And this is the third part of the exercise.
“The snow-child… is innocence embodied… pure in body, with no taint of mortal dirt in its pristine form; pure in deed, with the harsh winter moving its every digit in each action that it takes; pure in word, with a cold breath in which sin can only wither; and pure in thought, for with no taint of body there can be no taint of mind… the snow-child is an embodiment of many things which are good; but not all… for just as it is too cold for all evil… it is too cold for all love.”
There was a yelp in the darkness and a scurrying. A heavier step came, forward into the night, onto gravel. Then stillness. Then, some time later, some steps backwards. A light shone out for a moment, leaking from an open door before the door shut with a quiet click.
“Did you kill it?”
“Is that really what you think of me?”
“No, of course not. I just thought…”
“It didn’t really hurt him. Just scared him a little.”
“So I scared it a little. Justice is harmony.”
“Yeah. That’s what his Sunday-school teacher said, isn’t it?”
“He certainly seems to believe so.”
“You don’t think…”
“Well, I just – I know the religious education is – I know it’s important, but you don’t think that church is maybe… a bit restrictive? I mean – some of the lessons, they’re kind of simplistic for-”
“For a five-year old?”
“Well – I just think that he should have some kind of grounding in – in realities, not just, you know, stories and-”
“What kinds of realities are you thinking of?”
“Because I am not having my son’s mind polluted. Not like every other kid’s is these days. Come on, I know you don’t want that.”
“Of course I don’t want that, I don’t want that at all, I just think that maybe what he’s – what he’s being taught is a little… old-fashioned?”
He sighed and shook his head. “Lucy, I can’t – can we talk about this in the morning? It’s late, I want to – I just want to get some sleep. I’m sorry, I’m not – I’m not ignoring you, I, you probably have a point, I just – I have a headache and I’d like to, I’d like to get some sleep.”
She nodded. “Of – of course. Go ahead. I’m – sorry, I should’ve thought. I know you’ve been working all-”
“It’s not work, work’s fine, work’s always fine. I just – kicking a dog isn’t fun.”
There was a knock at the door. Noel looked up quickly and walked to it and opened it. His mother looked down at him and smiled.
“Good morning, Noel,” she said. “May I come in?”
He nodded and turned around and walked to his bed and sat on it and looked at her. She blinked.
“I was just checking that you were awake,” she said. “I wasn’t sure… but you are.” He nodded. She nodded and looked away, around the room. “That’s good,” she said. “That’s good.” She inhaled. “Oh, Linda’s going to be here looking after you for a couple of hours tonight, I can’t – I have to stay late at work. I’m sorry.” She blinked and moved slightly closer to his face. “Is that okay?”
He nodded. She nodded and then looked away and around the room again. She looked at his desk and smiled and stepped towards it.
“Is this the model daddy got you?” she said.
“Yes,” he said. “It’s a pterosaur.”
She nodded and smiled. “It’s very good,” she said. She touched it gently with one finger. It was a collection of different sizes and shapes of small pieces of wood which fit together to create a rough model of the skeleton of a flying reptile. The wood was a pale brown, boring and normal, but the silhouette on its own would have been nightmare material for her. But Noel didn’t even sleep with a night light, he never had.
“It took a long time to get the wing bones to stick together,” he said. “I had to open a new bottle of glue.”
She nodded. “What did you do with the empty one?”
“I put it downstairs like daddy said,” he said.
She nodded. “Good,” she said. She turned around and smiled and stepped over to him and hugged him. “Hurry up and get ready for breakfast,” she said. “If you don’t get downstairs soon daddy’ll have eaten all the cheerios.”
“Shut up a second, Craig.” She sighed and picked up her phone and sighed again. “Great.” She sat up. “I have to go.”
“Yes, now. Linda has to go check on her mother and I’m not leaving my son alone in the house.”
“Can’t you get Bill to come back early?”
“Are you serious? Get Bill to leave work early?” She sighed and leaned back against the wall. “If he did that – ever, I mean, ever – then I probably wouldn’t even be here.” She looked at Craig. “Or not as often, anyway.”
“Ouch. That – that’s nice.”
“Don’t worry, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to resist your animal charms completely.” She shrugged. “But, you know, if he paid me some attention at all, then…”
“Come on, Luce. Bill’s a psycho, you really want to spend more time with him?”
