Authors: Marci Nault
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Literary, #General
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For my mother, Elaine Marie, who taught me to dream.
he last few snowflakes drifted to the ground. The nor’eastah, as they called it in New England, had passed; its brutal wake of snow and ice transformed the landscape into a winter wonderland. Downy blankets covered the tree branches, and silver moonlight reflected off the ice-hardened snow. The earth bowed its head in quiet prayer, and the stars awakened from under dark clouds. The wind died to a thick silence that Victoria Rose felt she could almost touch.
She walked along Nagog’s paved road in black high-heeled boots. Cold seeped through the thin soles as salt pellets rolled and crunched under her feet. She’d left Nagog in her late teens, and except for two winters, her visits had been restricted to a few weeks here and there or the summer months. For the past fifty-five years, she’d lived mostly in Southern California’s warmth. There, boots were only an accessory, and there was no need for heavy sweaters underneath a thick, cumbersome jacket. At the moment, a hideous bright blue parka, a loaner from her childhood friend Molly Jacobs, covered her upper body and made her feel like the Michelin Man.
When Victoria had landed at Boston’s Logan Airport earlier that afternoon, the heavy winds whipped the snow into
furious spirals, and she realized she was unprepared to face the cold of her childhood home. When Molly met her at the baggage claim, her friend’s pillow-like body had encased her in a hug and her white hair pressed against Victoria’s chest. “You’re home,” she said, as fellow passengers bumped past them. Molly lifted her head and her blue eyes brimmed with tears. Molly was brown sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. She was homemade bread cooling on the kitchen windowsill. Warm, doughy hands smooshed Victoria’s angular cheekbones, and Victoria could hear Molly’s thoughts—this day had been too long in coming.
“You’re holding up traffic,” Molly’s husband, Bill, barked as he moved the women away from the escalator.
In the five years since Victoria had seen Bill, his girth had ballooned and the rock-hard fat, so detrimental to an older man’s health, pressed against his pant seams.
“Traffic was awful,” he said. “Billions of taxpayers’ dollars for new tunnels, and the ceiling collapses. They closed the roads and we got stuck in gridlock. I tell ya, no one knows how to build things anymore.”
Victoria slid her arm around his belly, kissed his cheek, and tousled his thin, salt-and-pepper hair. The crinkles around his eyes turned up and reminded her of the little boy who liked to drop spiders in girls’ laps.
Three rose-embroidered suitcases fell onto the conveyor belt, and Bill motioned for the porter. As they walked toward the parking garage, Molly pulled the blue parka from a shopping bag and took Victoria’s red cashmere coat.
“Fashion might work on fifty-degree nights in Malibu, but not here.” She held out the sleeve as if Victoria were one of Molly’s
five great-grandchildren. She zipped the front and pulled the hood over Victoria’s head, tying the strings tight. The shiny fabric crushed her short blond waves. Molly stripped the silk scarf from the red coat and wrapped it around Victoria’s neck and mouth.
“Now you’re ready for winter,” she announced.
Victoria continued to walk as she looked at the snow-covered neighborhood illuminated by the moonlight and the metal lanterns that dotted the street. It was a scene straight from a Thomas Kinkade painting.
The community had been built in the early 1920s by Victoria’s parents and their friends—factory owners and businessmen from the Boston area. Nagog Drive was a quarter-of-a-mile half loop with nine Craftsman bungalows surrounded by thick, knotted oaks, pines, and maples. The five homes across the street from the beach shared a large circular backyard. The other four homes were tucked into the woods along the lake—two on either side of the beach. Every house had a view of the water.
Nagog had been meant as a summer residence, but in 1930, four months after Black Tuesday, the community settled in permanently. The families banded together, determined to keep their factories open as the American economy fell apart; what one neighbor had, everyone shared. It allowed them a lifestyle of private schooling for their children and protection from the outside world’s strife.
Victoria’s boot slipped on a patch of black ice, and she tightened her stiff muscles to stop the fall. With small steps she skated until her feet found traction against the snow on the side of the road.
