By Matthew Ainley
Waking up under a blanket of darkness, I know that it is two things. One of them is early. Early enough that breakfast won’t be served for another hour. It is also cold, a frosty teeth-chattering bite that sets my legs and arms pumping. Rushing to the window with searching eyes, I drink in the settled and powdered snow on the grass ever reflecting the suns transparent rays. The sight puts my senses into a frenzy; once again, I’m a sleep-deprived child waking up on Christmas morning, eyes and heart aglow. I dress like someone an hour late, socks stretched up high at a mid-shin length and gloves pulled on aggressively. Crossing the boundary between worlds, the icy stab of cold, violent air punctures my nose and the back of my throat. Temporarily I’m winded and breathless but I do not care. In seconds, I am covered head to toe with the fruits of the season’s labour.
I pick one microscopic flake up from the ground, scattering its friends from my palm, and watch it as it slowly fades from a solid into a transparent slush, then watches it again as it drips from my hand back into the earth. Lowering myself wholly onto the ground, I spread my arms and legs wide, and as if a jolt of electricity has passed through my body, and I wave and wriggle and worm on the floor as if making a snow angel. In fact, I just wanted to feel the flakes up against my face and hair. Some make it into my mouth. Against logic, they taste sugary, fruity and natural. I can imagine the pores on my face clamping up in fright at the unfamiliar cold. When I return to my room, my cheeks and nose are splashed with baby pink and my hair is tousled and styled.
The day passes tortuously – inside the confines of the lecture hall, I sit with a direct view of the snow melting. The roadside drains gather the chunks of grey-smattered slush and gurgle them down. It’s as if I’m powerlessly watching someone destroy a finished jigsaw, removing one piece at a time and placing them back inside the box. Not even the crisp air remained. Against everything, I wished to rush out of my seat and greet the snow again like a close relative visiting from abroad; to buy myself a gingerbread latte and feel the heat spread through my fingertips and into my veins, pushing back the frostbite. What I desired most was to be on the verge of surrendering myself to the elements. Allowing myself to submit to the icy winds, the piles of snow, and feel them forevermore with the proximity that never wavered. Yet I remained to stare out and the sheets of slush continued to thaw.
It wasn’t until 4 pm that I pushed through the double doors of college and shuffled along the drafty corridors back into my room. My phone had buzzed a few minutes ago. My friends had been out sledging together since lunch whilst I’d been sitting stagnant in my lectures. One of them had posted a photo to Instagram – a blurred attempt at being artistic. Through the screen their joy was evident. Each had smiles on their faces and clutched red plastic cups of what appeared to be mulled wine. Some collected snow in their hair like an accidental act of charity. There was thigh high snow boots and white, soaked trainers all lined up in rows; little soldiers all out braving the weather. Had I known, I would’ve skipped my lectures in a heartbeat. It wasn’t like I was going to be understanding quantum mechanics anytime soon. Instead, I felt betrayed and overlooked, like I myself was fading away like the slush into the gutter. Bubbles of self-loathing and spite popped inside me and I sped up towards my room. The cold was finally seeping in as I locked my door from the inside and flung myself towards my bed.
The room around me felt distant, the walls too lofty and unreachable like it was made for a giant. The smell of damp persisted where murky tap water had splashed onto sealant. Some of the damp I brought in with me. On coming inside, snow fell from my back in tufts and receded into the carpet leaving darkened patches. I wanted to dissolve away, melt like the snow into a puddle and leave nothing but a shadow on the floor. Where this morning had been light and airy, it was cavernous and stone-cold in my room; the radiators were not working again. In my mind, the snow that had glittered spread eagle against the grass this morning now twisted and contorted against nature like it was rising up against me and building towards an avalanche. The angel I had created threw up a vitriolic verbal attack on me. Even the barren trees lurched away. The tears were collecting on my lower eyelashes and falling down my face. Everything in that moment was so completely unfair.
Outside my window, I could hear the intrusion of footsteps and unwelcome voices. There was a bang on my window. Opening the curtains and peering out, there were four figures knit together in a row like a semi-disbanded carol service preparing to perform. One was clutching a metallic flask between two mittens. The rich, cinnamon smell hit my nose at once. Another carried five sledges tied together on the ground underneath my window. They shone like uncut rubies under the apparent darkness. Then one of them let down their hood and spoke into the frosty night air.
‘Come out sledging! We missed you!’
Illustration by Verity Laycock