There was once a woman who wanted a child more than anything in the world.
Every winter she would watch the children of her village build snow animals; giant creatures of fanciful construction; lions and unicorns fighting for the
heart of an icy princess; Glacial mammoths, risen from the depths of the ancient ice, ploughing the snow ahead of caravans of apes and peacocks, dogs and bears. The menagerie of animals would be covered with the younger children riding on
the backs of the bigger beats, while the elders held infant hands, lifted little ones up to the creatures or threw snowballs snowballs at each other. And a longing grew within her.
Every spring she would look out see the children walking to the village for schooling, carrying books. She would smile as the larked about on the road, narrowly avoiding the storm ditched and the prickly bushes, cartwheeling over the grass and leap frogging over one another’s backs. And a longing grew within her.
Every summer she witnessed the older children helping their fathers in the fields, reaping and tying the golden produce of the earth; the smaller children helping their mother’s feed the hens and wash the dusty steps. She noticed one
small sun-haired little girl with a nut-brown complexion counting eggs carefully
in and out the basket until her mother, laughing and scolding, scooped the child and the basket up into her wide arms, carrying both into the cool darkness of the kitchen. And a longing grew within her.
Every autumn she would see the village gather to celebrate the harvest and the
hearth; see how adults carved great pumpkins, placed in them long tallow candles and set them on the steps of their house to ward away the evil from their family; how children would sit on steps and gaze in wonder at the guerning features on the voluptuous fruit. Or how they would scrape about the roots of
the trees looking for conkers or acorns; how they would fashion these into crude weapons and duel for the honor of the village or to be King of the Great Oak. She would see all this, and a longing grew within her.
And with every season the longing nagged at her insides, reminding her that there was no man in the village who would marry her, no man who would touch a woman such as her so deformed as she. So deformed as to barely be able to fetch a murmur from her throat. A woman with a twisted mouth and crooked teeth. A woman whom apart from having the lip of a hare and no voice of her own, was perfect in both body and spirit.
Then, in the winter of the woman’s thirtieth year, she stood outside the door of
her cottage and watched the last of the village children return to the warmth of their own cot, kicking the settled snow with the toe of a loving repaired boot. The woman felt a tear come to her eye. She looked up at the white sky,
threatening more snow, and, as the first snowflake fell she threw her head back, letting out a silent scream; throwing thirty years of pain and envy and loneliness eat its way into the clouds. And she wished. From her heart.From her heart she begged for a child, any child who could fill the void within the pit of her stomach. She bought her hands to her face to wipe away the tears she could not hold back, tears she would let no one in the village see for fear of showing either want or weakness. But as she did so, a large snowflake landed on the cupped palms of her hands. Then another. Then another. Gradually the snowflakes in her hands melted and melded and molded themselves into a ball.
Then the ball grew and gelled itself into a body. Then the body grew arms, legs, toes, fingers, nose, mouth, eyes… All the facets of a small human child. And then the snow started to breathe, small clouds of fluffy breathe. And then the snow started to wail, to scream. In the palms of her hands the woman held a baby.
Instinctively, the woman drew the snow-baby near to her bosom, sheltering the infant from the cold. The child merely screamed more the woman realized that there was water in her hands, more and more dripping down between her fingers, over her knuckles to her cloth-wrapped feet, seeping into the hessian and the twine. The water that made her baby. Hurriedly she put the child down in the snow and watched as it writhed around, gathering the drifts around it like a
blanket. Quickly she removed her clothes, rolled her body in the snow beside her
child until she was clothed in a raiment of fine white ice clinging to her every curve, beads of frost glistening at her throat like diamonds, chains of snowflakes draping round her wrists, embellishing her thick yellow-white hair with stars. Once she saw her toes and fingers turning from pink to red, purple to blue, she drew the snow-baby to her breast. The child sighed. The woman scooped some snow into her hands. Carefully she shaped it into a loaf of bread. Another handful into a jug of milk. She fed the bread to the snow-baby and sipped from the snow jug as she did so. She scooped the bottom creamy dregs of ice from the jugs and placed it on the lips of the child, who greedily licked the snow from her fingers, sucked at her hands until they were clean. The woman again, pulled the sated child close, feeling the rhythm of the breath on her neck. As she held the child to her, as the wailing of the baby died down to a gentle burble, a great wave of sleep washed over the woman. The cold that surrounded her drew away leaving the woman blanketed in warmth she had never experienced. Unable to fight the urge, the woman closed her eyes and slept.
As she slept, snow continued to fall. The child in her arms writhed and squirmed
in the snow-fall, adding more white to its mass. Soon it was a infant capable of walking. It stood on larger more complex limbs. Balanced on sinews of ice and
bones made from solid water, the child tottered to the woman, stood over her and shook her awake. The woman opened her eyes and watched as the child, as if to demonstrate it’s new found independence, dance on the snow. The woman too stood and taking the child’s hand, they whirled together as the snow swirled around them. Soon the child was running in circles around the woman, arms waving in delight. The woman laughed. The child ran in greater and greater circles. The woman ran after the child, shepherding the child from harm. The child got
faster and faster, gathering speed in the snow, where the woman only slipped and
skidded. The child was soon out of easy reach of the woman’s careful hands, soon
out of the range in which the woman could catch it if it fell, soon out of range of anything and gaining distance all the time. With a delighted scream, the
snow-child veered into the woods. The woman tried to call, to warn, to chide but she could not. She followed the child into the woods. She saw the child heading for the gushing river. The woman tried to shout, to caution, to halt but she could not. To her relief, the snow child skipped the river over the stones, the woman pursuing. Then the woman saw a red glow from a clearing. She tried to scream at the child, to stop it with her voice, the voice which she did not have, had never had but she could not. The child ran into the clearing.
In the clearing was a man stoking a fire. He was on the run from the soldiers but confident enough in his ability to best them, that he allowed himself this short rest and repast. The fire roared and the fat from a newly-dead rabbit spattered in the heat. The snow-child stopped and watched the large man. The large man turned, saw the child, a cold child of pure white glimmer in the fire-light. He was a backwards man, a boorish, violent, superstitious man, and seeing that the child was of no human born he seized it by it’s tiny head and threw it into the fire. Before it even touched the flames, with a hiss and a squall of steam, the child was no more. All that remained behind was dew trickling down the blades of green winter grass.
All this the woman saw. All this the woman cursed. All this the woman hated with
all her heart. In her rage, she threw herself at the brute who had destroyed her baby. Beat him on his broad back with her small fists. The man turned, and took
her wrists in his hands. He beat her and twisted her like a ragdoll in the mouth of a dog. The woman tried to scream, to beg, pray but she could not. Then, seeing her nude white flesh in the light of the dancing flame, lust over took the man and, driving the woman to the ground, he forced him self upon her.
The next morning, a woodsman was surprised to discover the woman in the clearly, beaten and broken and naked but alive. Gently he wrapped her in his hide cloak
and carried her back to the tender mercies of his good wife. There the woman was
nursed back to health, until the spring arrived and she was strong enough to set foot out the door. It was observed in the village that the woman held her belly
as she walked unsteadily to her cottage, helped by the gentle townswoman who had nursed her. It was observed in the village that the woman’s belly swelled with the season, ripening and filling out with the approach to summer. What, speculated the village, would the child of a freak and a criminal be?
All this the woman knew, but as she looked at the school children returning home from a morning’s toil at their books, she cared little. She did not need a husband or a man to fend for her. She needed not a village-full of gossiping neighbors to bring forth the child or the church to bless her baby when it came into the world. All she needed was herself, that which grew inside her and the coming of the summer.
Contentedly, she watched and waited.