Festive Story Time

This crept out when I was supposed to be writing about Other Things. It’s a sort of story. And sort of Christmassy (well, there’s snow). I hope you like it.

Charlie, in the Snow

The snow is falling, white and wet, in the way of snow. I watch it settle in her eyelashes and in her hair. I watch her watching it.

My little sister. Charlie.

Big, pale, blue eyes (the blue of winter shadows, the blue caught beneath thick ice). Pink, parted, cupid lips. Just seven years old as she stands there amidst the sparkle, with her small, soft arms lifted towards the blackness beyond it all, her mittens dangling from her wrists.

The mitten-strings are invisible so that the gloves themselves appear to float alone like some magic trick. Small, lilac clouds. And I notice how Charlie is swaying, just perceptibly, in her moon-boots. I stare at her woolly knees and at her blond hair and her rosy cheeks and I think how people are right; she is truly “Angelic”. She doesn’t belong in this world; everyone agrees.

Ever since she learnt to talk, she has told us herself: God is here. Inside me.

Of course she was the first to know. Mom never told her to say such things, despite what certain folk imagine. The truth, I think, is that Mom is actually a little scared of Charlie, underneath. But then aren’t we all a bit afraid of her in our secret, separate ways? And that’s right, isn’t? Shouldn’t holiness, after all, be at least partly frightening? Awesome – I think, and I don’t use that word the way that other kids would.

As I stare at Charlie, I try to see it, that hard place, that holiness inside her. A thread of burning ice amidst that softness. It’s probably clearest when she’s Healing, whether she’s illuminated by the angled spotlights and generous candle-dazzle surrounding our Church’s altar, or caught within the smaller, nervy flicker and fug of a Chosen sickroom. Perhaps you might glimpse the Truth inside her then, as she lays on her small, splayed hands. It’s there in the pinched concentration of her doll-like features, in the increased frosting of her gaze. A kind of ghost-light, which further enhances that wintry blue, while the Uncured groan and shudder underneath her. When they finally give in, weeping, to her shivering touch.

It’s because you can see Him moving through her, Mom says. His Holy Spirit.

But I can’t see that coldness in Charlie now. That icy flame is nowhere close.

Right now, with her head flung back and her gold hair pouring and glimmering past her fallen hood – right now, as she catches flakes like feathers on her lapping tongue, my kid-sister looks like any child. Like any seven year old, lost simply to the magic of snow, to that dizzying, obliterating tumble. And usually, even when she’s not Healing or Praying, when she’s not ablaze, but meant to be simply playing, or resting, Charlie’s expression remains careful, guarded. It’s an old-lady look, almost – but not tonight. Tonight, she stands gawping and open before the whirling sky.

Dumbstruck, I think, and maybe that’s why I dare to bend to my knees amidst the wetness and scoop up a handful, packing it tight against my already-stinging, blotching palms.

And “Charlie!” I call in a teasing voice, as if this is something I always do, something quite natural to us – as I draw back my arm and throw.

The snowball hits her squarely in the middle of her back. It drops in satisfying cream-pie strings from the ends of her shining hair. And I’m immediately gasping, bent with laughter at my own audacity; I’m helpless as she turns, still caught in a kind of halting, jarring wonder, towards me, her blue eyes wider than ever.

“Hey,” she calls, “Hey you, Sammy!”

But through the stars, through the shattering glass piercing my own hot, wet vision, I see that her flushed face remains open, that her red mouth remains open; she’s grinning back – and then she’s crouching against the thick white, packing her own ball in return. And she doesn’t pause to pull her mittens on, she’s too determined. She’s going to get me too – except that then, when she straightens, something happens. Her shoulders hunch as she lifts her face and sees not just me, I understand that – but the Church looming over us, its relentless light glaring in garish patches at my back. Painting trapdoor panels in the settled snow between us.

I watch Charlie’s hand fall open. A small pink starfish. The laughter dries on my clumsy, chapping lips and my mouth feels full of stones as the whiteness slithers from her fingers.

And suddenly I see that there is perhaps nothing illuminating her gaze except that yellow from the Church windows –

Nonetheless, I bow my head as she pads past, her precise, little footsteps almost silent as she returns inside to save us all.

By Megan Taylor, December 2009