Jenny Terpsichore Abeles

Dining with Snowmen

By the time it snowed, everyone was already looking forward to spring, and no one knew whether to be happy or angry about it. The heavy, sticky snow was heaped in piles on the ground, trees, houses, cars, well, on everything. Even the telephone wires, even the outstretched leashes of dogs out for a walk. Maybe older people, Jerry Jablonski, for instance, who kept the Peter Pan Bar on East Street, grumbled, but on the other hand, all the kids seemed to have found real purpose at last, in putting on thick socks and boots, mittens, hats, scarves, and coats that doubled or tripled their circumference. Remembering something joyous about the many snowfalls of the previous winter, they ran outside to see what could be done with all this puffy snow. Within a few hours, snowmen appeared all over town, an invasion of round, whiter-than-white men in battered hats, and no street had as many snowmen as the one that ran by the river, Frankie’s street. At least one snowman grinning crookedly for every plastic-sided duplex except hers, in fact.
Somewhere between the grumbling and frolicking, Frankie found herself ambivalent about the mid-March snow. The town looked suddenly glamorous, it was true, and that was no easy look for this town to achieve, but she herself looked markedly less glamorous, wearing clunky boots at the very bottom of her otherwise lovely outfit. As she trudged down Ferry Street, she suppressed the bitter thought that her besmirched glamour hardly mattered given that she was just going home to her two cranky cats and a sandwich—no, the bread had gone moldy. Cheese and crackers, then. Jess had broken off their dinner plans because she didn’t want to drive in the snow.

“Come on! This is New England—what do you expect?”

“Easy for you to say, Frankie. You don’t drive.” After a moment of cell phone silence, she added, “Oops. Sorry.”

It was true. Frankie didn’t drive. Not for the next twenty-three months. When had cops become so humorless? She had thought her hand-made “Bacchus is my co-pilot” bumper sticker was hilarious, and so had everyone at the Peter Pan, but they did suggest that maybe she shouldn’t actually affix it to her bumper. They had all followed her out of the bar, trying to talk her out of it, but Frankie liked a good joke, always wanted to see how far one would go. That one went so far as a night in jail. As depressing as the consequences were—walking half an hour to and from work when it was cold as a witch’s mammary gland, for example—Frankie still burst out laughing every time she thought of it.

When she got to East Street, Frankie instinctively veered right toward the Peter Pan rather than continuing on to her house. She’d just have one drink with Jerry, who was no doubt bored and lonely tonight, before going home. Her stomach growled and she wished she’d eaten lunch.

“J.J.!” she yelled in greeting. The bar embraced her with the warm, familiar smell of stale booze and the many bodies that consumed it. There were times she hated that smell. Especially now that she couldn’t get in her car and go somewhere else. She was sure that if she ever saw the bar with all the lights on, she wouldn’t want to drink there anymore. But in dim lighting, the cracked vinyl of the seats and rusted chrome of the small, round tables looked charming.

“F-Bomb! Long time, no see,” he joked. “Que Syrah, Syrah?”

“No, I’m in a martini mood. Dirty. Really dirty.”

“Uh-oh!”

“What’s the matter?”

“I know what that means.”

“You do? What?”

“It always means the same thing—guy trouble.”

“Aw, Jerry. There’s no guy trouble.” Frankie slid onto the bar stool and out of her coat. The air in the bar felt like a warm booze blanket. “There’s no guy.”

“Well, that’s the trouble, isn’t it? Young, pretty girl like you…”

“I may be popular with the over sixty crowd, but…”

“Hey, hey! I’m just sixty-one.”

Frankie thought that proved her point. It was easy to talk to Jer precisely because he was too old for her. “Well, anyways…only the old guys like me.” He was about to pour her drink, but she stopped him. “Can you shake it harder? I like it really cold with those little flakes of ice floating on top.”

For a minute, the syncopation of ice against metal was the only sound in the bar. Then he poured, and said, “All the guys like you, Frankie. It’s just that…” He pretended that was the natural end of the sentence and pushed the glass toward her.

“It’s just that…what?”

“Nothing.”

“No, what were you going to say, Jer? I’m serious.”

“You’re a little scary.” Jerry was trying to play it off as a joke, but his tone was inadvertently sincere. “The guys are scared of you.”

Salty booze got caught in her throat and Frankie was afraid she would choke before she could rasp, “What? I’m scary? What in hell are you talking about? I’m sweet!”

Jerry just looked at her.

“Aren’t I? I mean. God, I can’t believe you said that. Jerry. You don’t think I’m sweet?”

“You’re sweet to me. Very sweet to me.” He nodded vigorously.

“I’m sweet to everybody.”

“You used to be. I remember that.”

She froze the sweating cocktail glass in her hand and glared at him. “Okay, I’m getting really pissed at you.”

“Well, let’s talk about something else then.” He rubbed the bar with a holey towel and smiled at her. “How was work today? Did little Miss Needlenose have another cry in the copy room?”

