A Winter’s Past
It’s warm and cosy in Omi’s sitting room.
I sit on the floor, my back resting against the low, red velvet couch and listen to the click of the gas heater as it ramps up to a higher setting. The heater used to be a proper wood fire. Now artificial orange rays replace the once real flames.
There are razor blades in my throat, and a dull ache in my head.
Today I’m not allowed to go outside. I am a prisoner of the sitting room. The kitchen, with its noisy front door and still-functioning woodstove, is for boiling the kettle, or frying bacon and eggs. A place to refill my grimy water glass from the stiff silver tap. Or to secretly dig a spoon into the tub of crystallised honey which lurks at the back of the pantry.
Omi says honey is good for my throat.
In the sitting room the windowpanes are cold to touch. The dull grey sky beyond is distorted by the slow-moving glass. Bare trees sway in a silent breeze.
Snow doesn’t fall here. The air just becomes frigid with cold.
I don’t really want to go outside anyway.
I glance at the old brown suitcase lying open on the floor next to me, a pile of picture books spilling onto the loud 70’s carpet. The story of the naughty ladybirds who make toffee and let it explode everywhere. A thick hardcover containing tales from the Brothers Grimm. A Christmas book with its words in German that I can’t understand.
But I’m not reading right now anyway. From somewhere within the old VHS player they are singing “Under the Sea.” I’ve outgrown Disney but The Little Mermaid is Omi’s favourite.
I hear the creak of the floorboards signalling her approach. She pushes open the door, steps over the pile of books and places her palm on my forehead, her hand-knitted jumper rolled up to her elbows. Satisfied, she eases herself onto the plush armchair by the window in the back of the room, puts on her reading glasses and finds her place in her library book.
On the curved TV screen, Ariel longs to be with the real humans on the beach. On dry land, on the sand. Somewhere where the sun is warm.
My skin twitches and I shiver again. Loaded with paracetamol, and without moving from my position on the floor, I let my eyes slowly close.
Then Winter’s Now
The window ledges are bulky with snow, pure and white and frozen in place. Snowflakes fall in clumps. They dust my beanie, the shoulders of my thick coat. A large flake settles on the inside of my sleeve, delicate and temporary.
Here there is snow.
Through the town the streets are covered in ice. Boots made of leather, fur and Goretex, slip and slide. A mountain laden with ski runs and steel-wired chair lifts is barely visible behind a menacing grey cloud.
Niggling winds find our bare skin easily; tunnelling through hastily wrapped scarves and inadequate collars.
It’s surely below zero.
We haul rented skis and snowboards across the town square towards glassed-in gondolas. Steam from each breath puffs gently into the air. My face is red, my lips purple, and my body tingles with the need to be inside. But the coffee shops and Après-ski bars are full. People order cappuccinos, gluhwein and bowls of hot soup, shaking snow and droplets of water as they shed their heavy coats, scarves and mittens in the stifling warmth of heated rooms. They inhale deeply the smell of coffee and wet feet, faces ruddy and laughing.
The snow continues to fall as we search hopefully for a free table through the window. A flake catches on my eyelash and turns to water in my eye.
The town centre is fully blanketed, streetlamps and fairy lights beginning to glow as the sun reluctantly drops.
A picture-perfect winter post-card.
Outside, we are still shivering.