She, of course, was used to it
. Twenty-three years of parka
lined snowboots, mitten
and crunching, slushing, sliding through it on the way to work
. It was a thing
that covered the country
four or five months a year, something to push from driveway
s and brush off of car
But for him, fresh from the Mediterranean, it was a kind of heavenly confetti, ambrosia or manna, and he rushed out half-mad at the
first snowfall and lost himself in the sweet salt cold. He even dreamed of snow and he had a weird talent for predicting the next snowfall. He'd sleep and see tiny people coming down from the sky in parachutes that were snowflakes, a rain of infinitesimally small doves, clusters of white blossoms — the fruit of the great sleeping sky tree.
All through September and October his blood rose in anticipation of the cold, while all around him people lost their summer energy and grew weary and irritable as they thought of the long white siege ahead.
In December he trudged around frozen and delirious with joy in his soft Italian leather shoes with the pointed European toes, while she, bundled up to the chin with countless nameless pieces of wool and fur, hardly able to turn her head to see him, wondered how he could stand having to take his pants to the cleaner's twice a week to get the slush and wintry crud cleaned off of the cuffs. He made snowballs with his bare hands, if you can imagine, and when the tips of his ears turned a ghastly white from the cold, it never occurred to him to buy a hat. Coming indoors after an hour or two of strolling through a blizzard he would
be laughing and freezing as if the winter were a great white clown someone had created solely for his amusement.
She meanwhile, huddled in front of the oven or even the toaster, would try to unnerve him with horrendous tales of winter in Winnipeg. “If you think this is something,” she would gasp, “you should see what it's like out West!” and go on to describe how as a child she used to walk to school in the morning through shoulder-high snowbanks and by the time she got to the
schoolyard there would be icicles in her nose and all round her mouth and her lips were so frozen she couldn't speak, and all the kids would be trying to laugh with their wooden lips. But he laughed too when he heard the story, and told her he wished he'd been with her out there, because, he explained, what thrilled him wasn't feeling the cold but letting the cold feel him.
Actually, she was quite a good sport with him that first winter he was in Canada. At midnight after a heavy snowfall, they'd go into a little park where the swings and slides stood like skeletons in the blackness, and he, trembling with excitement, would put his foot into a fresh snowscape and examine the footprint of man marring the virgin whiteness. “A giant step for mankind,” she'd say, as if the park were a moonscape, and slowly slowly they would walk forward pretending they were astronauts, clumsy and weightless in the midnight park, pouncing with glee on a swing or a slide or a water-fountain and radioing back to
Earth that they had found evidence of an intelligent civilization. She would pick up a boulder - which turned out once to be somebody's frozen bowling shoe - and he, zooming in with his invisible TV camera, would relay the image to the millions of viewers in Tokyo and New York and Paris and London and Toronto. Then they would take imaginary pictures of each other standing triumphantly in front of the swings, or gazing rapturously at a gleaming slide, which seemed to
be giving off inter-galactic signals, like the rectangular slab in Space Odyssey.
For the first half hour or so she found it fun; they made cryptic triangles and squares in the snow and she even taught him how to make an “angel” by lying on his back in the snow and swinging his arms up and down on both sides. But he was always wanting to prolong the excursions long after the cold had crept into her bones and she, wet through and shivering horribly, would have to wait for him to finish his angels - sometimes five, six, even seven of them all done in a neat circle around the water-fountain with their wings facing many points of the
Gradually they became quite serious about what they should make of each fresh snowscape. They would stand on the brink of the park sometimes for five or ten whole minutes debating what they should inscribe there with their feet or hands, not wanting to waste the cleanness, the newness of the snow on trivial ventures. Moonscapes and angels started to pall on them, so one night they decided to do a series of gigantic initials, which seemed easy but was actually quite difficult because they had to make tremendous Nureyev-like leaps between the bottom of an “O” and the top of an “R.” So he fell down flat in the
middle of his name and got up protesting that it all came of not knowing how to write English well enough.
Another night they made a magic circle with segments bearing ancient looking Hebrew-ish letters, and they both leapt into the centre of the circle and stood there under the stars and made secret wishes that are not our business to know.
Another night they were tired and spent the time throwing snowballs at tree trunks, which left hazy white circles like the fist-marks of avenging angels.
Another night they did Fantastic Footprints and Imaginary Beast tracks, trying to make the park look as if it had been the battleground between three-footed humans and hideous monsters who walked sideways like crabs. It took two hours to finish and though she had serious doubts as to whether it had been worth the effort, he was swollen with pride. You'd think he'd just completed a painting or a novel.
He was forever thinking up new things to be done with the snow. He considered (seriously) painting it, even flavouring it with sacks full of lime or lemon powder, and would have gone ahead with his plan had she not discouraged him by informing him you couldn't buy lime or lemon powder by the sack. So they made snowmen and snowwomen and snowchildren and snowanimals and snowstars. (A snowstar is a big ball of snow with long icicles — if you can find them — protruding out of the sides.) They made snowstars until her hands hurt.
They made snow-trenches — where they lay in wait for the invisible army of abominable snowmen to come — until she thought she'd go mad, screaming mad.
They made white fairy castles, they made white futuristic city-scapes, and they made footprints, footprints, footprints.
So I suppose what developed was, after all, to be expected. Which is not to say that she herself expected it in the least. When the night of the blizzard came and he hadn't showed up at his usual time, she got worried, very worried. And so she put on her fur-lined boots and her parka and her scarf and her mittens and went trudging out in the direction of the park. The snowfall that night was like a rapid descent of stars; they came down obliquely, razor-sharp, and her face stung and reddened and burned. Snowfire, she thought. Another word.
And she was surprised, though not totally, to find Grigori lying there at the bottom of the slide that gave off signals like the metal slab in Space Odyssey, with his Mediterranean hair all a flurry from the wind and his absolutely naked stone dead body wedged somehow into the snowdrift, and his arms outstretched at his sides as if he'd been making his last angel.
But what really got her was the smile on his face. He never did feel the cold.