It was snowing hard, the flakes slapping their cheeks and making a mockery of their boots. They started to run over the chilling blanket that was already covering the ground, their hoods pulled low, eager to get home. It wasn’t until they were in the warm kitchen and had closed the door on the icy flurries, that Lauren noticed Gabby was crying. She looked away. Gabby was Steph’s friend, and Lauren didn’t know her well enough to ask what was wrong.
Gabby felt the tears on her face, so scalding when she had been outside, cool as the temperature lifted. She sniffed, trying not to make a sound. She was pretty sure Lauren had seen the traitor tears, but she hadn’t asked what was wrong. Oh God, please don’t let her ask. What would she say? What would she do? Cover them all with her darkness? Make them drown in the fathomless pit of her memory? she bit down on her lip, but her mind wasn’t listening, pushing the thoughts to the front of her eyes, and out of them in salty drops.
She was back in the graveyard, the snow hard under her feet. It had not been coming down in great flurries as it was now, outside the window of Lauren’s house. Only a few tiny flakes were still falling, desperate to make their mark before it was too late, to kiss the ground and then be swallowed up by its greed. She saw the white marble headstone, the snow a perfect mask on its face. She strained, but could not see the top where the writing was. She probably wouldn’t have been able to read it anyway.
“Shall I lift you up?”
That was her grandad. She nodded, and felt his strong arms go around her tiny body. He hoisted her with ease on to his shoulders, and reached forward to push aside the film of snow. The writing shone through, curly and gold, a light in the darkness. The soft, cold, white darkness.
“What does it say?”
He was silent for too long.
“What does it say?” she repeated with a child’s persistency.
Grandad hesitated, swallowed. His voice was all croaky as he read, or perhaps quoted from memory: “Here lies Lisa Ranford, aged sixteen.” He paused, voice wobbling like the jelly her gran made for pudding, and cold as the ice-cream that went on top. “Heaven is the only place for an angel.”
“What does that last part mean?”
He set her down gently, her feet crunching and sinking into the snow. She shivered.
Grandad coughed to give himself time to answer.
“Well, mummy’s the angel darling. She’s gone up to Heaven.”
Grandad swallowed again, and his eyes were all wet. When he answered, he was looking at the snow.
“You see these flakes all falling down to the ground?”
“Yes. They’re pretty.”
“Yes they are. They’re pure, and exciting, and beautiful, and there’s nothing like them in the world. But in the morning, the sun will come out, all warm and bright, and he’ll melt them and they’ll disappear.” She nodded. “You see, sweetheart, the snow and the sun are both marvellous things. But they can’t exist together. You see, some things are just too perfect to stay on this Earth.”
“Gabby, what’s wrong?”
Steph’s voice was distant, as if she were speaking from far away, calling across a snowy landscape, the sound smothered by the softest blanket of all.
Gabby opened the door and ran, across the garden, out of the gate, down the sloping lane. Her feet pounded over the new-born flakes, turning them into her footprints. They slapped her cheeks in protest, and she felt them stinging her skin, as her tears, scorching once more, fell to mingle with them, turning them into pain-wracked thoughts, just as they themselves froze to become snowflakes.
by Sarah McLean
Flash fiction prompt: snow