Winter Sun

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A mother's grief is warmed by the winter's sunshine.

Submitted: February 26, 2015

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Submitted: February 26, 2015

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Winter Sun

 

The first day it hit forty degrees, I was out the door. The bag had been packed for months, just waiting for the slightest thaw in the icy temperatures. A bottle of wine, not the expensive special vintage I had promised myself I'd buy, but a cheap one, twelve dollars from the nearby packy store. A hard, camping style wine glass, that was chosen for its durability. A soft blanket, with the smell of the laundry still clinging to it. The newly purchased baguette and brie wedge crammed into the front pocket of the pack, so as not to get cheese or bread crumbs on the inside of it. My kitchen knife, serrated and sharp as all get up, that could slice through the hard, crusty baguette as easily as it could cleave the soft brie. And lastly, my bottle of pills, sedatives I'd been stealing from my husband, a week at a time, rattling around in the bottom. A perfect little afternoon outside, one I hadn't been able to enjoy for months.

Cooper's car door slammed in the driveway, signaling his arrival from work. A local magazine editor, he had the option of taking his work home with him and working from his den when needed. Or wanted. Most days, he was home before 3pm, an early dinner, then holed up in his man cave till 9pm or so.

“Hi, sweetie,” he kissed me hello on the front steps, the sun shining in his sandy brown hair.

“Hi,” I pecked him back, my reflection moving in his rimless glasses.

“Off somewhere?” He pointedly looked to my day pack, and the heavy winter coat I had draped over my arm.

“Yup, going for a walk in the woods. It's been way too long since I've been outside. I think the last time I got out was November, maybe. No, wait, I did do that hike with Lauren before Christmas. Where we saw the moose—remember?”

“I do. Surprising. They're really coming out here, migrating further south. I wonder if there's a food shortage up north?” Cooper politely pushed past me, dropping his satchel on the bench near the front door, and kicking off his snow encrusted boots.

“No, I was reading that we do have them here, from time to time. Not usually, but every now and then.”

“As long as they stay far away from my car and me, I like them. Are the girls home yet?”

“It's a bit early, isn't it? They don't normally get home till after two.” I checked my watch, 12:30pm.

“Oh, that's right. I forgot—this new schedule's messing me all up. I'm so used to leaving work at 2:30, leaving at noon is just not getting through my thick skull.” Cooper laughed at his mistake, and made his way to the kitchen. “You know, every time I change something, I forget I did it, and it throws my whole day into a tailspin. I might as well go to my office for a bit, finish up. I'll make the girls dinner, if you want. I'm guessing you'll still be on your hike?” He shouted to me from the other room, an indication he wanted me to follow him so he could talk to me; Cooper's boyishly manipulative way of saying he wanted my attention but didn't want to ask for it.

“Ya, I was planning on going for a few hours. Get there for one-ish, there's a loop I want to do, it should take about three hours, with all this snow.” I frowned at the deep snow outside our kitchen window, knowing it would leave my trail glaringly obvious, unable to do anything about it.

“Going alone? Lauren going?”

“No, she's at work today. Then she has to pick Clarissa up from piano practice tonight.”

“Well, have fun. Don't let a bear or moose eat you. You have a few extra water bottles?” Cooper worried at me, always concerned us hikers would run out of water.

“Yes, I do,” I lied, not telling him my water was actually wine.

“Flashlight?”

“Yup.” Another lie.

“Some food, and a lighter?”

“Check and check.” The truth, and a not-so-truth.

“Keep far away from those moose, and if you see any bears, don't run. Just stop and hide behind a tree,” he gave me the same warning every time. I wasn't so sure he knew what he was talking about, but Cooper insisted he watched enough nature shows to know what to do in any given situation.

“I will,” I gave his cheek a kiss. Then stopped. “I love you. You know that, right?”

“Of course I do, honey. What is it? What's wrong?” Cooper's brow furrowed in the middle, the wrinkle deepening after years of bending that way.

“Nothing. I just wanted you to know I love you. And the girls. I don't think I say it enough, is all.”

“Oh. In that case,” he picked me up, and twirled me around, “I love you too.” He put me down, hugging me close to him.

I could feel his heat through my sweater, the warmth penetrating the thickly woven fibers. I almost put my pack down and stayed...almost. Then, reconfiguring the load on my back, I gave him one last kiss, and headed for the front door.