She looked at Craig and then stood up and with her back to him pulled her clothes on. “I’m going,” she said. “I need to look after my son. I’ll see you later.”
“Oh, Lucy, come on. I’m – I’m sorry. Just – sit down a second. Please? Just – just a second.”
She looked at him and he got out of bed and walked over to her and leaned down and kissed her cheek. She rolled her eyes and sighed and he smiled and kissed her neck and she shook her head and stepped backwards and opened the door.
“Craig. I’m going,” she said. “I’ll call you. Goodbye.”
She stepped out of the room and shut the door. Craig looked at it for a moment and then sighed and started to get dressed.
Lucy shut the door to the house and locked it and walked to her car and got in and drove away. She looked in her mirrors a bit as she drove home. She shook her head and sighed. She drove home and stopped the car and got out and locked it and walked to the front door and unlocked it and got in and shut and locked the door behind her and said, loud, “Hello?”
Linda stepped out of the living room and smiled at her, apologetic. “I’m really sorry,” she said. “I didn’t – I really didn’t know anything about this, about any of this, they just, just called me and they – they said-”
“It’s fine,” said Lucy. “I wasn’t doing anything important.” She shrugged. “How’s Noel?”
“He’s a little angel,” said Linda. “Just like always. I swear, if I wasn’t looking at that boy I wouldn’t know he was in the room.”
Lucy smiled. “He certainly couldn’t be called noisy,” she said. “Where is he?”
“He’s just in here,” said Linda. She looked to her left. “We’ve been making paper cutouts, haven’t we?”
Noel walked up to her side and nodded. Lucy smiled and knelt down. “Can you show me what you’ve made?” she said.
He nodded and she smiled and she stood up and followed him into the room. Linda hovered and Lucy turned around and smiled. “You can go if you need to,” she said. “Give your mother my love.”
Linda nodded and smiled and picked her coat up off a chair and stepped out. Lucy followed Noel to the dining table. It was covered in paper chains, of men and flowers. Some of them had been drawn on, coloured in. She picked one up and smiled.
“Why’s this one got a red nose?” she said.
“It’s orange,” said Noel. “It’s a carrot. He’s a snowman.”
She looked down at him. “Really?” she said. “But – it’s the daytime. And it’s the summer. Shouldn’t he have melted?”
“That’s why he’s so thin,” said Noel. “When summer came his stomach melted but he was quick enough to hide, so now he’s waiting underground for the sun to go away so he can come out.” He took the paper figure out of his mother’s gentle fingers. “It’s not time yet, though.”
“No, it’s not,” said Lucy. She looked around. “Hey. Do you want some ice cream?” He nodded. She smiled and nodded. “Okay. Clear this up and put it in your room and then, well, if I feel like getting any out, I suppose maybe I could let you have some.”
He nodded and picked up the cut paper and walked out of the room. She looked around and glanced at her watch and walked into the kitchen and opened the freezer and took out a tub of ice cream and then a spoon from a drawer and a bowl from a cupboard and she dug out two scoops and put them in the bowl and put the ice cream back in the freezer and put the bowl on the dining room table and walked upstairs. Noel came out of his room as she stepped onto the landing.
“I’m just going to have a shower now,” she said. “You can watch some television after you’ve eaten if you want but you have to be very very quiet, okay?”
He nodded. “Okay,” he said. She nodded and he walked downstairs and she walked into the bathroom.
Lucy brushed a strand of hair off Noel’s face. It was cold, it was always cold. He never said he was cold but he always felt cold. She didn’t know quite how she felt about that. He shifted in his sleep. The only noise was the sound of his clothes moving slightly. She blinked slowly and looked up at the television. It was casting colours across the room but divorced from sound it all seemed odd, which didn’t particularly surprise her. People on the screen were shouting, it looked loud. She shook her head and looked around. Nobody again. That was okay. It was late but Noel didn’t normally fall sleep quite this early. She generally checked on him when she was going to bed and he was normally awake when she did. She blinked slowly and looked at the window. She wondered where Bill was and where Craig was. She looked at the ceiling for a while and sat, content with hearing Noel’s breathing.
