by Jenny Holden
[ fiction - june 11 ]
It was snowing in England and no one was talking about it. It was the elephant in the room, the outed son, the accumulation of bottles outside the lapsed celeb’s back door, papped. Chantelle back on the coke, back with Derren, and wasn’t that cellulite? A disturbance on the surface of the skin, back-thigh. Disgusting. And another thing, and the lens swung upwards to the heavens, and balked, a tear forming on its convexity. It was an embarrassment to the nation. A brief mention on the weather of course, inscrutable digital swellings forming over hi-def Gloucester and Coventry, not to mention the Home Counties. The suited lady waved a hand and said cold snap, minor delays, and now for the news headlines. Enough! Bye mum, and bye weather lady, the door slammed and Kyle put a welly through eight inches of unremarkable white powder, and then another. He was going round Tilly’s, that was all, and she’d better not be asleep still. She lived the other side of the village, just before the hill up which no one was coming, no one was going. He took a detour, the drive of number 18 The Grove, posh neighbours, and virgin snow - ran up then down, claiming snow territory. You snooze you lose, the twelve year old’s victory cry, and onwards. He could picture Tilly, Tilly running down the stairs in thick socks and hoodie, her white face whiter than any freak of the skies and her eyes black as, black as - his hands were in his pockets and with a toe he scored an ugly gash on the kerb.
Grey by noon, the day had already failed to deliver on the promise of its morning, the stuff coming from the clouds barely frozen, and yet it showed no sign of stopping. The schools were closed, the roads were empty, the offices manned by jaded citizens who had chosen to reside too close to their place of work. Pixels glittered, minutely, and the aurora borealis bloomed at the touch of a finger, clearing a smudge from the VDU. Press refresh. No new emails. Refresh. On days like this it was obvious that the human being was not designed to have a job, to promise someone faithfully I the undersigned will get from A to B every day not starting with an S to the best of my ability as long as I may live. The whisper spreads, they’re stealing our time. It’s a conspiracy.
Spencer in accounts leaned back in his chair and turned to watch the sky falling. Should have kissed her, should have touched her when he had the chance. That dress. Refresh. No new emails - and he remembered how it was once, snowball fights, pushing the packed ball down Russell Simpkin’s neck, year after year. It was all they talked about, and there’d been a power cut, his big sister lit the fire, that was all. A memory, floodlit by those stadium lights, the green ice rink deserted, just a male figure standing on a bar and a girl skating towards him, little pink skirt, white tights. Corny film he’d seen once, probably with Trish before she left. Unfortunately, it was the centrepiece of his triptych, and there, in the right panel, Kate’s arse in that skirt last night, asking for it. Should have kissed her, at least. Air conditioning was on, idiots in charge of the office heating as usual, and he was in a cold sweat. Refresh - you have no unread messages. On a day like this he regretted leaving childhood, those fantasies of war and pain, girls taut under ropes. Earlier still, waking up to find a world utterly willing to be moulded by his gloved hand. The yearly heartbreak of The Snowman, TM, little pile of scarf and hat… He looked over his shoulder, but Derek was asleep bent over his desk. It was still coming, the sky. Lump in his throat every time the end music came on - his dad was right, he’d never make it. No new emails.
Tilly was in her dressing gown, tapping her foot. Oh come on - but Kyle had never been one for computer games and here he was dressed as a half naked warrior queen trying to highkick a robot. They were in an arena, in a desert. Faux-oriental music accompanied Kyle’s girl’s screams as he got a thorough pounding, and Tilly’s bottom lip, pushed further and further forward at last puffed outward as some mystical button-press combo ended his life. Her metal arms jerked to victory, her flesh arms jerked to victory. You’re rubbish she said, and Kyle knew it to be true. Wistfully he looked out of the window. Your mum said - I thought she’s going out? There’s loads of good hiding places, it’d be a good fight. It was calling to him, and he was beginning to wish he’d listened to his mother and gone round Paul’s, or Simon’s, who were soul kin and knew that a whole day like this was not to be taken lightly. First you gather all available resources - frozen water; country-wide - and then you build and break and get cold, and get wet, only stopping when it is too dark to see what has been taken and what hasn’t, when the fingers won’t move and the legs encased in virtual ice carry their last resistance. Sacrilege to waste. Because tomorrow was - and it was too awful to consider - school, and after that more school. And no one talked about it, no one would say a word. Teachers when they came back in would say you’ll learn about global warming at Key Stage 5, now Romeo and Juliet, and pluck at their sleeves and shake their heads and frown. There were other things of importance to the adults, but on the news it looked just the same to Kyle - tower blocks and dust, barrels and helmets - but not snow, never snow. Something was serious, something had pissed them all off. Arms crossed, the newsreaders, the police, the shop assistants, the leaders of the world had the stance of his mum, at the discovery of something horrible, something he’d taken too far.
