Heart of Snow, Artist: Edward Robert Hughes
Heart of Snow,  Artist: Edward Robert Hughes
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Snow Angels and Somersaults

by Carol Hoenig

Eunice tugged on her overshoes and slipped into her heavy wool coat, her fingers slowly working the buttons into their correct holes. She pulled a hat on over her head of curly white hair and gloves over hands wrinkled by time, and then, carrying the kerosene lantern, trudged from the kitchen to the bedroom. She held the lantern out to get a better view of Amos on the bed. She held her breath for a moment, believing she saw the rise and fall of his chest, but then realized she was second guessing herself. At her age, her eyes couldn't be trusted. She traipsed back through the kitchen, turning the flame out from the lantern and setting it on the round oak table. She went out the door, making her way across the field toward Gerald and Rose's farm.

The late-night hour was a time when man or beast did not stir. The star-filled sky and bright moon was all the light Eunice had, her footprints christening the deep, pristine snow. Her breath was visible as she lumbered the mile or so, her thoughts rambling. A part of her was tempted to take a moment to lie down in the white fluff and make a snow angel. It had been years since she'd done so and she was amazed she recalled the memory.

At a steady pace Eunice plodded along with no snow angels in her wake until she could make out the barn a short distance away; soon, the house came into view. As she drew closer, there was no need to wonder how she'd awaken her neighbors, since the warning shrill barks of their mutt did the deed for her. Just as she got up to the door, it flung open, Gerald standing in his long johns.

Eunice averted her eyes. "That callin' machine of yours still work?"

"Calling machine? Oh, the telephone. Whatcha need?"

"Can you get a hold of the coroner with it? Amos's gone."

Rose appeared behind Gerald. "Goodness, Eunice! Come in. You poor thing." She, too, was in long johns.

At the flick of a switch, the kitchen filled with yellow light. Eunice stomped her feet, then walked in, careful not to track snow beyond where she stood. She watched with curiosity as Gerald cranked the gizmo on the wall and talked into one end, asking for the coroner. When Gerald and Rose first got the telephone, they'd invited Amos and Eunice over to see it. Amos hadn't said anything in their presence, but on the bouncy drive back home he growled to Eunice that she'd better not get any ideas about them trying to get one of those instruments, saying they'd gotten along without one so far, they'd keep doing so.

Moments later, Gerald put the telephone back in its place and said, "We'll drive you back home. He's gonna meet us there."

A short time later, Gerald and Rose followed Eunice into the kitchen where everyone took off their coats and tossed them in a pile. After lighting the kerosene lantern, Eunice went to the cupboard and scooped some coffee beans into a grinder and began churning. She didn't appear to notice the couple's curious expressions at the rough and ready pine box, hammer and nails sitting in the middle of the floor.

"Don't go to no trouble, Eunice," Rose mumbled.

Eunice didn't reply, but put the freshly ground beans into the percolator and added water. After stoking the wood-burning stove, she put the pot on it.

"Where is he?" Gerald said.

"You don't expect him yet," Rose said. "He's a good half hour away."

"Not the coroner," Gerald said. "Amos."

Picking up the kerosene lantern, Eunice motioned for them to follow her to the bedroom. Rose whispered, "Merciful Jesus," then started to sniffle. Gerald bowed his head. Eunice studied her husband, the man she'd been with for close to fifty years. Within the last six months, his muscles and solid frame wasted away to a skeleton of himself. Instead of making sure he had his meals like clockwork and opening her legs for him whenever he demanded, she was left to sponge-bathing his emaciated body, changing soiled sheets, and waiting.

"Who needs to know?" Gerald said, following Eunice back to the kitchen.

She shrugged. Most every blood relative had passed on before them and no children had come into their marriage. Eunice vaguely recalled the monthly grief she'd felt for the continuous failure, but all these years later it now seemed like someone else's disappointment.

"Ground's too frozen," Gerald said. "When morning comes, I'll go ask Reverend Johnson if there's room in the vault."

The aroma of percolating coffee filled the kitchen and Eunice pulled three mugs from the cupboard and placed them on the table, along with some sugar. She took a creamer out of the icebox. Rose got some spoons while Eunice filled everyone's mug.

Just as they all took their first sip, there was a knock at the door.

It was early dawn by the time the death certificate was filled out. Gerald decided it wasn't too early to disturb Reverend while the women went about the business of preparing Amos for the pine box. Eunice raised the body as if she were holding a burlap bag of potatoes and worked a white shirt onto the stiffening arms. When she happened to catch Rose's expression, Eunice saw she had the oddest look. It was then that Eunice realized she'd been humming. After managing to get the shirt on, she took the dress pants that had been at the foot of the bed for days and grappled with Amos's legs, which were no more than two sticks, and lifted, tugged and pulled before getting the pants up to the waist.

