Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Snowman

BY JAMES JOSEPH BROWN

You’re fourteen and there are bars on the window but you’re not in jail. Or you’re seven and in an open field of snow. It’s difficult to tell time when an hour stretches into endless lifetimes of ticking clocks in doctors’ offices trying to keep your eyes open and two months disappears into a sinkhole. But you’re not fourteen yet you’re still seven and you’re looking at the sky and it’s pale pink like the end of the world, and there’s a short tree stark and barren and the only thing that makes you think there might be life on this planet tomorrow are the berries hiding in the branches, barely catching the light.

The other kids are shouting, Tiger get your head out of the clouds. You’re looking up but there are no clouds. It’s just pink and pale grey the color of loneliness. We’re building a snowman, help us put it together. You are quiet. You are a builder. You have spooky eyes. You know this about yourself because you see how you are reflected in the eyes of others. You know you are more than the days you have spent in this world. You are some accumulation of more, but you don’t yet know where any of it comes from.

Icy snow chills until it burns your palms, your fingers, but still you roll the snow into balls the size of pumpkins, over and over, until time disappears again and the sun moves position in the sky and the globe spins like a toy along its axis. Tiger what are you doing? He’s being weird again. And where are your mittens, your hands are bright red, like a lobster. Lobsters aren’t red, until they’re cooked you say, but maybe you don’t say this, maybe you just think it. You haven’t yet learned to tell the difference, because you live in two places. Most of the time you live in the ocean of yourself, a fish who slips out of the water to breathe a few words before diving back down out of the noise and blinding brightness.

Tiger you’re supposed to make big snowballs, for the body, we already have one for the head. How many heads do you want our snowman to have? Is he going to be some kind of monster? You say this in their language. You hear yourself say it. I like monsters. You explain to them how seeing the same snowman year after year makes you want to cry. How seeing the same three globes, one stacked predictably atop the next, in the same order, every Janurary, makes you fear for the future. Why has no one in this town, not once, ever tried something just a little different?

You tell them your idea. Use smaller globes to create a sitting down snowman, legs splayed out in either direction, arms built with snow globes stacked from the ground up. The result, cartoonish, yet proportional, whimsical, original, fun and something they could all be proud of building together. When you are done explaining you realize from the group of kids gathered round, the familiar, puzzled faces, slack jaws, hats pulled halfway off scratched heads that no words came out, you just beamed your message at them, opened your eyes up wide and to them that looks scary and intense so you stand up and walk ten steps behind you to a spot where no one has tread before. You have a knack for finding spaces no one has been, even in a crowd, as if seeking out isolation is one of your special innate talents, or perhaps you come from a different world or an alternate dimension and this makes it easier for you to slip away to sequestered places, to take those half-steps necessary to step into other planes and universes. You kneel in the snow and the rest of the kids follow behind you. When you are ignited and frustrated and intent on getting a message across they are scared but fascinated and they follow like rogue moons drawn to a planet which has veered slightly off course. In the pale, fading sunlight, as the lights of the country club where you are building your snowman along the rolling slopes snap on all at once, you dig your frostbitten finger into the snow and sketch out the plan for your design.

It’s beautiful, says one girl. And your heart jumps. But everyone else makes that face. You know that face. At seven, at fourteen, you know that face. The one people make when you have a good idea. Because good ideas mean change, and change means that things get worse before they get better and so that face is the scrunched up clouded face and you feel it because you can look inside people whether you want to or not and that’s why you hurt so much and have to live halfway under the sea.

We’ll never have time to do all that. You shake your head. You know it won’t take any time, just stack up the snowballs and it’s done. You’ve already rolled them all, already put in all the work. You’ve learned this too. You can hand people something beautiful, something you’ve already laid all the groundwork for, and they’ll still get scared and turn it away. We’ll never have time. We don’t want to do it. But why, you ask, why not? We just want a normal snowman. Just like the one we had last year.

But this one’s better.

You leap up and run through the snow, do somersaults and trace letters into the hillsides, spelling out what you can’t say.

One day you will all mean nothing to me.

One day I will mean nothing to me.

Your fear of change will keep you in the state you are in right now forever.

And then you tear icicles off the trees and toss them into the sky. Or maybe you are doing this underwater, in the other world.