“I don’t really feel like talking about Needlenose right now.” Frankie slid off her seat and downed the last gulp of her martini. “I’ll have another. Over there.” She jutted her chin at a far table and headed for the loo.

When she came back, a couple of guys were sitting at the bar, and the martini was waiting for her along with the shaker for an extra few sips. Jerry’s apology. She sat down, her stomach loudly rumbling. The guys turned to look at her, trying to be casual. Could they hear it from over there? That would be amazing. “Hey,” one of them said, smiling a little.

Losers. She felt like rolling her eyes but managed to nod in their general direction. “Hey, Jer. Could you put on the jukebox?”

The guy who had “hey-ed” her got up, flattening some dollar bills between his hands. She knew him, had talked to him a few times. Once he had bought her a drink and asked her out to dinner, and she told him she didn’t eat dinner, which was more or less true. The first song that came on was a song she liked, had often played. She drank down the martini and emptied the shaker into her glass.

Wish I had a river I could skate away on.

Frankie had a river she could skate away on. The river that ran by her house must be frozen by now. Instead of going all the way around, she could probably walk right over the ice to her house. She could walk on water all the way to some icy delta emptying into an arctic sea. She would like to see that, the place where her little river ran into the cold immensity of its source.

The thought made her feel happier. Tiny, multicolored lights twinkled residually from Christmas, and more people were coming in, the usual after-work crowd, slapping sticky snow off their hats and shoulders. She watched Jerry serve up their drinks, wondering if he was the friend she had thought he was. He seemed just as nice to everyone else as he was to her. He knew their names, their drinks. He laughed at their inane cracks and lowered his right eyebrow as he listened to them. Frankie liked how he really listened to her, but maybe he was like that with everyone. Guess she was nothing special to him, after all. Just as the thought plowed into her mind, he ambled over with another martini.

“From the gent at the bar. His name’s Nick. You know him, right?”

She knew he wasn’t her type, in his work clothes and knit cap shoved back to reveal a dark widow’s peak. He had given her that same feeling that he listened to her, but she’d seen that act before. He’d listen until he’d heard exactly what he wanted her to say, and then he’d never listen again. “Tell him thanks, but, Jer? Let him know I’m not looking, okay?”

“Sure, Frankie. Look, about before…”

She looked up at him, feeling like an idiot. What did she hope he would say? That he loved her just as she was? That he thought she was more wonderful than anything?

“I know you’ve had some, well, disappointments. All I’m saying is, don’t give up.”

“I’m not giving up, Jerry.”

“I mean on the fellas. There are some good ones out there. Really. I talk to them every night, so I know.”

“Why would I want a boyfriend who hung out here every night?” Frankie smiled and wrinkled her eyebrows painfully. “Oh, man! I’ve got to get a life!”

“You and me both, sister.” Frankie’s stomach grumbled again. “Jesus H. Tits, Frankie. Go home and get something to eat.”

“‘K. Right after this.” She lifted her martini, and a little splash dropped onto her sweater. “Oops!” she said, giggling, but Jerry had already turned back to the bar and hadn’t noticed anyway. It wasn’t seemly to sit by yourself giggling in a bar, but she kept thinking of funny things, and couldn’t help but giggle. Giggling had gotten her into real trouble in the past. She’d been kicked out of junior high chorus for giggling.

‘Cause I’m gonna make you see there’s nobody else here, no one like me. I’m special, so special… The Pretenders, Bowie, Bryan Ferry—all her favorite jukebox songs. That was a strange coincidence. The guy who’d bought her martini turned to look at her, not so casually this time, and suddenly Frankie didn’t feel like giggling. Fucking presumptuous is what that was. Imagine how deluded a guy’s got to be to think a drink in a dive bar is going to get him somewhere? Her face flushed in the alcoholic heat; she felt furious. The twinkling lights suddenly seemed depressing, pathetic remnants of a holiday that hadn’t been all that merry, and the air was making her sick. It smelled like Jerry was running a humidifier filled with gin. The faster she could get into the fresh air, the better. Frankie grabbed her coat and bag and headed for the door.

The guy swung around in his seat, and the look on his face was … surprised. No, it was…concerned. But Frankie didn’t care what it was, didn’t trust her ability to interpret it anyway. She left the bar without even saying goodbye to Jerry, who was busy helping customers and stomped through the swirling snow toward home. Except for one cautious Pontiac edging through the snowdrifts, the street was deserted. Then she noticed the snowmen. Frankie looked up and down the street; it was a whole town of snowmen, just snowmen and her. The world was grey and white; it looked like the inside of a glow snobe.

Wait a minute, had she just thought “glow snobe?” Frankie burst out laughing as she propelled herself forward, her breath, an alcoholic mist hanging in the frozen air. She threw her head back, “Ha, ha, ha, ha, HA!” she laughed, and snowflakes fell into her open mouth. Is that what snowmen eat for breakfast? Snowflakes?

