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Jury Selection

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Christmas was in full swing everywhere. Wherever I went, I heard those old Christmas tunes playing endlessly all around me. In little stores, in shopping malls, in iPod earpieces with the volume turned up to the maximum…

I loved this time of year. The smell of mandarins and peanuts made me turn my head, I ran on nothing much more than that for the whole month of December. People looked out the old stories of Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Jack Frost… This last was my favourite by far. My mother used to tell it to me when I was very small and I had a special affection for it. I had long ago stopped believing in Father Christmas, but as for Jack Frost, that was… how can I explain, yes, something special.

I knew full well that snow was the result of a chemical reaction, of a change of state, but it was so much more poetic to believe that it originated at the hands of a winter frost man who roamed the earth leaving a trail of frost and ice behind him… I imagined him flying and whirling above the skyscrapers, scaring off the birds and spreading a wave of cold as he passed, like a white, transparent sheet, frosting the public benches and freezing the ponds, shaking the decorations and chasing the people from the streets, leaving New York cold and deserted in the first days of winter.

I turned the corner unhurriedly and found myself in a packed street, full of people rushing to finish their Christmas shopping so they could get home to the fireside and enjoy time with their families. I spotted a few people who, like myself, preferred strolling to hurrying, enjoying this quite special atmosphere, full of tension and excitement and yet so peaceful. My eyes were drawn to the store windows decorated in countless different ways, looking like toy factories. The pastry stores displayed their finest creations, extravagant gateaux and snow-capped cupcakes. Little plastic figures wandered among the sugar flowers, seeming to represent a miniature version of the activity in the street on the other side of the glass. Even the butcher on the corner had decorated his window, which contained a turkey ready for the oven, with a Father Christmas hat on what had once been its head and its thighs strangely clothed in red and green socks. I laughed out loud and turned quickly away, shuddering at that weird window display. The air seemed to grow colder, and I looked up to see a white sky promising an imminent snowfall. Everything was illuminated by that strange brightness and sounds were muffled, as if a thick layer of snow already lay over the dark concrete.

A sudden icy blast of wind tugged at my hair and nearly pulled off my woolly hat. I had the impression that the music in the street was fading and that I was inside a sort of soundless bubble. I could see less and less clearly and it was increasingly cold. I looked for somewhere to shelter from the icy gusts but I could no longer make out anything. I could hardly see my arms stretching out in front of me. Everything was white. Opening my eyes wide and forcing myself to stare ahead, I finally glimpsed a human shape moving in front of me. A person at last! I ventured forward until I reached him. It was the shape of a man, about a head taller than me. Strangely, everything around him seemed lighter, colder, and sharper. The wind had stopped blowing and total silence reigned. My ears were ringing. Time itself seemed to have stopped in that spot. Snowflakes had begun to fall but had stopped a few feet above the ground and seemed to be simply hanging in the air. The white light made them sparkle like thousands of little frosted crystals and they clung to my hair with each step I took towards the man still standing immobile. Only a slight but regular movement of his shoulders indicated that he was not as frozen as the snowflakes surrounding him. The frost cracked under my feet and my breath rose up, a white mist in the sky.

I hesitated for a moment, then slowly reached out my hand and touched the figure’s gray coat. Hair as white as snow hung down over his high collar. My fingers froze, numbed, as they touched the coat and I had a moment of panic as he turned to face me. He did not utter a sound, and his movements seemed so light and fluid that I found myself wondering if he was not really an angel, or else a bird. I then looked straight into his electric blue eyes and everything else ceased to exist. His gaze was so intense that it seemed to sear right through me like an icy burn. I do not know how long I remained there, my eyes fixed on his, incapable of making the slightest movement, but it seemed like an eternity.

When I could bear it no longer, I blinked, and everything disappeared. A thick layer of snow was now lying on the pavement; the sky had lost its brightness and was gray rather than white. The image of those blue eyes was printed on my retina, like when you look too long at a dazzling light, and my ears seemed to have unblocked and were no longer ringing. Music was once again playing all around me and I was being jostled by passers-by, increasingly frantic and tired. I moved my fingers, and the circulation began to creep back into them. An old man, seeing me inert and staring into space, came up to me slowly. “Are you alright, Miss? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.” His voice seemed to reach me from a distance. The smell of roast chestnuts hung in the air, wafted by the far-off singing of a choir in the street. They all looked like Eskimos, muffled up like that. I was hot. “Yes, I’m fine...” Better than fine, in fact.

Translated by Wendy Cross


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