She heard the sound of a key in a lock and then heard the sound of a door opening and she looked around. After a few moments Bill walked in. He blinked and walked over to a chair in the corner and sat down.
“Hi,” said Lucy. He nodded. “How are you?” she said.
He shook his head. “Fine,” he said. He scratched the side of his head. There was something crusted dark brown on the side of one his fingers. He blinked and looked away. “Fine.” He nodded slowly.
“How was, was work?”
“Same. Same as always.”
“Well – did you-”
“Lucy, please. I’ve got a headache, would you mind just… I’d like to just sit for a bit.”
Lucy nodded. Bill nodded slowly again and looked around the room and sat back and tilted his head back and looked at the ceiling, maybe at nothing in particular. After a little while Noel shifted and looked up at Lucy. She looked down at him and smiled.
“Do you want to go to bed?” she whispered. He nodded.
“You don’t have to whisper,” said Bill. Lucy looked up. “I’m not going to – forget it.”
Lucy nodded quickly and looked back down at Noel and took hold of his hand and they walked upstairs into his bedroom. She smiled at him and closed the door and walked back downstairs. It was still silent. She sat down on the sofa and looked at Bill for a moment and then away.
Noel stepped out of the front door and shivered. Bill glanced down at him and smiled.
“Come on, you can’t be cold,” he said. “I’m warm and I’m wearing a shirt.”
Noel nodded. “It’s warm,” he said. He looked up. “It shouldn’t be this warm.”
“Well, no, it is a little unseasonable,” said Bill. “But don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Come on.”
They walked to the car and got in and Bill drove away. Lucy glanced in the rearview mirror. Noel looked uncomfortable. She turned and glanced at him and smiled. He looked up at her.
“Are you okay, sweetheart?” she said.
He nodded. “It’s warm,” he said.
She nodded. “Do you want something to drink?” she asked.
He shook his head. “No, thank you.”
She nodded. “Alright. Well, say if you do.” She turned around and Bill glanced at her sidelong.
The journey passed and the car slowed and stopped. Bill turned around and smiled at Noel. “We’re here,” he said. Noel looked at him and nodded. They got out of the car and Bill walked around to the boot and opened it and took out a rucksack and he closed the boot and they walked out of the car park and into the centre. Bill looked around and frowned.
“Okay, skiing, where… right. There,” he said and nodded to a sign. “Come on.”
They followed the sign and walked to a counter. Bill started talking to the man behind it and Noel turned around and looked at an ice climbing wall a little distance away. Lucy glanced down and saw him looking at it. He didn’t move, just looked at it for a while.
Bill walked away from the counter carrying two pairs of boots and smiled at Noel. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s get moving.” They walked to another door and bill turned to look at Lucy. “You’re not skiing, are you?” She shook her head. He nodded and turned around and he and Noel walked through the door into the changing room. Bill walked through a few aisles and stopped next to a locker and took two sets of keys out of his pocket and opened two lockers and turned to Noel and handed him the small pair of boots.
“Put these on,” he said. Noel nodded and took off his shoes and started to put the boots on. Bill picked his shoes up and put them in one of the lockers and then took his off and put the boots on and put his shoes in the other locker. He took two heavy coats out of the rucksack and handed one to Noel and put the other on himself and put the rucksack in the locker with his shoes in and shut and locked both.
They left the changing room and Bill looked around. “Which slope do you want to do?”
Noel blinked. “I don’t mind,” he said.
Bill glanced down. “Alright. Well, you won’t be allowed on the highest ones, but that one… well, it’s a little steep, but I’m sure you can manage it.”
Noel nodded. “Alright.”
They joined the queue for the slope. Bill glanced down at Noel. He was looking away, somewhere, at something in the white dotted black slopes. Bill looked away. Noel kept staring around.
They reached the front of the queue and Bill put his hand on Noel’s shoulder. “Ready?” he asked. Noel didn’t respond. Bill squeezed his shoulder. He didn’t move. Bill glanced down at Noel. His face was blank and his eyes were fixed on something in front of him, down the slope, but bill couldn’t see what it was. He frowned. “Noel, are you ready?” he said. Noel stood and kept looking down, out, forward, into the cold, the white dotted with black slope. Bill frowned further. “Noel. I asked you a question. Are you ready to ski or aren’t you?”
