Snow Girl

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As in my other stories, the action in this one doesn’t start for a while. If you’re in a hurry, you may want to look elsewhere.

The snow began while I was foaming milk for my morning coffee. It fell from a windless sky and settled in perfect narrow ridges on the bare limbs of the trees outside my apartment. By the time I had showered and dressed for work, every twig and bark-wrinkle had acquired a sparkling white outline and become soft-edged and lovely.

I was already late, but I lingered by my window. The snowy street was so quiet that I could hear her heels clicking on the pavement as she passed beneath my window a few minutes later. A long, puffy down coat wrapped her from head to toe, hiding the shape of her body. Her elegant dark eyebrows were drawn tightly together, and strands of long black hair escaped from the edges of her scarf. She looked pale and freezing and achingly beautiful.

She walked by most weekday mornings – on her way to work, I supposed. Some days she’d be carrying a cup of coffee, enfolding it with both hands, trying to draw a little warmth from it. Other times she’d be late and hurrying. I’d first noticed her a month earlier, right after the first big winter storm had blown in, bringing a foot of snow and a dense overcast that didn’t clear for weeks. I didn’t know her name or where she lived or where she was headed every morning. I just thought of her as the snow girl.

The name seemed especially apt today. She moved rapidly down the silent street until she was only a grey silhouette, and then a vague, genderless shape merging into the snow-shrouded city.

* * *

My friend Frank called about six o’clock.

“Can you cook tonight?” he asked, an edge of panic in his voice.

“Iam cooking tonight.”

“No, I mean, can you cook for me? I’ve got someone coming over.”

“Someone female?”

“Well, yes. I met her a few days ago and I invited her over for dinner.”

“Why didn’t you just ask her out? There are two hundred restaurants within a ten minute walk of your apartment.”

“It’s just that it’s easier to get her to my place after dinner if she’s already here.”

I sighed. He had a point. “What time is she coming?”

“About eight.”

“That’s two hours from now. What have you got in the fridge?”

“Well, nothing really. I was thinking that you could pick something up on your way over.”

I closed my eyes and rubbed my forehead. Frank and I had grown up together in a small upstate town, and now, almost twenty years later, we found ourselves living only a few blocks away from each other in the newly chic Brooklyn neighborhood of Cobble Hill. So what could I do?

“Okay, I’ll be over in a bit. You owe me, Frank.”

I packed a few pots and some other odds and ends into a gym bag and headed out. I picked up a couple of Dover sole fillets, and some leeks and French beans at the markets on Smith Street. It was going to have to be simple. The little shops where I bought the vegetables were part of my neighborhood’s charm. Each was owned by a representative of a different country, as if to encourage me to try my hand at different cuisines.

Frank was tidying up when I arrived. He flashed me his trademark grin, the one that had gotten him through difficult times when his talent, diligence, or honesty had proved insufficient. It charmed women, young and old, and disarmed men who had ample reason to resent him. That smile had won him jobs over more qualified candidates and smoothed over the worst of his transgressions. Nor was I immune, though I kept trying. I skipped the pleasantries and started trimming beans, dicing shallots, and braising the leeks.

“Are you almost done?’ Frank asked anxiously a few minutes later. “She’ll be here soon.”

I gave him a dark look and got the smile in return, toothy and charmingly lopsided as always. But tonight there were little wrinkles in the skin at the corner of his eyes, wrinkles that I couldn’t remember being there in the past.

I stirred the beurre blanc sauce and didn’t answer. But Iwas almost done. I poured the poaching liquid around the fish and arranged the beans.

“So tell me what to do,” Frank said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’m going to have to serve it somehow, right?”

I looked at him quizzically. Then I got it. “You mean that you wanted me to come here and prepare everything, but I’m not invited for dinner?”

“Well, yes, what did you think? How romantic would it be if you were around?”

I counted to ten mentally before answering, as my mother would have advised. There was simply no percentage in explaining proper behavior to Frank. “Okay, but you’re going to wrap the leftovers for me. You’ll notice that I bought three fillets.”

“Hey, no problem.”

“And I need my pots back.” That seemed obvious, but I wasn’t taking any chances. He’d borrowed a ski jacket from me once and then given it to Goodwill. “Tomorrow.”

“Sure, drop by in the morning. I’ve got to leave early, but there’s a key on top of the door jamb. Just let yourself pendik escort in.”

