The weather forecast promised sixteen inches of snow. We got sixty-two instead. The stripped-bare trees outside my window bear the brunt of nature’s powder dump and their limbs wilt under its weight like failing arms. I wonder how long they can continue to stand, tired and weary witnesses to all that’s come and gone since before the men arrived and shoved them backward to the edges of imagined, arbitrary boundaries.
Far overhead, shielded behind a dense sheet of clouds, the sun is moving away, taking with it any chance of reprieve from the cold. I can feel its retreat on the tingling tips of outstretched fingers, and deeper down—past flesh and fat and muscle to the very bones that hold me together.
The face in the tree stares downward in defeat as the inches pile on. The knot that forms its eye bears a puzzling combination of desperation and resolve, but the mouth below it is opened in a scream. It is a disquietingly human expression. A part of me wants to rush to it, stumbling up the hill through thigh-high drifts, but something tells me it wants little to do with what I have or haven’t got to offer. And so I stand and watch and hope the dawn is short in coming.
Twenty minutes pass. And then another twenty more. It is only when I move to turn away that I finally see what has been there all along, lying at the periphery of my vision as if waiting to be discovered. The shape in the snow twitches once, then falls still. It is a distinctly cognizant act, as if doing so will serve to deny its existence. But now my eyes have laid upon it, it cannot be unseen.
With fluid, almost elegant grace, it stands. And as my jaw falls open like an unhinged trap door, my eyes follow it up, up, up . . . until its fully revealed height reaches so far beyond the drooping ends of snow-laden branches that it nearly disappears against the sky’s blackening underbelly.
If there were eyes at the center of that snowy mass staring back at me, I cannot remember—will not remember—for even attempting to do so could cause my mind to break and the blood that courses through my veins to still. The blood is now the only thing that stands between me and the lethal cold, and I won’t bear to lose it.
Throwing curtains closed, I rush away from the window and pour myself a drink. It will calm my nerves until the sun returns tomorrow. Until then, I hunker by the fire and dream of treeless plains and sun-scorched vistas that have never known the cold.
If anyone ever asks me what I mean by “caked with atmosphere. I’ll have them read this.