site logo

Snow Queen
Chapter 1: Winter Wonderland

The day after Kit and Rosie Deakin moved into their new house, Christmas card weather descended on the south-east of England. Six inches of snow fell over night. It drifted to over a foot in places and dagger-like icicles grew from the guttering. Each time they looked out of their living room window all they could see was a storm of snowflakes.

Kit had retreated, or rather escaped (if he was honest with himself) to the loft after lunch that day. Escaped from Rosie, his wife, his heavily pregnant wife. She didn't like climbing the steep and narrow staircase, although ironically this loft space had been the one thing that attracted her to the house when they'd first visited five months ago, just after she discovered she was pregnant. It had potential to be turned into a study, with enough room for her wide Mac monitor to sit alongside a more traditional drawing board, and lots of wall space for book shelves.

Though they'd had three other properties on their list in that area, Rosie refused to look at them, saying they had to make a decision or else they'd lose their buyer and they'd end up house-hunting with a new-born baby to look after. It had all happened so quickly, or that's what it felt like to Kit. One minute they were a couple living in a flat, the next, Rosie was pregnant, unplanned but not unwanted, and they were moving out to this new location, a cross between suburbia and 'real' countryside.

He glanced down at the beer he'd brought up with him and sighed. He'd used the excuse of packing away stuff they couldn't find a home for to get some breathing space from his wife, but it wasn't working. His first sip from the can hadn't been as good as he'd hoped and he almost wished he'd made himself a more practical, and warming, mug of coffee.

As he gazed out of the window a gust of wind sent snowflakes whirling across the scene. Fields covered in a white blanket of perfection lay in all directions and beyond them rose a hillside fringed with bare black trees. The extreme weather certainly made everything look beautiful, but that impression vanished when you tried to do anything. Ordinary, everyday things became major challenges: driving the car to the end of the road and down the hill; getting to the supermarket; finding fresh food and fully-stacked shelves once you got there.

On top of the combined stresses of moving house and being snowed in with Christmas only two weeks away, Rosie had come down with a bad cold at the start of her seventh month of pregnancy. It proved the tipping point (though Kit kept this observation to himself), turning her from a lithe creature with the attractive curve of the baby bump to a waddling animal, taciturn and irritable. He didn't know what to say or do. Despite his best intentions, every day he felt like he was walking on eggshells. When he asked some of his women friends at work where he was going wrong, their comments - along the lines of how would you like to have your body hi-jacked by another life and feel it's out of your control - didn't help. It simply made what Rosie was going through sound even more traumatic and distressing.

Kit checked his watch; he didn't want Rosie to think he was avoiding her. Although he'd only been sorting through boxes for half an hour, it seemed much longer. On his way downstairs he passed the window for a second time and noticed the wind had dropped. As he surveyed the scene, he silently reeled off the names of those who'd introduced themselves and offered him advice about rubbish collections, gravel bins and the nearest shops: Mr and Mrs Mason, Mr Douglas and Fran Jackson. From this angle he could also see the first storey of a much larger house, set some distance behind theirs, though its lower proportions were obscured by snow-laden trees. It was plastered white, like a 1930s villa, (his house and those of his neighbours were brick-built) with deep lawns on three sides, giving it a secluded air. The snow simplified the lie of the land and he could see it had two ways out: a drive at the front and a track leading from the back garden onto a road that ran behind his place.

As he turned onto the landing, Kit had a clear view of his wife in the living room where she sat on the sofa, working at her laptop. Her thick dark hair had grown out of its usual crop and longer curls lay along her neck, almost to her shoulders. She'd developed a particular habit of tucking one of the longer strands behind her ears when she was concentrating and this she did now, as she checked something in her sketchbook. Sensing his gaze on her, she looked up. Her cold had left her eyes rimmed red, as if she'd been crying, making her hazel eyes with their long lashes seem lighter. She gave him a small smile and went back to her work. He walked over to her.

'Are you ready for a break? What would you like: a cup of tea or hot water and lemon?'

'A tea, please.' She didn't look up.

Kit bent down to kiss the side of her face. 'Are you okay? Warm enough?'

She nodded. 'Mmm, I'm fine.'