I thought about asking him to actually return the stuff to my apartment, but I knew that would never happen. So I just took deep breath and spent a minute explaining what to do with the fish and how to sauce the leeks.

Then he shooed me out the door. “Come on, I want her to think, well, you know …”

“That you actually know how to cook?”

“Well, yes.”

“You’re an asshole, Frank.”

He gave me the smile. Crow’s feet. No doubt about it.

“You should say that like you mean it,” he pointed out. “It’s more effective.”

“Whatever. Just don’t overcook the fish, okay? Eight minutes, no more.”

“Right, sure. Would you leave now, please?”

* * *

I spent the evening in my apartment catching up on some work while the snow drifted down in enormous flakes shaped like rowboats and the traffic sounds turned distant and indistinct.

The next morning I woke up craving an omelet. Of course I’d left the pan over at Frank’s place. I sighed, threw on a jacket and trudged through the crust of new snow that had settled overnight. I felt around Frank’s door jamb until I found the key. I opened the door, shuffled into the entryway and stopped dead.

Someone was in the kitchen. Not Frank; a young woman in a short satin robe. We stared at each other, both too surprised to speak for a moment. She had shoulder-length dark hair, tied back now, and pale skin and wide brown eyes.

It was the snow girl.

She recovered first. “Are you looking for Frank?”

Her voice had just the slightest hint of a Southern accent.

I took a deep breath and shook my head. “Hey, no, I’m sorry for just barging in. Frank told me that he’d be leaving early, so I just let myself in. I didn’t realize that there’d be someone here.” I pointed to the pile of pans on the counter. She’d been washing them when I came in. “I just dropped by to pick up my things.”

“Your things?”

“Well, yes. Frank asked to borrow some stuff last night.”

She looked from me to the pans, still a bit flustered. “Oh. Okay.”

I attempted a smile. “Look, this is a bit awkward. I’ll just come back later.”

“No, it’s fine.” She extended her hand. “I’m Shannon.”

I introduced myself, and I held onto her hand for a moment. The body that I hadn’t been able to see when she passed my apartment was more discernible now. She had lush curves and long legs and very smooth skin. One slim thigh peeked from the place where the bottom parts of her robe came together.

“Have you had breakfast?” I asked.

“No…”

“I was going to make an omelet back home. But I can just as easily do it here.”

She looked at me appraisingly and tilted her head slightly. “Ah, okay. I’m really hungry, actually. Just let me change first, okay?”

She flashed a shy smile and headed back to the bedroom. I wondered about the robe as I watched her hips sway beneath it. Had she brought it with her? But they’d just met, according to Frank. Did he keep a robe around for situations like this?

I took off my jacket and found the eggs in the refrigerator. The butter was foaming when she came back out. She had on clothes that she’d probably worn the night before, tailored black slacks and a soft cream-colored pullover. She had untied her thick, dark hair, and it spilled over her shoulders, still a bit damp.

“Can I watch?” she asked.

“Sure. There’s nothing to it, though. Two eggs, not three. Stir them with a little water – use a fork.” I poured the eggs into the pan with a sizzle. “Fluff them up with the fork while they cook. That’s very French. Then – here comes the tricky part.” I pulled the pan sharply towards me, showing off a little, and the omelet flipped over neatly. I slid it onto a plate, sprinkled some parsley on it, and took a modest bow.

She looked at me dubiously for a moment, then, getting into the spirit, applauded gravely.

“Now you try it,” I said. “High heat. Wait until the butter foam subsides.”

She followed instructions and fluffed the eggs for all she was worth. “I don’t want to do the flipping thing. It’ll all end up on the floor.”

I smiled. “No need. Just fold it over with a fork.”

I poured some coffee and we sat down at Frank’s little kitchen table. She ate enthusiastically.

“I’m sorry,” she said after a moment. “I’m not being very polite. I didn’t eat much last night.”

My heard sank. “Frank didn’t overcook the fish, did he?”

“Yes, he did rather.” She looked me narrowly. “You know about the fish?”

“I helped a bit, getting him … organized. But I told him to take it out after eight minutes. I didn’t think to bring a timer. I probably should have.”

“I thought he was a bit clueless about what went with what.”

I groaned softly. “Please don’t tell me that he put the beurre blanc on the beans.”

“That white sauce? Yeah, he did. It was good though.”

I brightened a bit. “It’s my own variant. You’re supposed to use white wine vinegar in the classic maltepe escort preparation, but I like lemon juice.”

“Are you a chef?”

