The following short story comes from Alexa Langen, Age 18, from Key Biscayne, Florida. It won an American Voices Award in the 2012 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
Proud, stolid, surveying his kingdom with stone eyes, the snowman towers over the silent white garden. From behind the distant house the afternoon sun reaches out and catches a bead of water, which drips from the snowman’s carrot nose and seeps into his woolen scarf. His body is the pure white of the fresh snow that bedecks the yard, undisturbed except for where the two tracks of footsteps wend their way to the base of the ephemeral monument.
Where the footsteps end, two young children stand hand-in-hand and admire their creation.
“He’s perfect,” the girl says. “Wait.” She fixes some of the scarf’s tassels. “Now he’s perfect. No…” She makes some minor adjustment to his buttons and stepped back, eyeing him critically.
“Hailey,” the boy says.
“Maybe he needs a hat,” Hailey says.
“Hailey,” he says again. “Hailey, listen.”
“What, Brennan?” She turns at last to look at her little brother, annoyed that he would interrupt her careful inspection. Couldn’t he see all the glaring errors that disfigured the snowman like infected scabs? Couldn’t he hear the voice that consumed her, that called out, Hailey, fix me, Hailey, please?
But he isn’t looking at the result of two hour’s labor. He is gazing at her with the searchlight eyes that had just seen an idea and wouldn’t let it go.
“Hailey, do you think snowmen ever get lonely?”
“Lonely?” Hailey scoffs, trying to maintain her role as unflappable older sister, but she is rocking back and forth on the balls of her feet. Hailey, please, Hailey—
“Well, nobody ever makes more than one,” Brennan says.
She turns back to the snowman, smooths down a rough patch on the snowman’s lower body, and feels better. “Why would they?” she says. “Why would a snowman want someone to talk to? Snowmen can’t talk.”
“But they listen,” Brennan says.
Hailey stops. She looks into her little brother’s earnest face, eye-level to her now that she is kneeling down. She looks at him for a long time.
“Okay,” she says at last, straightening up, faking enthusiasm. “How about I make you into a snowman so you can keep Frosty here company?”
Nodding, Brennan positions himself in front of the snowman. His sister carefully raises a cocoon of snow around his body, leaving a gap for his eyes, nose and mouth—“So you can breathe,” she says.
“And talk,” he adds.
“And talk.” She agrees because Brennan has been so frail since the accident—they all have, she’s not okay either—and the last thing she wants to do is to hurt him any more.
Finally she stands back and assesses her handiwork. Her brother—the snowboy, she thinks—is not her best work. From the tiny movements of a fidgety six-year-old, cracks have already begun to spread across the coating of snow.
“Don’t move,” she instructs. “I’m going to run back to the house and get you a matching scarf to cover those cracks.” She turns and runs off, her footsteps echoing across the white expanse of snow, in time with the voice that whispers, Hailey, it’s wrong, fix it, fix everything, you have to—
But once she reaches the house, and she sees the puzzle left strewn across the floor, and all two thousand puzzle pieces start screaming at her, together, so loudly that it’s all she can do not to cover her ears—FIX IT, HAILEY, PLEASE—she knows she cannot leave until each piece is in its place, and order is restored—she knows what will happen if it isn’t. The snowboy melts from her thoughts.
Meanwhile, Brennan waits.
“Oh, Frosty,” he sighs, expelling a plume of condensation. “Poor, dear Frosty, all alone in the cold. All alone, on his own, lonely.”
He remembers what Hailey told him last year, when he had just started second grade and found that nobody wanted to sit with him because, after what had happened the previous spring, they thought he was bad luck. He had come home crying and Hailey, in one of those rare moments when she was not distracted by some power unseen, had held him close and said, There’s a difference between being alone and being lonely, Bren. You don’t have to be both.
“But you’re both,” Brennan says to the snowman. “You know, there’s a lot that Hailey doesn’t know. She says that snowmen can’t think. She says that if something can’t think, it can’t be lonely. But I know that loneliness has nothing to do with thinking. It’s about feeling. And you can’t help feeling.”
