When I was a boy of about fourteen years, nearly past the torments of puberty, but still naïve and aching for love of a different kind, I had a dream that remains with me today — though the details of it are imprecise. It now recurs to me as a vision of sorts — as something shown to me on a television screen that has flickered awake in the night of its own accord.
What I can tell you of it now is, therefore, necessarily (and perhaps mercifully) scanty. No doubt you will think it not worth the trouble of remarking upon; but your indulgence, I think, will not be unrewarded.
I wandered, in this vision, over a broad and featureless tundra of perfect white. Trees there were none, but there were, in all directions, gently rising dunes of snow, from the tops of which were cast steady plumes of agitated frost, which swirled and mingled before joining the directionless welter of ever-moving white. The wind upon which all of this was carried penetrated me palpably, like the uncut fingernails of a grasping infant upon my face, and there was something namelessly intimate and loving about the undying sting, which of itself brought forth tears from my half snow-blinded eyes. I could only just discern, a great ways in the distance, the gray presence of a mountain ridge; and having nothing better to aim my bent and staggering progress toward, I was going to these. As I went, I clambered up the dunes and stumbled down the valleys, and the mountain peaks arose and vanished in the ceaseless eddies like the ghostly horses on a ghostly carousel. But for all of this blowing and sighing and drifting, the stillness was something useless to describe, and my feet were like bundles of thumbtacks.
Before me, upon the blank face of a minor dune, I was astonished to make out what I knew to be a mirage (for I was alone, always alone, dreaming and waking) — a kind of flailing white figure lying pronounced against the snow, with arms and legs the same as mine, rising and falling, opening and closing — a gleeful, beckoning sort of gesture that left around it a dovelike pattern of arcs. Its rhythms transfixed me, and I hastened that way, perceiving as I neared that the figure had sprung up, and was now turned away to admire its swooping, sidereal creation.
I may have called out at my approach — of this I am not sure — but, when I had come within a few footfalls of it, it turned its body halfway, and its face full toward me, and was instantly seen to be a girl — a girl like an —
But I must pause here. My memory, never the most exact about true things, goes tremulously to the task of recalling a dream, a vision, which arose and departed in a few seconds’ time, all these twenty years ago. I am shivering involuntarily as I attempt to describe her. She is the faintest, most graceful of imprints which the clumsy substance of words cannot try to fill without marring and misshaping to pity.
Her face, I should say, was whiter than marble — but soft, wondrously soft — I needed not touch it to tell — with two soft blushes, and two soft blue eyes — framed all around with a soft and luxuriant aureole of the whitest fur. Though I could not divide my gaze from hers, I had marked, while on my advance toward her, that she wore a billowing white parka — a not uncommon coat — and white, fur-trimmed boots (again, of unpresuming style), and that her hands were mitten-clad, and that her legs — it seemed impossible — were bare: bare as far up as I could follow them. And now, as she turned herself a little more toward me, I could perceive (remember, I beg, that I was lonely and young) that her coat was not fastened by anything, but held on solely by the languid — indeed, quite careless — clenching of her big-sleeved arms around herself, and that it fell a little off of one shoulder, and the shoulder, too, was bare. She had, I cannot omit but to recall, the littlest and straightest and finest little clavicle; Donatello could not have carved it. And against this unearthly clavicle, there was flung, from the cavernous recesses of her great hood, a trace lock of argent blonde hair, which curled at the tip and hugged, as it were, the clavicle divine.
She smiled. (I am tortured to write it.) She lifted her arm and gestured whimsically at the snow-angel she had made. With a cock of her head and a wave of her mitten, she invited me (don’t ask me, please, how I knew — it was a dream, remember, a dream…) to lay myself down in its celestial shape. Baffled but obedient, I did as she required, dreading that my frame would overwhelm its perfect proportions. But when I was on my back against the sloping dune-face, I watched her, as she seemed to lay down beside me, an arm’s-length away, so that her tiny mittened fingers were just nearly touching mine; and I thought (as one can think within a dream), Oh God — we are to make snow-angels, and she will be all exposed — all exposed in her winging to the knives of the wind! But when she drew up her arm, my arm followed, and our boot-toes touched as we hemmed out our angel-robes, and we flailed together with purpose there, ever more swiftly, until I began to feel warm and then hot and then stifling beneath my cumbersome winter-things. And when at last — at long, long, last — I was too suffocated and weary to continue, I lifted my head towards her.
