The snow had continued to fall all night, and dawnlight showed a new landscape with no edges. Everything had been smoothed and brushed and swept and rounded, glistening and somehow unreal. It felt wrong, Peter thought, to do anything that might disturb it, to venture out into this magical country with big boots and loud voices. The celestial serenity of a cathedral had been pulled out from under the domed roofs and coloured windows, and given back to the land.
He was still pressed up against the icy window of his tiny attic room, awestruck and reverent, when the kitchen door below crashed open and Uncle Bill stormed out, shouting for the dogs, Aunt Mary and, of course, Peter himself; tramping across the barnyard, spoiling the pristine beauty of the morning with sweeps of his great gloved hands across ledges and frozen water troughs, muttering imprecations about what a deal of work this was going to take to put right, the sodding weather presenters had said two centimeters not two feet, if it were up to him they’d have the sack they would, and where the hell was that good-for-nothing boy?
Peter sighed, pulled back from the window before he could be spotted and quickly pulled on his clothes. He ran downstairs, shaking his head to try and clear it of the sense of wonder that still pursued him with every glimpse of white hills through the windows of the old farmhouse. He had not wanted to disturb its perfect stillness while the morning was quiet and the house felt like a bastion of warmth and safety; but now he wanted to get out, get away from the air of long-suffering righteousness that pervaded every exchange he had with his aunt and uncle, get into the cold clear air and see what the world had turned into.
Topography changes in the snow. Familiar features become indistinct; obscure angles, dells and dead-ends are thrust to the forefront, imposing a strange surreality. The personality of place alters. Leylines appear. This may – or may not – explain why Peter found himself heading out to the high field along a route he was positive he’d never taken before. It was the spinney path all right, and he’d walked it almost every day of his life since he was twelve and had come to live on the farm. But it was not the same path, and he was somehow not surprised to find that, though it forded the brook and passed alongside the copse of birch trees as it always had, the brook was deeper and darker, and the trees taller and denser than he seemed to remember. He angled left around the old granite boulder they called the Headstone, thinking vaguely that it was odd for it to stand up so tall and prominent in the deep snow, for if anything it looked even bigger than usual.
Now, as he came out on top of the ridge, the lines of the hedgerows and the tops of the hills were all there and all wrong, and when he looked back to where the farmhouse nestled in the valley he saw no more than some larger lumps and bumps in the snow, their geometric regularity slightly incongruous but barely noticeable. He knew this could not be right, that the house should stand up straight and square and belching smoke into the bright morning air, and he felt that if he tried, if he concentrated, or closed his eyes and opened them quickly, or shook his head sharply the house would reappear and the trees would shrink and the sheep he had been sent to find would be baaing and crowding all around him. He could, if he tried hard enough, fight down the wave of joy that surged through him.
He did none of these things. He looked ahead, across the field, to the high grey finger of a standing stone that yesterday had lain toppled and broken in the scrubby frostbitten grass. He looked at the tall grey figure who stood beside the stone and beckoned him onward. He looked at the wide sky and the white fields and heard the river sing and the trees sigh, and he walked forward into the world and did not look back.
© Stephanie Saulter 2010
‘Snowscape’ came out of a creative writing class I took with Chris Fallon in early 2010; the task was to write a short story in which a weather event has a focal or transformative effect. Selected as one of the showcase pieces from that class, it’s on the Idea Store website here: http://www.ideastore.co.uk/public/documents/PDF/ISCW%20Creative%20Writing/Snowscape.pdf