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Blue Snow | Annabelle Ford

Emmy stands in front of the bathroom mirror of her parent’s house, a white hair pinched between the fingers of her right hand. It is wiry and thick, and planted firmly in the front of her hairline. She hesitates, and for a moment, she is back in middle school, holding a razor nervously against a leg covered in dampened peach fuzz, as her mother warns her that for every hair removed, two will grow back. But this hair is no longer the golden down of youth beckoning her to the cult of womanhood, but a pert, solitary rebel, a white flag amongst a sea of dark brown, daring her to surrender to middle age. Or whatever 33 qualifies you for. Emmy bites her lip, hesitating, the offending hair pulled taut in her angry hand. She glances at her watch — she’s going to be late if she doesn’t make a choice. Ugh. With a frustrated shake of her head she drops the hair and pulls her mane into a tight bun, carefully tucking the white out of sight, before dashing downstairs.

 

***

 

Kate has already found a table in the bustling coffee shop when Emmy arrives. “You look the same,” Emmy tells her as she slips into her seat, and doesn’t believe Kate when she returns the compliment. Emmy can practically feel the white hair springing free from her bun, but Kate’s eyes don’t stray upwards as she asks her, in that slightly forced tone used with friends not seen in years, “So what brings you home?”

 

She hesitates. She would sound crazy if she told her the truth, which is that she came home for the snow. That she has returned because she is winter incarnate. Because snow is in her bones, and she feels a carnal need to see it every year to know she’s alive. And that, for this reason, she’s spent the last decade feeling, precisely, un-alive. Because Paris might have two-hour lunches, walking for exercise, and cheap glasses of wine on picturesque street corners, but it doesn’t have winter. She wants Kate to feel her pain when she explains that, in Paris, the months between November and March are an endless stream of suffocated grey, weather so sickly that even the sun runs away to escape it, and when the Tuileries start blooming again without first having seen the world gone quiet under a blanket of white, she is left incomplete. She wants Kate to nod her head when she says all this, as though it’s quite simple and ordinary to return to New England for snow season. But instead, she says nothing. It isn’t the full truth, anyway.

 

There are other reasons she came back. Her father is going through chemo, and she always promised herself that living abroad wouldn’t prevent her from being there for family. There’s also the play she quit her high-paying job to write, and which requires she go to New York for research. And there’s the fact that, as she coasts into her mid-thirties, jobless, single, and still homesick, she’s trying to find answers in the winters she remembers from childhood. She could tell Kate all this but frankly, she isn’t even sure whether she wants to realize her hometown isn’t what it used to be, or whether she wants it to call her completely and irrevocably back into its familiar embrace.

 

So instead, she insists Kate tell her about her life, and Kate happily obliges. With a slight lift of the chin, she talks about the big house she moved into with her doctor husband and their three kids under five. With a wave of her hand she explains that she stopped working at the yoga studio, but she’s thinking about becoming a volunteer swim coach. And she leans in to confess that she and her husband decided to adopt a puppy — even though it’s not the best time, what with a newborn and all, but that’s life, right? And anyway, she’s going to raise it the right way, the same way she raised her kids (chin lifts a little higher): the French way. But enough about me — what’s up with you? Emmy’s throat grows tight as she tries to think of things to talk about — her play, her travels, her new apartment back in Paris — but she’s overcome by the same sense of irrelevance she gets whenever she speaks to a friend with a spouse, kids, a mortgage. When is she going to grow up, already? Yawn. Kate watches her with patient eyes, which just makes Emmy’s insides curdle into an even tighter knot of self-hatred. This small-town housewife pities her. When they step outside and say goodbye, Emmy is relieved to notice, under the harsh light of the winter sun, that fine lines have started to emanate over Kate’s forehead, her cheeks, the bridge of her nose. “Are you going to the New Year’s Eve concert tomorrow night?” Kate asks. “We got a sitter to watch the kids. I think a bunch of people from our class will be there.” 

 

***

 

Emmy takes the long route home, her steel-toed heels clicking on the pavement, her long wool coat flowing behind her. She looks out of place in this drowsy college town, but then again, the hardier gear hanging in the mudroom would have been overkill on a mild day like today. She crosses the main intersection in town and looks up with a frown. “If only the blue light were flashing,” she thinks to herself. Above the traffic light, a small blue light is perched. It waits expectantly, ready to emit its harsh, intermittent flash to warn residents that a blizzard is on its way. But since her return home, it has remained deadened, dark.  