Noel blinked and nodded slowly. “Yes,” he said. “Yes.”
Bill nodded and watched him begin to slide. He reached the bottom slowly but without slipping. He moved off the slope and looked up to the top of it. The assistant looked at Bill and nodded. Bill stepped forward. Noel watched him as he slid down, fast, controlled, faster, faster, not controlled, not stopping, and he slipped and tripped and flipped over and landed face-down in the snow at the bottom. He lay there for a moment and then got slowly to his feet, pushed himself up with his fists. His face was red. He looked at the snow and didn’t say anything and didn’t look anywhere else.
“He’s going to be in a great mood,” murmured Lucy. Her hand twisted around the polystyrene coffee cup and the slow honey ooze of the warmth into her skin quickened, stronger.
“I’ll bet,” said Craig. Lucy stepped away from the window, out of view, and Craig smiled at her. “You want to leave?” he said.
She glanced back at the window. “I don’t know how long they’ll be,” she said.
“Well then you just went for a little walk around the place and didn’t look at the time, sorry,” said Craig. “Come on. What’s the worst that could happen?”
Lucy snorted and they began to walk out of the cafe. “The worst?” she said. “Don’t have a clue.” She glanced around. “I swear, though, the other day when he came home I saw blood on his hands.” She shook her head. She frowned and glanced up at Craig. “Craig?” she said.
“Well, nothing, I just thought you might have maybe commented on the fact that I just said that my husband, your – your colleague and friend, apparently came home with his hands covered in blood,” said Lucy. “Does that – doesn’t that interest you at all?”
Craig glanced around. “I actually wasn’t going to say anything about that,” he muttered. “I-”
Lucy stopped. “Say anything about what, Craig?”
He frowned and looked down at her. “Can we do this somewhere else?”
“No, actually, let’s do this here. What weren’t you going to say?”
“Listen, I – okay, look. That – this was two days ago, wasn’t it?” Lucy nodded. Craig glanced to the side. “Okay. After work, Bill and I went to a bar and – no, it’s not that – he didn’t drink, he never drinks. He had a coke and I had a beer and we were just sitting there and – and then this guy comes up to him and starts – starts accusing him of kicking his dog.” Craig shrugged. “I don’t know, I – I don’t. But – Bill just looked at him and stood up and walked outside and the guy – the guy followed him, didn’t he, and I did too but I had to say something to the bar staff and – listen, I was only – they were out there for a second before I got there. Seriously, Lucy, a second passed, and – by the time I got out there the other guy was on the floor and Bill had hold of his shirt and was smashing his face in. It was – well, it was fucking scary, actually. I dragged him off and I thought, I thought he was going to clock me one, but…” He shook his head. “So I got him cleaned up and sent him home and then, you know – he said something about it, said the guy’s dog scared – scared Noel or something, but – I don’t know. I don’t know.”
Lucy stared. She blinked and looked down. “Alright, let’s do this somewhere else,” she muttered. Craig nodded and they walked outside into his car and he drove out of the car park and a little way away and stopped. Lucy didn’t say anything on the way. He sighed and turned to her.
“I should’ve said something,” he said. “Sorry, I – I was just, you know, didn’t want to get involved, but I was – it got me thinking, you know. I mean – Bill’s my friend, but, seriously, he is a psycho sometimes and if he – if he ever drank, at home I mean, I don’t – I don’t know. I don’t know if – I don’t know if I’d want Noel around him then.” He shrugged. “That’s all.”
Lucy turned to him. “He would never touch Noel.”
“Well, no, I don’t think he would either, but-”
“No, you’re not listening. I don’t not think he would, he just wouldn’t. He would never lay a finger on Noel. Wouldn’t happen. Couldn’t happen.” She shook her head. “So that – don’t ever say anything like that again, Craig. Don’t.”
Craig nodded. “Alright,” he said. “I won’t.” He looked out of the window. “But I’m still allowed to worry about you, aren’t I?”
Lucy looked up at him. “Drive me back,” she said.
Craig looked away for a moment and then nodded and sighed. He pulled away and Lucy looked out of the window.
“I’m not going to be able to see you next week,” she said. “I’m busy.”
