A perfect story for a cold winter's eve, perhaps when the snow is falling. Taken from Christmas Days, a collection of winter tales by Jeanette Winterson.
It is snowing. In the English language we do not know anything about the it' that is snowing. It might be God. Maybe not. Anyway. It. Is. Snowing.
What kind of snow?
There are many kinds of snow. Did you k-snow that?
There's mountain snow. And polar snow. And ski-snow, and deep snow, and snow in flutters like tiny moths, and snow in flurries like moths in a hurry, and snow in flakes like someone (it?) is grating the sky.
And snow sharp as insect bites and snow as soft as lather and wet snow that doesn't stick and dry snow that does, and wraps the world like an installation to the point in the night where you wake up and the sound is gone, to the point in the night where you turn deeper into the bed, to the point in the night where there's snow in your sleep and your sleep is as deep as snow.
Open the curtainS Now!
Snow on snow on snow on snow on snow.
Deep enough for the dog to disappear, ears reappearing like wings.
Cars are mounds. Sounds are children excitedly.
Let's build a snowman!
Nicky and Jerry started rolling the snowball bigger and bigger and rounder and rounder. Soon they had a body bigger than either of them.
Do you think she's too fat? said Nicky.
How do you know she's a she?
Well, I don't until we put the clothes on her.
But you keep calling her her.
Because she's fat.
How do you make a thin snowman?
They tried. They rolled a pole of snow and stood it up and when they put the head on the pole it fell down.
Nicky wasn't impressed. She pulled a face. She said
We can make her a bit more pyramidy give her a neck or some- thing. A fat neck is not a good look.
Jerry didn't want to make a pyramid snowman.
She said, Snow people are all fat it's like what they have to be to keep them warm.
Nicky thought this was stupid If they warm up they melt.
Warm on the inside, stupid! Come on, Nicky, help me roll her head.
Nicky's mum came out with two mugs of hot chocolate.
Hey! He's great!
He's a she. Have we got any clothes for her?
Sure! Go and see what's in the charity box.
Nicky ran inside, leaving her chocolate to steam.
Nicky's mum was attractive. She was slim with hair coloured three kinds of blonde. She smiled at Jerry. She had good teeth.
How's your mum, Jerry; is she OK?
Jerry nodded. Her mum had to work hard and she had to work nights at a hotel. Sometimes she drank too much and passed out. Jerry's dad had left them last year, just before Christmas, and he hadn't come back.
Nicky's mum shifted her weight, which wasn't a lot, from foot to foot.
Why don't you sleep over tonight? Nicky would love that.I'll ask, said Jerry.You can call, said Nicky's mum, but Jerry couldn't call because her mum's phone had been cut off. But she didn't want to say that; instead she said, I'll run over later and ask.
Nicky came back out with an armful of clothes. They tried a sweater, a hoodie, a dress with buttons, but nothing fitted.
This is like Cinderella, said Jerry.You mean she's the ugly sister? said Nicky.
She's the princess in disguise. Here try this.The bobble hat fitted.
She can go to the ball!
In a bobble hat?
Well, she can't, because she's got no legs. How about eyes? She needs eyes. But not buttons.
No, not buttons give me your bracelet those green stones they can be her eyes. Come on!
What are you doing? That's my bracelet!
But Jerry wasn't listening she broke the bracelet and fixed the SnowWoman with great green, staring eyes.
She looks real now! said Nicky.
She needs a snose, said Jerry, or maybe a snowt.
Jerry forgot about Nicky. She made the SnowWoman a nose out of a pine cone and a mouth that was a big red smile. It was really the dog's throw-hoop cut in half but it looked like a big red smile.
By now Nicky was playing a game on her iPad. The afternoons were short and the day was cold. Soon it would be dark. Nicky's mum called out from the kitchen door Jerry! Go and see your mother now if you're coming back later!
Jerry ran off, promising the SnowWoman she would come right back. But when Jerry got home, her mother wasn't there. The house was dark. Sometimes the electricity got cut off, but when that hap- pened Jerry couldn't get in with the entry phone she had to climb over the wall at the back and find the key behind the dustbins. That was what she did but the key wasn't there, and the house was as dark at the back as it was at the front.