 

As she walks, the persistent drawl of grey hanging over the town seems to follow her like a shadow. Grey the empty hull of Paradise Pond, which has dried this season and which begs for water, its cracked mouth calling to the merciless sky. Grey the two chains that hang limp from the branch of the old maple tree, the same chains that for decades had held a bench swing upon which she and her sister used to sit and talk. Even the pedestrian bridge connecting one part of town to the other has been repainted a slate gray after a man hung himself from its base a few years back. As her heels tap out a staccato beat across its arc, Emmy thinks of the day her third grade class brought their self-made boats to this spot and lowered the fragile constructions of leaves and twigs to the gurgling water below. The bridge, red at the time, had shone with a golden aura, as the children slung their small bodies over its railing to watch the boats float away to brave the great big world beyond. Where go the boats; she used to know the words by heart. Now, the bridge looks wrong, sinister, a reminder of the death that caused its transformation.

 

She is starting to think this town has nothing for her anymore but places and people who are becoming as old as the memories she is desperately trying to return to.

 

As she climbs the front steps to her parents’ home, she is grateful for the small things that haven’t changed. The one-two click of the heavy wooden door as she pushes her way into the house. The comforting smell of her mother’s cooking that envelops her upon arrival. The classical music that plays over the public radio station, filling the house with life.

 

She sits behind the kitchen counter, as her mother chops vegetables and recounts her day. Where once her mother was efficient and precise with words, she now turns in eddies and whirls around an idea before meandering on to the next. Is it retirement? Old age? Was she always this way and Emmy had just never noticed? She stops listening and fixates instead on the spots on her mother’s hands, on her fading hair that she still insists on dying black, on the way her glasses tug at the skin on her nose, pulling her face down, down, down. Emmy pinballs between, on the one hand, tender worry for this woman who was so long the epitome of strength and who is now shrinking into a mirror image of her own mother, who died at the same age she is now; and, on the other hand, a sharp prick of resentment, as with every passing second, Emmy starts to feel lines digging into her own face, like a blade cutting through wet clay, starts to feel the cold kiss of air on the back of her head where she suspects her own hair to be thinning, starts to feel her eyes retracting into her face, pushed back by bags of fatigue which, in their equal and opposite reaction, emerge more insistently from within. She fears this town is poisoning her, turning her into a relic of the past as well.

 

***

 

New Year’s Eve. A day of hellos and goodbyes. Emmy lingers in bed and takes a picture in her lace underwear, which she sends to Marcel. She met him two weeks before her return to New England, which feels cliché in the grand scheme of things. When he sauntered into the party, she had been intrigued but unintimidated by the lean-framed artist with floppy blonde hair and a small pout for a mouth. With his hands in his pockets and his shoulders slightly raised as though to protect his neck, he looked nothing like the strapping, six-foot gentleman with dark hair and furrowed brow she always dreamt she’d end up with. Nor did he have the sharp humor, impeccable culture, or easy confidence she imagined would accompany this physique. But Marcel’s eyes lit up when she spoke of snow, and in that moment, she felt a wave of relief wash over her, like he’d shone light on a dusty corner of her personality that nobody, until now, had bothered to pay attention to.

 

She’s aware that she would not have put this high on her list a few years ago. But then again, a few years ago, things were still the way they were. Friends weren’t married yet, or having kids, or buying houses. A few years ago, she could still afford to leave life up to chance. But now, the picture had shifted without her wanting it to, a kaleidoscope twist that distorted her world and left her feeling disoriented, lost. And amidst this, Marcel made her feel safe. He had a grounding energy, a steady presence, that made her feel he’d be ready to catch her high-flying nature when she fell back to earth. So she saw him again a few days after the party, then the night after that one, again the day after that, and so on and so forth until, a few days before Christmas, they reluctantly parted ways, saying “I hope to see you come the spring.” She had told Marcel she wanted no commitments, no promises — she needed to go home with an empty slate. But now, from her childhood bed, she revives herself with thoughts of him. Her cheeks regain their color. Not everything has to be death and grey. 

 

***

 

Later that night, Emmy is standing in front of the bathroom mirror again, threading hoops through her ears and adding rouge to her cheeks. She has worn her best outfit to ring in the new year, and she sends her reflection a glossy air kiss. Before leaving, she yanks the white hair from her forehead.

 

The lights are down when she arrives at the concert venue and the music has already started; she forgot that fashionably late in Paris is just plain rude here. She squeezes into the seat Kate has saved for her with an apologetic smile. As the musician sings songs he wrote back in college about dating and unrequited love, Emmy finds herself nodding along, the lyrics speaking small but profound truths to her, while Kate smiles demurely. Cute, she imagines Kate thinking to herself. Emmy tries to still her body.