"Now then," she said, taking the shoes and putting them on the feet, the visible bottoms scuffed and worn.

Flushed to a glow, she suggested she and Rose go back to the kitchen and freshen up their cups of coffee while waiting for Gerald to return.

Months gone by, the snow thawed and Amos was taken out of the vault and put in the ground in the cemetery outside the Methodist church. Gerald and Rose drove Eunice to attend the burial, since she didn't know how to drive. Amos had told her that women didn't have the ability to do any such thing. She wanted to prove that notion wrong, so once the roads were clear of any snow and back to dirt, she attempted to drive his pick up. It took her a good hour to get the engine to turn over; then once she did, she immediately drove it into the ditch, causing a bump to her head. Shortly thereafter, Gerald came along, finding the sprite of a woman kicking the tires and punching the fender with useless fists.

"I'll get the tractor," he said.

Hours later, the truck was back at the house, with Gerald and Rose imploring Eunice not to do anything so foolish again. "Besides, the law gets you and finds out you ain't got no license," Gerald said, "you'll be in worse shape than when you started."

"We go to town often enough," Rose said. "Just hitch a ride with us."

Eunice had little choice, but kept her eye on the truck, as if it were a wild horse needing to be tamed.

Amos had always been the one who drove to town to buy what the farm couldn't provide. Eunice, Amos's only farmhand, was left back home to do the chores. The milk truck came every other day to pick up the filled milk cans, and Amos collected the money. Each trip into town, he'd bring the cartons of eggs Eunice had gathered from the chicken coop and once he returned, he would put the money in a coffee tin in the kitchen cupboard. With Amos gone, Eunice felt like the richest woman in the world, since the wad of bills now belonged to her.

On the rare occasions that Eunice went with Amos into town, she found herself wandering around the grocery store, stunned by what was packaged to be sold. If Amos wasn't finished at the feed store, she'd make her way into Alex's Five and Ten and listen to the radio. Alex tried to convince Eunice to buy one, but once she saw it needed to be plugged in, she told him, "Wouldn't do me much good. Don't have no 'lectricity."

Alex shook his head in wonder.

So, when Eunice went into the Five and Ten on one of her trips into town with Gerald and Rose, and Alex showed her a radio that worked without needing a plug, she nearly fainted. The following week, she was back, placing dollar bills on the counter. She had Alex show her how the transistor radio worked several times, her eyes widening to hear the voices coming out of it. She didn't recall ever feeling so excited, so alive.

Later, when she was dropped off at the house, Eunice refused Gerald's offer of carrying the bag of groceries and radio inside. This time, instead of watching as the truck roared down the dirt road, kicking up dust and streaming a trail of fumes, she raced to get inside. Hooking a finger around the screen door handle, she pulled and slipped through before the hem of her cotton house dress got caught. She dropped the bag on the kitchen table, scraped out a chair, sat down and began fiddling with the radio. The dial was very sensitive, bringing in static with each turn, until finally, clear as anything, voices were singing:

…bring me a dream…

She hunkered low, tears coming to her eyes. It was a miracle, an absolute miracle, music a foreigner in her home.

…Give him two lips like roses in clover…

Hours whirred by, as evening shadows moved into the house. Eunice did not budge from the table amazed at the sounds the little box could bring into her home. She even heard President Eisenhower's voice. She'd seen a photograph of him once on a newspaper in town, but was stunned to hear a voice that matched the man. His words sounded important, but she thought his voice was a pitch higher than what it should be, but she didn't blame the radio for that. Soon, another song came on and it made her want to do a jig.

Just then, she heard restless mooing and realized the cows were long overdue for milking. She turned the radio off, gave it a pat, and scurried out the door and headed to the barn.

Later, after she'd rushed through the milking and feeding, she was back at the table laughing out loud at a program called You Bet Your Life. Eventually, she had to give in to the hour and crawled into bed. However, the next morning, after going through the ritual of milking the cows, feeding the chickens and collecting the eggs, Eunice was back at the table, staring at the box. Some mouthy windbag named Gildersleeve made her angry, but when Gildersleeve's niece and nephew-Marjorie and Leroy-were trying to learn how to do a somersault, Eunice paid very close attention. She remembered a time when she had become rather adept at doing one somersault after the next on her front lawn. She couldn't have been more than fifteen. Then Amos came by her parents' farm and days later she was his bride.

That was about the time the somersaults ceased.