You lookin' for your ma? asked Mr Store, who ran the store that was called Store's Stores.
Jerry nodded. She didn't say anything. Mr Store said, Your ma's not here went out, didn't come back; what's new?
Mr Store was horrible. He had a horrible face and a horrible stare and a horrible pair of brown overalls that he always wore. Sometimes Jerry's mum asked him for milk or bread and to pay the next day. He always said no. Now he stuffed his horrible hands in the brown pockets of his horrible overalls and went inside.
Jerry decided to wait a while and squeezed herself onto the front step, where she was out of the cold a little.
She thought about the SnowWoman she was at least eight feet tall, bigger than anyone. When Jerry grew up she hoped she'd be eight feet tall. Then she'd show them.
She'd show them who she was.
Night fell. Why do we say that? Like night didn't mean to be here but tripped up crossing the moon. The moon was bright. Everyone was coming home now, the day done, the night cold. The windows along the street lit up one by one. Jerry stood up to warm her limbs and walked up and down the street looking in through the windows where she could. People sitting down to eat. People watching TV. People moving from room to room, saying something she couldn't hear what, their mouths opening and shutting like goldfish.
There was a bird in a cage and an Alsatian lying across the front door, willing it to open.
All the houses had lights on now, except hers.
Maybe her mother thought she was staying at Nicky's. Maybe she should go back there now.
Jerry set off on the half-hour walk back to Nicky's house. It seemed later than it was the quiet streets, no one driving. A black cat paced the length of a white wall.
There was Nicky's house now and the lights were on. Jerry broke into a run to reach the gate, but as she reached it all the lights went out, just like that, and the house was as dark as hers.
What time was it? The station wagon was on the drive. Jerry rubbed snow from the window and peeped in at the clock. 11.30? It couldn't be 11.30 at night.
Jerry was suddenly scared and tired and not knowing. Not knowing the time, not knowing what to do. Maybe she could sleep in the shed. Jerry turned from the dark house to the garden, strangely light and white and semi-shining because of the snow.
The SnowMama was looking at her with two bright green jewel eyes.
I wish you were alive, said Jerry.
A live what? said the SnowMama. A live cat? A live circus?
Did you just speak? said Jerry doubtfully.I did, said the SnowMama.
Your mouth didn't move...
That's the way you fixed it, said the SnowMama. But you can hear me, can't you?
Yes, said Jerry. I can hear you. Are you really alive?
Watch this! said the SnowMama, and skipped a bit sideways. Not bad for no legs. That's the way you fixed it too.I'm sorry, said Jerry, I didn't know how to do legs.
Don't beat yourself up about things you can't change. You did your best. Anyway, I can glide. Come on! Let's go for a glide!
The SnowMama set off surprisingly fast for an object without legs, wheels or an engine. Jerry ran to catch up.
I'd say hold my hand, said the SnowMama, except that you didn't fix me any hands...
Wait! said Jerry. Would you like two medium-sized garden forks?
That would be gracious, said the SnowMama.So Jerry fetched the garden forks (medium-sized) from the shed and shoved them firmly into the sides of the SnowMama. The SnowMama wriggled her shoulders a bit to get the fit right, then, concentrating hard, she was able to flex the tines of the forks.
Hey! Hey! Hey!
How d'ya do that? asked Jerry.
It's a mystery, said the SnowMama. Do you know how you do things? Does anyone? I just did it. So let's go. Where are we going?
To find the others!
Jerry and the SnowMama left the garden and set off down the road. The SnowMama was much faster than Jerry, who kept falling down.
Fish in the sea, that's me, said the SnowMama. I'm in my element.
Climb aboard! Just jump up and rest your feet in my tines.
Soon the two of them were speeding down the street. Jerry held her feet in the cupped tines like they were stirrups and she held on to either end of the SnowMama's scarf like they were reins. On they went, past the school and the post office, or they were nearly past the post office when a little voice called out, WAIT FOR ME.
