A short story by Emily Maye Sweer
She never finished her English breakfast tea in her broken purple mug. Her raggedy dark brown boots were never taken off. Twenties and fifties were laid out on the sofa, her father’s black wallet destroyed on the floor. Money was no issue…not anymore. She never even bothered to pick it up. Frozen mud trailed into the home, leaving forgotten footprints inside; forgotten, but not lost.
Left on the kitchen table, wooden and cold, were her purple mittens. With holes and old, dry paint on them, she liked them like that. Her father gave them to her when she turned 16; with his wise and unkind words, they became her scripture.
Her home was an unforgettable mess, fit for a lonely country girl. By the fire sat an ancient silver cat statue that she never bothered to dust because she didn’t like it all that much anyway. The crooked, three-legged rocking chair was placed 16 feet from the fire, and 16 feet from the front door, so that at any given moment, she had the choice to freeze or burn.
Outside the window, you could see the blue-green sky and its juxtaposition with the frozen, white ground. Clear as day: beautiful, but despairing. She rarely went outside. She wanted to keep to herself, as the loneliness comforted her and tucked her in at night. No one ever met her, no one ever knew her, no one ever asked about her…no one existed as far as she knew. Her town had a population of one. There were no others, so she made her own laws. She kept her own keep.
Years passed since her father chose to leave her. Alcohol poisoning. She had to cut a hole in the river that turned to ice and drop him in like an oreo in a glass of milk. She was the new man of the house; the new population dropped fifty percent in the span of 18 hours. It nearly killed her as much as it killed him. Since then, she chose not to go outside unless she needed to hunt, once a month at most. It kept her fed to a bare minimum; she was skin and bone. Surviving like a skeleton, secluded, without stamina, but she refused to surrender to her weakness.
Three years to the day, a winter storm came and went. She went outside for but a minute and started to shake like a small leaf on an even bigger tree. She fell to the ground; it was a cold and bitter chill so bad that when she inhaled, it colored her heart purple. No tears: she never wept for herself, she would not give her sadness the satisfaction it wanted.
With the storm came her inability to survive. It came in and out like a swift and careful hit of a bat on a baseball. She sunk further down to the ground, her pants hit the icy patches of snow and she gasped for air as the whispering wind hit her face, head on. For a moment, she could no longer move. She coughed incessantly, ready to give in to nature’s call, but she was strong enough to push herself up onto her hands and knees; a deep sigh was let out as she remembered her mittens, forgotten in her home. Within seconds, she crawled like no animal has crawled before, howling and screaming from the pain in her limbs, the ice digging into her body with every tiny movement. She crashed through the front door and pushed herself up as her fingers bled, while the icy mud from her boots trailed behind her. She was strong enough to move from the kitchen table to the sofa, breaking house items as she went, but weak enough to collapse on the floor with her boots still on. She had frost bite everywhere; second, maybe third, degree burns. Her limbs were sacrificed to the snow. She knew her fight was over. This was it for her.
It was not her loneliness or her will to survive that killed her. In the end, it was not a death that came to pass by the hands of another. It was winter that killed her. The clear fire of a true hail storm, and she died an ice queen in a forest with a new population of zero.