The Winter Queen

“So,” he said.

What?

“Damn this snow. Goddamn this goddamn road.”

The wind picked little cotton balls of snow and tossed them across the glass.

“Is this even the right way? Where the hell are we, now?”

What?

Her mind was abandoning her. The man kept talking, cursing the weather, the road, the other cars. She wanted to be in a field, on her back, staring at clouds. She closed her eyes.

“What’s the name of the place?”

Valhalla. Timbuktu. el Dorado.

– – –

“Your father’s cancer came back,” said the woman on the phone. “He’s not well.”

Is he home? Is he in the hospital? Is he in the ground?

“He was in the hospital today and refused treatment. He told them he wanted to come home, so I took him home. He had a hard time before. He says he doesn’t want to do it again, since it didn’t even work.”

But it did work. That was five years ago. Or is it that much worse, now?

“They say it’s worse this time.”

– – –

“Give your mother my love, dear. Give your father a hug.”

They are so kind. Or they seem so kind.

– – –

“This will be a truly stupid trip if we end up dead in a ditch.”

The lights were tricking. They seemed real and unreal. Bits of the world glowed a ways off, but they couldn’t in the night. Her eyes would not adjust to the dark with the blowing snow.

“Are you good?” She felt him look at her. Maybe she saw it reflected in the glass.

Fine. Fine. Good. Still alive.

Her hand slid through her hair. It felt cool through her fingers. It felt no longer her.

– – –

“Did you see the Winter Queen?” he asked.

His hair had turned white years ago. It now adopted a dishwater hue. His eyes glinted from the bed.

The snow was harsh.

“She can only be seen at night during a winter storm. And then only in glass. Trapped there. It’s her curse.”

Curse? Why curse?

He coughed, then he laughed, “Punishment is more rightly said. She was a nasty bit when she was young. Took men and made them give it all up. Now, I don’t mean it like that, get that look off your face. That’s part of it, all right, but they would’ve given that up to any pretty girl.”

She smiled. He winked and reached out his hand. She held it.

“But for her, they’d give up everything. Everything they ever could be or want or do. And somehow, she could then just swallow them whole.”

Why are the mean ones always women?

“Bullshit.”

Who punished her?

“They say a man went to her one day. She tried to take hold of him, but he refused. ‘What do you do?’ she asked. ‘Nothing,’ said he. ‘What do you want, then?’ she asked. ‘Nothing,’ said he. ‘What are you, then?’ she asked and he said, ‘If you truly want to know what I am, you must see me in the glass on a night of a winter storm.’ She hurried to the window to look out, for it was night and winter. Sure enough, the snow was blowing. ‘Come stand where I can see you, then,’ she said. And she watched in the glass as he moved up behind her and put his arms around her and together, without a word, they stepped into the glass.”

She squeezed the hand. His breathing was rough but he continued.

“So, every now and then, you’ll see her in the glass. She wants you to say what you are but you shouldn’t say it.”

What happened to the man?

“The same thing that happens to all men,” he smiled and leaned back against his pillow.

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