 

When the lights come up after the show, familiar faces emerge from the woodwork of the audience. She and Kate greet old classmates not seen in years and make polite conversation, ask how things are going, ooh and aah with feigned interest. “Ben’s here,” Kate nudges her, and she turns to see the bright-eyed boy she once yearned for with the ardency of an Austen heroine. He’s sprouted a bushy beard and the beginnings of a beer belly, but he has the same smile that makes his whole face light up. He comes up to them, towing in his wake one of those naturally beautiful girls who looks like she would swear without a hint of irony that granola and fresh mountain water are her beauty secrets. He tells the girls he is a river guide in Utah now, but he’s home to spend the holiday with his terminally-ill mother. They go quiet, exchange sympathies. Emmy shifts on her feet, scans the room for someone else to talk to. And then, weaving his way through the crowd, she sees Kieron.

 

Kieron. Back in elementary school, he was a scrawny kid obsessed with basketball while she spent recess weaving buttercup crowns with her friends. In high school, their paths rarely crossed, as she focused on getting A’s while he skipped class to smoke weed in the park. But then, at senior prom, they kissed. She forgets now whether she’d been surprised by the kiss or not. All she remembers is that, as their classmates jumped up and down around them to the beats of Usher and Justin Timberlake, she’d found herself swaying close to Kieron. Then, somehow, their bodies had closed the distance and fallen into a shared rhythm. Before finally, in the obscurity of the crowd, their lips discovered each other. She hadn’t had much practice at kissing, but she can’t have been all that bad because he pulled her beyond the double doors of the dance hall and kissed her in the garden overlooking the valley they’d grown up in, until the music quieted and the dance floor went still.

 

Tonight, Kieron looks at her across the throng of the concert hall. Unlike the rest of this town, he has aged like fine wine. He’s grown tall and strong, with large, capable hands and a charming smile. His demeanor is cool and confident, and his eyes — ice grey — hold hidden knowledge in them. They say hello, as though it’s been a while. The others greet him, too; It’s so nice to see you after all these years. You’re looking great, man. He returns the compliments, but keeps his eyes — those speckled grays — on her. It feels like a delicious secret that, unbeknownst to those around them, each time they returned home for the holidays, they’d check in with each other, and meet for a coffee or a drink, just the two of them. They’d sit opposite each other, their knees brushing ever so lightly, as she spoke about her life in Paris, how she was climbing the corporate ladder, how the European lifestyle suited her, and he recounted his adventures as a diving instructor, traveling wherever the waters called him: Greece, Baja, the Galapagos. Eventually, they’d hug goodbye, promise to see each other again next winter, and then disappear back to their respective lives. 

 

But things changed a year ago, after her mother broke the news. “I spoke with Kieron’s mom at the hairdresser today,” she told Emmy over the phone. “And guess what? He’s having a kid with his girlfriend out in California.” Emmy was surprised, of course, disappointed even, but what did she expect? So she hung up the phone and added him to the growing pile of people and things that belonged to a world she could no longer return to.

 

Except that tonight, he’s here, he’s alone and he’s looking at her with his piercing grey eyes. They barely speak as they follow the crowd of their old classmates to the local bar, a beer can museum whose walls are covered in rows of beer cans from decades past, collecting dust as hipsters in beanies order crisp IPA’s with trendy names poured directly from the tap. The two of them lean against the bar and look out over the crowd. They talk quietly, he about his new kid, she about her new play. In between their sentences, their knees brush lightly against each other, but she doesn’t let things linger. He looks down into his glass and tells her that things are complicated with his girlfriend. She says that’s to be expected, especially what with a new baby. Even more quietly, he tells her he misses the water, misses the freedom of the West Coast, but he knows Massachusetts is a more stable environment for his daughter. She tells him she agrees, it’s best for the family. They stand there, two souls searching for answers in this New England winter, but their eyes scan the crowd hungrily, coming up empty.

 

The minutes tick towards midnight and they decide to walk to the main square in town, so as not to miss the ball drop. Their shoulders rub as they cut through back streets and parking lots of this town they grew up in, this town they both find themselves returned to in this odd juncture of their lives. In the town square, they stand silent as hoards of anonymous teenagers and college students chant a clumsy countdown to the new year. When the fireworks go off, they clink their half-drunk beer bottles and shrug.

