I’m sitting in this office, waiting for the snow to stop so I can drive home, and it isn’t stopping. The white carpet masks the dirty asphalt of the parking lot and renders the naked trees between Winchester and Woburn less forlorn. Transforms the slopes of Killington into ski trails. Descends on dark eyelashes lyrically. Covers, coats, wraps, conceals, spells treachery, always sneaking in through a hole, a crack, an opening in your collar where it melts. Teams with the wind to swell your throat or smother your larynx as if made of frozen emery paper.
When I was a child, snow brought me tonsillitis, laryngitis, pharyngitis, acute respiratory disease, influenza. It wreaked havoc on the small southern town on the outskirts of Russia where I was born. The trolleybuses either wouldn’t be out at all or they’d be bursting, pinched coats sticking out of the accordion-style doors. We’d move at turtle speed, bald tires spraying cold slush on the passers-by, the trolleybuses long poles slipping off the snow-plastered wires and swaying sadly, like tentacles of a prehistoric butterfly. The only sure way to make it to school before the bell was to set off in the darkness on foot.
My boots always leaked. The Armenian shoemaker on the corner, barely visible behind his mountain of old shoes and bags, sewed patches in all the wrong places, the resulting aesthetic a match for the fake-fur hat with long oval flaps that tied under my chin. In the south the snow was wet, like an aged rain. The moment it touched my hat, patches of sandy-colored fur spiked skyward, turning me into a pricklier version of Cheburashka, that furry creature from the kids’ cartoon. Of course I could stuff the hat into my schoolbag once I was out of my mother’s sight, but the woolen pantaloons with instep straps worn over my knitted tights were a different story. Nothing made a girl feel duller than woolen pantaloons. A dirty russet, drawstring at the top, they smelled of machine oil no matter how many washings and always sagged under my butt. How they prickled and itched—at the thighs, under the knees, on the balls [End Page 29] of my feet, but most of all around the stomach, as if woven from horsehair. I scratched incessantly. My mother was convinced that girls who didn’t wear woolen pantaloons in the snow ended up with frozen wombs. I pleaded that it was only slightly below freezing, and that other girls dressed differently. She said, “You don’t want to find out the hard way, do you?”
Now I wear jeans when it’s cold, a cape on my coat. For boots, I prefer Dr. Martens. I like the thick corrugated sole and the trademark yellow stitching; no seeping through in this design.
“Your type of weather, eh?” says one of my colleagues as he hurries past me, zipping his Alaska.
I feign a smile and turn back to the window. Nothing irritates me more than people telling me how much I must like the snow because I’m a Russian. It’s merely their way of making conversation, I understand, and I can’t expect them to know that I was born half a centimeter off the subtropical zone, in the south, by the sea. Still it throws me off kilter.
There’re exceptions. Like this guy Steve, whose Ford minivan is parked next to my Pontiac in a small lot outside our nondescript office building off Mishawum Road in Woburn. Not that Steve knows much about Russia; he’s just not into assumptions. If I told him I hate snow, he’d probably tell me that he hates it, too. Or some other thing the human species could forgo. He loves, and he hates, sees the world in black and white, people as good or bad, friends or enemies, and in these times of nuance and shades of gray, of no single truths, no one religion, his maximalism draws me like a magnet.
I ended up on Steve’s good side by pure accident on my first...