The SnowMama slid in a skid to a halt.
She said, WHO GOES THERE?
On the top of the mail box some kids had perched a Little Snow- Man with a paper hat on his head. THIS IS SO BORING, said the Little SnowMan TAKE ME WITH YOU!
Why are you speaking in Capital Letters? said the SnowMama.
Don't you know it's Bad Manners to speak in Capital Letters?
I have no family, said the Little SnowMan, and I never went to school. Forgive me.
Well, come on, said the SnowMama, just hold on to my front, as the back is occupied, and let's see what we can see.
PLEASED TO MEET YOU, MISS! yelled the Little SnowMan to Jerry, then he remembered that was not Polite, and whispered as quietly as he could PLEASED TO MEET YOU, MISS!
On they went, past the garage and the factory and through the still, silent night under the rock-diamond sky.
They came to the city park.
All day long the children had built SnowMen and now all the children had gone home and the SnowMen were still there.
They looked eerie in their brilliant white coats lit up by the bril- liant white moon.
Then Jerry saw that some of the SnowMen were moving slowly towards the lake where two of them were fishing.
A child must have built these fishing SnowMen, each with a rod and line made from a peeled stick and a length of twine.
As Jerry, the SnowMama and the Little SnowMan came near the lake one of the SnowFishers turned and raised his pork-pie hat in salute.
Welcome! This lake is full of SnowFish! The SnowGirls are light- ing a fire and we hope you will join us for a barbecue. Perfect weather! Right then his line bent and quivered and for a minute he steered something invisible and strong back and forth under the water, then with a deft flick of the line a SnowFish flew above the surface of the lake. It was more than a foot long and its scales were made of snow- flakes.
You only get them at this time of year, explained the SnowFisher.
Too early and they are frozen solid, too late and they melt like they were never there.
I've never seen a SnowFish, said Jerry.
That's to be expected, said the SnowFisher. Most of us can only see the world we know.
OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY OH BOY! yelled the Little SnowMan. He was so excited he stood upside down on his head and it came out backwards: HO YOB HO YOB HO YOB HO YOB
Can he pipe down? said the SnowFisher. He'll scare away the Snow- Fish.
The SnowMama grabbed the Little SnowMan by his feet and took him over to where a group of SnowSisters were piling together a wig- wam of white frosted branches. They all wore earrings made out of red berries.
Y'all staying for the barbecue? said one, taller than the rest. She's human, right?
Yes, said the SnowMama; her name's Jerry.
What about ME? shouted the Little SnowMan. Don't forget ME!
Can I leave him with you? said the SnowMama. He needs some discipline. He can fetch branches for the fire.
Sure! Come on, you little Sno' Snothin', get to work. We'll teach him a thing or two.
I'm an orphan! yelled the Little SnowMan. I got Special Needs.
You surely shall have Special Needs when the sun shows up and
melts you down, said a SnowSister. Now come on! Move it!
Let's you and me take a tour, said the SnowMama to Jerry. This is all new to you, I can see.
Isn't it new to you? asked Jerry. I mean, I only made you this morning.
That's part of the mystery of history, said the SnowMama. I was not. I am. I will not be. I will be.
That was too deep for Jerry and so was the snow. As she ran after the gliding SnowMama she fell into a deep drift up to her chin.
SNOLLIE! Lend me a line, will you? The SnowMama was signalling to one of the SnowFishers. He came over, dropped his line and pulled Jerry out like she were a carp under the ice.
Thanks, Snollie, said the SnowMama. This is a good year for us, isn't it?
It certainly is, Mama, said Snollie. If the weather holds we should be here a week before we have to move on.
Move on? said Jerry.
Like I said, the mystery of our history. Let me tell you how we happen.
The SnowMama sat down next to a snowy figure on a snowy bench and invited Jerry to sit between them. She folded her tine hands across her white lap and began...
Every year the snow falls and children build snowmen. They give us mittens and hats and ties and scarves and beautiful eyes, like the ones you gave me made out of green glass.