 

 

The trail head appeared, a thin white line in the burgeoning piles of snow. Nearly indiscernible in the white miasma that the landscape had become, I found it through sheer memory. The evergreens spearing it on either side were a dim reminder of where it started. My pom-pomed hat flipping on my head, mittens securely nuzzled around my hands, snow pants tightly looped around my insulated winter boots, I started out. The pack whispered along the back of my winter coat as it swayed from side to side with my footsteps. Birds chirped by the dozens, elated by the small break in the below average cold we'd been having. For the last two months, the arctic blasts and the foot-at-a-time snowstorms had kept most animals, human and non, inside or under shelter.

Breaking the trail, I quickly grew warm, the punishing high stepping I had to do raising my body temperature. Unwilling to slow down or stop to shed layers, I slackened my pace, letting the chilly air pull the unwanted heat from my core. Bluejays, robins, even a woodpecker, sounded in the crisp forest, pulling a smile from me.

Skye would love this, I inadvertently thought, before a feeling of sadness pierced me. Skye. My baby. Her name made me trip over a chunk of snow, bringing me rudely back to the present.

Stupid, I scolded myself, aware a fall face first into a bank would chill me, and I'd have to pick the pace up in order to get warm again. Not wanting to do that, wanting to enjoy this woodsy wonderland of winter, I picked my way more carefully through the winding trail. Sunlight streamed down, lighting up every cranny of the forest, the trees aglow with the golden glimmer. Fresh powder shimmered down from the boughs, as the trees shook some of the weight off them. Occasionally, I'd hear a larger ball of snow plop to the ground, splattering against its neighbor down below. Little tracks of squirrels, I guessed, maybe chipmunks, skittered across the fluffy white layers, showing me where they nested and where they went for what little food they could find in this season.

Poor things, I commiserated with them as best I could. While I'd never gone hungry, I could imagine how hard it was to find sustenance now. They're probably dying for spring to get here. I shook my head at their sad plight of cold and hunger, wondering just how long a nest of nuts could last one of them. Well planned as their little provisions might be, it was an especially hard winter, and I doubted whether the squirrels knew that going in. No one ever knew how hard things would be, looking at life from the front.

A crow cried overhead, then his compadre, then suddenly dozens more filled the sky. Some upset in their community caused them all to take off, screeching bloody murder. A red-tailed hawk came trailing after them, making me wonder if it was him, or her, who caused the unplanned uproar.

Pushing on, I paced myself, making sure to keep the blue markings in sight at all times. The state had recently repainted the small rectangles on the trees, for which I was very grateful. For the last ten years, the paint had been so old, people kept mistaking fungus for trail markings, and we had quite a few young people get lost out here.

Skipping as lightly as my winter gear would allow, I nimbly crossed a brook, the stepping stones large lumps of white, and prayed I wouldn't place my feet on some thin ice instead of a stone. A few streams and small rivers later, the trail opened into a laurel forest, thick with the ropy trunks of the invasive bushes. Here, the trail was clearly hacked away by the same gentlemen who so thoughtfully painted the blue trail markers. Easy to follow, I became lost in myself as I stopped worrying about catching the next marker, and delved into the intricacies of the laurels, their green leaves mingling with their strong brown legs, a density of life.

Deer could be hiding just feet from me, in one of these thickets, and I'd never know, I turned over in my mind, peeping deeper into the shadowy bushes to try and catch a glimpse of white, or the movement of a soft, brown body. Nothing moved, and I didn't expect it to.

With less high stepping here, the snows being blown into large drifts on one side instead of coagulating in the center, I found the walking faster, easier on my lungs and my burning thigh muscles. Trekking on for what I could only assume was hours, through more evergreen forests, and patches of dead winter maples and oaks, I let myself cast a quick glance at my watch. 2:14pm. I gathered my bearings, and found myself to be further back than I wanted.

Darn, I cursed my turtle's pace, hindered by the unseasonable snowfall. I should have been there by now. Screwing up my energy, and scrambling onwards, I tried to make up for lost time. Frequent checks of my watch showed me that I was improving my time, but not as much as I would have if the ground had been cleared. Leaving a wake of torn and trampled snow, I prayed that the winds would pick up, obscure my tracks. Even a little. Or another snowfall would do. Not being able to help but walk on the snow, I resigned myself to the fact that someone could very easily pick up my route; and they would too, I had no doubts. As long as I had enough time to myself before hand, it wouldn't really matter anyway.

