How to Handle Winter
A Short Story by Melissa Gutierrez
The snowman was more that than anything else — a man who lived in the snow. He had a pelt like other yeti, certainly, but it wasn’t anything abhorrent in the least; soft, in fact, were one to get close enough to brush arms with him and feel the fine hairs graze across so light and thrill like marabou. He was a beast of course, but had the good fortune of being a northern one. The cold, and nightly grooming sessions, kept his hunting-sweat from building up and stinking. And lying on a bed of furs each night looking upwards for the ribboned polar glow kept his heart always at peace — with so many swirling colors overhead, bright even through the plastic ceiling skylight, how would one ever feel alone?
The snowman couldn’t really bear to hunt. He could stand the sight of blood but couldn’t find a way to really do the deed without getting any on his whitely-padded hands. He might have been a vegetarian were he any longer left of center, but he had a sense of order in things and kept on eating meat. He made a trek down from his snow-packed mountain pass to the little village general store once every couple weeks, picking up a crate of Kobe steaks and a couple whole king salmon that the owner set aside. The snowman kept a hothouse for the slew of vegetables and herbs he grew himself. He had built it off the cabin-cave like a giant sunroom, and spent the early mornings tending to the rows of home-grown produce, and the evenings sometimes doing canning or other kinds of preservation prep. When the sun came up, he skied.
“I see him, Dad, I see him!”
“See what?” the father asked, and hunkered down at the windowsill, his elbows up on it and folded like a bedtime prayer. The daughter held her posture similarly, but with binoculars between her hands. Her eyes were hidden, her face attached to the lenses, and the other lenses pressed right up against the windowpane, where frost had started gathering low near the sill below.
“The snowman,” she said, saying it like a secret.
“The snowman?” the father asked.
“The snowman,” she said, and set the binoculars down on the wooden ledge. She turned to face her father. “He is tall and white and furry, and he rides a set of skis.” Her lips were like two berries, olallie-b or huckle, and her eyelids blinked in mark of fact.
“One time,” the father said, and stroked her curly hair, “before we moved, your mother and I lived in the hills of a golden valley. Growing up we watched cattle and deer and boars and goats and kept a sharp eye out for mountain lions. One time when we were little — we grew up friends and neighbors — your mother said to me, ‘Look, there, a giraffe.’ She pointed towards a little bunch of trees, and I couldn’t see a giraffe. And she said, ‘No, the next patch, inside that little shadow.’ And I looked inside that little shadow on the hill and sure enough, there was a giraffe. She said to me, ‘It comes out every night.’ So every night we watched the shadow on the hill and every night the giraffe came out again. Then one day, your mother said, ‘Let’s go see where the giraffe lives.’ We put our best boots on and climbed all the way to the top of that hill, to the patch of trees where we saw the giraffe come every night. It was summertime and the grass was dry like straw, and our climbing up through it was so noisy, like rustling through plastic grocery bags.”
The little girl put her hands together and rubbed them to make noise. Her father smiled.
“Yes,” he said. “Almost like that. But not as soft.” He smiled, then continued on. “We had scissorweeds and thistles sticking all throughout our socks. Halfway up we had to stop and pull a tick out from behind her knee. I was a Boy Scout then and had brought a first aid kit with us just in case, so I was armed with tweezers.”
The daughter wrinkled up her nose.
“We got it out okay. Your mom was brave. Anyways, as we were trudging upwards towards the giraffe lair, the sun was almost setting. We could see him come out from just a little down the hill. He stood calmly, looking at us. He was going to wait for us to meet him — we were going to see the giraffe up close.”
The daughter gasped. Her eyes were big. She pulled the binoculars down into her lap and leaned in forward.
“When we got to the giraffe,” the father said, “it was just a log. A giraffe-shaped log.”
The snowman’s cave was built along a low cliff of an upper mountain range that overlooked a valley. The whole area was so high up in the world that everything stayed white with snow year-round, except the very middle of the valley where a river ran and green grass grew in late June through July. Cold pats of snow remained underneath the trees around the valley’s fringes, even then. The trees grew all the way up to the bottoms of the rock cliffs, where there was no dirt to grow — a couple branches here and there, so a cardinal or owl could nest, so even birdsong met the alp-y mountain peaks sometimes. Above the cliffs were the mountaintops, almost ridge-like. The valley was like God had punched the earth, not round enough to be a crater really but imprinted in the earthface all the same. The only way out, besides scaling mountain cliffs and walls and peaks, was a little pass near the west end of the valley, like where maybe God’s right thumb had been when he threw that big hard punch. It wasn’t dangerous or blocked or controlled by anyone in any way, though mainly the only people who came in and out were food and fuel suppliers, and the occasional tourist who rented out a village cabin that they’d found online.
The snowman circled all of this on skis each and every day. On Mondays he’d make a half-moon from the right of his front door to the north side of the pass, and on Tuesdays he’d make the arc around the south. On Wednesdays he rode the treeline and on Thursdays he snaked through, in and out of the pines around the upper elevations. On Fridays he did downhill at a private slope he’d built a half a mile from his digs. On weekends he waxed and cleaned his skis, gave them and his legs a break, put his body in an ice bath in the snow and then caught up on any hothouse work he’d missed, or did an extra run down to the village store.
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Melissa Gutierrez is an artist and writer living and working in Northern California. She holds an MFA from the University of Arizona. Follow her on twitter @mmgutz.
This short story will appear in the anthology Tall Tales: 20 Strange and Wonderful Stories from Fiction Attic Press.
Image courtesy of Paul Itkin, via unsplash.com
Originally published at Fiction Attic Press.