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The Snow Garden

BOOK: The Snow Garden
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a novel





All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the written permission of the Publisher. Printed in the United States of America.

For information address:

Hyperion, 77 W. 66th Street,

New York, New York 10023-6298,

The author and publisher wish to thank the following for permission to reprint copyright material:

Columbia University Press for permission to reprint the poem “Hometown”, by Salih Michael Fisher, 1988, from
The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature,
edited by Byrne R.S. Fone, © 1998; Margaret Nemerov for permission to reprint the poem “Snowflakes”, by Harold Nemerov © 1973 Harold Nemerov.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

ISBN: 0-7868-8806-7

10 98765 432 1




For Laney

who remembers her dreams 

and Josh

who inspired some of mine


Inverness Creek

March 1983

face, he followed the sound of water flowing against the ice until it brought him to the edge of Inverness Creek. The haggard elms stood in regiments along the sloping banks of ice-slick mud. Veils of snow danced on contrary gusts of wind before vanishing into ice punctuated by sudden black pools of creek water. The music of Fraternity Green was an eerie, distant suggestion far behind him. Bursts of drunken laughter and the delighted squeals of young women, underscored by the bass thud of a stereo, barely filtered through the thicket of trees to where he stood, steadying himself on a branch, staring down at Pamela Milford.

     She was lying facedown on a sheet of ice that bobbed in the struggling current, her blonde hair fanned forward from her head. A few strands draped the side of her face where her cheek puffed against the upward press of the ice, the corner of her mouth open slightly as if she was trying to draw breath. One arm was pinned beneath her chest; the other was frozen in mid-reach for the far bank. Her right leg shot outward at an awkward angle from her body. A miniature geyser erupted around the toe of the boot on her left foot, water spilling over the top of the ice, a puncture that revealed the frailty of the sheet she lay on.

     From this distance, the red trail extending out from her neck could easily have been mistaken for blood. He knew better.

     With a gloved hand he caressed the branch he held for balance, then yanked it hard. The branch broke free.

     As he descended the bank, she was trying in vain to lift her head. It was no use. Each attempt brought her cheek smacking back to the ice, and she let out a groan.

     He didn’t have time to linger on the details of this image, no matter how much the sight of this broken woman chased the sting of betrayal from his veins. With both feet planted on the bank, he focused his attention on the clawlike branch as he gripped it with both hands, extending it over the ice. Pamela gazed drowsily into the ice and erupted into muffled sobs, coughing weakly with each ice-laced breath.

     The twig tickled the back of her neck. She went to bat it away and missed.

     When it caught the back of her scarf, his heart thumped and he tightened his grip on the branch, pulling and tugging until the scarf came free. The tails of red cashmere tossed in the wind as he lifted the branch high and out of her reach, retracting it slowly so as not to disturb the scarfs delicate balance on the spidery twig.

     When it was close enough, he grabbed it and shoved it into his jacket pocket. He was about to toss the branch aside when Pamela heaved a groan of protest. Startled, he lowered the branch to his side and watched as she found some reserve of strength, rolling herself over onto her back and twisting her broken leg. Her mouth opened in a silent scream. The back of her head slammed back on the ice. She reached for her kneecap and failed.

      He waited until she lifted her head once more and peered through the swirling snow with narrowed eyes. Her lips curled into her best attempt at a grimace, and the same arm that hadn’t made it to her leg lifted itself from her body and extended a finger toward him. Breaths whistling in her nostrils, she stabbed the air with her finger as if trying to convince
that he was really there.

     She couldn’t hear what he was hearing: voices entered the woods, male. Their words were unintelligible, but their tone lit by obvious urgency. He tossed the branch aside and looked back over his shoulder. The muddy slope rose five feet, almost over his head, concealing their approach

     There was only one way to go. He turned back to the creek.

     Keeping his steps light as the ice protested beneath him, he edged his way past Pamela and swiftly hoisted himself up over the opposite bank. His gloved hands grappled with mud for a second before he got a leg up. As he climbed, he heard a sound like a hand gathering tin foil, but he didn’t look back.    '

     At the top of the bank, he turned. ,

     Where Pamela had been, shattered ice bobbed on the black current. He scanned the smoky glass of the rest of the creek, searching for a sign of her passage underneath.

     Beyond the shattered ice, flashlight beams stabbed the woods.

     He drove the crumpled scarf deeper into his pocket, turned from the creek, and accepted the invitation of the darkness on the other side.



November 2001

Not slowly wrought, nor treasured for their form In heaven, but by the blind self of the storm Spun off, each driven individual Perfected in the moment of its fall.

—Howard Nemerov,


flickered to life at just pass three in the afternoon, its light-sensitive timer tripped by the tide of gray clouds advancing off the Atlantic, casting downtown into gloomy winter shade. Since the building’s completion in 1984, the “townies” who lived at the base of the hill would joke that the tallest and newest addition in Atherton’s meager skyline liked to send everyone home early during winter by announcing nightfall several hours prematurely. By five-thirty, the last of the insurance adjusters and bank tellers made the short walk to the railroad stations where they would board commuter trains that would carry them as far as Boston and Connecticut, leaving behind an empty stage set of art deco entrances and sidewalks blown clean of litter by the increasingly ferocious winds off the bay.

