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Snowman

by Damon Tabb 24 days ago in literature

A Drift in the Storm

PART I

The last time Silas remembered it snowing this much, he was barely five.

That was a lifetime ago, but if he concentrated very hard, he could stir up fuzzy memories of backyard snowball fights and snow angels with his dad. Like most of his childhood memories, these came with a soundtrack: His mother, a concert pianist, was not a fan of the cold—it interfered with her playing—so while Silas romped in the snow with his dad and their dog Oboe, his mom remained inside practicing some Chopin nocturne or other. And while he had plenty of happy memories of playing and laughing with his mom, it struck him now, these many years later, that very few were in the winter, and none were in the snow.

Of course, he could never forget that time he and his dad—well, mostly his dad—made a snowman so huge, that, at night it would stare right in at him through his bedroom window… on the middle floor of their split ranch. Even with the curtains drawn, just knowing it was out there, watching him from the other side of the window, kept him anxiously tossing in bed. Although he was nine, he had to sleep with his parents for a whole week until Shorty—that’s what they named the snowman—melted, because his dad stubbornly refused to knock him down.

It was on another cold, snowy night almost twenty years later that his dad passed, but Silas remembered that night like it was yesterday. He was on a date. Nothing about that evening was going well, including the choppy conversation—if you could even call it that—with his date, who clearly wanted to be anywhere but eating dinner with him. The feeling was mutual, but they both soldiered through the appetizer and main course, because their best friends had set them up, and they both felt some strange obligation not to let them down. It wasn’t until Silas went to the restroom that he realized their table was in a blind spot, and that his mother had called six times.

He left immediately, didn’t even say goodbye, and booked a flight to Louisville that night. Six hours later, Silas was home. His dad had suffered a heart attack while shoveling snow. Mom was so engrossed in her piano, she didn’t even notice that he hadn’t come back in. But, of course, he hadn’t been shoveling for three hours straight. The doctor tried to assuage her guilt, and told her that it wouldn’t have mattered, that he went quickly, and he likely wouldn’t have survived even if she'd found him earlier.

But, in spite of the doctor’s reassurances, she never forgave herself, and she took that guilt to her grave just two years later. It was a stroke. This time, the call came from his aunt, and again, within hours, Silas was on a plane back to Louisville. And wouldn’t you know, it was another snowy night. What is it with this damn snow, he thought?

Silas buried his mom next to his dad, and stayed on in Louisville for almost a month, setting affairs in order, putting the house on the market, saying goodbye. Strangely, the reality of it all didn’t fully hit until he was about to leave his childhood home forever, standing in his parent’s backyard, and just happened to look down. Through the leaves and drizzle, he could barely make out the gravestone where they had buried Oboe so very many years ago. He’d never cried when his dad passed but, feeling truly alone for the first time in his life, it all came out now. He fell to his knees and cried for a good twenty minutes while the drizzle slowly covered his past in a thin, glistening veneer.

After that, Silas became visibly agitated anytime it snowed. It became so bad, he even moved from Boston to San Diego, where even a light dusting was extremely rare. His shrink said it was a condition called associative stress disorder, and that it was perfectly normal for him to have these feelings and anxieties. What he needed was some time. And distance.

Several years later, some friends invited him on a holiday ski trip up north. Tired of missing out, he decided that enough time had passed, and he mustered the courage to go along. Perhaps time is in fact the great healer, or possibly confronting the snow head on was exactly what Silas needed, but he felt liberated, as if a weight he’d carried for years had dissipated, like snow melting in Spring. It was the beginning of a new chapter in his life.

Soon after, Silas met, fell in love with, and married a fellow musician—Silas played cello professionally—and they had one child, a son. His wife, Angie—herself a concert violinist—favored the family tradition of naming pets after musical instruments, and so their dog, a monster bull mastiff, was named Tuba.

Life went on, and for a good many years they were quite happy. Work was steady, which is not something to be taken for granted if you’re a family of musicians. Well, almost a family of musicians. They joked that the music gene had somehow skipped Harlan altogether. Not only could the boy not play an instrument—not for lack of trying, mind you—he was practically tone deaf.

Silas and Angie eventually divorced. Both had had affairs over the years, but that wasn’t the catalyst. It was more about the money. After nearly losing everything in the dot com bubble, the Great Recession turned out to be too much for them. They lost their jobs when the orchestra folded, and for years neither could find more than the odd gig to make ends meet. After the bank foreclosed on their house, they declared bankruptcy, and—Harlan now in college—they decided it was best to just go their separate ways.

