The Snow Queen and I share a most precious possession

The Snow Queen swept through Edmonton overnight, riding in on the north wind to claim the city as her own polar realm.

Ice crystals, like the broken pieces of a thousand mirrors, glint under street lamps. Tree branches bow beneath a layer of hoarfrost. My breath bursts from my body in puffy white clouds, before vanishing into the early morning blackness.

A winter wonderland, some might call it. Not me. That description is far too benign for the Snow Queen’s handiwork.

The dog and I enter the park, lit only by the glitter of stars and a thin, white crescent moon. The dog lifts her head, sniffing the air. She casts furtive glances over her shoulder, on the lookout for urban coyotes.

I am at ease here with only the dog as companion. No other humans calling a cheery good morning. No one to make conversation with about the sudden onset of winter. It is quiet, deathly quiet. Not even the ravens or magpies are awake yet to fill the air with their raucous cries.

I am comfortable in the Snow Queen’s kingdom. We are by no means friends. But she and I share a most precious possession.

The Snow Queen. A fairy-tale figure as cold and merciless as death, who snatched a little boy away from his home and kept him prisoner in a bleak, remote land of perpetual winter.

A fairy tale? Or a horror story? In the end, the boy was saved, reunited with his family. But, as a child, I wondered: What happened to the Snow Queen? She was never seen again, vanishing into the land of nightmares. The story frightened me. What would stop her from returning and taking another boy? Folding him into her snowy robes, holding him close to her icy breast, carrying him deeper and deeper into the howling storm, until he was erased in a blinding whiteout.

Because, that’s what she did.

Only this time, the boy was mine.

On a cold January day, the Snow Queen stole my son. His name was David Finkelman. He was 27 years old. An honours student at the University of Alberta, a passionate and gifted musician who would lose his life at the hands of an inattentive driver.

On that cold day in January, as the feeble rays of a noon-day sun washed over bus shelters and store fronts, as pedestrians hustled along sidewalks, trying to outrun the arctic air, as cars lumbered down the avenue, ghostly emissions curling from their tailpipes, the Snow Queen waited.

The squeal of breaks, the hollow thud of the car hitting my son, propelling him backward, out of the intersection, pinning him to a lamppost.

A horror story? Or a fairy tale?

Witnesses say David stood for an instant. His mouth opened and closed. No sound. No puffy white clouds emerged from his crushed chest.

As his knees buckled, a passerby caught him. He lay David on the cold, slushy pavement. The screams of the driver were muffled as she sat, frozen with panic, within her car.

And the Snow Queen drifted nearby. Rocking gently on the frigid wind. Long, white fingers reaching for David, smiling a ghastly rictus grin.

The police at the door.

We went to our son. We saw his still body. No familiar smile, no crinkling of the skin around his eyes. His features, smooth and expressionless. As if they had been carved from marble.

I bent to kiss him. David’s skin was as cold as the snow drifting outside. I brushed the hair from his forehead. Hot, salty tears ran down my face and splashed onto his.

Wake up, I sobbed, placing my forehead against his, touching the stubble that continued to grow on his face. Ambushed by the sudden shift from life to death.

For a long time, I thought we could get him back. As ice pellets battered the windows and the north wind howled, I paced the bedroom, wild with grief.

It’s a misunderstanding, I shouted at David’s heartbroken father. If we could just explain, we could get him back. His father wiped tears from his face and said nothing.

And so my life became a frozen tundra with David out there, somewhere, on the windswept terrain, obliterated by the blizzard, a plaything for the Snow Queen. Her oh-so-constant companion.

Winter is always with me. David is my winter child. My last image is of him standing on a snowbank outside his house waving goodbye to me and his dad after we’d had breakfast together. He was wearing his dark pea coat and tuque. His neck was wrapped in a red and white scarf his girlfriend had made him. Twenty-four hours later, he was dead.

Now, each morning I slip a silver heart that dangles from a leather cord over my head.

Each morning, I kiss the heart, which bears David’s ashes, and let it nestle in the hollow between my breasts, close to my beating heart. As it settles there, I gasp. The metal is cold. Cold as winter. Cold as death.

I reach down and cup it in my hand. The heart warms, coming alive under my touch. It becomes part of me. David becomes part of me.

The Snow Queen’s fingers would melt if she dared to grasp it.

Published in the Globe and Mail, February 1, 2017. 

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