     As the city below drained of life, Atherton Hill glowed with a corona of light. An early winter had stripped the hill; naked branches spiderwebbed among Gothic spires and Victorian rooftops and the streets snaked up the hillside toward the university campus, laid bare in winding concrete strips. The water of the bay usually warmed any snowfall into dreary sheets of rain.

     By seven o’clock on the evening of November 14, fat flakes filled the halos of the streetlights lining the paved banks of the Atherton River, a black vein curving its way around downtown. The snow fell with rare and determined force, clinging to the pavement and refusing to melt. Shouts erupted across the crown of the hill. Dorm room windows flew open and students burst from the library, heading for the nearest cafeteria to commandeer its piles of trays to use as sleds. By less than an hour later, however, the hill had quieted, the continuing snow blanketing the campus with an eerie hush. At the base of the hill, squealing brakes and shattering glass broke the silence.

     Headlights bounced across the whitening Colonial Avenue bridge, dancing across guardrail and then black water. A Volvo station wagon tore through the barrier, arced silently through the air for fifteen feet and vanished.

     A small car stuttered to a stop and its driver got out, slipping on the snow as he jogged breathlessly to the torn opening in the guardrail.

     Below, the black water of the Atherton River embraced the Volvo’s upended taillights amid torn metal and ice. After the shriek of brakes and shattering of glass, the only sound now was the disgusting, rhythmic thump of air billowing out of the broken rear window in cartoonishly large eruptions. As the man watched the car withdraw from sight, he went to brace himself against the guardrail, but retracted his hands like someone wary of leaving his fingerprints on a murder weapon.

Kathryn Parker couldn’t move her feet. She looked down and saw they were wedged under the wooden railroad tie of the tracks she had been standing next to only seconds before. She heard the mournful moan of a locomotive’s horn, and then the tracks stretching out on either side of her erupted in a concert of metal against wood. She was blinded by the headlight of an approaching train, roaring toward her out of darkness that had been immaterial Only seconds before. Her arms went up to stop the inevitable.

     She awoke to the theme from

     Strange shapes drifted across the far wall and she sat up, groping for the halogen lamp next to her bed. The torchere sent light to the ceiling, its Styrofoam panels still scarred by the design of the beer bottle caps that she had found embedded in them on the day she moved in three months before. It was just past 8
Snowflakes were falling past the window, casting their shadows on the cinderblock wall on April’s side of the room. Now that the roar of her nightmare had retreated, she was once again aware of the persistent and grating combustion of Stockton Hall, a four-story beehive of disconnected adolescents announcing their new collegiate identities with stereos turned up too loudly, wailing over the difficulty of their first midterm, their conversations ending in punch lines followed by explosions of forced laughter. Next door, the sounds of
gave way to the earnest tones of television actors; it was time for the engineering freaks’ weekly
5 party. April had been the first one to point out that white Jewish boys from outer Boston seemed to have a propensity for all things Superfly. She didn’t know how she had managed to sleep through it all.

     Randall’s story had caused her nightmare. She reached for it on her desk.

          The town of Drywater, Texas, exists because a woman named Elena Sanchez was killed by a 

     Randall Stone was her best friend at Atherton —maybe her
friend here or at home in San Francisco —and now he had managed to saunter into her dreams thanks to a short story that had chilled her with its detail, and stunned her with its rage.

          Elena’s only son, Ricky, didn’t find this out until he was fifteen.

     She dropped the story to her desk, swung her legs to the floor, and padded barefoot across the threadbare rug—to the poor excuse for a vanity set into the wall between the room’s two closets.

     Since arriving at Atherton University, she had started remembering her dreams. Maybe it was leaving home and the constant effort she spent whiting out the first half of her youth that had shunted her anxieties from her waking life into her sleep. She raked one hand back through her sandy blonde hair, revealing wide eyes, still brown and not
bloodshot. Her fingers reflexively traced a path down to where her hair hit just above the shoulder, searching for split ends, fighting the urge to split them further. She caught herself, forcing her hand down to her side, and stared dead-on at a pretty-enough girl who had stopped being called mousy once she’d entered high school, whose breasts had exploded at fifteen before refusing to expand another cup size. She found herself unable to turn away from her own image, and the hands she had forced down earlier traveled back to her throat. Even as she told herself to stop, her fingers Were prodding the soft flesh at the top of her neck, trying to find the pliable beads of her lymph nodes. Bigger than yesterday? Bigger than the day before that?

     She clasped her hands in front of her face, breathing into them.

     Was it the nightmare that had left her this shaken, or was it the recognition that this compulsion might never leave her? How many more test results would have to come back before a mild sore throat could be just that, a fucking sore throat?

     The door flew open and she backed away from the vanity as if she had been caught fondling herself. She expected Randall—he had stopped knocking long ago, as if she were a sister whose moods he’d known since birth, and whose nudity could neither frighten nor titillate—but it was April who shoved her way through the door, bundled in her favorite leather jacket with the faux fur collar, her black braids flecked with white flakes. “It’s snowing,” she announced flatly, letting her book bag slide off tine shoulder to the floor with a thud.

     “How was the meeting?” Kathryn asked, standing" awkwardly as April got down on all fours and dove headfirst into her closet, which was two feet deep and covered with a tattered curtain instead of a door.

BOOK: The Snow Garden
8.8Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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