It was a difficult transition, especially for Silas, but he slowly eked out a life for himself as a performer and lecturer. He was never able to earn or save a lot of money, and, while he had the occasional relationship, he never fell in love again, and never remarried. He did get another dog, though, a feisty Chiweenie he named Piccolo.

Harlan, like many of his generation, gravitated towards tech. He was actually a gifted mathematician, but opted to join a startup in New York rather than continue in academics. It was a wise choice, and he soon found himself flush with money. But, despite his deep pockets, and the extravagant lifestyle it afforded, he was terribly depressed. He blamed his father for his parent’s divorce, for the tumult that engulfed them all, and never forgave him.

It had been over a year since they last spoke. They fought bitterly over the phone, and, hanging up, Harlan screamed at his father that he never wanted to speak with him again. Silas called several times over the next few weeks and months, but Harlan refused to answer, and deleted the voicemails without even listening to them. Eventually, Silas stopped calling.

It was Angie who called Harlan to tell him the news. Silas was in the hospital. He’d had a heart attack, and was in critical condition. He might not make it through the night.

PART II

It was with some degree of trepidation, but also anticipation, that Silas accepted the invitation to speak on the pre-concert lecture with the University of Kentucky orchestra. He hadn’t been back that way since his mom’s funeral. Maybe he’d rent a car and make the drive to Louisville. It was only an hour and a half. He called his high school best friend, Steve, who was still a local, and they made plans to meet. As the date drew nearer, he found he was increasingly looking forward to it. This was going to be a good trip.

Aside from a little chop before landing, the flight to Lexington was largely uneventful. Silas was grateful for that, as his tolerance for flying had diminished over the years. A car was waiting for him and whisked him to the concert hall. Before he knew it, he was going over his notes with the conductor, and doing mic checks with the sound crew.

It was a beautiful concert and, while part of him wished he’d opted to perform as well as speak, the Dvorak was not an easy concerto, and he just didn’t have the energy he once had to practice a piece like that. After dinner with the conductor, Silas said his good nights, got into his rented Prius, and headed west on I-64 to Louisville. He checked into his hotel around 1 AM, but slumber didn’t come easy that night. It had started snowing, and Silas had visions of Shorty staring at him through the hotel window. He laughed it off and eventually drifted to sleep.

The next day, Steve met him at the hotel, and they had lunch at the old diner. He couldn’t believe it was still there after all these years. Afterwards, they drove to his old neighborhood to visit his childhood home. For a moment he was tempted to knock on the door and introduce himself, to ask if he could come in and see his old room, to see if Oboe was still there in the backyard. But he couldn’t. Kids were making a snowman out front, and Silas suddenly felt that his time there had passed, that simply being there was an intrusion, an anomaly. So they left.

That night, in his hotel room, with the wind piling the snow at his door, Silas felt a throbbing pain in his arm, and then went unconscious. He woke up in a hospital bed and was told that he’d had a heart attack. Was there anyone he wanted the hospital to contact? Yes. Call his wife. Call his son. Their numbers were in the little black book in his coat pocket. He turned to look out the window. The last time he remembered it snowing this much, he was barely five.

As it happened, flights to Louisville were cancelled on account of the storm, and Silas died before Angie or Harlan could arrive. The following week, he was buried next to his parents.

Harlan was too busy with work to fly to San Diego—at least that’s what he told himself—so his mom handled going through his father’s belongings. A few days later, Harlan received a phone call from Steve, whom Silas had asked to be his executor. His father, Steve explained, didn’t have much of an estate, but he would be receiving a package in the next couple of weeks. Oh, and would he take Piccolo?

One month to the day after the funeral, a package the size of a large shoebox arrived for Harlan. In it were several envelopes of family photos. Thumbing through them, it suddenly struck Harlan that he’d been so focused on being angry that he never chose to remember what a happy childhood he’d actually had. His father, while not perfect, had been there for him. He suddenly regretted deleting those unheard voicemails. Right now, he’d give anything to hear his dad’s voice one more time.

There was also a note from Steve:

Dear Harlan,

Your father didn’t have much, and he knows that you don’t need or want his money, but he wanted you to have this. I hope you can find peace. You’re a good kid, and you deserve that.

Take care of yourself,

Steve

Silas’s life savings, all told roughly twenty grand, had been made out to Harlan. It was all Silas had, and he desperately sought his son’s love and forgiveness. Harlan could never bring himself to deposit that check. As long as he didn’t, he thought, some part of his father might live on. So he kept it in that photo box, in the hopes that his dad too might find some peace, at rest among happier memories.

literature
Damon Tabb
Damon Tabb
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Damon Tabb

Just a small colony kid from the far side of Mars.

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