Grown-ups think that SnowPeople are just snow, but children sknow better than that. They whisper to us and tell us their secrets. They sit down on the ground and pull up their knees and lean their backs against us when they are sad. They love us, and so we come alive.
Look around the park. You see how many SnowPeople there are? Every year we meet again, because once we come alive, we live for- ever. You see us melt, and we do, but that's us moving on, to the next place where it snows. And when the children roll the snow, there we are again.
Jerry thought about this... But if you melt...
The SnowMama held up her hand in pause...
You can't melt our Snowls. Every SnowPerson has a Snowl, and the Snowl goes on through time and space and frost and ice and you'll find us with the polar bears and the elks and the reindeer. You'll find us waiting in white clouds to begin again. When the snow falls, we're not far behind.
Jerry looked at the SnowPerson sitting motionless on the bench beside her. What about this one? Why isn't he saying anything?
The SnowMama shook her head. He will never say anything. He's not a SnowMan, he's just snow. A grown-up made him, didn't believe in him, and didn't love him. So he didn't live.
Jerry said, My friend Nicky didn't love you. She thought you were too fat.
I am just right, said the SnowMama, and you loved me, and so I was waiting for you in the garden.
What if I hadn't come back? said Jerry.
I knew you would, said the SnowMama. Love always comes back.
A SnowCat prowled past wearing a jewelled collar. Ain't that the truth? said the SnowCat. High five for Lucky Love. And he held up his paw.
They've lit the fire! said Jerry. I can see it! But the flames aren't orange or red; they're white!
Cold fire, said the SnowMama. That's no ordinary fire. Come on! Let's go and join in.
The fire was burning high, every flare and shoot of flame like a burst of snowflakes flying upwards, but strangely the white frosted branches didn't seem to be consumed. The cold fire burned through them in shimmering transparent blasts.
The SnowPeople were standing or sitting around the campfire colding their hands and feet.
Come and get colder! said the SnowMama.
I'm too cold already, said Jerry, who was shivering.
Well, look who's here, said one of the SnowSisters.
MAKE WAY, MAKE WAY!
It was the Little SnowMan, carrying one end of a pole hung with SnowFish from the lake. The fish looked like they were made of crys- tal with pearly eyes.
Snollie was carrying the other end of the pole; he was trying to direct the Little SnowMan . . . Now we suspend the pole over the fire, like . . .
But the Little SnowMan was so excited that he walked right into the fire and right out the other side.
WOW, said Jerry, he just got bigger!
The Little SnowMan had indeed got bigger a lot bigger.
That's what happens in cold fire, explained the SnowMama.
In regular fire, things burn up so they get smaller, and then they disappear. Cold fire makes everything it touches bigger look at the fish!
The fish were cooking, sizzling inside their snowflake scales but now they were all twice the size.
Grab yourselves a fish, folks, said the SnowFisher.
Eat up while they're cold.
Can I have three? yelled the BIG (aka Little) SNOWMAN.
That stupid SnowBody got slush for brains we'll get him back to size... Hey, dude, swallow this!
One of the SnowSisters threw what looked like a pine cone at the rapidly growing, now enormous SnowMan.
THANKS! THANKS! THANKS! said the BLS, his snowy head already in the branches of the trees.
Will he be OK? asked Jerry.
Sure he will, replied the SnowMama. Worst comes to worst, he'll melt.
Will you melt? said Jerry.
Yes, I will.
I don't want you to melt.
You know what I'm thinkin'? said the SnowMama. I'm thinkin' we should get you home don't want you like Kay in The Snow Queen with blue hands and feet and ice in your heart.
But she was bad, said Jerry, the Snow Queen.
Yes, she was bad, but even being good has unintended conse- quences. You're only human, after all.
So the SnowMama picked up Jerry and they left the SnowPeople singing winter songs round the campfire: Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow', Winter Wonderland', Snobody Loves You Like I Love You', Ain't Snow Stoppin' Us Now'.
At the edge of the city park, the sound of singing died away and all Jerry could hear was the wind blowing in the trees and the glide of the SnowMama across the tracks. She was singing quietly to herself in a low, beautiful voice.
