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Singed With Ice
It’s incredibly inconvenient to be a snow maiden, I think.
At least, that’s what the only one I know says.
She sits on the porch of our cabin, watching the stars (she can’t be around in the daytime; the sunlight reflecting off her skin is enough to hurt my eyes) and sighs, then looks annoyed for sighing. She says it’s an annoying habit it’s time for her to grow out of.
Her name is Nixie, by the way. She had to say it a couple of times before I had it down. I grew up in a school full of Elizabeth’s and Lena’s and Amy’s.
Her white, white dress used to reach her ankles. I can tell because all snow maidens’ dresses do that. They look like hovering bells as they glide over the pristinely smooth surface of the ground, usually with their arms floating delicately at their sides. Their long, long eyelashes quiver as they blink, which they do often, sweetly. When they laugh, it sounds like the ping of ice against glass.
They remind me of a load of doves. I’m fairly sure if I ever tried to talk to one, she’d probably stare at me while sidling away. Then she’d probably coo, fly away, and crap on some cars.
What’s strange is that I can picture that happening very clearly.
My snow girl cut her dress short with an icicle, and it looks fantastic against her smooth, pale skin. The edges are ragged and torn. She says she likes them that way; snow is too perfect. She says it’s easier to move that way. I asked if she was like the girls I know who wear all black and chains and piercings and eyeliner, and she laughs and says no, though she can understand them, she thinks. She just wants it to be easier when she dances.
And when she does dance, my mind stops, frozen.
Starlight glitters against her sharp cheekbones, and the moonlight caresses her limbs as she moves against a backdrop of silver on white on black. Her movements are warm and long and sweet, like syrup or honey and oil. She creates her own music, and it whirls through my mind like snowstorms.
When she stops, she’s as perfect as she was at the start. No sweat or blisters or shortness of breath. This depresses her. She thinks she needs pain to create art. I ask if the pain that she has no pain counts, putting my hand over hers. It’s a stupid-sounding question and I want her to take me seriously. Her hand is so cold it must burn bare skin, but I hold on with my gloves. She looks confused before she laughs this time.
“Sometimes.” She answers, unsatisfyingly. Ambivalent responses never really seem honest.
“Take my pain, then.” The words manifest in my mind with my surprise. “It hurts to love you.” But I don’t. For one thing, if I said something that melodramatic, she’d probably lob a snowball at my face. For another, that would roughly be the equivalent of handing her a shotgun, aiming it at me, and telling her to fire at will. Which is actually also pretty melodramatic.
My parents start wondering why I sleep so much during the daytime. I say that I like to walk at night, running a hand through my shaggy brown hair. My dad has to comfort my mom, who panics.
“Wolves and bears and hunters and crazy people…” she says. But they don’t stop me from leaving again.
My dad surreptitiously gives me a pocket knife. It’s old, with a polished wood a handle and wicked blade. He said, sheepishly, he was planning on giving it to me if I was born a girl, but since I was a boy, he gave me a massive book of poetry instead. Now that I have both, he says as he claps me on the shoulder, I’m well and truly prepared for life.
My dad’s a pretty cool guy.
I keep going out after dark, raiding our supplies of chemical hand warmers and wearing layers of fabric every night. She’s always happy to see me. One night, after I’m late, she runs up and throws her arms around my neck. I refuse to relax at first, but when I see that she’s not about to melt into a puddle at my feet, I squeeze her back.
Why is she warm?
She notices tension and pulls back.
“You’re not on fire,” she says, perplexed. “You’re normally on fire.”
“You’re not unapproachably cold…” I trailed off, realizing what I’d said. “Not that you’re unapproachable at all, I mean, you’re a very warm person. Except you’re cold. But it’s not that you’re cold, I mean, it’s like, you’re cold, even though you’re hot, but it’s not like cold cold, it’s that-”
The cold is the last thing on my mind when her lips meet mine.
It’s an awkward kiss because it’s my first, and I was interrupted while I was concentrating on extracting my foot from where it was firmly lodged in my mouth, and part of me is internally hyperventilating and praying that she doesn’t melt from the heat (which is probably overestimating my kissing abilities.) My arms don’t know what to do at first, and they twitch with hesitation a little before wrapping around her; my eyes are closed, then open, then closed again; I can’t tell if my nose is doing something embarrassing. But under it all- actually, under it all, on top of it all, next to, in between, and through it all- I’m hopelessly, unmistakably happy.
She leans against my chest. I can tell her grey (of course) eyes aren’t closed. They’re wide open, looking at something nobody can see, moving back and forth as she thinks. I know this despite the fact that mine are determinedly closed, trying not to question anything and enjoy things as they happen.
We’ve been given a pass into each other’s’ land. The chill avoids me like the plague, and the warmth dodges around her like it’s scared of catching a cold.
The second night of this, after she’s already flitted off to her home-wherever that is-there’s a poke in the right side of my neck. The way I imagine an annoying little brother would poke me in the side of the neck. I rub it, turning towards whoever did it.
“Over here!” A voice says, sounding like laughter is about to bubble up and out of its mouth at any second. I turn, but by that point, he’s already on my right again. This continues for a few more frustrating seconds before he materializes in front of me, startling me enough to knock me backwards into a snow bank.
He’s all angles, and tall. His skin has an interesting texture to it. It’s too white and has millions of tiny ridges in it, like…like…frost. Exactly like frost. That was about the moment I realized Jack Frost had poked me in the neck.
“The admission into Winter only lasts for ten days. I’d make use of that time.” He says, in a tone of voice which still suggests that I’m a stern head of state and he’s a reporter for a fake news column, asking me about my opinion on tetherball as an Olympic sport.
Then, he leaps into the air like an acrobat and is lost against the dark, cloudy background of the sky.
