Tanya had rung on the landline, which Gilbert had greeted with an uncharitable pang of irritation. Surely, after 3 years, she’d have made a note of his mobile number by now. Still, he thought, the woman had lost her husband, this time without intending to; best, under the circumstances, to keep things civil.
“Tanya,” he said, “Olly was wondering if you were going to ring.”
There was a sigh on the other end of the phone which took a physical presence as his ex-wife weighed up whether or not to respond. In the end, she might have decided to ignore the slight, though it was equally possible she was too wrapped up in grief to notice it. “How is he?”
“He’s fine,” he said, a little defensively.
“Fine?” said Tanya, “He’s lost his stepfather. I hope you’re looking after him.” There was a note of recrimination in her voice.
“He’s fine,” said Gilbert, more authoritatively this time.
There was a silence, before Tanya spoke, “It’s the funeral tomorrow.”
“You know I can’t go. Not after what he did. It’d be like he was laughing at me.”
“Christ’s sake, Gil. We were over long before he came on the scene.”
“Before your toy boy came on the scene, you mean?” he asked.
“He was more of an adult than you’ll ever be,” she said, before letting the anger slip out of her voice, “Ralf would’ve wanted the boy at his funeral.”
“That hardly matters now, does it?”
Gilbert was shocked to realise he was enjoying himself. Since he’d realised what he could do with the strange snow sculpture, he was beginning to realise what it was to wield power, “Besides, we’re snowed in. I couldn’t get him there, even if I wanted to.”
“Olly needs to say goodbye.”
“Couldn’t he watch it on Skype?” sneered Gilbert.
“Jesus, Gil, Ralf was right about you.”
“You’re frozen from the inside.”
“If I am, it’s because you made me that way.”
“Well, you won’t need to worry about it much longer…,”
“Nothing, Gil, I shouldn’t have said it.”
“You can’t leave it like that, Tan…,”
“Forget it, Gil,”
“What is it?”
“It’s just, with all this, I’ve been thinking, Olly’s going to need family around him.”
“I know,” said Gil, trying to keep the hope out of his voice. She couldn’t be suggesting a reconciliation, but perhaps she need him for emotional support and who knew where that might lead.
“Which is why I’m moving back with my parents,”
“Your parents?” asked Gilbert.
“In New Zealand,” she said, the note of triumph impossible to miss.
“But I’ll never get to see him,”
“You can come over in the holidays,”
“I won’t be able to,” said Gilbert. If he recovered, Jonson would never grant him the time off.
“If he’s important to you, you will,”
“It’s not that easy,”
“It is if you make it,”
“I’ll go to court,” he said, despatched.
“And you’ll lose,” Tanya replied. Gilbert knew she was right. He’d never win custody of his son through the courts.
“Whatever Tan,” he said, “Enjoy the funeral,” he slammed down the telephone, wondering if he’d been too harsh. In the end, he decided he didn’t care.
What happened next was inevitable, really.
Since the news about Jonson, he’d avoided looking at the snowman. After days of continuous snowfall, it had almost doubled in size and its contours become less well defined. Although still recognisably humanoid, it was now an ominous, grey hulk. Looking at it, Gilbert couldn’t entirely suppress a sense of dread. There was something in the way it seemed to draw out the warmth and light from everything around it. There was power in this object, he knew; channelled correctly, it could destroy.
He set to work.
With ungloved hands, he set about shaping the colourless block, turning it into an imitation of his ex-wife. At times, he needed to reign in his bitterness, for fear of producing a grotesque caricature, but within half an hour, he’d produced an almost lifelike facsimile of the woman he’d once loved. This done, he wondered how best to destroy it.
He stood there a long time, wondering how best to proceed. Setting about it with a cricket bat ought to have brought a certain satisfaction, he thought, or, perhaps, he could put to use the blowtorch he’d been keeping in his garage. But whatever ideas he had, however strong his motive, he found he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t hurt his ex-wife, even in effigy, any more than he could make her love him again .
The answer came when he looked down at his feet. Through the blanket of snow, diffident blades of grass were beginning to protrude. For the moment, there were only a few, but they were a clear harbinger of the coming thaw. The air was a little less bitter, too. Spring, or at least a temporary foreshadowing of spring, was approaching. He didn’t have to do anything to the snow sculpture. Given time, the weather would destroy it for him and Tanya would melt to nothing before she’d had a chance to take Olly. Relieved, he took himself to bed.
Gilbert would never know how long he’d been sleeping when his son woke him.
“Dad,” Olly said, charging into the room, “I’ve got a surprise.”
“It’s in the garden. Follow me.”
Gilbert followed his son into the back garden. It was warmer already, and more grass was visible through the snow. He felt his trepidation increasing as he realised where they were going. He couldn’t let the boy see what he’d done.
“Ta dah,” said Olly.
They was standing by a snow sculpture which no longer looked like his mother, gesturing proudly. “What have you done asked,” said Gilbert, trying to hide his growing fear.
“Do you like it?” asked Olly.
“Do I like it?” replied Gilbert, the question rhetorical. He looked at the figure. There was something horrifyingly familiar about it. It was masculine again, taller than it had been the right before but still falling short of the height of had had as a simulacrum Ralf. The posture was now weary and weather beaten and the effect set of by a fawn anorak he recognised as his own. It was, he realised, already beginning to melt.
“I got it just right, didn’t I?”
“You did?” Asked Gilbert. The snowman reminded him of someone.
“Of course,” said Olly, “Well, it was only fair, wasn’t it. If we did one of Ralf, I had to do one of you, too.”
Gilbert looked again at the statue. There was little doubt it was an exact likeness. “It’s perfect,” he said, no volume to his voice.
“And that’s not all,” said Olly, breathless.
“It isn’t?” Gilbert startled as he realised the snow sculpture was not alone. Next to it, he saw for the first time was a smaller figure. It had been made from leftover snow and was speckled with mud and flattened grass. It had already begun to succumb to the thaw, and was listing to one side, but the resemblance was undeniable.
“See?” called Olly, beginning to cough. “I had to make a model of the two of us. It looks like I’ll be staying here after all.”
And, as snow began to fall in clumps from the conifers, Gilbert couldn’t find it in himself to tell his son that it wouldn’t come to that. Overhead, the sun was getting stronger but all he could feel was the cold of winter.
Thanks for reading. If you’re interested in exploring my work further, my anthology is still free for a few days.