Snow has always been an enigma to me since I was six years old, running outside without a coat on to get a closer look at the brilliantly white spots of glitter falling from the sky. My mother followed me and scooped me up into her arms, holding me close from the wintery chill.
“Snow is special,” she whispered to me, “Especially on the first day it falls.”
Eyes wide with wonder, I tilted my face to the heavens, letting the snowflakes alight gently on my cheeks, the light kiss of winter.
“I can feel it!” My childish voice gripped with amazement and I stuck my tongue out of my mouth. She chuckled musically and tucked me into her coat, shielding me from the cold.
“Everyone can feel it, darling, but can you hear it?”
I peered out at the silently falling snow, brow furrowed in confusion, and then turned back to her quizzically.
My mother brushed a gentle kiss over my forehead. “You’ll see… close your eyes.”
* * * * *
I was sitting on the bus, wiping off the foggy windows as they clouded over every time my hot breath got too close and trying in vain to see the snow falling on the already white ground. I was waiting, patiently waiting, as the street signs flashed by me, slightly obscured by the frosting decorations patterning their way across the cold glass. She swirled around me excitedly: here! Right here.
I hurriedly pulled on my hat, clapping the ear-flaps down over my ears, and scooped up my school bag. I headed up to the front of the bus, stumbling over the book bags, legs, and gym bags that were in the aisle. The bus stopped abruptly when Stan, the bus driver, saw me coming toward him, slightly off-balance.
“Debbie,” he said, his gravelly voice rumbling with a warning that did not reach his friendly eyes. He was new, so new that while he had made a point to learn all of our names, he didn’t really know us. “How many times do I have to tell you not to stand up while the bus is moving?” He coughed. “Dang weather.”
“I know I’m sorry!” I said quickly, uncomfortably shifting my bag on my back. “But, um, I forgot. My mother told me to get off here, um… because she wanted me to get off here.” The tinkle of her musical laugh filled my ears and I wondered that he could not hear it.
“Yeah?” Stan coughed again. He peered up at me skeptically from under the worn, gray brim of his hat. “What for? That weather out there is killer.”
“Um, yeah,” I said, biting my lip, “But she wanted me to run some errands for her.” The lie almost caught in my throat, but I could hear the twinkle in her eyes and I smiled to myself. Stan shrugged tiredly and swung the door open.
“Just don’t stay out too long. It’s freezing.”
“Thank you!” I said, relieved, and clomped down the stairs in my heavy snow boots. I jumped off the last step, and the snow POOFed, sending swirls of icy mist up around my waist. She sighed with contentment and I took a deep breath and puffed out, admiring the way my hot breath collided with the ice-cold air.
I heard Stan chuckle at me as he swung the doors shut again. The bus roared back to life and I winced, watching the cloud of black fumes explode from its tail pipe and swirl into the pure whiteness around it, muddying the air. I waited until after the taillights of the bus had faded from view before turning and walking through the trees, enjoying being able to wade through the knee-deep snow.
It was my first time alone, but I guess I wasn’t really alone; I could almost hear her musical laughter tinkling in the air ahead of me. It was coming down harder now, but I didn’t care; I had reached our clearing. It was the perfect spot, next to a back road that was rarely used and past the main road, surrounded by majestic, snow- covered trees. I stood perfectly still and closed my eyes, straining my ears, until finally, I heard it: the symphony of snow.
The deep baritone of thousands of flakes landing on freshly fallen snow, the gentle whisper of the tumbling flakes brushing against one another as they floated down to the ground, and the light tinkle of the tiny icicles on the branches as the wind blew gently by them, disturbing them slightly. My heart lifted, and my soul soared. This is what she told me, all those years ago: only on this first day can the pure, fresh precipitation sing.
I squeezed my eyes shut even tighter, eager to hear more. The snow was coming down faster now, the tempo rising, increasing urgency, and I lifted my chin, feeling the music, too soft for anyone but us, rush through my body. I tilted my head, letting the sound surround me, and I heard her sigh, almost imperceptibly, next to my ear. It was a symphony just for us, only for us. My body relaxed as the music quieted, the wind slowing to an almost standstill. I remained standing there, motionless, ready for the wind to pick up again. In a rush, the wind swept by, swirling the topmost layer of snow in a spiral around me, and I wanted to spread my arms, but felt her smile and gently rest her palm on my shoulder, urging me to be still; even the rustle of my winter coat could disturb our symphony.
But, then, another noise sounded in the distance, the sound of a car’s engine straining to get past the snow. Our symphony faltered as I struggled to hold onto it, but the roar was persistent and I felt it fade. The headlights flashed into view, as did the driver’s surprised face, staring at the tiny figure in the middle of the clearing, standing knee-deep in snow and glaring at him from underneath the snow-covered brim of her cap.
The car passed, and the sound of his engine faded into the distance. I closed my eyes again and turned my thoughts back to our symphony, encouraging it to continue, but I was interrupted yet again. Another low rumbling sounded in the distance, its only purpose serving to crowd our music out. It was another car, driving on the main road that existed just behind the thick trees I had come from. When that sound finally faded, it was replaced by another, and then another, and then another.
The snowflakes danced regretfully across my cheeks, still falling, but rendered mute and toneless by the unnatural elements of the world. I sighed and shook the layer of snow off my shoulders and head, letting it alight gently on the ground where it joined its brothers and sisters. It was lost, our beautiful symphony. It was too light, too gentle, and too quiet to survive and to be heard. A light kiss brushed across my forehead and she swirled away, our moment passed and our time done.
I turned and clumped through my almost completely covered tracks, pausing at the edge of our clearing to look back at the silently dancing snow.
“Until next year, mother.” I smiled softly, my regret heavy in the air behind me. The world I lived in had drowned out the world we shared, because the symphony can only play when there is silence.
Short Story – Rebecca Davis – 2013