Craig glanced over at her and then nodded. “Okay,” he said.
“Wh- oh, oh, hi. Hi.”
“Listen, are you busy?”
“No, I – well – not really. I could – I can-”
“Can you meet me now?”
“Well – right now?”
“It doesn’t have to be right now, but I’d like – I’m just a bit – anytime today?”
“Well, yeah, okay – is – is a couple of hours okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, that’s fine.”
“Alright, well, I’ll – I’ll see you then.”
Craig put the phone down and glanced around. Bill wasn’t looking at him.
A couple of hours passed. Craig looked up at the clock. He glanced at Bill. “I, uh, I think I’m heading off,” he said. “You alright here?”
Bill nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “I don’t have much left to do.”
Craig nodded. “Alright. Well, I’ll – I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Bill nodded. “See you then.” Craig left and Bill glanced up and then around. He frowned and looked back down at his work. A few minutes later, he scratched his chin and looked at the picture on his desk. He frowned and picked up his phone and dialled a number. It rang a few times and then connected.
“Hello? Lucy?” said Bill.
“Dad?” said a voice.
“Noel?” said Bill. “Noel. Hi – hi. Is – are you alright?”
“Right. Good. Is – can you put mummy on?”
“She isn’t in.”
“She isn’t – okay. Well – do you know what’s for tea?”
“Right. Good. Good boy.” Bill scratched the side of his head and frowned. “Did you say mummy’s not in?”
“She’s not in.”
“Right. When – do you where she is?”
“When did she go out?”
“Just a moment ago.”
“Was she – was she just going for a walk or did she take – did she drive away?”
“She drove away. She said she was going to be out for a little while.”
“Right, well – are you alone?”
“Right. Okay.” Bill nodded and frowned. “Okay. Well, are you – if you’re alright – well, I’ll be home in a little while, okay?”
“Alright. I’ll see you soon.”
Bill stood up and looked around and frowned and looked at Craig’s cubicle. Empty.
Lucy unlocked the door and walked in and shut it behind her. There was a sound of steps on the landing and Linda appeared at the top of the stairs. Lucy smiled.
“Hi. I’m sorry about this, I just-”
“It’s fine,” said Linda. “It’s fine, you did it for me.” She smiled and walked down the stairs. “How are you?”
“Fine,” said Lucy. “Where’s-”
“He’s in his room,” she said. “Drawing, I think.”
Lucy nodded. “Alright.” She smiled. “Well, I’d better-”
Linda nodded. “Of course.” She took her coat off the hook to Lucy’s left. “I’ll see you on Saturday.”
Lucy nodded and smiled. “See you then,” she said. Linda left and Lucy looked around and walked up the stairs and onto the landing and knocked on Noel’s door. It opened a moment later.
“Hi,” she said, smiling.
“Hi,” he said.
“May I come in?”
He nodded. She walked in and looked around and blinked.
“What are these, sweetheart?”
He looked up. “They’re snowmen,” he said.
Lucy nodded slowly and leaned closer to one of the pictures he’d stuck onto the wall. Thin jagged pencil lines looked back at her. “They don’t look that much like snowmen,” she said slowly.
“They’re the thin snowmen,” said Noel. “The ones who are melting.”
“But it’s getting closer to winter now.”
“That’s why they’ve come out of their caves.”
She nodded. “Right,” she said. She blinked and looked away from the picture. Something in it was still looking at her, staring. It stared like Noel did. “Well, they’re – they’re good. They’re-” There was a slam downstairs and Lucy frowned. “I’ll be back in a moment,” she said. She left Noel’s room and he turned back to drawing and she walked to the stairs and saw Bill walking into the living room.
“Bill?” she said. She walked downstairs slowly. He was kneeling in front of the fireplace. He stood up holding the poker. She blinked. “Bill?” she said. “Are you okay? What – what was the noise? Did something fall?”
“Yes,” he said without looking at her. “Something fell.” He turned his head to the side and didn’t say anything for a moment. Lucy looked at him.
“Well – are you-”
“How long?” said Bill.
“How long? How long, how – how long has it been going on for?”
Lucy blinked again. “How long has what been going on for?” she said. One of the pictures Noel had drawn flashed in front of her eyes for a second.
