Footsteps in the snow, by Ben Warden
She remembered when the snow had come down in her youth. Her father would stand at the door and walk backwards into the centre of the garden; then he’d carefully tiptoe back in his own footprints, take off his shoes and call her downstairs.
‘Look, Abigail, the footprints just start in the middle of the garden. I think an alien must have beamed down in the night and come into the house.’
‘An Alien, Daddy. Don’t be silly,’ she’d say.
‘Well, who else’s footprints could start in the middle of the grass?’ She’d stare out into the garden with a racing heart. ‘And I think he must still be here because there are no footprints going back out!’
She could remember the grin on his face, which meant he was lying and the nervous thrill in her stomach. It was like watching a magician smile at you; torn between truth and astonishment. Dad had loved to tease her.
Now hers were the only footprints in the snow. They told the story of where she’d come from, but they didn’t show where she was going. Through watering eyes she could just make out the way ahead; a greyscale world, blurred at the edges.
We come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow. His voice filled her head.
She could hear him singing the melody clear as day. She’d have to ask Mark what the song was; he’d know for sure. It would mean singing it to him. The embarrassment would be worth it; the difficult part would be remembering it by the time she got home.
The frosty air was starting to whip now. Ten minutes in the swirling white outdoors and she could feel the cold saturating her body. She couldn’t tell if the numb feeling was the weather, or the situation that had crashed down on her. It seemed funny that it had taken her by surprise, even though it was expected. To some, the weather would be a beautiful scene behind frostbitten windows, to her, it was just another challenge. The first hurdle had been the lulling draw of her warm bed; then the cat, who wouldn’t let her leave without feeding and fussing; then some salesman on the phone. She’d decided long ago that the hardest part of life was making time for the important things. He’d been amazing at making time, especially for her.
She turned in through the gate. The trees, which had been so green in the summer, stood dark and skeletal. The path that had been an orange leafed carpet only a month before, was now a dark tunnel that ran on further than she could see. No birds called, nothing moved. She pulled her coat tighter around her and dug her toes into the snow.
On the distant hill the headstones stood black against the horizon, like the abandoned tower blocks of a forgotten city. She knew how exposed it would be at the top and gritted her teeth in anticipation.
Mark had said, ‘you’re mad. Wait a few days, it won’t make any difference.’ But she knew it would make a difference to her.
It had already been far too long since she’d last gone and it was important to get into the routine. She knew Mark was just trying to look after her, but he didn’t understand. After all, he still had both his parents. When she’d looked out that morning she’d decided there was no way she could leave it. It wasn’t fair to leave him alone again. Usually there’d be things to see and people around, but on a day like this company would be noticed.
Leaning against the wind, she came over the brow of the hill and into the quiet chaos. Through the swirl of snow she lost her bearings and spent a moment berating herself at the thought of not being able to find him. Then she recognised the spot. Letting her relief slow her heart and the wind dry her budding tears, she bent down next to him and whispered ‘hello.’ The words caught in her throat. She lay the flowers and looked around for signs of life. She didn’t think the daffodils she’d brought would last long out here; not that it mattered; it was the gesture that was important. For a second, it felt like she did it for herself rather than him and that put a chill through her twice as fast as the weather. The feeling under the numbness bubbled.
‘Hi Dad, it’s Abigail. How are you? I thought I’d say hello. The weather’s filthy here. I hope it’s better with you.’ She grinned. This was how every phone conversation had gone and she was sticking to the tradition. ‘Things are pretty good with us. I’m glad to be the other side of Christmas, if I’m honest. It’s always a stress and Mark’s mum was unbearable this year.’ She knew he’d tell her off for that comment so she apologised under her breath and carried on. ‘I’m back at work. It’s okay but it’s all change again. The boss is going and we’ve got some young bloke stepping in. We’ll see how that goes!’
The cold was cutting at her knees, so she stood. She wanted to say more but couldn’t think of anything to say.
‘You know these conversations seem to get increasingly one-sided, Dad.’ She said it with a giggle that slipped a little. ‘Oh, Dad, I miss you.’
She looked up across the scene. She loved the spot. Often there were only a few people around and the view was beautiful. It was why they’d chosen it; for the view and the peace and quiet. It had been an odd day; coming with him to pick a spot, though it had turned out rather well. They’d sat and admired the view and he’d seemed happy and then, holding hands, he’d taken her for coffee and cake and they’d laughed about pretty much everything. It was her one striking memory of him. Not the hospital bed, not helping him to the loo; just her smiling dad, drinking a latte.
She let the memory linger, then blew him a kiss and was about to step away when something in the snow caught her eye. Five footprints lay ahead of her. No start and no end, just an enduring impression. At first she thought she was seeing things. Footprints wouldn’t last ten seconds in this weather; but there they were, clear as day. She moved towards them, knelt and stared out across the snow-flecked hillside. The swirling white static and the numbness was broken by the vivid image of her dad’s knowing smile. She pulled off her glove and ran her finger along the crisp edge of the nearest print.
‘Aliens,’ she whispered.Ben Warden www.benwardenauthor.com Twitter@Ben_Warden