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Crystallized

The snowmen are dying in my neighborhood. Sitting on snow-encrusted lawns, dying in their natural habitat. I thought the frigid air must have crept around the base of these inflated vinyl giants, sucking the oxygen from them. They look drunk—tipped over, flaccid but still smiling. It feels right somehow, that these frauds shouldn’t survive.

The landscape has been a frozen still life for months. Unchanging, just like my life. I feel I’ve been on automatic rewind, each day replaying itself. I stare out at the snow—the way it makes everything foreign, the way it’s tinged blue—as if it’s tired of the sameness of it all, just like me.

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Stew for dinner, I decide. It seems so appropriate, what with the cold. And it’s my constant habit—stewing. My mother used to admonish me for it: Stewing over something never brings anything good. I learned much from her, culinary and otherwise. I slice an onion, tears fall into the mixture.

I stand at the stove, stirring and stewing, until Ed trudges through the kitchen door, grunts hello. I watch the snow slide off the shoulders of his coat, landing with a splat on the tile. He takes no notice.

“How was your day?” I ask, eager for news from beyond these walls.

“Almost ran one over,” he bellows. “Damn thing ran right out in front of me.”

“Hunting season always puts deer on the run.” I turn back to the stove, stir my stew, slightly alarmed at its thick consistency, so much thicker than a minute ago.

Ed pops open a beer, his daily pre-dinner cocktail. “Not a deer—a snowman! They’re just as dumb as deer, though, I’ll tell you that. And slow! It was moving across the road like it was on a Sunday stroll.”

I stop stirring to consider this. “That’s odd. Where was it headed?”

“Damned if I know. Cut across a few yards, from what I could tell of its tracks. Headed toward the open fields.”

I think, Well, sure, it would get stuck in the woods, with all those trees. Sometimes it’s best not to say too much out loud—Ed would have given me a look as if to say, Now how in hell would you know that, then shaken his head, as if unsure of what planet I was from. But I understand those snowmen. They’re tired of behaving the way everyone expects them to behave.

Ed slurps from the can. “I just hope it doesn’t try to cross the Interstate—it’ll cause a pileup for sure.”

I nod, but not in agreement. I’m thinking, Yes, it’s best not to interrupt Ed when he’s making such declarations.

The stew bubbles over the pot, hissing as it hits the burner. Its steam clouds the windows, distorting the view.

“Wonder what made it run off like that.” I say this aloud, but more to myself than to Ed. He’s already loosened his tie, unbuttoned his shirt, same as every night. Soon he’ll be in his sweats, and we’ll sit across the gulf of the dinner table as we eat, saying things like, Pass the salt please and Sure is cold out there. Then I’ll clean up, and he’ll lie before the all-consuming TV as if messages are being broadcast for him alone. They’re important messages, too important to be interrupted with conversation. So I busy myself with other things. Lately, though, I’ve just been staring out the window, trying to glimpse any movement, any sign of life.

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The stew hasn’t set well with Ed. It was slightly bitter, he complains, even though he scooped every last bit of it into his mouth. It repeats on him, emitting gaseous bubbles, erupting phrases that make me blush: bored, one erupts. Need more. Should leave.

At this last one, I gasp. Ed skims through channels, rubs his belly.

He could be burping screams, I think, and not notice. I’m still alarmed at the final repeat. The others had been thoughts colliding in my head over the years, as the attraction between Ed and me waned, then reversed the polar magnetization so we seemed to repel one another —we were in the same house but spent no time together, in the same life but there was a divisive chasm that rendered it nearly meaningless.

Still, I’d never thought of leaving. Not consciously.

I’d have to be more careful, next time I made stew. A pinch less consternation, a dash more patience, love. Or, at least, ambivalence.

I turn toward the window. The snow shimmers in the darkness with an ethereal glow. Wouldn’t it be lovely to disappear into that glowing darkness, discover what lies beyond the shimmering horizon?

A movement outside the window catches my eye. There’s a muffled crash, like a garbage can being tipped over. Then, frantic barking. A large rounded shadow lumbers around the side of our neighbor’s house. Their Rottweiler careens around the corner. The snowman’s stick arm jabs at the dog, sending the Rotty in a hasty retreat as it gives a single piercing yelp. The black stony mouth of the snowman reconstructs a smile. Wind whips its scarf as its large ball of a head checks one direction, then the other. It slides toward the inflated snowman in my neighbor’s yard, and gives it a poke.

So that’s what’s been going on, I think. I can’t blame them. I prefer real snowmen over the gaudy factory variety myself. I like the uniqueness of each crafted-by-hand snowman. When I was little, my brother created snow lizards, lions, snakes, dragons—magical creatures glistening white as if coated with sugar, suddenly living in our yard. So many possibilities, out in that malleable landscape.

I walk to the TV room, hoping it’s a commercial so I can tell Ed what I’ve seen. But he’s already asleep, snoring, an occasional burp of unhappiness still escaping.

I decide to just go to bed. I open a book but instead of reading, I wonder what the snowmen are up to, how many more might be roaming loose. Ed finally comes to bed, but his snores are so loud, I can’t sleep. In between snores, he snorts: Bitch. Nag.

Patters sound on the roof. Must be hail, I think, but it sounds more like needles of ice. I go to the window; shining crystals fall from the sky—twirling, glistening hexagons, each unique. I try to wake Ed, but he rolls over, away from me.

I walk to the front door, open it. The front yard glimmers invitingly. I find myself standing in the middle of it all, laughing as they sparkle and dance all around me. I look up, hold out my tongue. A succession of snowflakes slide down my throat, filling me until I’m snow-blind.

Swishing noises sound all around me. Unable to see, I hold very still.

I feel pressure in my eye sockets, and my sight returns. Snowmen surround me; the one before me smiles, but I can’t smile back, can’t say thank you. I look down at myself. I’m rounded—three large balls of snow, heaviest at the base. Just like them.

The others hold offerings, too—sticks, stones, a scarf, a carrot. Each takes a turn placing them on my snow-body, adding new features—sticks for arms, stones for a smile and buttons, a carrot nose. Each nods and smiles its approval. I feel so warm, among these friends who’ve helped me become my new self. I glitter as if made of diamonds as I break free, and follow them into the shimmering night.

Copyright © 2008 by C.A. Masterson

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C.A. Masterson

C.A. writes:
When I wrote this in 2004, Pennsylvania was in a deep freeze. Blow-up holiday ornaments appeared on every other lawn. None could withstand the cold, and all ended up in vinyl puddles. Initially, this story was a "Revenge of the Snowman" tale, but ultimately evolved into story incorporating the universal themes of love, acceptance, and finding one's true path in life.

Growing up in the wilds of New Jersey (yes, really, there is such a thing), C.A. Masterson developed a passion for writing, honing her skills first on poetry and later on short stories. The author of three as-yet-unpublished novels, her work has appeared in the literary magazines and e-zines A Long Story Short (2008), The Harrow (2006), Flesh from Ashes (2005), Quality Women's Fiction (2005), Phase, and in The Writer's online edition. Her freelance articles have appeared in The Sentinel, Carlisle. A fourth novel is slowly making its way from her head onto paper. She currently lives in central Pennsylvania.


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