Bill whirled around. “How long have you been fucking him behind my back?” he screamed. Lucy stepped back.
“Bill – I – I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said. “I don’t-”
He threw the poker into the television. “I saw you!” he roared. “I saw you, I saw you with him! I followed you there, I saw you, I – I saw you in your car! Your car I bought you, in there, in – did you drive out there?” He stepped closer to her. “Did you both drive out there and meet there? Is that what you did? You drove out there and met there like perverts? Where those perverts meet? And I saw you there, I – I watched you like a pervert would, does that make me one? Did you make me into a pervert?” He grabbed hold of her arms and shook her. “Did you make me into a pervert?” he roared.
“Bill!” she said. “Bill, let go of me, let-”
He threw her onto the floor and stood over her and grabbed her shirt and pulled her up and slapped her with the back of his hand, not gentle, not a lover’s slap, a cuckold’s slap. “Is that what you like?” he screamed. “Do you like perverts? Do you want perverts? Do you want to be fucked by perverts? Is that what you like?” He slapped her again. She felt warmth dribbling from her nose, saw it on her hand, on the floor to the side. Dizzy for a moment. She looked up and saw his face and saw she didn’t know his face. “Is that what you want?” he screamed again. His hand dropped low.
“Dad?” said a voice. They both looked round and saw Noel, standing at the bottom of the stairs where he hadn’t been just a second ago. Bill blinked.
“Noel, go – go back upstairs,” said Lucy. “Go upstairs now. Go – go to your room. Go to your room!”
Noel looked at Bill’s face. “What are you doing?”
Bill’s fingers loosened and he dropped Lucy to the floor and he stepped back and his mouth opened slack and his eyes didn’t once close or move away from Noel’s, from Noel’s – cold – eyes.
“The snow-child who are you is innocence embodied I never asked where you came from I never once asked them where you came from in this house I’ve always just called you my son but you are – not – my son pure in body, with no taint of mortal dirt in its pristine form; pure in deed, with the harsh winter moving its every digit in each action that it takes; pure in word, with a cold breath in which sin can only wither; and pure in thought, for with no taint of body there can be no taint of mind you look at me and stare at me with those cold cold eyes and I never ever know what’s behind them behind those cold cold eyes the snow-child is an embodiment of many things which are good; but not all for just as it is too cold for all evil why suddenly so cold it is too cold for all love.”
Lucy stood up slowly and walked to Noel. The door swung closed quickly and she couldn’t hear the footsteps anymore, beating fast down the street. She looked around and knelt down and put her arms round Noel and put her hand on the back of his head and put his head on her shoulder.
“It’s alright,” she whispered. “It’s alright.”
Noel blinked slowly. “I know it is,” he said.
There were background noises soft in the light and a calloused hand put a near-full pint glass down on the table carefully. Another one came down a moment later. Then an empty moment. Then a look up.
“And how’ve you been this day?”
“Pretty fair. Pretty fair. And your own self?”
“A sin to complain, I’m sure. Although I can’t claim to be fond of this, this weather we’re having.”
“No, nor myself. It’s, it’s unexpected, is it not?”
“Oh, aye. Snow in December, who ever heard the like?”
“Not since I were a lad, no, but there’d been nothing on the news, had there?”
“Ah, well. The news. What’s that to…”
“Fair to say.”
“Sure it’s been unexpected for some, though. What about all them folk were snowed in down Somerset way?”
“Well, snowed in, what’s that? They’ll just have looked out their doors, seen some flakes and taken the opportunity to get out of a day’s work. Down south, you know it’s… but I can’t say so much for that poor soul they found in the snow, though. Where was that?”
“Just a little way from here, wasn’t it? Round Heptonstall area?”
“Aye, that sounds about right.”
“Did you hear who it was?”
“No, I never did.
“It were Richard Parks’ son.”
“I do not tell a lie.”
“Well, I never. Little Billy Parks dead in the snow?”
“Dead in the snow, they found him. Near that hill. There, lying dead in a snowdrift. Face-down in the snow at the bottom of that hill.”
“That little hill?”
“Is that not where they found that little boy five years ago now?”
“I do believe… why, I fear you may well be right. Well, now, fancy that.”