ENGL 661 Fiction Writing
first draft, first story Feb 18 2010
Suzanne awoke in muffled darkness under the slanting eaves of her childhood bedroom. Out the window new-fallen snow blended all the angles of the town into whipped cream and glitter-swirls. Almost featureless, it’s emptiness beckoned clear and bright, soothing her confusion.
Deep snow sparkling in lamplight as it hung weightless in the frozen air defying gravity owned the trees as merely black underlines beneath it. Pristine, untouched, the very image of Christmas beauty. “…and Christ was not born in winter, but in the springtime in a desert-place,” Professor Scott-Harris’s Anthropology lecture echoed in her mind. “Christmas was just a Roman political move to keep the population docile, using Christian celebrations to appease their pagan customs.”
Peace on earth, Good will to men. She argued, pushing him back into the forgotten place where he belongs as her eyes caressed the smoothly undulating surfaces of the snow covered town. Being away to college these past few months had tried her faith and shaken her foundations. The Christian traditions she was raised with, every shred of “commons sense” she had taken for grated all her life, had been insistently, aggressively, constantly challenged and disproved. The world they sought to cast her into felt cold, impersonal and lonely, but here at home again she now saw lies and illusions she had somehow always overlooked. All things she once held sacred now seemed like childish fantasies. The blankness outside the window beckoned; a world from which all the form and meaning had been removed. It matches her mind.
It calls her down the old wooden staircase, careful not to squeak on the broken one: the one she landed on years ago when she tripped over the boots she had left on the landing and fell, flailing her arms wildly as the twins, then 5, laughed gleefully imagining that she, in her fluffy white bathrobe, looked like an angel trying to fly down the stairs. She had risen unharmed but that stair still squeaked loudly to remind her to be careful to keep everything within it’s proper place.
Now she flees from the warm childhood bedroom which is no longer her place into the featureless white winter, hoping it’s purity will somehow clear her mind and reveal a middle ground she can inhabit between tradition and the education which has led her to no longer feel at home at home.
Suzanne wraps the long angora scarf around her neck, blue with rainbow-colored snowflakes: an early Christmas gift from Gramma Leavenson in Colorado. It smells of baby powder and lavender, and some other herb Suzanne can’t name but knows. It feels warm like a grandmother hugging to a tiny child in some enchanted springtime when the smell of lilacs fills the air with pastel color-magic. “Jesus was born in the springtime” Dr. Scott-Harris’s voice echoes in her mind again.
She smiles. “The spring is coming”
She steps into whiteness, and the coldness brings her forward into now.
Down the hill, and up the other side, reverent she strides glancing down sometimes at the waffle prints of her boots scaring the snow-covered ground behind her. I can never turn back the hands of time. What’s done is done. Pandora’s box is open, there is no closing it. She gazes back down the hill and across to her home on the other peek, strange and distant and yet the same as always, as childhood, when the big boys would sled down this road posting a lookout at the cross street to warn oncoming cars to stop and let the sledders pass.
The shrill small voice exclaiming loud and exultant close behind her startles her. She spins, heart racing, to see a tiny boy, no more than five years old, arriving beside her dragging a large wooden sled.
“Why aren’t you in bed?” She cries in haste.
He grins knowing the answer is obvious and plants his sled carefully in the center of the street “I’m gonna fly this hill like a snow demon into darkness.”
He starts to climb on.
“Wait! No! It’s not safe, there is a road at the bottom and you have no one down there to watch out and warn the cars to stop.”
“Nobody’s driving around this time of night.”
“You don’t know for sure. They might. It isn’t safe.”
“Nothing’s safe. Anything can happen. I would see their headlights.”
As he raises his feet onto the sled she is still saying “What if they forget to turn their headlights on?” and feeling foolish knowing this is far from probable and besides, she isn’t responsible for this kid.
He pushes off. She steps forward as if to catch him, make him stop but he’s already flying smoothly, gaining momentum, gliding gracefully down the hill. She glances down the crossroad. A flash in the lamp-light catches her eye. The truck is white and old and moving faster than any one would wisely go in these conditions, especially with no headlights. It’s tires are throwing snow in rainbow arks beneath the lamplight, the headlights black like zombie-eyes above a grinning blistered chrome front grill.
She is running, flying down the hill, screaming “Stop!” not knowing if she’s calling to the boy or to the demon truck or God, they seem to race each other aiming for the middle of the cross road, timed to perfection. Snow rises from her steps in arks like from the truck tires, grabs at her ankles like hands striving to hold her back, tripping her. She falls and rolls and slides down faster than she could ever run, but the sled is faster yet, nearing the road below and then she’s falling rolling part of the avalanche trying to regain her balance knowing no mater what she would never have time to stop them. Blinded by the snow she turns to face the level ground, and through the spinning of her head she hears the crunching of sled-wood beneath truck-tires and the cursing of the driver and the creaking of the door as he gets out.
Arms extended, flailing she comes to a painful stop, bruised and imagining 5 year old twins laughing, and imagining the boy lying dead on the snow perhaps. She rises stiffly to face the demon-soul which drives the demon truck, not noticing that she has left in the road a perfect snow-angel print.
