The Snow Mother – Steve Carr
With the tip of her index finger, Rosalie traced in the condensation on the window pane the fall of a large snowflake. The trail she made on the glass curved, circled, and swooped as the flake danced on the breeze. Small rivulets of water ran from the trail and down the window and collected along the bottom of the window frame. As more flakes fell she tried to follow other flakes on their descent using other fingers on both hands until the glass was practically clear of the condensation and the trails. She leaned her forehead against the cold window and formed quickly fading misty figures of butterflies and unicorns on it with her warm breath.
Beyond the window, the plowed, bare dirt that made up the back yard encircled the house like a moat. On the other side of the moat, the dead brown prairie grass lay matted against the earth like a haphazardly woven blanket. The grassland stretched on to the horizon where it met a gray cloud-cluttered sky. Canadian geese flew in a V-formation high above the ground forming the outline of an arrowhead that pierced its way through the wintry clouds. Very slowly the landscape became dusted with glistening white snow that stood out in contrast to the dull colors of the prairie.
Sitting back in the rocking chair, Rosalie wiped the water from her forehead with the edge of her purple knitted shawl then pulled the shawl tight around her frail shoulders. She pulled her bare feet up from the floor and rested them on the edge of the seat of the rocking chair and covered her legs with her long brightly colored floral dress. She pushed her long brown hair back from her face and wrapped her arms around her knees and tilted her head back against the chair and watched the snow fall until she fell asleep.
Awakened a short while later by the sound of her husband’s heavy footsteps on the hardwood floor in the kitchen, she wiped away the fresh sheet of condensation that had formed on the window using her sleeve. The prairie had become carpeted in white.
“What are you doing?” her husband said to her as he came into the room, bringing the moist aroma of snow with him. It was on his boots and melting quickly, making a puddle on the floor.
“Just watching the snow fall,” she said. “It’s so pretty.”
“It’s piling up fast,” he said. “This kind of snowfall so early in the year is unusual.”
He crossed the room and placed his big hand on her shoulder and squeezed it affectionately. His hand weighed on her shoulder like a large rock.
“You shouldn’t spend all of your time moping around,” he said.
Wincing, she tolerated his hand feeling like a vice-grip. She watched a mound of snow rise up and twist and whirl like a miniature tornado until it formed the shape of a deer. She was about to point it out to her husband, but it disappeared back into the snow as quickly as it had appeared.
“I’m not moping,” she said.
He removed his hand and shoved it into his coat pocket. “Spending so much time in this room isn’t healthy,” he said.
“This is the baby’s room,” she said.
“There is no baby. Not anymore,” he said.
The sudden appearance of a buffalo formed from snow at the border of the yard caused the words she wanted to say to get momentarily stuck in her throat. As the buffalo disintegrated into a flurry of flakes carried off by the wind, she said, “There will always be a baby.”
“I’m going to take a shower before dinner,” he said. He lifted his hand from her shoulder.
With the weight of it lifted from her she gripped the armrests of the chair in fear she would float into the air. “Okay,” she said.
As he walked out of the room, she said, “Roger, I was born to be a mother.”
Turning to the window she watched a small wave of drifting snow turn into a flock of glimmering white terns that rose into the sky then descended back into the snow. She pressed the palm of her left hand on the window and spread her fingers then lifted her hand and stared wondrously at the snow angel-like imprint left in the condensation.
Unfurling her legs and rising out of the chair she looked around the room. The walls were painted a bright pink with white trim. On them were images of fairies, fairy tale princesses and an array of animals: giraffes, monkeys, zebras and pandas. Swans lined the wall beneath the trim on every wall. Thick cotton ball-like clouds with cherubs playing among them covered the ceiling. The small dresser, changing table and baby crib were painted white. Plastic kittens and puppies hanging on a mobile attached to the head of the crib dangled over a light pink silk pillow.
She walked to the crib and leaned over the rail and scooped up in her arms a doll with blonde curls and big blue eyes and wearing a satin pink dress, pink socks and white shoes. She cradled the doll in her arms and rocked it gently while softly cooing to it. Carrying it to the window she held it close to her breasts and stared out at the prairie being blanketed with snow.
On the edge of the yard hares of many different sizes made of snow danced among the snowdrifts.
* * *
Bright moonlight made the clouds glow in the night sky. The crystals in the snow glittered like diamonds strewn across the landscape. Rosalie stood at the sink in the kitchen and looked out the window above it and smiled as snow-formed prairie dogs popped in and out of the snow like jack-In-the-boxes. She couldn’t hear them but they appeared to chatter and bark at each other as they sat upright on their hind legs at the rim of the holes they had dug in the snow.
“What are you doing up so late?” Roger said from the doorway.
“It’s so beautiful out there,” she said. “The snow is magical.”
“I’m hoping it doesn’t stick around for long,” he said. “I’m going back to bed. Don’t stay up all night.” He turned and walked away.
Hearing his feet on the floor she wondered why it always sounded as if he stomped when he walked. She watched out the window as two foxes made of glistening snow played in a snowdrift in the middle of the backyard. They were running in circles chasing each other. She tapped on the glass and they stopped and stared at her as their mouths broke into smiles. One of them raised its front paw and gestured for her to come join them.
Putting on her boots that were always placed by the back door and taking her coat off a hook and putting that on, she opened the door and went out. The snow lightly crunched beneath her boots and her footprints disappeared almost immediately as she took the next step. The foxes ran up to her and sat on their haunches.
“Why do you live in that big box?” the one said, pointing its nose toward the house.
“It’s my home,” she said. “Where do you live?”
They both patted the snow with their tails. “We live here,” they said in unison.