What's that song? said Jerry.
Shakespeare Fear no more the heat o' the sun.' It's a song of mourning. We sing it when we melt.
Do you know about Shakespeare? It's a mystery, said the SnowMama.
Soon they were on Jerry's street and outside Jerry's home. The lights were still out.
Here, said the SnowMama, let me do the door. I'll freeze open the lock.
Inside the house was cold and empty. There were dishes piled in the sink and on the counter. The floor was dirty. There was a Christmas tree in the corner of the room but it had no decorations.
It will be Christmas in a few days, said the SnowMama.
My dad left last Christmas, said Jerry. I think my mum's upset.
No one ever came to Jerry's house now. Not to play or to visit. She was used to seeing it like this. The mess and the dirt and the sadness. Now she saw it through the SnowMama's eyes.
Let's clean the place up together, said the SnowMama. You start with the dishes. I'll wash the floor.
The SnowMama's mopping method was unique. She melted a little bit of her snowskirts and spun the water round the room, shooing it straight out of the door when it was too dirty. Soon the dishes were done too, and dried, and the floor was gleaming.
All right! said the SnowMama. Now collect all the dirty clothes and the sheets and things from the bed, and we'll go to the launder- ette.
It's closed! said Jerry. And we don't have any money.
Trust me, I'm a snowman.
At the launderette the SnowMama sprang the lock and in they went. Operating the machines was easy. The SnowMama prised the metal front from the token dispenser with her steel fingers.
Plenty here, she said, carefully refitting the door.
While the laundry went round and round, Jerry felt herself getting warm and sleepy. She dreamed she was in a snowstorm of washing powder and that the sky was made of sheets.
A drunk walking by, second bottle of vodka in his pocket, saw or said he saw a snowman doing the washing
I'm tellin' ya she was eight feet tall and white and built like a cube and she had these scary green eyes, and pitchforks for hands, and there was a little girl with her fast asleep on a couple of chairs.
Ya sure it wasn't Santa Claus in there with her? Ha ha ha ha ha...
When Jerry woke up all the laundry was washed and dried and folded, so she and the SnowMama made their way home.
You see to the beds, said the SnowMama; I'll be back very soon.
Jerry made up nice new beds for herself and her mother. For the first time in ages the beds looked like nice places to be, snug and warm and clean and inviting. She started to yawn. The clock said nearly 4am.
Just then the SnowMama returned pushing a shopping cart piled with groceries: fruit, coffee, cakes, vegetables, bacon, eggs, milk, butter, bread, a turkey and a plum pudding. The SnowMama's red dog-hoop mouth was a bigger, wider grin than ever.
I broke into Store's Stores!
But that's stealing!
Yes, it is.But that's wrong!
So is a child with nothing to eat. Here . . .
And the SnowMama boiled some hot milk and made Jerry a big piece of cheese on toast. Jerry sat up in bed eating and drinking and nearly asleep.
I have to go now, said the SnowMama. You can see me in Nicky's garden tomorrow.
I don't want you to go, said Jerry.
I need to be out in the cold. Big goodnight I'd give you a kiss but I can't bend down.
Jerry jumped up on the bed and kissed the SnowMama. She felt a little bit of snow melt in her mouth.
The next day Jerry woke up hearing the front door open. She jumped out of bed. Her mother had come home. She looked tired and de- feated. She didn't notice the beautiful, clean kitchen or the sparkly windows or the warm, happy feeling of the house. Jerry put some bread in the toaster. It's nearly Christmas, she said.
I know, said her mother. I'll get you a present, I promise. We'll decorate the tree together. I just need to get some sleep... I... She stood up, went into the bedroom, came back out again. Did you clean everything? I've never seen it look like this.
I washed it all. And there's food. Look!
Jerry's mother looked in the fridge and in the cupboards. Where did you get the money for all this food?
The SnowMama did it.
Jerry didn't say anything about the SnowMama stealing the food from Store's Stores.
Is she, like, a charity? For Christmas?Yes, said Jerry.Jerry's mother looked nearly like her old self before Jerry's dad had
left. I can't believe someone has helped us been kind to us. Did she leave a number?