The sky was growing - not darker but deeper, more concentrated - and the stuff was still descending, and he tapped his fingers on the windowsill, impatience rising, choking. Tomorrow was Thursday - double Maths. Tilly, come on, he said angrily, sampling authority. But Tilly and snow were not friends. While his back was turned she had pulled off the dressing gown, scrambled her young body out of the nightdress and now sat there, in her pants, hugging herself. Kyle - no-oo-oo! She had perfected the three-tone whine, down then up, and it would never leave her; in her future it would win arguments, end marriages, barter with persuadable gentlemen and reach orgasm. Now, it got him to turn round.
Just then, Spencer from accounts was partaking of an unsatisfying piss in the disabled toilet on the office’s first floor, slow and faltering. He thought about lunch, and, ascending, he considered the arse again, something good on TV tonight. He flushed, turned the tap on and off, inserting the tips of his fingers briefly in the space between the two actions, and looked at himself. That wasn’t the face to win the girl, not the face of the man in the ice rink. Thus - his mood balanced out, karma of consciousness. His life had not changed yet, and this moment, alas, was not the one either, not the 6 9 11 bonus ball 7 of epiphany. In the canteen, his chips were cold, but, later, after the fifty minute walk home through snow that seemed knee deep, groin deep, heart deep, he arrived home, opened the Radio Times to see that he had missed the last episode of Space Killers and caught the intrusive blink of the phone’s red light. It was a green light: the owner of the arse was wondering, well, feel a bit weird doing this, but - I don’t know - a drink, or something, maybe, at the weekend? Spencer blessed the snow, and wished that he had learned to ice skate. From here, the niggles, night sweats, agonising doubts, the usual. Probably she’d blow him off at the last minute. Probably he’d reveal too much, he’d be himself. Always the same.
Spencer washed his hands and saw himself - nothing changed. Kyle turned round and saw Tilly, and saw how life would be in the future, when anything wasn’t possible, anything was unavoidable, forcing itself upon you without your asking, though you had been happy, in the past, with this thing or that thing. Tennis. Sunday dinners with mum, the TV on as a treat. He could see the knobbles on her back like a dinosaur spine, and a mole above the line of her white knickers. The snow was a cover-up but it was ugly too, and already creaking under the strain of human expectation. Crunch. Boom. His teacher would shake her head and frown and say everything was back to normal now, but it couldn’t be. They were asking something of him, Tilly was asking something of him - and he was not a provider. He wouldn’t have walked through those wardrobe doors, would have fled from Mr Tumnus, it would have been Tilly and the fawn in the tale. He was no one’s nothing, and the world turned anyway. Tilly was turning towards him now, lifting a leg underneath her so she could twist herself round. Torque. The pressures acting upon. One, two, three ribs in shadow, and a nipple, stupidly pink. Her eyes expecting, black as dirt. By this time the snow would be going, gone. He thought of his mum, sitting at home in the kitchen, waiting for him, and knew he was going to cry. He didn’t have the answer, only some hands, and willing feet, and a nose that wasn’t red, cheeks that weren’t flushed. You’re crazy wasn’t enough but it was all he had, an eloquence voiced with the borrowed scorn of a TV detective, facing off with the murderer at last. You’re going to prison for this, you’re going to hell. He was going to hell, lurching, wet cheeked and despairing he retraced his own footsteps, he couldn’t bear the crunch underfoot, didn’t have the pluck to kick up clouds of fresh stuff. His mother thought he had a fever, and the square of window opposite his bed turned blue, it turned blue all over his snow day. He shivered, and sweated, and with some relief remembered that tomorrow was Thursday - double Maths.