Before her he stands grinning, looking past her to the boy who rises snow-covered and ghostlike from a snowdrift he rolled into when he let go of the sled. He jumps up scattering snow which falls from his arms glittering like feathers in the lamplight, laughing “Woah, that was awesome, Uncle Lonnie, let’s do it again!”
Suzanne stares numbly unable to put together what just happened until Lonnie steps forward holding out a hand which is red and raw where it shows through the holes of his filthy ragged work gloves. He reeks of old cheep beer and marijuana and she decides she doesn’t want to notice what else he reeks of and focuses instead on his appearance. He has a beach towel wrapped around his shoulders like as shawl, presumable for warmth, above his paint-stained coveralls. The red and fish-filled waves of its pattern form a perfect background for the snowflakes falling, each one unique and individual and perfect. His eyes are brilliant, intelligent and blue, shining joyfully, warm. He’s grinning, bearded, with long red-brown hair haloed by the lamp-lit snow.
He looks like Jesus.
She remembers Pastor Fremont quoting scripture “As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”
He brushes some snow gently from her shoulder, almost reverently. “I’m sorry if Charlie worried you, my Angel.” He is calm, unapologetically. His breath seems sweet and earthy now although it is the same smell which sickened her before. “We do the best we can with what we are given. We have to take a risk sometimes.” He looks into her eyes and smiles. “But there are Angels watching over us, and we should never be afraid to fly.”
They gather broken pieces, throw them in the truck-bed, and as the sun is rising, walk to main street, where she buys them all hot chocolate. She gives her scarf to Charlie and her pastel-rainbow stocking cap to Lonnie. It looks funny on him, but it keeps him warm.
Christmas comes and goes, and when she remembers Dr Scott-Harris, she thinks of Lonnie, too, and snow, and somehow feels home again, peace on earth, able to go on.
Several years later, in the springtime, She’s preparing for graduation. Her mother calls to speak of plans for the family to fly out to the university and watch her receive her diploma on the weekend. Even Gramma Leavenson will be there.
“You won’t believe what just happened,” Mom begins enthusiastically.
Suzanne sets her brain to auto pilot “ummm hmmm.” Normally Mom’s gossip is of little interest. But she knows Mom needs to share.
“A young man from the trailer park killed himself last week, you’ll never guess how.”
“A suicide? A drug overdose?” This happened often enough in the trailer court.
“No, Suz, I don’t mean like that, hon. You remember Orlando Cartwright? The artist? Oh no maybe not. He didn’t his start his painting till after you left for college. But you remember Charlie Cartwright, don’t you? That little brat who’s always playing in the street I swear, it’s a miracle that kid survives! Well anyhow, it was his uncle, Orlando --and you know what happened? He was cliff diving in Mexico. Can you believe it? Cliff diving! They sent the body home. The funeral is tomorrow. Not many mourners, I imagine. They kept to themselves mostly, you know?
Charlie’s uncle. Cliff diving. “…never be afraid to fly.” “Lonnie?”
Suzanne didn’t attend her graduation. Her parents were disappointed, but she knew the university would still give her the diploma with out the ceremony. She knew where she needed to be.
She has never met Lonnie’s mother: frail, gaunt, used up, and reeking of alcohol and marijuana. The smell reminds her, brings tears to her eyes.
“Hello Honey. Were you a friend?”
She frowns, glances unseeing at the paintings displayed around him, then down at the open coffin. She looks at him dead and recognizes nothing. Short brown hair, clean shaven, expressionless, well dressed and dead blue eyes, very dead. Dead as the black headlights of a white demon-truck in a snowstorm at 5am in December heading for a reckless child. For a moment, she doubts. Why do they clean people up and bury them as if they were someone else? This can’t be Lonnie.
She looks at Lonnie’s mother, answers “A neighbor long ago. He’s changed. I wouldn’t recognize him now.”
The mother’s eyes light up like his. “Oh yes. He changed. He’s done so much better, these past few years.” She looks a lot like him. Suzanne found nothing of Lonnie in his own dead body but in his mother, she see something now.
His mother stares, her face lights up in sudden recognition. “It was you!”
Blank silence leads her forward, “You were the snow angel.” She gestures to a painting, small and dark, painted all in shades of red except the eyes. Suzanne draws closer, then she understands.
I see him. I see his bright, intelligent blue eyes smiling, and around his shoulders, the towel with its red-orange fish-infested waves covering quickly with rainbow-snowflakes, every one a unique individual. And my rainbow hat, the hat I gave to Lonnie. The one my grandma made.
But it is not him really; the face is clearly hers and beneath it he has written in beautiful flowing script “My Snow Angel.”
His mother lifts the painting into her arms, holds it close, her eyes moist, voice breaking. “You saved us all that morning, Honey. He saw you running down the street and slowed just slightly, skidded, and crushed the sled a second after Charlie flew into the snow bank. A second sooner, Charlie would have died for sure.”
Suzanne stares silently that’s not what I remember.
“Lonnie changed completely after that. He stopped drinking, and started painting. This was his first. Here.” She hands it to me. I take it in my hands and look into the blue painted eyes that are both his and mine. My Snow Angel. “Take it. He would want you to have it.”
I hand it back. “You need an angel more than I do now. We do the best we can with what we’re given. We have to take a risk sometimes. But there are angels watching over us, and we should never be afraid to fly.”