I laughed. “No, just a hobby. I consult for a big architecture firm downtown. I mostly do acoustic design for big spaces – building lobbies, auditoriums, that sort of thing.”

She inclined her head. I was growing fond of that gesture. It made her hair flow along her neck.

“How about you?” I asked.

“I do wardrobe, for theater mostly, some film.”

“Really? That sounds glamorous.”

I’d said the wrong thing, I realized. Her face closed up and she looked away.

“Not really. It’s just a job. I should really be getting over there now, actually.” She took her plate over to the sink. “Thanks for breakfast and helping me with the omelet. That was really sweet.” She picked up her purse.

“Hey, I can clean up. You’ve already done it once.”

She flashed an apologetic smile. “Thanks. It was nice meeting you.”

I started to get up but she was already out the door.

* * *

I waited two days before calling Frank. “Can’t talk,” he said. “I’ve got someone here.”

“Shannon?” I asked.

There was a pause. “You know her?”

“I met her at your place; she was on her way out. Cooking for yourself tonight?” I asked before he could pry any further.

“No. We got take-out. Look, I’ll catch up with you later. I’ve got to go.”

The line went dead before I could ask anything else.

* * *

The sky finally cleared the next day. The strong sun began to melt the snow that had accumulated on the roof eaves and lintels. Water drops sparkled and dripped and became jewel-like icicles that threw tiny rainbows when the sunlight touched them.

It was Saturday morning, and I had no plans. I did some shopping, picking up a fragrant wedge of Port Salut and a loaf of rosemary-olive bread for lunch. I wandered into a gallery that was showing raw Malawian wood carvings. Finally, at loose ends, I dropped into my regular café for an espresso. The place was all worn, dark wood and shelves filled with sturdy mugs and jars of loose tea.

The snow girl was sitting at a table near the window. She was in her long, puffy coat, her hands wrapped around a steaming cup of coffee.

“Hi, Shannon. May I join you?” I asked.

She looked up, startled. I saw a brief, frightened expression dart across her face, but then she smiled politely and invited me to sit down.

“So you’ve discovered this place too.”

She nodded. “I work just a couple of blocks from here. I didn’t want to come in at first. It seemed so … so old. But they keep it nice and warm. This is where I met Frank,” she added.

I let that pass. “You’re new here? To Brooklyn, I mean.”

She nodded. “I just moved up here in November.” She looked out at the snow, piled in a gentle drift against the window. “Bad timing, huh?”

“You don’t like winter?”

She shook her head. “Not the kind you have here. I grew up in Atlanta. The winter there – it was always a relief, you know? You’d look forward to the cool weather all summer. And then I was in Los Angeles for a couple of years where it’s always nice. So I wasn’t really ready for all this snow … it just never seems to end.”

“Why did you leave LA? Better job?”

I’d said something wrong again. She looked down quickly into her coffee cup and shook her head.

I pressed a little. “What then? A bad relationship?”

“No, not really. Things just got … a little out of control.”

Even at my most insensitive I knew it was time to change the subject. “Have you had a chance to explore the neighborhood?” I asked.

“Only a little. It’s been so cold I haven’t really felt like it.”

I nodded. “It’s the snowiest winter since 1920-something. But it won’t last forever. And spring here is wonderful. The Salvadoran ladies sell flowers on the corners and the local grocers have their produce out on the sidewalk in front of their stores. I counted fourteen different ethnicities once. I mean, where else would you find someone selling Somalian gourds?”

“Ah … in Somalia?”

She said that as if she were talking to a four year-old. But at least she was being playful.

“I bought a few – I liked the shapes – but the Somali produce guy looked at me really oddly. Turns out that you don’t eat them. They’re used for animist fertility rituals.”

That drew an almost musical laugh from her. Her face cleared and her dark eyes sparkled. We chatted about restaurants and the local art scene.

“A friend of mine is having an opening on Wednesday night,” I said. “At Midori Gallery, down the street from here.”

Her cell phone rang just then. She flipped it open. “Oh, hi Frank … no, just having a cup of coffee … sure give me a few minutes.”

She put the phone away and stood up, looking distracted. “I have to go. Nice seeing you again.” She smiled briefly and headed for the door.

“Wednesday,” I said again. “About eight o’clock.” My voice trailed off. kartal escort I didn’t think she’d heard me.

* * *

But she had.

The gallery was a large one, and it was packed. Wayne, my artist friend, beamed as he circulated among the stylish crowd. It seemed that he’d been discovered.

