“The Sound of Winter” by Samantha Kany ’18 won 2nd place in the the Writers’ Slate annual writing contest sponsored by The Writing Conference, Inc. and Honorable Mention in Rider University’s Annual High School Writing Competition.
The Sound of Winter
I used to know a girl, Sofia, who has since moved away from my neighborhood. I was thirteen when we met. Though today I welcome her voice interjecting itself into my thoughts, back then she represented one of my greatest fears. Sofia was nine years old and she had a golden retriever guide dog named Snowflake.
At thirteen, my anxiety had grown severe enough to require medication, which necessitated frequent trips to my psychiatrist, Ellen. She had kind eyes with crinkles around the edges that carved pathways to the sides of her face. She was a friend of my mother’s, and so not only did she give us a reduced rate on our frequent visits, but I also, looking back, am pretty sure that the patient-doctor confidentiality agreement didn’t apply to me. I had a phobia of the dark, and all of its potential implications, but it had usually been an easy fix—a nightlight on all the time and the door wide open. When Sofia moved onto my street, my anxiety became incapacitating. I had a horrific ability to empathize, and to project—both of which Ellen and I tried fervently to get under control—And even just seeing Sofia feel her way around with Snowflake guiding her was enough to send me into a panic attack.
I had been seeing Ellen once a week for about six months when she decided that I was ready to face my fears. I wasn’t quite sure what that had meant, but I knew I wasn’t going to like it. She ultimately formulated a plan—much to my displeasure—and conferred with my mother. My mother was friendly with everyone, including Sofia’s mother. Of course, Sofia’s mom had no idea of the real motivation behind my mother’s phone call, but she was delighted to hear that I was interested in a babysitting job. Her mother told mine—who then told me—that she would love it if I would walk with Sofia to the park after school on Friday. She said she loved to take Snowflake up to the park whenever she could.
His hair was so golden it was almost white, and though he was surely strong enough to yank Sofia around, he was gentle with her. All living things seemed to defer to her. She floated with the grace and wisdom of someone far beyond her years and her experience. Her eyes, though without much purpose, were powder blue, and her skin was alabaster. She had blonde tumbleweeds of hair that knotted around her blushed cheeks and down her back.
When Friday came, and the air had grown crisp as the piles of leaves blanketing the streets and smelled of rotting green and wet pavement, hasty introductions under a veil of pleasantry-masking awkwardness were made, and before I knew it I was walking alongside the girl and her dog to the town park. We chattered quietly to drown out the windy silence, but I refused to really look at her. I tried to run through all of the breathing exercises I’d practiced time and again with Ellen to stay calm. To an outsider looking in, you could hardly tell Sofia was relying on Snowflake to stay on the sidewalk, and avoid obstacles. He was so diligent in his duty to protect her that she would rarely even catch her toe on a protruding lip of a block of sidewalk cement. She walked more gracefully than I did.
When we got to the park, she subtlety, but methodically felt her way to a bench that I knew she sat on nearly every day, and dropped the toy she had been holding for Snowflake. We were bundled up in our winter scarves and earmuffs and matching mittens—well, mine were matching. Snowflake lay territorially at her feet chewing voraciously at the tattered blue rope. Sofia seemed right at home in the open air, and so I didn’t complain about the shivers running down my spine or the stinging tears in my squinting eyes from looking through the thick fog of my own exhalations. The bench was small, but I sat on the opposite end, leaving as much space between us as the cold metal would allow.
I didn’t really know what to say; we were friendly, but had never really had much to talk about. “He’s a great dog,” I said, trying to melt the silence.
“He sure is.” She cooed, and reached down to give his head a quick pat. Her dexterous, nimble little fingers found his head on the first try.
“Why’d you name him Snowflake?”
She laughed, a peeling sound of ringing bells. “Mommy said Snowflake was a girly name. But it suits him.”
“When he breathes out slow it sounds like stepping on fresh snow.”
I had never noticed that that had a sound.
“And he’s soft like the scarf my aunt gave me for Christmas. And I can only wear it when it gets really cold out.”
“And he’s white and fluffy.” I said, playing along. She turned towards me slightly and stopped. I cringed.
“Huh,” she finally breathed, much quieter, her breath swirling in the space between us. “Yeah, I guess he is.”
I clenched my eyes shut. Of course she wouldn’t think of that. My breath quickened and the cold air scorched my parched throat as I inhaled too quickly, making a high-pitched whistling noise. My chest started to feel like it would explode as a different burn developed behind my eyes, entirely separate from the cold. I looked at Snowflake curled up contentedly beneath her feet, which were hanging a short distance off the ground. He reached out and licked her corduroy clad ankle, gently nuzzling her with his nose.
“And when he licks me it sounds like my dad scraping ice off of his car, only quieter. And when he sleeps, his snoring sounds like the creaking branches when they have too much snow.” She sighed and reached down to pat his head again, this time for longer. Then she sat back up. “I don’t know, he just sounds like winter, so, Snowflake.”
Sounds like winter. I remembered the way the icicles would fall from the edge of our roof onto the cushion of hardened snow below, and instead heard the thump of his tail against the frostbitten grass when she reached down to pet him and he licked her hand and made a low rumbling noise in his throat, the sound a car makes when it drives through a slush covered road.
I looked down at him, then back at her. I closed my eyes tightly and plunged myself into a world of inviting darkness and vivid sound and slowly slid closer along the unforgiving blue steel, until I sat just a handbreadth away.