The old priest considered the cast-iron oil pot sitting in the corner of the immaculate kitchen. It was heavy, and his back hurt.
The trees growing on the canyon walls whispered to him. "Prepare... [+]
Christmas was in full swing everywhere. Wherever I went, old Christmas tunes played cheerfully in the background. In little stores, in shopping malls, in iPod earpieces of strangers with the volume far too loud.
I loved this time of year. The delicious smell of mandarins and peanuts drifted down the street. I ran on not much more than this the whole month of December. People craved the old stories Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, and Jack Frost… But I mainly just cared about Jack Frost. My mother gave me a diversified education of holiday characters when I was a child, but I'd quickly lost interest in Santa Claus. Jack Frost was the only one who offered me any level of intrigue. Those first few frozen days of winter, I would get a bounce in my step just thinking about Jack Frost's arrival being just around the bend.
Of course, I had known for years that snow was only a chemical reaction, the changed state of water. However I chose to think of it as having originated from 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 waves of cold as he passed. A man in the form of a white, transparent sheet, frosting the public benches and freezing the ponds, icing decorations and chasing people inside to their cozy fireplaces, leaving New York cold and deserted in the first days of winter.
I strolled the meandering streets of New York as I thought of all this. After turning a corner, I found myself in a crowded street, packed full of people rushing to finish their Christmas shopping so they could get home to relax with their families. I spotted a few people who, like myself, preferred strolling to hurrying, taking time to absorb the equally chaotic and exhilarating landscape of people bustling about. 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 cakes and snow-capped cupcakes. Little plastic figures wandered among the sugar flowers, 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 Santa Claus hat on what had once been its head. Its pale thighs donned green and red socks. I laughed out loud. The air seemed to grow colder, and I looked up to see a white sky promising an imminent snowfall. Everything was illuminated by a blinding brightness, and sounds were muffled as though a thick layer of snow was already covering the sidewalk.
A sudden icy blast of wind rushed down from the sky, nearly blowing off my woolly hat. The street musician's tune began to fade, and the steady rustle of street activity sounded farther and father away. I could hardly see anything in front of me. The shape of my feet were even difficult to make out, and even the act of continuing to put one foot in front of the other became frightening. I couldn't see a thing. I frantically looked around for shelter from the icy gusts, but it was all in vain. The world around me was a white void. I resisted my urge to close my eyes, and stretched my arms out in front of me as I slowly walked. 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. Snowflakes that had almost reached their voyage down to the earth stopped cold about a feet from the ground. It was as if time itself has stopped. The white light made them sparkle like thousands of tiny frosted crystals. They clung to my coat, hair, and face as I kept slowly stepped towards the man. He slightly adjusted his posture, the first sign the man wasn't completely as frozen as our surroundings. As I continued to walk slowly forward, the frost cracked underneath 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. His long, snow white hair hung low, right above his collar. My fingers froze, completely numbed, as I touched his grey, icy coat. As he slowly turned to face me, I did my best to swallow my gasp. 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, the sharp burn of early onset frostbite. 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 etched themselves into my retinas, the same way a bright light does when you stare at it for too long. I could now hear what was going on around me. The street musicians played merrily as though nothing at all had happened, and I was jostled about by last minute shoppers as before. I moved my fingers, and the circulation began to creep back into them. An old man, who must have been watching the whole encounter, 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 roasted chestnuts hung in the air, wafted by the far-off singing of a choir in the street. “Yes, I’m fine...” Better than fine, in fact. I knew I liked Jack Frost.
Translated by Wendy Cross