L’hiver est assis sur un banc, by Margaret Dunlap

(avec mes remerciements à Jacques Prévert)

Winter is sitting on a bench. She is not noticed by the people passing, the children playing, the birds flying from one tree to another. She is ignored, as though she is no more worthy of note than a man with glasses in a gray suit.

She seethes with the insult but cannot move.

Every day the sun rises a little higher, a little hotter, eating at her icy flesh. She is as fixed in her place as the sun is in its course, but just because the outcome of the heavens’ eternal dance is inevitable does not mean she accepts it with grace.

Winter comes later every year. Spring arrives sooner. Her time dwindles as her summer brother’s grows, but there is cold left in the world yet, and while her icy heart is still frozen in her chest she will persevere.

Rage might be white-hot; hatred is cold and creeping.

Not cold enough.

Thanks to the unseasonable change in season, her facade of life is nearly gone. She looks like a snow-woman someone built on this bench as a transient art project, or perhaps as a commentary on the infrequency of bus service along this suburban route.

A week ago, her hair was an ebony cascade flowing past her shoulders. Now, it is dead grass jammed into an icy scalp. Her right breast, the one that faces southeast, is gone, the chest beneath barely concave. Her pelvis remains planted on the wooden slats, but between it and the remnants of her upper thighs she can see through to the muddy ground beneath.

Her arms have dwindled to icy points hanging from each shoulder. The right barely reaches the bottom of her ribs, although the left—shaded by the rest of her body—fares better. The stump of a wrist is tantalizingly close to the top of her leg.

If she can reach the leg, she can sacrifice the end of her arm to reconnect leg to torso. Once under her control, she can use it to stand up and balance long enough to set herself on the other as well.

It won’t be pretty, but pretty is not required.

All she needs is to stand by the time the bus comes. If she is standing, she can board.

She will get on at the back, obscured by the exit of the housekeepers, cooks, and nannies who descend here to make their last mile walks to the houses where they spend their days creating the homes of others.

Once aboard, her dry, lank hair and shortened proportions mean no one will begrudge her a seat by the back door, reserved for the elderly and infirm, where the cold outside air will protect her from the suffocating heat that blasts from the engine.

No one will look at her hunched, misshapen form for long. Humans seem to believe that infirmity and death are something they can catch by looking, even though the truth is that they will catch them whether they look or not.

Humans are good at seeing what they expect to see. The commuters will not perceive her true nature as she sits among them. Neither will the parents wrangling their coat-swaddled offspring on the way to nursery school.

The children…

Children have fewer expectations. They notice what adults do not. But that has its own advantages. Children will see her true need, even housed in the rotting corpse of her icy frame.

Children can be very helpful.

She can follow them off the bus as far as the nursery school play yard. There will still be snow there, under the spreading branches of an oak tree.

There is always an oak tree, holding winter in its roots while its branches wait for spring.

The cursed early warmth means the teachers will let the children outside to play. When they are released for recess, the children can help her gather new snowy flesh for her icy bones; help her build a body strong enough to support an illusion of strength and youth, not ignominious decrepitude.

There is winter left in the world. She could have a few more weeks yet.

So little time.

Not enough.

Perhaps one of the helpful children will not return inside when the teacher calls.

Will anyone notice?

No. Human children are not a rare commodity. And even in these times, their parents know—somewhere deep—that old gods must be fed.

She will only take one.

One will be enough to see her through the hot months. 

The months that are longer and hotter each year.

Two would be better. 

Maybe?

Definitely.

Two.

The bus approaches.

People pass. Children play. Birds fly from one tree to another.

The bus comes, stops, goes.

Another will come.

Winter sits on a bench.

She has only to reach her leg.

Margaret Dunlap sold her first short story to Shimmer back in 2013 and is delighted to be part of The Deadlands family. In the years since, she has written more than a dozen published short stories and novelettes in addition to her work in television and new media, which includes the Emmy-winning Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance. Margaret lives in Los Angeles where there are very few creepy snow-people, but she keeps an eye out just in case. Find her on the web at www.margaretdunlap.com or on Twitter as @spyscribe.

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