 

What now? They follow the stream of college kids heading towards the one club open in town, reminding themselves they’re not so old, they’re still allowed to have fun, it’s the new year after all. The DJ is playing the kind of music that makes Emmy’s hips sway as soon as the sound hits her ears. She and Kieron go to the bar and order a drink. She is starting to feel beautiful again, seductive even. When the bartender asks if they want to open a tab, Kieron hands him his card without a word, smooth as hot syrup. She steals glances at his broad-shouldered composure, his handsome face, and he looks back at her with those grey eyes. Emmy bites her lip, smiles.

 

She downs one beer, then another, knowing she wants to loosen her limbs, loosen her mind, forgive herself for wanting to pull closer to Kieron. They migrate to the dance floor, where their bodies hover within inches of one another, jigsawing the empty air as they yearn to close the gap between them. She excuses herself to go to the bathroom, where she dabs more perfume on her neck and pinches rosebuds into her cheeks. She feels damned by the wallpaper, a collection of eyes staring at her, unblinking and wide-open. When she reemerges, Kieron is talking to a girl who looks about twenty five, attractive and dewy-faced. The girl is leaning close to speak to Kieron, using some pretext of a hat she wants help stealing off another boy’s head. Emmy smiles at the girl. Go away. He’s mine. Game’s on. She runs a hand through her hair and lets her fingers linger in the back, feeling to make sure there’s no thinning.

 

“You know she’s hitting on you, right?” Emmy says into Kieron’s ear once the girl has pranced away. She smiles at him. Doesn’t bother me. “Oldest trick in the book,” he responds. “This might be weird of me to say,” she adds, “but I just want you to know you can totally hook up with her if you want.” As though he needs her absolution, as though she’s the arbiter of good judgment. He laughs, shakes his head, then pulls her in to his arms. She is washed with relief.

 

And then, they’re dancing like they did in high school, their hips moving in effortless unison, their hearts pulling the other in, erasing the distance between them, until their faces are inches, centimeters, millimeters apart. Her body pulses with a warm, urgent desire that she feels emanating from his, too. She puts a hand on his chest and pushes him away gently, but really she’s pulling him in, telling him this is bad, this isn’t allowed, they’re begging for trouble, but she’s smiling as she says it. “I think about you every winter I come home,” he says quietly into her ear, his breath making her skin tingle. “I’ve never been able to forget you, after all these years.” She nods, looking down at her hand, which she’s kept on his chest. She allows her body to be pulled in against his, intoxicatingly close. She shakes her head, knowing they shouldn’t do exactly what they’re about to do.

 

The kiss is complex, laden with experience gained since high school: heavy with awareness of the messiness of their situation, heady with an understanding of just how good it could be. This is no longer the adolescent excitement of trying to behave like adults but the much stronger adult excitement of behaving against their better judgment like adolescents.

 

On the dance floor, against the brick wall outside, in a booth next to the bar; for the rest of the night, they don’t leave each other’s embrace. They’re not hiding this, whatever this is, but she can’t be bothered to think how this story might spread like wildfire through their small town in the early hours of the new year. Is there even anyone left to remember them, to talk about them? The lights that come on at 2 am wake them from their stolen moment. He groans. She kisses him on the temple.

 

***

 

Back home, sleep eludes her, her body aching with desire. On her phone, messages from Marcel; wishing her a happy new year, saying he misses her, kiss emoji, he’s getting hard thinking of her, winky face. She holds her phone up to get a good angle and curls her body into one half of a seductive embrace, a twist and turn she’d performed all night as she fit her body against Kieron’s. She sends Marcel the picture, but it’s Kieron she thinks of when she touches herself.


When she wakes the next morning, her body is still pulsing with thoughts of Kieron. She doesn’t want to wash the smell of him off her, but she’s self-conscious as she emerges from her room and descends to the kitchen, where her parents are reading the morning paper. How was the night? They ask, and she forgets what innocence sounds like. Trying to appear calm, she tugs her boots on, pulls her hat over her head, and sets out for a morning walk, hoping the cold air will clear her mind. She buries her nose into her scarf, enveloping herself in the smell of last night that lingers on her skin. She knows she should feel bad — she should, right? — but she’s smiling in spite of herself — she needed, this, honestly — as she heads into town, floating on the memory of last night — a last hurrah, if you will — her body pulsing with each recall of his smell, his touch, his lips — Marcel who? — when — FLASH. She looks up, confused, searching for what broke her reverie, called her back to reality. Another flash. The blue light at the intersection is blinking.

 

Annabelle Ford is a native New Englander who lives in Paris, surrounded by her plants and her books. After working as a teacher and a copywriter, she is currently devoting herself full-time to writing her first novel.

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