Finally, nearing 3 o'clock, I reached my desired destination. A beautiful pine grove, with the first laurels just starting to peer up from the ground, but not enough to push out all other trees yet. In a few years, this area would be overrun with the laurels. But for this afternoon, I had the pines to myself. A view of a small lake opened up, iced and snow covered, the swirls of diamonds dusting the top as little variations in the light winds occurred.

So lovely, I sighed, leaning against a rough pine's bark, letting my head fall into it. The snow danced like winter fairies, all air and sunlight, nothing heavy holding them down, creatures of imagination and wonder, that adults didn't remember since childhood. When Skye and Nina and Lexee were babies, they would have delighted in this. Now, Nina had her boyfriends, and Lexee had her women's right campaigns. Skye, though, she would be able to appreciate this. She always had a knack about her, a way of bringing life into everything she did.

3:15pm. Nina and Lexee would be home from school now, Cooper would be making them dinner. Maybe lecturing them on colleges. Or showing Nina the latest brochures he had procured, on colleges he thought she might want to attend. Cooper was forever reminding Nina she had to choose soon, she only had a few months of high school left. Much as he was constantly double checking my pack for water and food supplies. Then he would hand the same brochures to Lexee, telling her she only had a year to choose, don't be like your older sister and wait till the last minute. Of course Lexee would pick a good school, I wasn't worried about her. Nina might decide on the wrong school for her, at first, but she would find her way. She had Cooper, and good intuitions, when she channeled them away from boys and into important things in life.

Skye...what would she have chosen? A college for parties? For causes? For education? Or would she have been more like me, a nature girl, and gone off to some lonely mountain top to study bugs and the natural order of things? Her dark hair, her brilliant smile, waved before me, the flecks of snow on the lake forming a column that could have been mistaken for a little girl.

My baby...I wailed, keening for her. Letting the pack fall to the ground, half covered by a mound of snow, I knelt, and tears fell, crystallizing small circles of snow under me. It wasn't until my nose began to run that I lifted myself, and brushed off the buried pack, hanging it from a low branch.

Rummaging through the various pockets, I took out the bottle of wine, my camping glass, and the blanket. Thankful for the new screw-off tops, I poured myself a generous glass full. Adding the pills one by one, till the bottle was empty, I sat myself down on the fluffy polyester--the only thing between me and the frozen ground--stuffing my feet into a little pouch I'd made in the snow. Sun played over my face and hands, the two parts I'd let be exposed in this weather. The warmth felt good, after months of frigid days, and nearly unbearable nights. I drained the first glass as fast as sipping wine would allow, eager to get the sedatives into me. Once that was done, I poured myself another, and took my time with the second glass.

How many years had it been? Eleven now? Eleven years of darkness, of misery. Watching Nina and Lexee grow up had been fun, but the sadness never left. I was warned it wouldn't, although time would make things easier. It didn't. Every minute of every day had its own agonies, some easier to bear than others, but depression was my constant friend, a partner I could never divorce, as long as I lived.

My Skye, my baby. My little girl. I love you. They said the soul never leaves. You'd be with me always. Yet I can't see you, hold you, kiss you. I never thought you were very far away, but with this barrier between us, how am I to know? Have faith, they said. Everything happens for a reason. There is no reason good enough. What did it matter, if the gods, or God, left you with me? Why rip you from me, so suddenly, so cruelly? If there was one too many people on this Earth, I should have been the one taken, not you.

Drinking myself out of the self-pity that was immanent, I rose and took the bread and brie from the pack. Slicing it carefully, so as not to cut myself, I managed to separate a large chunk of bread, half tearing it at the end. The brie parted much quicker, the heat from my body and the sun making it pliable. Munching on the repast, I faded into the sunshine, closing my eyes and savoring the taste. Mine and Skye's favorite meal. Sans the wine for her. Too young to drink, I had told her, pulling the bottle from her little hands. When you're ten, I'll give you a bit of champagne, but you can't tell anyone, and don't expect more till you're an adult. She never got to taste it.

I should have brought champagne for today, I figuratively slapped myself for my stupidity. Skye had wanted champagne, not wine. I was the one who chose the wine to drink, not her.

Her hair, freshly washed and spikey from the bath. Smelling so tender, so young, so sweet. Her high pitched voice, calling me from any corner of the house, and me running to her, dropping everything I was doing to attend to her. Her presents, drawings, little crafts she made, baby dolls she wanted me to have. The way her face lit up when I came home, happiest to see me, of anyone, in all the world. My baby. My little cutie pie. I love you.

