We were driving in the car, she and I. It was snowing. Great big wet clumps were weighing down tree boughs on both sides of the road. It was quiet, the kind of snow-blanked quiet that sounds like a soft white blanket had just been thrown over the hills and roads, houses and trees.
We were getting milk and bread, a few things before the big storm hit our area. My little 10 year old girl with the hazel brown eyes and arched eyebrows was sitting up next to me, watching the winter wonderland go by. The narrow two lane road was just beginning to disappear underneath the fine powder. A few cars were outside, fellow worriers, quick errand-runners like us.
As we accelerated down the hill I took my foot off the pedal to slow down. The car kept speeding up. It was beginning to drift left across where I knew the yellow dividing line, no longer visible, should be. A ditch was on our right. Trees and big wooden poles were on our left. I was slowly losing control of the steering. We had hit a patch of black ice. I didn't know how much road this had covered, how long we were going to be on it. The bottom of the hill was coming up fast, and we were still gaining speed.
My daughter was unaware of this. All she heard was the hot air blower and the windshield wipers going voomp voomp voomp. It was a Christmas fairytale land.
By habit I glanced over to see her seatbelt was on. No oncoming cars were coming down the other side of the hill, towards us. Still, my heartrate was starting to pick up and I began to look for safe ways off the road. I was trying to avoid the ditch; it was pretty deep down at the bottom of the hill.
I tried to steer right, back onto our side of the road when the front wheels let go. We were in a drift now, and Julie knew we were sliding. Foot off pedal, pump brake. Countersteer, countersteer again, goose the gas pedal when the back end started coming up. At one point we were flying straight backwards, totally out of control. Everything happened slowly, in quarter time. Finally, after what seemed like minutes on the road, but what was more likely just a few seconds, I was able to bring the nose of the car around and point us forward. We were on our side of the road but on the other side of the hill, slipping backwards. We finally came to a complete stop. No lights. No cars. That's all I cared about. The car was quiet - we'd passed the whole thing over in silence.
I glanced over to Julie to see the reaction on her face. In all this time, she never once cried out or even said a word. She just sat there, taking it all in, with her unshakeable serenity. I had to smile at her remarkable coolness. That girl is all right.