For a long time, he is quiet. The sun falls closer and closer to the horizon. A light shiver ripples through his body. “It’s cold, Frosty. Do you think Hailey will bring me my scarf soon?”
IT’S WRONG, HAILEY, FIX IT—she knows there is something she has to do—PLEASE, HAILEY, PLEASE—what was it?—YOU CAN’T LEAVE IT LIKE THIS, YOU KNOW WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF YOU DO—something important—SOMETHING BAD—but she can’t remember—IT’LL BE JUST LIKE LAST TIME, HAILEY—her hand flutters over the puzzle pieces—EVERYTHING IN ORDER—she can’t concentrate—PERFECT ORDER—and so she gives in.
Fix it, Hailey, please.
Outside, Brennan watches his shadow seep across the snow. “Is this what it’s like to be a snowman? Cold all the time?” Brennan says. “I miss the warmth. I miss the spring.”
Frosty gazes back at him with a question in his eyes.
“You don’t know what the spring is,” says Brennan. “You don’t know what it is, so you can’t miss it.”
He thinks of the brief weeks in March and April when his father used to visit. He feels on his cracked lips the sugary lemonade they used to drink sprawled across the sun-dappled hammocks. In his ears echoes his father’s laughter, light and clear like the river Brennan could never seem to snag a fish from.
“See, Brennan, you just have to hold it like this. One hand here… There you go. No, don’t let it slip in your fingers!” His father’s broad hands closed over his, rough calluses brushing against his skin.
Maybe he never wanted to.
YOU COULD’VE STOPPED IT, HAILEY, YOU COULD’VE DONE SOMETHING—YOU COULD’VE SAVED HIM, ALL YOUR FAULT, NOW MAKE IT PERFECT, FIX IT, HAILEY, PLEASE.
Brennan shivers again. “If I were a snowman,” he says, “I wouldn’t know my dad. And if I didn’t know him, I wouldn’t miss him.”
For a while, he is silent, blinking to keep the tears from frosting his eyelids shut. The temperature had plummeted with the sun, and Brennan cannot keep his teeth from chattering.
“W-where’s my s-sister, Frosty?” he asks. “W-where’s Hailey? Did she leave me, too? Is she with my d-dad right now?”
If he hadn’t seen you from across the river—
If you hadn’t waved at him, Hailey—
If he hadn’t jumped on that log to show off for you—
If he hadn’t—
Her hands danced across the pieces like a cold breath.
“I should go inside, Frosty, but I can’t find my way in the dark. I’m so cold. I’m cold all the time now, Frosty, since my dad left.” A deep weariness pulls at his eyelids. “Maybe I should just close my eyes and become a snowman and forget about what happened.” The prospect sounds so appealing to him, to be able to give in, give up, sink down and never be sad again.
His eyes slide close.
“Open your eyes, Brennan.”
He looks up and sees the snowman staring down at him with compassion in his pebble gaze.
“I know you’re tired, Brennan, but you can’t go to sleep now. You have to open your eyes.”
“I can’t,” Brennan mumbles.
“I know you’re tired,” says Frosty again. An icy tear drips off his carrot nose. “I know you’re cold. But think of the springtime, Brennan. Think of the sunlight falling through the trees and skipping off the lake. Think of roasting marshmallows by the roaring fire, Brennan. Brennan…”
“How do you know about that?” says Brennan, and his voice sounds unreal to his ears.
“Brennan. Bren. Brenny…”
And it isn’t a snowman standing in front of him, it’s his dad, his dad with the dancing blue eyes and gap-toothed smile and the hair like baby duck feathers.
“Dad,” Brennan whispers.
“Hey, kiddo,” his dad says. “I missed you.”
“Where did you go?”
“It doesn’t matter, son, I’m here now. We’re together.” His dad’s blue gaze fills Brenan’s vision. “Want to go swimming?”
Brennan reaches out. His dad scoops him into his arms, shakes off all the snow, and lowers him into the warm green lake, so they could swim forever, in eternal springtime.