid to speak, and so, I think, is she.
Her voice was raw when I answered the phone: ‘It’s Jack.’
And I said, ‘Where is he?’ because I knew it was serious, without asking.
She said, ‘In the hospital. He took Sally for a walk this morning and never came back. Some other walkers found him half an hour ago. Anna – he wasn’t wearing any clothes.’
All the things that happened after that were entirely instinctive, automatic. A note to my sister. My parent’s car keys hanging up. I just did what I had to do.
I can hear them all talking outside, and though they’re saying other words, that’s the thing I hear, over and over. The doctors won’t let me see him. They’re transferring him to another hospital as soon as the snow storm dies, but I can see it’s not going to die. Jack knows the snow better than any other person and I know what he knows. This is not a normal storm.
Grandmother Lily has sat beside me the whole time and held my hand.
‘Girl,’ she says.
‘What?’ I say softly.
‘I want you to promise me something.’ Her Danish accent has always been thick, even after living here for a good quarter of her life, but I always understand her.
‘That boy would kill me if he knew I was saying this, but I will say it, because if he dies...’
I wince at that word, bodily, as if she’s held a flame to my hand.
‘If he dies,’ she continues, her voice strong despite the crack that runs in it where the tears and pain are welling, unspent. ‘You will die. Am I right?’
I don’t even need to answer. To answer would almost be insulting.
‘You must follow him,’ she says.
I shake my head, although not to disagree. ‘How?’
‘You must go to the wood, to the spot where they found him.’
‘You will know what to do. I will make sure someone finds you.’
I stare at her, and she at me, and I nod my head, once, to show I’ve understood.
‘My parents will not be back for a few weeks. Look after Lena for me.’
Grandmother Lily grasps my hand. ‘Of course. Just one thing more...’
‘Look after yourself. If you cannot save him, you must save yourself, understand?’
I hesitate. ‘Yes.’
‘Løfte,’ she says, fixing me like a cat fixes a mouse. I know what løfte means. I know what she is charging me. I shake her hand to seal myself, and then I get up slowly and walk to the door. I turn back.
‘Who is keeping him?’
Grandmother Lily smiles slightly. ‘Winter. The snow. There are scars on him, Anna, as you know, but Winter knows it best. You must break her. You must find a way.’
‘Thank you,’ I say, ‘I will.’
I know the darkness, and it comes over my frosty landscape like a cape. I am never sure if snow is more beautiful in the dark or the light, or somewhere in between, when it seems to give off a light of its own.
I turn to look at her and smile. It occurs to me that I have never seen her smile, but she does not need to. Not really. She’s holding something in her hands, a mirror. As I look down, I see a face I think I know. Just a glimpse, a moment of her face, but then it’s gone, and I can see that the mirror is broken; the shards are missing, but for around the edges which do not seem to truly reflect anything.
She hands the mirror to me.
‘What is this?’
‘This is your grief,’ she says. ‘This is every shadow and every piece of regret you’ve ever harboured. If you can put it back together, I can take all of it away. I can heal you.’
‘Because that is your wish, is it not?’
For a moment, I am allowed to remember everything I loved and lost. The curtain closes too fast for me to see everything properly, but I understand.
‘Yes,’ I whisper. ‘That is my wish.’
She nods. ‘Fix it.’
The strangest thing, they said, was he was naked, and yet there were no clothes to be found around him, and he certainly hadn’t walked there without clothes, or he’d have been gone long before they found him.
Perhaps that will be how it is for me, for I know what to do, now that I’m here. No one gave me any directions, but I know. I just do. And I’m walking towards the log where they found him, because I know, without a doubt, without any real idea of knowing, that this was where he fell.
I find that the log is partially hollow and it so it occurs to me - once I have shirked my clothes to climb into it and sit with my legs drawn up to my chest, and watch the world outside, I can hear birds singing faintly from above me, and feel the rotten wood digging into my neck and back and smell with every fibre of myself that here is where he was, and if I am to die, let it be here.
And slowly, slowly, I feel the sensation in my fingers and toes begin to ebb, and my teeth stop chattering, and a kind of peace like moonlight flutters through my head and steals my panicked thoughts and shuts them away.
I think I feel – much later, someone’s arms around me, someone who is not Jack, but strong, and lifting me up, carrying me.
‘Stupid, stupid girl,’ says someone from overhead.
And I know I’ve been found. But I am cold enough to let go. I slip gently from my body, falling onto the snow like a newborn calf. I am surprised to find I can watch as I am carried away. The man carrying me looks like one of the doctors from the hospital. Grandmother Lily said she would send someone to find me.
I take a deep breath and mutter, ‘Løfte.’ I promise. That’s all I can do for now. I am not cold any more. I stretch out on the snow and fall asleep.
Word Count: 3,975
Prompt: An undying, urgent love of this fairytale.
Author Notes: Because I have never been one for organisation, it took me a little while to realise that it had been TWO WEEKS without me writing a story. As I desperately rushed to get one done, Rosey kindly filled in. It's been a little difficult get either of the two stories I've written together, and for this reason, I'm asking Rosey not to prompt me for the next two weeks... What I'm offering instead is my version of The Snow Queen, which I wrote late 2009, a while back. This is part one... part two is in the next post!