Jerry shook her head.
Her mother looked again at everything in their little house. This is like a miracle. It is a miracle, Jerry!
Go out and play and when you come back I'll have made dinner. Like I always did.
Jerry ran round to Nicky's house. She couldn't wait to tell her friend everything that had happened during the night. She told her about the SnowFish, and the Big Little SnowMan, and how she had ridden on the SnowMama's back. She didn't tell her about the launderette or the stealing. But Nicky didn't believe her. She went up to the Snow- Mama and pulled her nose off. See? If she was alive she'd yell at me!
Jerry grabbed the pine cone and pushed Nicky flat down into the snow. Nicky started to cry and her mother came out. That's enough, you two! Jerry, we're going Christmas shopping this afternoon do you want to come?
I don't want her to come! shouted Nicky.
Jerry pretended to go home but in fact she hid behind the shed. As soon as the car had pulled away she ran up to the SnowMama. They've gone! You can move now!
But nothing happened. The SnowMama was still as a statue. Jerry waited and waited, colder and colder. Feeling sad and silly, she walked home through the park. The SnowMen were all there, fishing or standing in groups. She saw the SnowCat under the tree and ran up to him: Hello, Lucky Love! But the cat said nothing.
So Jerry set off home, wondering if the house would really be clean, if the food would really be in the fridge, if her mother would really be making dinner.
As she came down the street past Store's Stores Mr Store was standing grumpily on his step in his horrible brown overalls. He waved at Jerry to listen to him.
I was robbed last night! Thieves broke in and stole food. One of them was dressed as a snowman! I have it on CCTV. Can you believe it?
Jerry couldn't help smiling. Mr Store frowned so low that his hor- rible eyebrows were on top of his horrible moustache. It's no laughing matter, young lady.
Jerry opened the door to her house. Her home was as clean and bright as she had left it. Delicious smells filled the kitchen. Jerry's mother was listening to carols on the radio. She had made a lasagne. They ate it together and her mother was full of plans. I'll get a differ- ent job no more nights. We'll keep this place nice. Just somebody helping us has made all the difference. Do you know that?
That night Jerry's mother had to go back to her job but it didn't seem so sad and hard as before. Jerry had a plan to sneak out and go to the park, but she found that her mother had double-locked the door. She was thinking, maybe, she could climb out of the bedroom window so that no one could see her, when she heard a tap-tap-tapping at the kitchen window.
It was the SnowMama.
Jerry opened the window.
It's so warm in there now I can't come in, said the SnowMama. I brought you these to decorate the tree.
She had a sackful of pine cones like her nose but these were all shining white and frosted.Why didn't you talk to me when I was at Nicky's? asked Jerry. I waited and waited and you were just snow.
It's a mystery, said the SnowMama. Why don't you decorate the tree? I'll watch through the window.
Soon the tree was splendid with its cones and the house looked festive and fun.
Did you know, said the SnowMama, that there are more than a million snowflakes in just one litre of snow?
And is every snowflake different? said Jerry.
A snowflake is formed as it swirls and falls through the air, and that swirling and falling is never the same, always different, said the SnowMama. How is your mother today?
She was happy today, said Jerry, and she made a lasagne. I did the washing-up.
You have to look after each other, said the SnowMama if not, you'll both be sad and cold, even in the summer.
Parents are supposed to look after their children, said Jerry.
Life is as it is, said the SnowMama.
Jerry looked out of the window at the frosty stars. She said to the SnowMama, Can you come and live with us? If we could keep you really cold like get you your own freezer or something?
The SnowMama's green eyes flashed in the light.
Then everyone would know what we know and that can't hap- pen because everyone has to k-snow it for themselves.
What? said Jerry.
That love is a mystery and that love is the mystery that makes things happen.
Jerry slept the whole dark night of softness and quiet and a million, million stars.
When she heard her mother come in the next morning Jerry jumped out of bed and ran into the kitchen and kissed her mother, who was admiring the tree.
Where did you find these decorations?
The SnowMama brought them, said Jerry.
