Thursday, February 14, 2013

Seventh Spring

Seventh Spring

Curls of white steam that drifted from a cradled mug and over Sarah’s fingers dissipated into the chilled darkness of an unheated living room. Embers crackled in a wood stove, the only source of warmth in this sixth winter since onset of the reversal. Cambridge was a distasteful memory still, eight years after her dismissal. She felt as fragile as one of the glass flowers exhibited at the university’s museum, and as breakable.

April arrived with weather that seemed to mock lengthening days with temperatures that seldom rose above zero. Her supply of firewood was almost exhausted and the food she stored in September was running low. She stared at the glass specimen on the kitchen table. Galanthus nivalis, the snowdrop, her favorite from Harvard’s collection, stolen on her last day as professor of botany.

Sarah sipped hot tea and recalled spring festivals in nature preserves where spiked trees sported buckets that gradually collected oozing liquid life. As a student volunteer she served Maple syrup on stacks of pancakes and sold jars of clover honey from the previous summer. Trickling streams fed by snowmelt signaled the approach of warmer weather, of life emerging from the sterilizing chill of the dark season, snowdrops sprouting from under layers of ice-encrusted brown and yellow leaves.

On early spring mornings he would leave their bed, dress quietly and tromp into the woods with a hand shovel and a small clay pot. By the time she arose, coffee and a small floral arrangement graced their breakfast table. Often a handwritten note accompanied the snowdrops she so dearly loved, but most often a message was delivered in person and with a kiss.

The April sun lacked its pre-shifted intensity, but still melted the snow on Sarah’s roof, compressing layers until an overhanging drift fell with a light thump on the front porch. It remained a sure sign that spring would eventually triumph over winter, perhaps by July. If only life on Earth could say the same.

In the seventh spring, Sarah emerged from confinement and slowly opened her front door. Wind and snow swirled and the cold lashed her cheeks. Footprints led to and from the front porch. She imagined that they were other than her own, that the postman had made his rounds, delivering ads, bills and perhaps a birthday card. She would be forty-two. She could not remember if he was older or younger. She cried as she struggled to remember his face. Her tears froze instantly on her cheeks and shook her into the moment. His body was hidden by snow at the far end of the porch, carefully preserved for later burial when the ground eventually softened.

The loneliness inside the house was different than that which she found outside, exposed to the wind and alone in the snow. She felt tiny at the edge of a blanketed white expanse between her house and the next, only fifty yards away. She couldn’t help but admire the sparkling landscape. Fragile tree branches, encrusted bushes and frosted houses were reminiscent of the beautiful glassy exhibit where she first noticed her precious snowdrop.

The stinging air froze the tiny hairs in her nostrils, causing her to breathe through her mouth. Gasping on the frigid air, she raised a scarf up over her face to her eyes. With a snow shovel and broom she cleared fallen snow, uncovering a wicker swing, an old milk can and a pile of inverted terra cotta pots. She paused to pick one up and examined it in a loving flood of memories until the cold forced her back inside with an armful of firewood and an intriguing idea.

Returning to the porch with the glass snowdrop in her gloved hand, Sarah scooped snow into an empty pot. She carefully planted the glass flower in the white potting mix and set it on the ground at her feet. There, the first snowdrop of spring proudly emerged against all odds and according to a forgotten timeline. Sarah smiled and glanced at the neighboring homes. The Johannsons lived to her north and the Muellers to her south. She had discovered their frozen bodies earlier in the winter, but continued to visit and ensure that they were undisturbed.

Over the next two weeks, Sarah worked diligently at her newfound creative pursuit. Her garden expanded with different specimens and over a wider area. She worked until her limbs grew numb and the cold forced her back indoors. The wood stove served as a hot plate to melt buckets of snow. It gave her purpose.

A gentle snow fell on Sarah’s garden, her exhibit. She shoveled a path to the buried street, plunged the shovel into a snow bank and turned to admire her work. Scattered across the neighbors’ adjoining snow-covered lawns, new growth sprouted from a series of rounded pedestals that Sarah had packed and molded like the bases of snowmen. She carefully applied the water she had warmed to thaw and reshape frozen limbs. The specimens seemed proud and alert in their icy matrix, especially Sally Johannson, arms outstretched, her naked gray body defiant against the elements and glistening like a glass flower. Her white hair fell about her shoulders like the three milky petals of a snowdrop. Sarah laughed and laughed until she cried.