Academic journal article TriQuarterly

The Snow Goddess

Academic journal article TriQuarterly

The Snow Goddess

Article excerpt

The snow. The scalloped drifts, the blinding desert of whiteness in the sun, the silent rain of flakes through headlights and streetlamps, the dry crunch underfoot. What else did she deeply miss, other than a particular friend, after months of living inside the vast, crowded, cacophonous tanning parlor of Southern California? Her lover, a native named Thorn, promised to take her to the mountains that sometimes emerged from a first-stage smog alert and hovered vaguely on the horizon beyond her apartment window--he would take her as soon as his projects achieved equilibrium. He used this word--equilibrium--causing her to think both of chemistry and the inner ear. Rain that had fallen for twenty-four hours with a disappointing absence of sound and fury would turn to snow upon reaching the mountains, Thom said to her, as she stared at a sky so colorless and lacking in depth that she imagined the earth to have skidded off its orbit, into some inexplicable, twilightish zone of the universe.

He's thinking of skiing, she said to herself. Craving the thrill of descent which was an idea that made her shudder, wind like a maniac's hands at your throat as you plummeted, out of control, into an inevitable spiral of darkness and death. She had always been prone to cosmically apocalyptic fantasies--the earth radically tilting, for example, or veering dangerously close to the sun, or colliding with another planet like Saturn or Jupiter, an event comparable in her mind to the crash of her Volkswagen Rabbit with a semi-trailer truck on a stretch of freeway where traffic sometimes did about eighty miles an hour. A propensity she blamed upon a childhood visit to an observatory, where everything, she told Thom, the heavy black gears of the telescope, the slit in the dome high above her head, the photographs of pockmarked astral bodies, the wealth of facts printed in inch-high letters under plastic, had disrupted her sense of proportion--her equilibrium--so profoundly that she had thrown up on an animated model of the solar system, the sun a white-hot basketball around which the planets revolved--Mercury a pea, Jupiter a jumbo grapefruit, and so forth. She remembered the tone of a woman's voice saying "For goodness sake!" and then the sight of another child empathetically throwing up on the opposite side of the display. She could see the absurdity and humor of this scene, but the recalling of it only made her feel, particularly when Thom didn't laugh, queasy and ashamed.

She hadn't known him long enough to believe everything he said, absolutely, but when she turned the TV on to the six o'clock news there it was--people stuck in it, throwing it, sliding through it--snow; white, pristine, glorious snow. Next weekend, he said, a little distantly, distracted by other ideas that often seemed to ring like a telephone in his head. She thought of his profession as busyness. Waiting for his coffee on a weekend morning he would poke the buttons on his wristwatch calculator while delivering a monologue containing such phrases as "front end" and "capital enrichment." The first time she saw him she was amazed by his golden, shaggy hair; his George Hamilton tan; his baggy shorts and T-shirt that her mind removed in an act of giddy, pubescent daring that turned the imagined scene into a fifties beach party, replete with longings that in the spirit of those Eisenhower years had to be tortured into a phony Gidget-like wholesomeness.

"Are you a surfer?" she had asked, a few months removed from ice, naked trees, and a man who liked to cite a study purporting to prove that the mind works most efficiently between forty and sixty degrees. A man who had grudgingly turned his thermostat up to sixty-three when she came to spend the night. Whose face had faded, along with his letters, leaving the memory of shivering, shivering--her body wrapped around his, trying to steal his heat; then sitting at his table eating breakfast in double layers of wool with icy fingers that fumbled with the butter knife. …

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