I won’t go into detail of what happened over those next 8 days, except to say we introduced each other to our lives. She drank hot soup; I painted ferns on windows with frost. We’d curl up in front of the TV under blankets and watch old movies together before skating on the frozen pond without skates. My parents thought it was sweet I’d fallen for the “girl the next cabin over,” and her family of Snow Maidens and Ice Sprites thought I was a “delightful” novelty. The sight of my breath forming clouds in the chill air was enough to entertain some of them for hours.
I was completely, undeniably glad. Even though I knew it would end. Because somehow, that was better. No worries of trying to keep a relationship with a Snow Elemental from hundreds of miles away. It was a perfect fling, even though it was technically the wrong season for one.
Then again, as my friend Dan would say, “it’s always the season for a fling.”
The last night out there, we toast marshmallows over a candle in a snowdrift and make s’mores. We lay there, her stuck to me like static cling, and I’m happy. Happy right up until her lips turn hard and clumsy in the middle of a kiss. Until, without any kind of warning, I’m shivering, teeth clanging together, hands unsteady. Until I hear her gasp of pain as my skin burns her.
I pull my coat back on, glad that I brought it. I haven’t needed it for the past 10 days.
I turn to her. Nixie has tears in her eyes, and now, so do I.
When mine fall, they melt tiny holes at my feet. Now I see that my feet have sunken several inches into the snow, where they used to touch it so slightly that it was barely disturbed.
I can’t say goodbye. We’ve spent out days together saying everything that needs to be said. It’s probably the most communicative relationship anyone’s ever had. We’ve told each other about our lives, our loves, what we want from life. How we think it’s going to end. She was the one who suggested that, when the pass expires, we walk away from each other with no tears or hysterics.
“That’s the kind of behavior that can only lead to declarations of undying love and passion, and we really can’t afford that.” I wonder if something happened to her to make her feel that way. The tone of her voice, the stance of her body when she says it, it’s like she’s quoting something she didn’t want to hear but kept repeating to herself until it stuck.
I try to walk away, but I’m clumsy and fall down in the snow. She reaches down to help me before remembering.
I stand up on my own and kiss her on the cheek, not letting my lips touch her enough to hurt either of us. It takes a huge amount of self-control. Then I say this:
“Looks like that agreement to be mature and calm didn’t really work out, huh?” My voice is too ragged. My jaw aches, I think from keeping it from quivering. I clear my throat.
“The thing is, I really can’t forget you.” I’d say more, but I can’t. “Yeah. That’s all.” I finish lamely.
Nixie stares at me for a moment before she makes some internal descision and throws herself into my arms, knocking me back a few steps with the force. My coat is only warm on the inside.
The seconds stretch out. I’ll be surprised if I can’t remember each detail about that moment when we held each other and tried not to be too emotional when I’m sixty-four. I register that her hair is long and extremely curly. You could wear the ringlets on your fingers like rings. The bit of my skin visible between my too-small coat and my gloves is at least five times as dark as hers. The only sign of humanity in my line of vision is my own footprints, because my back is towards the cabins. The sound of distant wind in leaves. My nose is cold and probably red.
Then we really do try to walk away from each other. I try to be stoic and stuff, I really do. I just kind of can’t. I keep having to turn around, scared I’ve forgotten the slope of her nose or the length of her eyelashes. She’s got this smile on her face as she watches me try to walk away. I feel like one of those annoying “you hang up-no you hang up-no you hang up” couples. Only we’re not a couple.
Eventually I give up and start running, trying to leap over the snow in as few steps as possible. It’s nothing like how she does it, but it gets me home.
I strip naked and crawl into bed, defeated. I pass out immediately, which is nice.
The next morning is a bit of a shock for my parents, who come in to wake me up to have breakfast so we can leave, only to discover that I’ve kicked off the blankets in the middle of the night, disliking their confining warmth. Since I’ve gone to sleep naked, the sound I wake up to is my mother’s sweet call of “sweetie, we’ve gotta go, it’s time to- Dear GOD please put some PANTS on!” At which point she started laughing loudly. I’d be offended if I hadn’t woken up lying on my front.
Now it’s a few hours later and we’re about to get in the car. My mom’s sitting shotgun and rolling her eyes while my dad leaps up immediately after getting in the car each time he tries to sit down, thinking he’s forgotten something. I’m outside still, looking out at the surrounding area.
The mountains look remarkably like the picture of the Alps on a box of Swiss Miss. Evergreens live up to their names, and soil the ground underneath them with needles and cones. It’s early enough that the light from sun behind me is tinted a light, peachy pink/orange. I feel like I’m in a Christmas card or music video or something.
The ground is immaculate and pristine. Like a freshly washed tablecloth that melts when you hold it for too long. I almost don’t want to touch it before I remember how Nixie hates perfection.
I have to dig for a while before I get to the green grass underneath, but it’s still there. Then I line the lip of the hole with fallen cedar branches and pinecones. I feel completely stupid while doing it- I know my mom is watching, for one thing, and the digging requires that I bend over and end up sticking my butt in the air a lot- but somehow noble.
The tiny pit’s done and my dad’s still busy. I remember something I’ve got in my backpack and run to the trunk to dig it out.
The leaf pressed between the pages of the book is still remarkably colorful. It looked like a pop of flame against the pavement when I saw it a month ago. Being stuck in the book doesn’t change that.
I lay it at the bottom of the hole, the red contrasting with the green of the grass contrasting with the white of the snow. It doesn’t even look real. It’s like a 3-D Photoshop. I don’t expect her to love me forever, or swear off love if she can’t have me, or spend months sobbing to her friends. I can only hope she remembers me. That I was somehow a new flame in her world of white.