But there was no girl there: only a snow-angel, and I was awake and still — always — alone.
Romantic of turn, I married young, seven years after the wonderful dream, and in the month of January. For our honeymoon roost, my wife and I selected a picturesque log cabin, high up in the piney and white-dusted slopes of the Catskill Mountains, where one steep and snaking road after another left civilization almost beyond the reach of memory. A honeymoon it could not truly be called, for my bride — some years older than me, and ambitious — could not long be taken from her work, which was in the city. After a week of building fires in the woodstove, and cooking meals of rice, and lentils, and canned black beans, and of holding each other and shivering under motley mounds of blankets in the loft, she took her car (the only car we had) and descended again to the town, and thence to the city. I watched it — the little glittering thing against the long dirt road — until the mountain’s curve swept it out of view, and then I turned back inside, a blanket around my shoulders, and sat before the bright morning stove.
She had promised to return after three days and nights, but on the second day, a blizzard arose, which, I was informed, would prevent her from retaking the mountain roads before substantial clearing of snow, ice, and fallen trees had been done. The wind on the night of the storm was like nothing I had ever witnessed. Every tree within my view (which, despite the raging sheet of militant snow) was bent almost half-over, so that it seemed the whole mountainside would be dragged up by its roots and hurled down into the icy Esopus cascades. I had brought in all the firewood remaining to us when the snow began to fall, and with the icicle-tipped arrows of wind laughingly defying the chinks and cracks of the little-used cabin, I burned more of it than was advisable in my anxiousness to find some warmth and solace in the absence of my wife. That night I cooked the last can of beans; for my wife had planned to bring more food with her on her scheduled — now impossible — re-ascent.
The roads leading up to the cabin were cleared by the third day after the squall, but my wife had been given an additional project, which she told me would occupy her until the weekend. Not wishing her to think me the complaining type, nor to distract her from what she assured me was a most important piece of business, I said nothing of the fact that there was now no more rice in the pantry, and hence, no more food. It was ten miles down the mountain to the village with its modest general store, and I resolved, in the morning, to walk.
An hour after dawn, without relighting the stove (for my wood, too, was now exhausted), I put a pack on my back and pitted myself against the uncongenial midwinter wind. Ice was still plentiful, and overspread by a new half-inch of brittle snow, which greatly hindered my pace down the mountain. More than once I looked up, despairing, at the ridge on which the cabin sat, and pondered with grief the ascent that would have to follow my descending. In six hours I had found myself again among residences, and by early afternoon I was in the general store, buying a pound of rice and as many cans of beans as I could afford — thinking little, however, of what I would be able to carry. For my immediate hunger, I bought some jerky (though my wife disapproved of my eating meat); but this I had to return when the tab ran too high. And so I resumed my journey upward in the same state of painful inanition which had inspired my way down.
The sun had set before I was more than half finished with my trek, which, ice considered, was even slower than the first. My pack, heavy-laden with the densest of provisions, seemed to grow ever heavier upon my shoulders — always endeavoring, it seemed, to tip me feet-over-head back down into the valley. I had only one thing to be grateful for, and that was the moonlight, which was cast in providential profusion across the road and the still-leaning pines, turning the high snowbanks roundabout me into battlements of crystal-flecked silver. It seemed, as I trudged and tripped and clawed my way upward, that there was nothing pleasant waiting for me at the cabin — no warmth, no wife, nothing to make my hard way worthwhile. I had even forgotten my hunger, so thoroughly frozen and bone-weary was I.
Against a towering snowbank, I reeled and lay down my pack, stretching my arms out to their length, and splaying my legs in rigid exhaustion, followed my breath as it fled towards the moon and threaded through its nimbus. Unconsciously, my eyes sank closed, and I began — gently, at first, and then, for warmth, more rapidly — to bring my limbs up and down, in and out, digging myself an angel-shaped alcove there in the dirty, silver-strewn mound.
And that’s when I felt it. A kiss, colder than the heavens — and on my cheek, the faintest brush of fur.