The Dance of the Snow People

The Dance of the Snow People

by William Thompson

The snow people were out. Jessie could see them gathering around the columns in the courtyard between the buildings. The automatic doors opened and closed, opened and closed, framing snow that swirled into reaching tendrils. She checked her phone once more before tucking it into a pocket. Zipping her coat to her chin and pulling her hat close about her face, Jessie peered once more through the doors. Two snowy figures stood by a pillar, gesturing and pointing animatedly.

She hoped she could get to work on time. She braced herself, and hurried into the afternoon. She reminded herself again why she was doing this. Degrees mattered. Customer service wasn’t her life—it was a means to an end. A means to a degree.

Ignore them. Just ignore them, she thought, walking purposefully passed the pillar. As she reached the corner of the building, she had to step around two more, their crystalline bodies undulating in the thickly falling snow, pulsing and reforming even as she looked. One of them looked at her as she passed, its face momentarily forming into her own semblance, smiling back with her own smile.

Jessie didn’t pause or react. If you did, it just encouraged them. She walked on. At the street, she looked up and down. Traffic was hard to see, the blowing snow obscuring the already darkening afternoon. She hoped the train wouldn’t be delayed. She hurried the short block to the station. With the end of classes only a week away, she thought of the papers she still had to write—the exams to follow, then Christmas after that, Christmas with her family back home, which gave her a different kind of unease than exams.

At some point during her visit, her mother would find her for a talk, cornering her in the kitchen, or in the guest-bedroom where she slept on visits back home. The conversation had a predictability Jessie found wearing.

“So, there must be lots of nice young men at that college?” her mother would begin, smilingly. Her look asked, “You are interested in men, aren’t you?”

“Yes, mom.”

“You know, Gena and David are planning their third,” she would add, or something like it. “That’s why they’re thinking about a new house across town. The place they have just isn’t big enough for a family of five.”

“That’s nice.”

Her sister, Gena, the daughter who stayed; Gena, the daughter who married a hometown doctor, ran an efficient, beautiful home, who was raising two engaging, well-behaved children.

Jessie had long given up thinking about her mother’s unfairness. Her father, unlike her mother, seemed only vaguely interested in the question of Jessie’s sexuality, marriageability, or biological clock. He was a distracted and distractible man—a man who worked hard as a supervisor at the only grocery store chain in town, a man who had small, private interests he imposed on no one. It took some doing to get his attention, but when Jessie did, she had it completely.

“I remember John Rawls from university,” he said, the last time she visited. She had been telling him about her political science class. “So tell me about your paper.”

And she did. They talked through half the evening, which was the most she’d had her father’s attention that entire visit.

Not that her visits ever lasted for more than a few days, she thought, hurrying along, which was some comfort, and the term would be waiting come January.

Jessie flinched as a drift of snow blew up from the sidewalk in front of her, forming into the figure of a young man. It grinned at her, pursing its crystalline lips into a kissing face and holding out imploring hands that framed an icy erection.

Jesus! What was wrong with the stupid things today?

It walked backward in front of her almost to the corner, Jessie doing her best to ignore it, until suddenly it opened its mouth in a silent scream, exploding into a shower of icy spray that stung her cheeks.

***

The train was delayed—the snow, of course. Finally, it arrived, a frosted and snow shrouded refuge. She piled in with other commuters, similarly bundled from head to toe against the cold. Jessie squeezed into a window-seat, pulling off hat and gloves in the warmth of the car. Melting snow prickled the nape of her neck.

It was slow going, the train stopping a few minutes at each station before grinding on to the next. The train actually halted on the bridge, and Jessie looked out the window at the snow people gathering in the sky.

Up here, high above the frozen expanse of the river, they didn’t take suggestive shapes to annoy or unnerve. They hung in the air—great winged, dream-like shapes in the darkness, lighted from below by the reflection from the snowbound river. They were beautiful, crystalline dancers upon the air, swirling and reforming and following one another through the air in silent, joyous play.

Jessie’s mind drifted as she watched. She felt sleepy in the warmth of the train car. Her eyes closed.

A sudden jerk of the train brought her back to herself. The sky outside the window was empty, and she felt a small but poignant sense of loss. She pulled out her phone, opened her notes, and began checking what she had written from that day’s classes.