Wayne carved elegant geometrical structures in polished wood. Each piece took months of painstaking work, and he only did shows every two years or so. His relief at the enthusiastic response was palpable.

With the press of bodies I didn’t notice Shannon at first. But there she was, studying an upside-down pyramid of glossy maple and holding a glass of chardonnay. Frank stood beside her, a study in distraction. His eyes darted around the room, stopping from time to time when he spotted an attractive woman.

I took a deep breath and walked over to them. “Hi, Frank. Hi, Shannon,” I said. “Glad you could come.” I tilted my head towards Wayne. “Have you paid your respects?”

Shannon’s smile illuminated her face; then it was extinguished a moment later. She looked up at Frank. He nodded at me guardedly.

“You go ahead,” he said to her. He headed off towards the table with the wine and the trays of cheese cubes stuck on toothpicks.

I offered Shannon my arm, which she accepted a bit formally, and I introduced her to an expansive and somewhat inebriated Wayne.

“I love your work,” she said with a charming sincerity.

Wayne, a shock of sandy blond hair falling boyishly over his cornflower blue eyes, just grinned at her.

“I just wish that someone would take the same care with me as you do with your wood,” she added.

Wayne looked towards me reproachfully. “Have you been neglecting this lovely young woman?” he asked with a hint of a Kentucky drawl.

I felt a bit flustered. “No …” I said, turning toward Shannon, “we’re just friends. Looking after her properly is someone else’s responsibility.”

Shannon was even more abashed that I was. She put her hand over her mouth. “I didn’t mean it that way. It’s just that … you seem so passionate about your medium. …”

Wayne grinned again. “At least I don’t have to worry about it spurning my affections.” He patted a twisted ellipsoid. “Always constant, always faithful, aren’t you?”

He looked back at me. “Carlos is doing a party for me after this. At his loft in DUMBO. Bring your …” He cocked an eyebrow at me. “Your … friend.”

A gallery person was tugging insistently on his sleeve.

“Commerce calls,” he said. “Please excuse me.” He nodded gravely at Shannon. “And may your wishes for greater attentiveness be swiftly granted.” Then he winked at me and, swaying a bit, let himself be guided away into the crowd.

Shannon and I smiled at each other. “He’s gay, isn’t he?” she asked.

“Absolutely.”

“I figured anyone that talented and that good-looking couldn’t be straight.”

“I’m straight.” I pointed out.

That didn’t impress her. “What’s DUMBO?” she asked.

“Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. Very trendy. Just a few blocks from here. Can you extend your evening?”

She hesitated. “No … I don’t think so. Frank said he wanted to go home early tonight.”

“I’m sure it was all you could do to get him here.”

She gave me an apologetic half-smile. “I’d better go track him down. But thanks for inviting me.”

I bowed, attempting gallantry. “Welcome to the neighborhood. I hope you’re finding it congenial.”

The crowd, thicker than ever, moved between us. I watched her drift away, bits of light sparkling on her dark hair, until she had vanished. I spent a few more minutes wandering through the shimmering chatter that rose and burst like champagne bubbles. When I’d had enough, I headed to the front to retrieve my jacket. The coat room was a long walk-in closet, and it bulged with bulky garments of every shape and style. I was poking dispiritedly though the racks in the dark room when I heard a scuffling from the back and an urgent in-drawn breath. I took a step further inside, suddenly on my guard. Two people lay in pile jumbled clothing, partially covered by several coats and jackets. All I could see were hints of an arm and a dark shirt and tousled hair. But I knew it was Frank. Beneath him, the dim light caught a long, elegant leg – a woman’s leg – bare up to the hip. Powder blue panties were bunched up and pushed to one side. Her face was lost in shadow, but I knew who she was.

My body betrayed me. I stumbled and swayed against a coat rack with a muffled clank of hangers. Shannon turned her head towards me. A stray bit of light caught her face, and she shook a strand of dark hair out of her eyes. She saw me then. I was just a dark shape in the doorway, but she recognized me. Her eyes turned huge and frightened.

I willed myself into motion. I turned and left the room and walked back home through the frozen night without my coat.

* * *

The next day the sky was cardboard-colored and seemed close enough to touch. By the following morning snow was falling again, swirled by a frigid wind off the river. I waited at my window for the snow girl to walk past — I wanted to replace the last image I had of her, the pale bare thigh and the curve of her hip moving rhythmically under Frank’s body.

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