One sunny afternoon in autumn, after having listened to the Carter Family on the Grand Ole Opry, Eunice was hanging wet sheets, a worn dress and some rags on the clothesline to dry. She began to wonder if her feeble old body could get down low enough to do what she'd been able to do all those years ago. Even though she lived out in the middle of nowhere, she glanced around to be sure no one saw what she was about to try. A few feet from where the clothes were flapping in the light breeze, Eunice screwed herself down close to the ground and pushed. Dizzying moments later, the blue sky above her, she lay sprawled on the grass, her dress hiked up to her thighs. Her whole body felt bruised, and when she sat up, she saw that her knees were bleeding. Still, she was laughing, which was a sound that was becoming more familiar to her in recent months.

When she was able to finally stand, she hobbled over to the clothesline and unclipped a couple of rags and tied them around her knees. After another attempt, she realized she needed rags for her scraped elbows. She went inside and pulled some out of a ragbag and wrapped them around the bend of her arms, then went back outside.

"Goodnight, Sweetheart, it's time to go," she sang, trying over and over again to perfect the somersault. It wasn't until she heard the sound of a honking horn did she look up from the ground where she was once again flat out.

"Goodness!" Rose said, running over to her. "What in Lord's name happened to you?"

Eunice tried to get up quicker than her rickety bones would allow her, but Rose was already at her side, offering her a hand. Eunice didn't know what to say that would make sense from an old woman.

"You all right?" Rose said, studying the rags wrapped around Eunice's limbs.

"Just fine," Eunice said, without offering an explanation. She spotted Gerald sitting in the truck.

"We're heading to town, wondered if you needed anything."

"Yes!" Eunice said. "Please tell Alex I'm due for more of those batteries for the radio." She headed toward the house, the rags slipping down to her ankles. "I'll get you the money."

"What about flour, sugar? Need any food?"

"Nope. Okay in that department." She handed some bills to Rose, then said, "Been thinkin' 'bout seeing how I can get me some 'lectricity up here. What do I need to do?"

Rose raised her eyebrows. "Well, I don't know, Eunice. You ain't got a man, so I don't know how that'll work."

Eunice cocked her head. "What's a man got to do with it?"

"When Gerald and I got it, it was only cuz he could show he could pay the bill."

Eunice nodded, then handed another few dollars to Rose. "Better stock up on batteries then. Winter'll be here in no time. Get me whatever this pays for."

Winter did come in no time and the snow was deep, but the road passable. Gerald and Rose pulled up to Eunice's for their weekly trip to town. Gerald tooted the horn. Wood was stacked high by the side of the house, but no smoke was coming from the chimney. He gave the horn another toot.

After a few minutes went by, Rose said, "I'll go in and see what's keepin' her. Probably wants to let a song finish."

Snow went up to about Rose's waist, which meant Eunice hadn't bothered to shovel. Ever since she'd bought that radio, it seemed Eunice was letting everything go. Rose knocked before entering. When she called out to Eunice, she could see her own breath. She went to the stove and saw only ash. Rose began to panic. She went back outside, into the barn. The cows were snorting and pacing as best they could in their locked stanchions. Rose could see they were dangerously overdue for a milking. She ran outside and shouted to Gerald, who climbed out of the truck.

"She's not here!"

They both looked over to see Amos's truck, covered with snow, had not budged from where Gerald had parked it after hauling it out of the ditch.

They slogged around to the back of the house and saw footprints leading out into the field. They plodded along until they saw a lump on the ground. They broke into what they considered a run and reached Eunice sprawled out on the ground, her arms and legs spread-eagled. They stood over the lifeless figure for a moment or two. A smile seemed to be frozen on the woman's serene face.

Gerald bent down to lift her, cradling her in his arms.

Without saying a word, both he and Rose trailed back to the house. Neither noticed, but where they'd discovered the body was now the most perfect of snow angels.

…Goodnight, Sweetheart, it's time to go…

Carol Hoenig's novel, WITHOUT GRACE, was awarded the Silver Medal for Book of the Year 2005 by ForeWord Magazine, given First Place for Fiction by the DIY Book Festival, and honorable mentions by Jada Press and the New York Book Festival. She is the author of THE AUTHOR'S GUIDE TO PLANNING BOOK EVENTS. Carol is on The New York Center for Independent Publishing committee, is a member of the International Women's Writing Guild and the Women's National Book Association. Carol freelances as a writer, editor and publishing consultant. For more information, visit www.carolhoenig.com Read Carol's blogs at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/carol-hoenig/ and Where I Stand at http://www.whereistand.com/CarolHoenig

Snow Angels and Somersaults was a finalist for the 2007 Spring/Summer Glass Woman Prize, a bi-annual prize for women prose writers.

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