Looking around she saw that the hares had returned to the snow bordering the yard and were nervously watching her. “Don’t be afraid,” she said. “I mean you no harm.”
Tentatively, first one, then another, then all of them crossed the yard and encircled her.
“Where are your young ones?” a large one of them asked.
“I have no young ones,” Rosalie said, unable to hide the sadness she felt. “I was going to have a young one but she died before she was born.”
“How sad,” the hare said. “Can’t you make another one?”
“I would be afraid of losing that one also,” Rosalie said. “How many young ones do you have?”
“As many as the snow will allow, which is quite a few,” the hare said.
“I should go in now,” Rosalie said. “I hope we’ll meet again.” She went into the house and as she began to close the door she watched the foxes and hares dissolve into eddies of snow that crossed the yard and melded into the snowdrifts along its edge.
* * *
The twilight sky was a smooth sheet of dark gray that covered the landscape for as far as the eye could see. The window pane rattled from the wind that blew snow across the prairie. Rosalie sat in the rocking chair with a ball of pink yarn in her lap, a strand of it attached to the knitting needles in her hand. Her fingers moved swiftly as she made loops in the yarn and inserted a needle in the loops and pulled the strand, making row after row of the baby blanket that lay across her knees.
Looking out occasionally she watched for the snow animals, but none appeared.
She had a cup of hot tea on the small table next to the chair. Wisps of steam rose up from it forming images of gossamer angels that quickly dissipated.
Roger came into the room. “What are you doing?” he said.
“Finishing this blanket,” she said without looking at him.
“Why?” he said as came to the window and looked out.
“Maybe someday . . . ,” she started, stopping as she missed finishing a loop.
Roger said, “You know what the doctor said. Trying to have another baby could kill you.”
“I know what he said,” Rosalie said. She paused, then said, “Having a baby could kill me or give me life.”
Staring at the blowing snow, he said, “It sure is cold out there.”
“Yes it is,” she said. “None of the animals are coming out.”
He gazed at her. “What animals?”
“The hares and foxes and deer and all the rest,” she said.
“They stay hidden even in good weather,” he said.
She shifted the blanket on her knees as she began a new row. “Yes, I guess they do.”
He bent down and kissed her on the forehead. To her his lips felt like ice.
“I’m going to drive down to the Gold Nugget and have a couple beers and play some darts,” he said.
She reached up and wiped his kiss from her forehead. “That’s quite a drive. Is it safe driving around in this weather?”
“I have chains on the tires and I’ll be careful,” he said. “I’ll probably spend the night at Jack and Ruth’s so don’t wait up for me. I’ll be back tomorrow around noon.”
“Okay,” she said as he left the room.
With the blanket finished she put the needles and yard on the table and picked up the cooled tea and took several sips while staring out the window.
A few minutes she heard him go out the front door and heard the truck being started.
As night fell and the clouds began to thin six snow coyotes with twigs and dead prairie grass in their mouths came into the back yard. As the wind blew, they cleared a spot in the snow then put the twigs and grass in the spot. They turned their heads toward her and smiled.
Prairie dogs and hares rose out of the snow drifts at the edge of the yard and began forming balls of snow that they rolled to the twigs and grass and left the balls there then dashed back to the drifts and stood there as if waiting for something.
Rosalie got out of the chair and carrying the blanket with her she went into the kitchen and looked out the kitchen window. From there she could see that the border of the entire back yard was lined with many of the snow formed prairie animals she had already seen, along with others she hadn’t seen before; moles, gophers, mountain goats. They stood unwavering as their snowy fur was buffeted by the wind. She put on her boots and coat and went out the door.
Before she reached the twigs and grass she heard the crying of an infant which made her heart beat wildly as if it had been jolted with electricity. She ran to the nest that had been made and knelt down in the snow. In it a girl baby made of snow reached up toward her, its blue eyes shedding sparkling tears that formed icicles on its snow white cheeks. She laid the blanket across the child and scooped it up in her arms and held it close to her and began rocking it. The infant immediately stopped crying and cooed and gurgled happily
The animals surrounded her and the child, blocking the wind with their bodies.
Overwhelmed with happiness, Rosalie began to cry, her warm teardrops falling on the baby’s face leaving small melted indentations in the child’s snow-chilled cheeks. Rosalie gathered snow in her hand and gently rubbed it on those places restoring the child’s face to what it had been.
Feeling the blanket becoming moist from the infant’s melting body, Rosalie removed it and threw it aside and laid the baby in the snow. She gently patted snow onto the infant’s entire body while talking to it in loving, soothing tones.
She did this all night.
The rising sun blanketed the prairie with its warmth and the air grew still. As the sun rose higher in the sky and the landscape became heated, the animals still around Rosalie and the infant began to melt. Rosalie lifted the melting infant in her arms and held the child close.
* * *
When Roger returned home and didn’t find his wife inside the house he went out in the back yard. He first found the blanket then beside the bed of twigs and dead grass he found Rosalie’s wet clothes lying in a puddle.
Steve Carr began his writing career as a military journalist and has had short stories published in Gathering Storm Magazine, Midnight Circus Magazine, Double Feature, Tigershack Magazine, The Wagon Magazine, Culture Cult Magazine, Fictive Dream, Ricky’s Back Yard, Visitant Literary Journal, The Drunken Llama, Sick Lit Magazine, Literally Stories, Communicator’s League, Jakob’s Horrow Box, Trigger Warnings, and in the Dystopia/Utopia Anthology (Flame Tree Publishing), The 100 Voices Volume II (Centum Press), The Winter’s Grasp and Waiting for a Kiss (Fantasia Divinity Magazine). He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize Nominee.