“Good morning,” she'd say sleepily, arms reaching out above her head, and I’d lean across the bed to greet her. I reach out now to touch the hollow where she used to lay and try to pretend her absence is only momentary, that she has just gone downstairs and I hear her steps returning with steaming cups of tea.
“It was my turn,” I’d say from deep beneath the bed cloths. She'd smile at me.
“Guess what’s happened,” she’d say.
My eyes are still tightly shut in that first moment of a new day when consciousness awakes the mind and alerts me to her absence once more. Through shuttered windows the stillness pervades the lonely room like a familiar unwelcomed visitor posing as a friend; come back to greet me one more time. The quality of light and the pressing silence give it all away. The first snow has come again. I hesitate to rise and look, preferring to lie still with my maudlin thoughts; at least for a while; but the memories are so strong it’s too hard not to jump out of bed and make quite sure.
The room is so cold, ice has frozen on the inside of the window pains, but that was how we liked it, how we always chose to have it.
“It makes you snuggle up,”she'd say. “Like as if we’re cosy, warm in a nest.”
How I miss that intimacy.
Outside the snow has come, and it covers the landscape as far as I can see. It deeply shrouds everything, blending field and meadow; conforming hill and valley; merging them in to a constancy which at first sight is curiously comforting.
“Look at the snow,” she’d said excitedly, “like a blanket warming the countryside”. And so it does, a heart-warming sight; as if…., perhaps its very presence could heal the scars and breathe new life in to the land. Perhaps it can do the same for me.
Five first-snows-of-winter we shared and I remember every one, for they were all exciting in their different ways. And now since there will be no more, they are nurtured and recalled in small detail with loving care as if each was a precious jewel. Each a crystal of such value that if it were not brought to mind it might, just like a flake of snow become a passing memory, melting with the passage of time.
We stood together at this very window, our faces pressed to the pane, seeing who could endure cold the longest before noses stuck to the glass. Then dive back in to bed to cuddle down and warm our freezing parts. She put her cold feet on me and we played touch under the bedclothes. That was our first snow. Like children we planned adventures which would last forever. Believed we would always be together for a hundred first-snows.
“Let’s never move from this house,” she’d said in a serious voice; as if we really could make a pact never to leave. “Let’s stay here all our lives;” her face was aglow with the very idea. As if saying it with such conviction might make it happen. And so it did. She made it happen but I would have done anything to make it not come true.
The next first-snow came when we were walking home in the early morning from a party with friends.
“Stay over,” they’d said, “it’s too late now, go back in the morning.”
But we too much enjoyed our own company and so set off to walk the five miles or more. There was a sudden blizzard. We were buoyed up with wine and bursting with cheerful energy; arm in arm and doing a funny walk, like skating side by side. The path suddenly disappeared and I fell in a ditch hidden in the snow. I crashed in to icy water and our legs so tangled up and she, laughing so much, fell also. Soaking wet we kissed and I remember her lips were as cold as ice. My Ice maiden I called her. Remembering now I tremble at the very thought of how she felt; her face so pale and skin… not lifeless then. I didn’t know what lifeless was till it was upon me. Both of us uncontrollably shivering ran the remaining half mile home, singing loudly all the while. The ditch water had frozen solid on our coats and they thawed out with us in front of a roaring log fire finally crumpling in pools of water on the stone floor. We drank each others health in cocoa and tumbled in to bed.
The next first-snow we spent apart; she called me on the phone while standing just here in this very spot, looking out across the downs.
“The snow’s so high it’s reached the gate posts,” she said breathlessly. “The postman can’t get down the lane, the tap has frozen; and…. how I wish you were here…. it’s not such fun on my own.” I was a thousand miles away but imagined her standing at the window and she was right it's not much fun alone.
It was Christmas for the fourth first-snow. The cottage full of family and friends. The children made a snowman, and we all tobogganed down the slopes in plastic bags taking turns on the one and only sledge.
There were snowball fights and she said “come on lets walk up to our secret valley.” So we slipped away and left the rest behind. Holding hands we scrambled through deep drifts of virgin snow which came above our heads, but we found the place on the far side of the pines. We lay down in a bed of snow and held one another with such feeling through thick layers of cloths. Neither of us felt cold in the passion of that embrace. Back at the party friends made ribald talk about us returning with red faces. We just didn’t care.
“What have you been up to,” they cried.
“They may sometime know,” her hot breath whispered in my ear,” and I didn’t realise. That forth-snow witnessed new life in the making. She said our snow child was a gift. But I am often troubled that it was the beginning of the illness too. I would go and find that sleepy hollow now; lie down and let it take the pain away.
But the snow is a false friend, it doesn’t heal the grieving, aching pain, only covers up the scars like so much talk from friends who would try to comfort.
When the last snow fell we had become a family of three.
“His first-snow,” she said, and held our child up so there were three noses at the window pane. Still time to play but different games. We knew all about the illness then but didn’t let it spoil the excitement of another first-snow. We didn’t speak of plans too far ahead, preferring to enjoy the here and now. Sharing it all with our child, as if he could understand the fun we had. She made me promise to buy a proper sledge for him.
“He’ll have the best sledge in the world,” I said.
She has been gone now for more than five years but the first-snows-of-winter are always a hard time for grieving and remembering, as if her passing was only a short while ago. Now my dreaming is disturbed and sharing the window beside me the young man who came to stay.
“Shall we make a snowman,” I ask looking down at the mass of curly blond hair. He shakes his head and putting his arms around my waist, as far as he can reach, hugs me.
“No,” he says looking up with all the seriousness of his young years, “we don’t need to do that any more.”