Zebra, Mule, and I stood abreast, as always, and studied the newcomer. Sea Horse reared up from his pale green tentacle of a tail. His upper half resembled the cavalry horses behind us, complete ... [+]
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The meep of the alarm dragged me from the warmth of my quilt cocoon and smack into Monday morning. I had to bat at it four times before it finally stopped and I found my glasses. 6:00 A.M. and still dark. But there was a certain milky quality leaking through the window that made my heart drop into my stomach.
We'd lived in Rochester, New York, just six weeks, and almost every night we'd had what the locals called "lake effect snow," a little dusting like powdered sugar. But the weather girl had been predicting the real deal for a week now: the first snowstorm of the season.
Mom had headed southwest to sunny New Mexico at eighteen to get away from Rochester winters. But after her lay-off, we'd moved back in the middle of my junior year. And since she's had a bad back all her life, the shoveling would be all mine. Lake effect snow could be swept away; I kept the broom on the porch and used it almost every morning, hating the way the cold fogged up my glasses, hating this new life in Rochester. I couldn't even imagine how long it would take me to shovel out. And I knew there'd be no snow day reprieve – not in Rochester.
I peeped bleakly through the window. The cars and fire hydrant were muffled in inches of cotton fluff, and lazy flakes were still falling. I looked again... and thirty seconds later I was standing at the front door, blinking in disbelief. The steps, the walkway, the entire length of our driveway were completely clear of snow! And there, at the foot of our yard, someone had poked two eyes and a curving smile. I laughed, looking up and down the street.
But I was alone.
The thought of that smiley face kept my spirits up all day. I ticked through the possible do-gooders in my mind. The old couple across the street? No way. The guy to the right of us was away. Millie to the left of us shook her head when I asked her on my way back from school.
Down the road, a car door slammed. There was that cute guy I'd noticed raking leaves on moving day. Could it be...?
"Hey!" I called. "Hi! By any chance...?" He didn't even turn around, just hurried into the house. And I headed home, trying not to let that closed door ruin my mood.
I texted my friends in New Mexico two or three times a week, and we Skyped each other pretty regularly. But somehow, instead of making them feel closer, it only reminded me of the happy life I'd left. I hated that awful, fish-out-of-water feeling and the way everyone around me was already part of a crowd. It would have been fun to have someone besides Mom to laugh with about the mystery. But that evening's bitter wind and lake effect snow covered the happy face, and with it went my smile.
By the weekend, another storm was due. "I don't think the snow angel's going to turn up this time," I told Mom as we headed to bed. But I was wrong. It happened again. And again, I saw it: the smiley face that lifted my spirits. The snow angel had been out early, and the accumulated snow (tailing off to flurries now) was doing its best to erase it. I had an irrational desire to protect it somehow, this little symbol of a simple kindness that once again had made me forget that I was still the new kid in a cold, gray city.
"But who could it be?" Mom asked.
"I don't know," I replied, "but I'm going to find out."
It was almost two weeks before the next big snowfall. And I was determined to learn the identity of my snow angel. I slept in my sweat suit, my boots by the front door, and set my alarm for every half-hour from 5:00 A.M. on.
Meep! I swam to the surface from a dream of snow falling on the high desert near Santa Fe. Reaching for my glasses, I peered out. The plow had passed; the street was the only gray blur in a white world. Maybe this time it would be my turn to dig out. I retreated under my quilt and had hardly closed my eyes when... meep! It was 5:30. I jumped awake... to a dull, scraping sound somewhere below. Bounding to the window, I saw a muffled figure digging its way down the walk!
I raced down the steps and into my boots and parka. Throwing open the door, I called from the porch, "Hello! Excuse me!"
The figure didn't turn or stop; it just kept clearing the snow from the walk.
I called again. No response.
Must be listening to music! I thought as I picked my way down the steps, following the snow angel's retreating back. It was taller than me, in a muffler, gloves and a coat that looked warmer than my parka.
"Hello?" I tried again. No response.
Just before the figure reached the sidewalk, I tapped it on the shoulder. And suddenly I was looking into two startled blue eyes which lit up at once. My heart skipped a beat. It was the cute guy from down the block! He made a soft sound, stood the shovel in the snow and dug in his pocket.
"Hey, it's you!" I began. "I want to thank...."
But his hand was on my arm. He shook his head, pointing to his ear while he pulled out his phone. Quickly, he texted:
DO U SIGN?
All at once, everything made sense. He hadn't been ignoring me... he hadn't heard me!
I shook my head no. But I can learn, I thought.
"Do you read lips?" I asked.
He shook his head and texted again:
MISS 2 MUCH
WELCOME 2 NEIGHBORHOOD
Then he held the phone out, smiling.
I motioned for him to follow me to the porch. On the way I started to slide, and instantly his arm was around me. I could feel myself blushing, thankful that the cold had put roses in my cheeks. On the porch I texted:
Y R U SO NICE?
He laughed, reaching for the phone:
C CAR PLATES FROM N M
C U LOOK SAD
WANT 2 C U SMILE
And as we laughed together, I began to realize that life in snowy Rochester might not be so bad after all.
Note: Rochester, New York, has more deaf people per capita than any city in the world.