Squeezing past other commuters crowded near the door, Jessie exited the train at the mall. She peeled off her gloves, and carefully tugged off her hat as she walked up the stairs. The pedway was crowded—people coming and going from the mall, and the high school students—loud and showy—heading for the light and warmth of inside.

Coming down the escalator, Jessie saw early Christmas shoppers, burdened with bags and winter gear. Bing Crosby’s mellifluous tones cut through the background clamor of the food court. She had to hurry.

***

Jessie slipped into the store and headed for the back. Carol was there, glancing a greeting Jessie’s way as she helped a customer at the till. By the time Jessie had put away her things and checked her face in the small mirror by the coat-stand, the store was empty.

“How goes it, Jess?” Carol was tall and thin, almost emaciated, with blue streaks highlighting her dark hair.

“Fine, I guess. Busy… Exams—you know… It’s really snowing out there.”

“Oh yeah. And how was it?”

“Lots out today—more than usual.” Jessie hesitated. “I don’t like it when they follow you. They don’t usually do that. It was…odd.”

“You just have to ignore them,” said Carol, carelessly. They’re harmless, really.”

“I know, but it’s not easy when one of them is staring you straight in the face. One held its form for an entire block as I walked to the train—pretty difficult to ignore that.” Jessie thought about saying more, but didn’t.

“I used to play with them, you know,” said Carol.

“You did?”

“Yeah, when I was a kid. I couldn’t wait for it to snow. And they don’t always appear—just mostly when the wind is up. If they did come out, I would chase them. I would try grabbing them, or just throw snow at them. They didn’t seemed to mind. I used to love finding the angels they left in the snow. I always thought of them as gifts from the snow people.”

“I mostly find them creepy. Not always, just sometimes… Where’s Ryun, by the way?”

“Slipped out. Gone to get a yogurt ice-cream.”

Jessie looked quizzically at Carol. “But it’s freezing today—even in here.”

Carol shrugged. “Don’t ask me. He’s weird—maybe nuts.”

“And what’s Genghis Khan wanting us to do this evening?”

“Mark down,” intoned Carol. “Fifteen percent off for all our holiday shoppers eager to rack up more card debt.”

A couple was examining racks of shoes at the entrance. They looked as though they might come into the store.

“I’ll get them,” said Jessie. And she hurried forward, adjusting her face as she approached. Man and woman—possibly a couple. The woman was directing things; the man mostly seemed distracted. Revise that. Not a couple—friends, possibly lovers. The man lacked the hangdog air of most husbands. He pointedly took out his phone and became engrossed. Jessie attached her smile and approached the woman.

By the time they left, other people had crowded into the store. Jessie could see that Ryun was back, clutching his yogurt ice-cream as he strode about the store. Carol had the noncommittal customers, those who drifted around, picking up shoes, hefting them, exclaiming over weight and stitching, then carefully placing them back on the shelves.

Jessie turned to sort a shelf of women’s shoes that had become distressingly skewed by halfhearted shoppers. She was arranging the shelf when she felt a breath of cold touch her neck. Startled, she looked up. Ryun stood beside her, glaring at the shelf. He still clutched his yogurt cup, now empty, and the hand that held it was white—pale, almost translucent white. Suddenly, Jessie noticed his eyes. She had always thought they were unnaturally blue, and that they didn’t blink often enough, but she saw now they were like chips of blue ice—cold, almost alien as he stared at the shoes. Then he looked at her, and for one heart-stopping second she seemed to see a swirl of snow in those eyes and feel a pulse of radiating cold that prickled her skin. Inexplicably, she felt an answering throb deep inside—for a second, just a second.

“Make sure and get the new stock ready. We gotta clear summa this old shit out-a-here.”

Jessie couldn’t help a shiver. But it was Ryun again—bossy, irritating, and slightly creepy Ryun, telling her what to do. And he had turned away, leaving Jessie staring after him, wondering—wondering, and reminded suddenly of the dancers on the air, the crystalline intruders that came every year with the relentless, swirling snow of winter.

◊ ◊ ◊

William Thompson
William Thompson is totally blind and teaches children’s literature for MacEwan University in Edmonton, Canada. He has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine and Hippocampus Magazine. He has two collections of stories: The Paper Man and Other Stories, and Fractured and Other Fairy Tales, both available on Amazon. You can find him online at www.OfOtherWorlds.ca.

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