This phrase popped into my head the other day: the warmth of snow. I wasn’t sure where it came from—I’m still not—but I spent some time thinking about it. I mean, what kind of sense does that make, the warmth of snow? I understand snow can, when packed correctly, have a sort of insulative property; that’s what makes igloos a feasible proposition, right? But that’s more holding warmth in, not generating heat the way that phrase implies. Fiberglass insulation isn’t inherently warm, either, but we pay quite a bit to have it within our walls to hold the elements at bay.
I haven’t even been in snow in quite a while. In fact, though I work outside (I’m a letter carrier), I avoid it when I can. Walking through snow, even when not very deep, is tiring when you have to do it all day. I’d much rather keep to the shoveled paths and walkways, going around the white mess as much as I can, just trying to stay dry—because dry often equals warm, and even dry powdery snow isn’t really dry. So there: I avoid snow to stay warm.
But still, that phrase nagged at me: the warmth of snow. I was in the office while all this was running through my mind, and I looked up to my overhead light where a pair of little magnets holds a newspaper clipping. The photo in the clipping shows me and my son—Christ, he has to be all of seven in that picture—bundled up for bear and sledding down the hill at Endicott Park. That had not been a warm day at all, that had been a day so cold the snow on the hill had turned to ice, giving a phenomenally fast sled ride, and turning the edges of old sled marks into ridges sharp enough to cut our gloves. The paper’s photographer had happened by and taken our picture because we were the only ones crazy enough to be out with our sleds that day—but, dammit, we were having a ball.
We did lots of sledding at that park when he was younger. It’s right down the street from the house and has good parking beside the hill, perfect for jumping in the car to warm up a bit when the days got a little too cold, or when the fun was done and we were both soaked from making snowmen at the base of the slope.
Snowmen were kind of our thing when he was that age. We’d make them in the yard when I got home from work—usually after he helped me shovel the driveway (read: flopped around flinging snow and making angels while I shoveled)—trying, no matter how much or little snow had actually fallen, to make a man as tall as me. There were some seriously heavy snowballs hoisted in that yard as we constructed our Frostys, and my boy was about as much help lifting them as he’d been with the driveway, but at least he was taking this seriously.
My son’s fourteen now—he’ll be fifteen come August—and we haven’t done the snowman thing in quite some time. Or the sledding thing. Or much of anything, really; he has school, Scouts, friends, the Internet, and a girlfriend: aside from providing rides—and the occasional cash donation, of course—a dad is kind of superfluous in that situation.
This winter, though, we got our snow late, so it was just last month that I arrived at the house after work to find the driveway already shoveled (the boy’s discovered the wonders of the snow blower, thank God) and my son and his gal roaming about the backyard drifts. I went in to take a nice warming shower (I work outside, remember, and was fairly chilled), put on dry clothes, and have a quick bite to eat before it was time to take the young lady home. When we returned from dropping off his paramour, my son said, “Come here a minute. I want to show you something.”
What he showed me was a snowman, nearly as tall as me, standing lone sentry in the center of our yard. The traditional stick arms pointed this way and that, but the face had neither coal eyes nor a carrot nose; instead, the white orb had been carved into a facsimile of a skull, à la Jack Skellington of The Nightmare Before Christmas fame.
“I thought you’d think the skull was cool,” he said.
I agreed it was.
“Besides,” he went on, “this is like the ones we used to make, remember?”
I told him I did remember, and then, struck that this man-child, already bigger than me, in whose life I’d become so extraneous, would remember it too, I surreptitiously wiped my eye.
Back in the office I looked away from the picture of us sledding—I’d been standing there staring at it as all this ran through my head, high-def movies with the world’s fastest playback speed—checked to see if anyone was watching, and wiped my eye again with a smile.
Looked like I’d found the warmth of snow after all, and it made all the sense in the world.
Rob Smales is the author of Dead of Winter, which won the Superior Achievement in Dark Fiction Award from Firbolg Publishing’s Gothic Library in 2014. His short stories have been published in two dozen anthologies and magazines. His story “Photo Finish” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and won the Preditors & Editors’ Readers Choice Award for Best Horror Short Story of 2012.
His latest work is a collection of short stories entitled Echoes of Darkness, published by Books & Boos Press (2016). Most recently, his story “A Night at the Show” received an honorable mention on Ellen Datlow’s list of the Best Horror of 2014, and was also nominated as best short story by the eFestival of Words.
More about his work can be found at www.RobSmales.com, or you can look him up on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Robert.T.Smales.