The snow falls thick and heavy from a sky made up in soft sheets of grey. Beatrice putters about her kitchen, watching the flakes soundlessly fall. She pauses to look out the window. William Harris trudges behind his prancing dog Trudi, who wears a red jacket with shiny sequins. Although she cannot see them today, Beatrice knows that Trudi's nails are painted red: William's wife gives the dog a manicure every Sunday after church.
The tea kettle whistles and she turns off the gas. She studies her assortment of teas, decides upon a good, strong Earl Grey. She sets the bag in her mug and pours water on top. Outside, the roads are silent and still. “Snow day today, I'll bet,” she tells the cat, who sits at her feet, tail curled around his toes. She sits at the kitchen table with her tea and watches the birds gather at her feeders: goldfinch and sparrows. A few chickadees.
A cardinal flies up, clutches tiny feet around a branch. “A male,” she tells the cat. “Bright red color. The female dresses more conservatively. You could almost accuse her of being drab,” she adds, then immediately regrets it. After the children left, her husband had told Beatrice she was drab. He'd told her he wanted someone flashier; someone who liked to get dressed up and go dancing on a Friday night. She stares again at the cardinal and she wonders whether it is just humans whose females adorn so lavishly.
The neighbor children have gathered outside. The oldest one picks up a bit of snow and forms it into a ball. He sets it down and pushes it along the ground. It grows so quickly that soon enough it's two feet high and takes three of them to move it, the ball rolling up a white carpet of snow, leaving a patch of muddied grass behind. The youngest one—too small to be of much use—runs along this path of green while the others rub at the snowball with mittened hands until it is smooth and clean.
“Soup weather,” Beatrice says. She rummages through her freezer until she finds the packet of oxtails she got on sale last spring. She sets them on the counter and begins slicing onions. These, she browns in a little oil, adding the meat, turning it carefully with tongs, jumping back occasionally to avoid the angry splatter. The cat circles her legs, its tail in a question mark.
She sees the snowman is complete. Three balls, neatly stacked. The children have set a sombrero upon his gigantic head. Beatrice smiles and fills her stock pot with water. She cuts parsnips and turnips, carrots too, carefully sliding them off the cutting board and into the water. The windows have begun to steam over; here and there a drop of water drips down the glass.
She looks at the pot. Once again, she has cooked for too many.
Beatrice spends the rest of the day in silence, thinking about her children who never seem to have the time to call ever since their dad died.
They blame her. For his death. This she knows.
That day, just after lunch, she'd dressed in red. She'd slipped into black heels, laughing at herself and lecturing, too. What was a woman her age doing dressing this way? Her husband had nodded off in his easy chair, his chin touching his chest. She would surprise him with this outfit. She would tell him she wanted to go dancing.
But when she touched his arm, he remained still. “He didn't even have the courtesy to wake up,” she told the cat now, “didn't even take the time to tell me how beautiful I looked before he checked out.”
The kids arrived soon after the ambulance. They'd accused her of having an affair; of sneaking around on their father while he was at work.
She didn't bother correcting them.
His girlfriend showed up at the funeral.
She wore a red dress and cried with abandon. She was six months pregnant.
Beatrice shakes her head to clear it of old memories. No point in thinking about that now.
She eats her dinner in silence. Too early. But what else to do when one is alone?
She retires, tucking herself in and falling asleep to canned laugher on the television.
She dreams of snowmen.
She blinks awake and slips her feet into her slippers. She walks to the window; parts the lace curtains and peers outside. “He's missing something,” she tells the cat. She ties on her robe and heads to the coat closet; pulls the wicker basket from the top shelf. She digs through mismatched mittens and old hats until she finds the red scarf she's looking for. “Stay here, Cat.” She steps out into the snow, crosses the street and wraps the red scarf around the snowman's neck. “Thought you might be chilly.” She pats him on his cold and rounded shoulder.
“Looks good,” someone says behind her and for a moment Beatrice believe the snowman is speaking to her; believes that the red scarf has magically brought him to life. She whirls around.
“William! You startled me!” There's a man behind her; an older man; and Beatrice regrets her robe and slippers.
“Beatrice, this is my father,” William gestures to the man. “David.”
David extends his hand. His face, she notices, is ruddy.
At noon, she heats up yesterday's soup; sets out a bowl. The doorbell rings. “Now who could that be?” she asks the cat. She opens the door. David stands on the stoop, a single red rose in his hand.
The temperatures rise that afternoon. The snowman lowers his head to his chest, begins melting away. But Beatrice and David don't notice, so engrossed are they in conversation.
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, David Wiley at http://scholarlyscribe.
wordpress.com gave me this prompt: Writing Prompt: Snow
I gave daily shorts at http://ashortaday.
wordpress.com/ this prompt: Ask the questions that have no answers.--Wendell Berry
I gave daily shorts at http://ashortaday.