Chocking on the food, I guzzled the wine faster, clearing my throat. The snow fairies had decided to change shape, and were twirling about each other, dancing, reveling in the bright light from above.

My daughter...my baby...all I want is you back. I've waited so long to be with you again. How many more years could I possible have to wait?? Too many, most likely. A lifetime, more probably. I did my duty, I raised Nina and Lexee. Lovely young women, both. Caring father. Smart, able daughters. But not the daughters I wanted to be with. Skye, the one I needed, the one who was most like me.

I saw her, at the end, in the backs of my eyelids...frail, weak, skinny. Eaten from inside by her own body, rogue cells that would not stay in check. Her labored breathing, her small lungs gasping for air that wasn't there. Holding her, cradling her to me, all night long, in the hospital bed. Knowing she wouldn't live to see the next night. Denying it, hoping for a cure, a way out. Until the last possible minute. Until her tumor-filled lungs gave out, and let her last breath go, shuddering into the bright winter morning.

The crushing silence of the next eleven years, despite the life all around me, the family I had. The dreams of her being alive. The waking to the nightmare of reality.

Stop! I yelled at myself, not wanting the last times I had with her to define our life together. Think of something more...her riding in the car with me, us holding hands. Her drinking milk from a bowl like a cat, while I filmed it and laughed. Taking her outside on the first nice days of spring, bringing her lunch on the patio. Showing her the little bugs that roamed the Earth, letting butterflies and dragonflies land on our out-stretched arms. The tiny bright red cape she wore as a child, playing pretend games. I always thought that color looked so good on her.

My baby...I want you. I've wanted you back for all these years. Every morning I woke to an emptiness that slept next to me, and every night I went to sleep with my heart in pieces. I finally realized, I can't have you back, not here. There's only one thing separating us: your death and my life. Flimsy obstruction.

Your bouncing joyfulness at the sunshine on your face made me smile. You lived for summer days, where you could go outside, and play games, do whatever it was in your imagination you did. Your squawks when you'd catch sight of a chipmunk or bird land near you. You'd try to grab at them, excited for the beings that came so near, and when they fled in fright, you'd chase them, as though your short little legs could outrun speedy rodents, or watchful birds.

The snow fairies riled themselves up, a million sparkles tripping over the lake, whipping themselves into shapes...vaguely mammalian: deers, horses, the ever fearful moose...the tumbling of the incandescent specks shift and turn...shorten, become slimmer, until the little girl reappears, her hair white instead of black, but every other feature molded perfectly out of the little dots of brilliance.

Skye, I gasp, knowing we're close. She knows too. The sedatives and wine are working, I'm relaxed, I can see the boundaries between us, melting. Not enough sedatives to put me to sleep, unfortunately, but enough to lower my guard and smother part of my grief.

Skye...here...my baby...my little girl....in a daze, I pull myself closer to the edge of the lake. The snow fairies allow her to stay, I reach out to her.

Please, Skye, I want to be with you...I can't bear another year of being apart...another day...

The ice on the lake only goes so far, with ripples of moving water rimming the fringes, where land forced it back. Turning, I fetched the knife I had used to cut my bread and cheese. Needing to clean it, wipe the remains of smeared brie off it, I bent over, dipped it in the water, shook it around. Used my fingers to get rid of the few bits of stuck on cheese that clung to the silvery blade. My mother's knives. A set. Sharp. I knew, I'd cut my thigh on one once, during the summer, by accident. The tip was sticking out, carelessly placed on a patio table. I just grazed the knife, and ended up with an inch long cut.

Forgoing my blanket, I sat down where I was. The winds pushed the cold pinpoints of snow into my face, hands. 4:04pm. The sun was lowering. Angling towards night. Skye stood there, the light breathing life into her evanescent form, for another few minutes, until the sun would disappear behind a tall tree.

My darling, I love you, I love you so much...the sight of her filled my broken heart...I smelled her on the winds...memories of our life together flooded me, happy times, before the darkest years fell upon me.

I raised my jacket sleeves, one at a time. Then the sweater underneath. Skye watched, and waited.

The tip of the knife cut into my left wrist first. The pain of the knife was nothing. It cleaved my skin, as surely and quickly as it had sliced open the brie. My right wrist came next, while I kept my eyes on Skye. The winter sun warmed my cheeks, gave me hope.

The barrier between us lifted, and her snowy self became real again, not a hazy dream, but a living girl. Time and distance fled, and Skye was with me again...all I'd ever wanted...


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