***

Well-as-could-be-expected was another phrase that sprang to mind, or shouldn't-complain. All of these phrases were easier to say than admitting to an ill-defined anxiety about the baby's arrival and what would happen afterwards. Rosie knew she just needed to keep busy and until they'd moved in, she had more appointments and tasks in her desktop calendar than she'd ever had in a month at work. Once they were in the new house, and especially since she'd caught this miserable cold, all her energy and drive had left her. She felt her body drawing in its reserves, as if it was making its own decisions, and she didn't have the strength to fight it. She fingered her wedding ring. Her hands had been one of the places where she'd put on weight in the past month and where once she could play with her ring, slipping it on and off as she pleased, now she could only twist it round and round. She needed a slick of hand cream to wriggle it off her finger at the end of each day.

She looked out of the bay window. She couldn't remember the last winter that snow had come down so fast and settled in great swathes of white. Part of her would have liked to be out in it, maybe even building a snowman, a project far more appealing than the prospect of unpacking boxes (all 38 of them at the last count), but it wasn't going to happen. Kit had mumbled something about wasn't it risky for her to be out in the snow with her cold and everything, so she hadn't repeated her suggestion. She missed her friends from work and yet she was glad she was snowed in 40 miles outside of London. She wouldn't have wanted any of them to see her like this, well, maybe Jennifer, but not anyone else.

***

Kit had to be back in the office on Tuesday and though he groaned when the alarm went at six, half an hour later he was outside scraping the ice and snow off his windscreen. It was bitterly cold and the early hour and strangeness of his surroundings made him feel disorientated. The winter morning was illuminated by the last moonlight reflecting off the snow-covered lawns, giving everything a silvery glow so he didn't notice the lights approaching from behind the house. By the time their wavering brightness caught the corner of his eye, they'd become distinct, like two globes, and with them came the low growl of a powerful engine. At last he turned towards the noise to see the metallic gleam of a sports car emerge from the track behind the house. Instead of passing him, it stopped at the edge of the drive and the passenger window slid down. The deep-throated engine turned over, exhaling hot air that met the cold in billowing plumes. The car had no ice on it, even its tyres seemed immune to picking up clots of dirty snow. As he was trying to make sense of this, and cursing his inefficiency that meant his garage was full of removal boxes rather than providing cover for his car, he heard a woman's voice.

'Hello there.'

He stepped across the lawn and lowered his head to the window. 'Er ... hello.'

A luxurious warmth wafted out to him and a face framed by a deep fur collar stared back from the shadows of the car's interior. His first impression was of dark eyes and lips glossy with lipstick; a knitted cloche hat, dotted with sequins, covered her hair.

'I wanted to introduce myself.' The woman's voice had a carefree note to it, as if she didn't have to try very hard to get what she wanted.

'I'm Sylvie - I live down the track, so we're practically neighbours.' She waved a gloved hand behind her into the darkness. 'This way out is better than the road at the front. They never put down enough grit, that's when they can be bothered to do anything.'

Kit was at a loss as to what to say and found himself repeating what he'd been telling the other new neighbours.

'Good to meet you, I'm Kit. Me and my wife moved in at the end of last week. Hope this snow doesn't hang around for too long.'

To his surprise, the woman shook her head with the confidence of an expert.

'It won't get above freezing for the next couple of days and there's more snow on the way. I think it makes everything rather lovely.' She smiled up at him. 'I'm sure we'll see each other around, Kit. It was good to meet you.'

The passenger window closed and the car drove away, fumes from the exhaust streaming out behind it.

A glamorous woman driving the latest Mercedes convertible was the very last person Kit would have expected to encounter at six-thirty on a winter's morning and as he went back to scraping the ice, he wondered if he hadn't dreamt the whole thing. It took him another ten minutes to get the windows clear and he left the car warming up while he went back inside to say good-bye to Rosie.

'You're in the best place,' he told her, pulling the duvet up around her shoulders and planting a kiss on her forehead.

Rosie raised her head, though her eyes were only half open. 'Who were you talking to? - I thought I heard voices.'

Kit looked down at his wife's drawn face; she hadn't slept well again last night and his getting up early didn't help.

'It was just one of the neighbours, nothing important. Keep the heating on, sweetheart, and don't put a foot outside for anything. I'll ring you later.'

***
Copyright © P. A. Jones 2014

Now published as an ebook from Amazon.co.uk

Copyright © P. A. Jones 2001-2015