She stopped in front of one of the snowmen to catch her breath. “Did you have your bowl of snowflakes this morning? Is that the breakfast of…” She paused, not sure if it would be funnier to say “champions” or “snowmen.”

“What?” the snowman asked his neckless head tilting.

She stared. Then she looked around. Then she stared again.

“Is that the breakfast of…what?”

The snowman was talking to her, his button eyes sparkling with curiosity. Her stomach rumbled.

The snowman’s stomach rumbled too. “Anyhoo, I don’t think I did have breakfast this morning. I’m starving.” He spat the corncob pipe out of his mouth. “What in the hell is that? I don’t even smoke.”

Frankie hadn’t said anything yet. She had the uncanny certainty that she shouldn’t speak to strange snowmen, but neither could she move to walk away, so she continued to stare.

“I don’t think I eat snowflakes.” The button eyes gleamed flatly at her. “No, I definitely don’t eat snowflakes. Let’s see if I can…” and he shimmied, to the right, to the left. “Ha, ha!” his laugh was full of glee. He shimmied closer to Frankie, his two jagged stick-arms reaching for her, and still, she couldn’t move.

The red string across his face stretched into a deeper smile. “You look so… sweet,” he said, and then the mouth opened and he loomed over her. She felt the twigs of his fingers clench her arms, she peered into his snowy maw, and then Frankie disappeared.

That is to say, that one moment she had stood there on Ferry Street staring at a snowman, and the next moment, only the snowman remained, patting his round belly and saying, “Hmm! Not as sweet as she looked.”

Frankie was not at all surprised to discover that inside the snowman there was nothing but snow. Packed all around her, snow. But it was roomier than she thought it would be; in fact, she could stretch out, and the snow was quite soft to rest on. It was almost as comfortable as her bed, and there were no screaming cats here, no moldy bread, no humorless cops or fair-weather friends or jail cells or smelly dive bars. Nope. It felt clean and pure, like how she imagined that Arctic delta to be. But even more than that, there was no past or future, there was no hunger or desire, there was no emptiness to fill. She didn’t need to be warm anymore. She didn’t need to be liked. Or loved. Frankie never knew how strong she could be until the snowman swallowed her, and now nobody else would ever know. If you don’t know me by now, you will never, never, never know me, ooh, ooh, ooh… Ha! Frankie wanted that song played at her funeral. That would be perfect. She laughed, but her mouth filled in with snow. Here inside the snowman, there was no laughing, but there was no crying, either. There was no hurting, day after day, for so long that you forgot what it was that started it.

So Frankie rested there. She didn’t think about funny things, and she didn’t so much as giggle. Her chorus teacher would have been proud of her. After a while, she began to wonder what would happen to her when the weather changed and the snowman began to disappear, bit by bit, as they inevitably do. Snowmen might be nice and handsome for as long as it remained freezing, but after a day or two of sunshine, they started to look disproportionate, deformed, until finally there was nothing left but an icy mound. Or what if, before that could even happen, the snowman decided he wasn’t satisfied with just her and ate someone else? There wasn’t much room in here, and she didn’t want to share this cozy space. But of course, maybe by then she would be, would be…oh. No. Digested? Turned to … she pictured all that black snow lining the streets a few days after a storm … snowman shit?

No. That could not be her destiny, bad as things were, still, she could not allow herself to become the fecal matter of a really undeserving snowman. She pushed against the snow. It started to give, and she shoved harder, and kicked, and flailed her fists into the snowman’s guts until he gave way and tumbled down, releasing her back into the glow snobe world of Ferry Street. And even then, she continued to kick the snowman apart, breaking his stick arms across her knees with satisfied grunts, throwing his stupid button eyes into the river, which had not, in fact, frozen yet, and jamming the corncob pipe into the red string atop a dilapidated pile of what was once a snowman. And she felt good about it.

But as Frankie turned to leave, she saw another snowman coming at her, arms outstretched. “What…?” the snowman asked.

“No. No! Not again! I just went through this!”

“What are you doing?”

Frankie turned to run, but she tripped on snowman remains, and by the time she got up, the new snowman was upon her, catching her in his arms. “Oh, God,” she insisted, and it sounded like a sob, “Not again. I can’t do it again.” Her legs felt weak. She was going to cry.

“You’re soaking wet. You must be freezing.”

Frankie noticed that unlike the other snowman, this one was warm. He was shaking a little bit, but that was because he was…laughing? He was laughing, and holding her, presumptuously, maybe, but his arms were warm. She stepped back, looking at him, the knit cap under a layer of snow, and started laughing too. They stood together, laughing, and as they stood like that, the snowman began to melt a little, and so did she.

***

Jenny Terpsichore Abeles is a writer and educator in Western Massachusetts. Her stories have appeared in Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, New Dead Families, and Lackington’s Magazine, among others. She is currently working on a book about Renaissance philosophy and werewolves.

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