I wish I could thank her myself. Are you sure she didn't leave a card?Jerry decided she would go and ask the SnowMama to meet her mother. While her mother got ready to sleep after her night shift, Jerry got dressed and ran through the park towards Nicky's.
When she got to the gates of the drive, she stopped.
There was a different car parked next to Nicky's family car. The car was parked right where the SnowMama had been.
Jerry ran in and behind the car. On the ground was the bobble hat and two old forks. Jerry dropped on her hands and knees and dug frantically in the snow. She found the SnowMama's emerald eyes. She started to cry.
Nicky came out, just wearing a jumper and leggings.
What's the matter, Jerry?
But Jerry couldn't speak, so Nicky said, The snowman got knocked down when my friends came. They just backed up in the car...sorry.
But Jerry kept on crying and Nicky didn't know what to do. She wasn't real, Jerry we can build her again if you want. Do you want to?
But the weather was changing. Already there was rain and the snow was softening and the roofs shed great slabs of snow. Jerry ran back through the park and saw that the SnowPeople had started to move on.
Some had lost their heads. The SnowCat was just a heap with one ear, and the frozen lake was changing colour as the warmer water sat on its surface. The SnowFisher had dropped his rod and line.
Jerry went home. When her mother woke up Jerry tried to explain about the SnowMama, but her mother didn't understand. But she did understand that Jerry was upset and she held her close and promised her that their lives would be different from now on. There would be food, and warmth, and clean clothes and time.
I won't be drinking. I won't be depressed. I won't leave you alone, she said to Jerry and, though these things are easier to say than to do, Jerry's mother kept her promise and there was never another cold and hungry Christmas.
And Christmas Day came, because it always does, whether you want it to or not, and it always goes, whether you want it to or not, be- cause life is as it is. And Jerry opened the presents under the tree, and among them, best of all, was a microscope and a book that told you everything about snowflakes.
It had all started in Vermont in 1885 when a boy called Snowflake Bentley began photographing snowflakes through his microscope. He was the first person ever to do this and when he died he had photographed 5,381 snowflakes, and every photo was different.
And Jerry went back and stood where the SnowMama had stood. But the place was empty.
Over the years that followed, Jerry built the SnowMama every winter, usually in the park by the lake, but the SnowMama never came alive again.
Jerry grew up. In time she had children of her own and they loved the story of the SnowMama, even though they had never seen her.
It was Christmas Eve.
Jerry's kids were in bed.
The stockings were hung on the ends of the beds and the cat was asleep under the Christmas tree.Jerry went to turn off the lights. The snow was falling softly. For
some reason she opened the drawer to her desk and got out the old microscope that her mother had given her so many years ago. Then she pulled on her boots and went outside.
Her kids had built three SnowPeople all in a row. Jerry pressed the microscope against the nearest cold white form and studied the snowflakes magnified in the glass. How could life be so multiple, un- expected, ordinary and a miracle?
Like love, she said out loud.
And a voice she knew replied Love always comes back.
There was the SnowMama. Standing in the garden.
It's you! said Jerry.
Always, said the SnowMama.
But all these years where have you been?
It's a mystery...I'll tell the kids they know all about you!
Not tonight, said the SnowMama. Maybe one day, who knows? I guess I just wanted to see you again; I always hoped I would.And something like a snowy tear fell from the SnowMama's eye.
Wait! said Jerry. Wait . . .
She ran inside and went back to her desk drawer.
She had kept the green glass eyes wrapped up with the micro- scope.
These are yours, she said. Shall I put them in?
Then she kissed the SnowMama and felt a little bit of ice melting in her mouth.
It worked out, said Jerry.
I know, said the SnowMama. Sometimes a little bit of help is all we need.
Don't go! said Jerry as the SnowMama began to spin away.
I'll keep an eye on you, said the SnowMama. Ha ha. And who knows what the future brings?
And away she went, gliding as silent as the stars until she was as faint and far as a star.
A million, million stars and lucky love.
By Jeanette Winterson.
Snowmama is one of 12 stories in Christmas Days, published by Vintage.
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