“It’s sticking!” Davey cried, his nose pressed against the window. Janet pulled him away and drew the curtains.
“Never mind that! Bed!” she barked, steering the boy toward the stairs. As he got ready for bed, he babbled about the falling snow and asked her how deep she thought it would be by morning.
“The sooner you go to sleep, the sooner you can go out in it,” she reminded him. She pecked his forehead and turned out the light.
With Davey tucked in, she went downstairs. The snow was coming down in earnest; the forecasts warned of a countrywide white-out for the weekend and it looked like, for once, they had got it right. Already the garden was blanketed, already the world outside was muted. Peaceful and pretty.
Janet steeled herself. Knowing Davey, he would be up at first light and would hurl himself outdoors without dressing properly. She put his wellies, his scarf, his bobble hat at the foot of the stairs, hoping to be able to intercept him.
Then she began the preparations for the ritual. Her late husband’s hat, scarf and gloves, secured in their own suitcase, were fetched out from under the stairs. Also in the case was the fragile scroll of parchment – there would be time to rehearse the incantation, she hoped. One day, she knew, she would have to teach Davey the words, the rhythms, the gestures he would need to make it work.
Finally, she fished in the freezer for the Tupperware box that contained the final ingredient. It would need a few hours to defrost.
Janet shivered, but not from the cold. Hugging herself, she sat by the kitchen counter, looking at the items she had laid out. As was usual every year, she wondered whether she should give it a miss. It was time to move on, time to let Harry go, once and for all.
But Davey needed his father. The chances of sufficient snowfall were few and far between. And he was so looking forward to it, to seeing his dad again.
She prised the lid off the plastic container. The vial glinted at her, its precious contents, like smoke, like pale green smoke, swirled as though to greet her.
“Hello, Henry,” she muttered. “This is the last time.”
The smoke curled and roiled as though angry. Janet could imagine her late husband’s voice, pleading, begging. Find clay! Henry would urge. Find clay and make me from it. The snow is too fleeting, too transitory. Make me from clay and I can stay around. Davey needs his dad.
Janet snatched up the vial. Her thumb toyed with the stopper.
“What about what I want?” she whispered. “What about my needs?”
The smoke glowed angrily. The glass grew hot in her hand.
“This is the last time, Henry,” she held the bottle to the light. “When the snow melts, I won’t be putting you back in. I’m sorry.”
Knocking at the back door startled her. She almost dropped the vial and that would have been an end to it, her husband’s life-force dashed on the kitchen tiles.
It was Gerald, her neighbour. Her handsome, hunky neighbour.
“Just checking in!” he grinned. “Brought my trusty shovel if your path needs clearing!”
Janet hid the vial behind her back. “You’re very kind,” she pouted. “Do you remember, inviting me to dinner one night?”
“It still stands,” Gerald beamed, his blue eyes bright in his snow-reddened face.
“Good,” said Janet. “Because I think I’m ready.”
Behind her back, her thumb flicked the cork from the bottle and the contents dispersed into the air. Davey would be disappointed, but it was high time he learned that the past is like snow and you shouldn’t try to hang onto it.