A broken hip wouldn’t be a good homecoming,
Throughout the small lakeside community, most of the houses were dark.
The cold tickled her back, and a shiver pulsed up her spine. She pushed her gloved hands deep into her pockets and looked toward Molly and Bill’s place nestled on the side of the beach, behind bare hundred-year-old maples. Smoke plumes rose from the brick chimney and the light was still on in the kitchen. The brown clapboards and snow-covered pitched roof reminded her of the gingerbread houses she’d created with her granddaughter, Annabelle.
It was too dark to see the tree house in the big oak behind their home. An architect had designed it with two rooms and a wraparound porch. When she was little, Victoria and her girlfriends would play tea party while the boys played cowboys and Indians. On hot summer nights, the porch became their stage as Victoria directed her friends in shows performed for their parents.
Victoria shivered, breathing in air that froze her lungs and reminded her of a snowflake’s taste. As children, she and her friends would lie in the snow with wings outlined around their shoulders as they closed their eyes, opened their mouths, and waited for that one special crystal to touch the tip of their warm tongues. Those were the days when it felt like fairies sprinkled golden dust on Victoria’s path so that her feet never had to touch ordinary ground. Days when the sun broke through the clouds, as if an angel’s light reached out from heaven, a sign that everything that sparkled and shined was meant for her.
Time had passed too quickly,
Victoria thought. Three generations of Nagog children had played in that tree fort since those days. At seventy-four, how much time did she have—another fifteen or twenty years?
The year of her daughter, Melissa’s, birth, Victoria woke one morning and saw a crease next to her eye. For years, she’d
checked daily to ensure that its appearance hadn’t deepened. Thick moisturizing creams were lathered and hundreds of dollars paid to Hollywood salons that promised everlasting youth.
There came a point, after she became a grandmother, when she saw a stranger in the mirror who didn’t match the woman inside. Now her cheeks were smooth, but her eyebrows drooped. Her neck had a thin wattle, and she couldn’t find that first line in the wrinkled fan around her eyes.
Still, she looked better than most women her age. Years of exercise and good nutrition kept her willowy figure firm, and she was proud to say that her abdominals were rock hard. There were teenagers who couldn’t boast the same.
But at this stage of life, what was left? In society’s eyes, living was for the young.
Victoria’s heel broke through the icy snow and her calf sunk into the white drift as she made her way across the beach. With each step she fell deeper, the snow covering her boots as she walked to the picnic table next to the lake. She used her sleeve to hack and push at the white mound until she cleared the seat. The cold stung her backside. Plumes of steam encircled her gloves as she blew to warm her numb fingers.
The full moon reached its highest point, illuminating the expanse of shimmering snow that covered the lake. In her mind, she could see the blue-gray water and the gritty sand the color of maple sugar crystals hidden under the snow.
She’d learned to ice-skate on this lake. Each winter the fathers of the neighborhood would shovel off a large square, and the girls would put on white skates and glide across the ice. Victoria and her friend Sarah would hold hands and spin in circles, laughing as they went faster and faster. The boys chased pucks
with hockey sticks while the fathers went farther out on the lake and cut holes in the ice to fish.
Victoria looked to the edge of the beach where the sand met the woods. The raft that had been pulled in from the water for the winter months was covered with snow. Victoria smiled as her memory wandered back to the hours she’d spent on that raft with her childhood friends.
ive bubbles of pink gum grew as the circle of teenage girls in bathing suits lay on their stomachs and blew as hard as they could. Nagog Lake’s waves danced and slapped against the rusted steel drums that held up the wooden platform they floated upon. Muffling giggles, they blew harder, their faces turning red in the bright sunlight. The gum smelled like cotton candy and its aroma filled the air. The sticky material stretched thin and they leaned their heads closer to one another, their eyes wide and smiling as the sides of their bubbles touched. A horsefly buzzed around their heads, and they tried to shake it away without breaking the delicate pink circles.