HEART OF SNOW • by Jonathan Pinnock

The lights on the Christmas tree sparkle, there is wrapping paper scattered all over the floor and the house rings with laughter. The smell of the Christmas lunch wafts in from the kitchen and my sherry glass is full.

“Grandpa,” says Poppy, twirling her hair around her finger, “Daddy says I can’t go outside and build a snowman.”

I ignore her and carry on reading my book.

“Grandpa,” she says, thrusting a moth-eaten soft toy at me, “Why does Daddy say I can’t go outside and build a snowman? Mr Bunnikins says I can.”

I continue to ignore her.

Poppy grabs my legs and hugs me. “Please,” she says.

It’s too much. I push her away. “Go and annoy someone else,” I say.

There’s a flash of hurt in her eyes, then she is gone and I can read in peace.

Don’t say anything: I know what you’re thinking. I’m a sad ungrateful old man, aren’t I? A miserable old git who won’t even acknowledge his lovely three-year-old granddaughter. Scrooge personified. How does my poor family put up with me every year?

But stay a moment and I’ll tell you a story.

***

Once there was a woman who lived with her husband in a log cabin in a deep, dark forest. During the cold, miserable winter months, he was often away on long hunting trips and she would become enveloped by a lonely, suffocating sadness – the more so, because their marriage had not yet been blessed with children.

So she used to amuse herself by building snowmen to keep her company. She was an untrained artist, but she had a good eye and instinctive hands, and as the years went by, her skill grew. The snowmen she sculpted were no longer shapeless blobs with twigs for arms and carrots for noses. They had proper arms. They had legs. Some were fat and some were thin. Some were male and some were female. Some were beautiful and some were ugly. Their faces now had expressions, too. Some looked sad, some looked happy and some just looked curious, as if they were wondering “How did I get here?”

And then late one night, the day before her husband was due to return home, there was a soft tap on the door of the cabin. As she surfaced from a deep sleep, she heard it again. Tap, tap, tap.

“Who’s there?” she called out, fumbling for a candle and matches.

Tap, tap, tap.

She lit the candle and got out of bed. She grabbed a frying pan from the stove and stood there, holding it, transfixed.

“Who is it?” she said.

Tap, tap, tap.

“I’m not afraid of you,” she said, hoping her voice wasn’t shaking too much.

Tap, tap, tap.

“Please just go away.”

Then she watched, trembling, as the bolt slid across, the latch rattled and the handle turned. Finally, the door opened and a snowman stepped inside. Not just any snowman, however, but her finest creation. A tall, fine-featured, handsome figure of a man that she had only just completed that day. His eyes were no longer lumps of coal, but diamonds that sparkled in the candlelight.

She gasped and put the frying pan back on the stove.

The snowman closed the door behind him and then he walked over to her and put his finger to her lips. She stared back at him for several seconds and then slowly nodded her head. He kissed her full on the mouth, before lifting up her nightdress and drawing her to him.

Overnight, the temperature in the forest lifted and when she awoke, she saw that the snow outside had melted. There was no sign of her lover. Spring was on its way. When her husband returned later that day, she greeted him with warm food and a warm bed, and nine months later, she was delivered of her only son.

“We are truly blessed,” said her husband.

“Yes we are,” she said.

***

Now I can see you looking at me as if to say, so what? It’s a fairy tale, nothing more and nothing less. Why are you telling me this?

And you’re right, not all of the story is true. For one thing, my mother never lived in a hut in the middle of a forest, and my father certainly never hunted for a living. But I know this: I am not like other men. I may look the same on the outside, but inside I am as cold as the snow on the ground. You may think me nothing more than a silly superstitious old fool who would never let anyone in his family build a snowman. Or perhaps you just see me as a grumpy old bastard who won’t let his beautiful granddaughter so much as hug him.

But the truth is: I am afraid she might melt my heart.


Jonathan Pinnock has written all sorts of stuff and has been published all over the place, including the BBC. His novel Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens was published by Proxima in September 2011 and was followed in November 2012 by his Salt short story collection Dot Dash, and in July 2014 by his biographical research quest Take It Cool. He blogs at www.jonathanpinnock.com and tweets as @jonpinnock.


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 average 3.8 stars • 31 reader(s) rated this

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  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    I guess it’s not possible to offer a useful critique of this story because I doubt the writer took it seriously. Reads to me like “I really had no time to bake, but take this…” Two stars.

    • Joseph Kaufman
      I don't think we need to project our own thoughts (and judgments) as to the motivations or time management skills of this or any author. Because I fail to see how that is in any way constructive.
      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
        OK.
  • Paul A. Freeman

    Bah! Humbug! But seriously, folks. Excellently crafted piece, largely due, I felt, to the MC’s voice and the choice of first person. I loved the fairy tale, too … or was it a fairy tale?

    • Jonathan Pinnock
      Thank you!
  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Rebooted comment:

    The interior logic of this world doesn’t hold together for me. The MC sets a scene of warmth and welcome, choosing adjectives that connote pleasure–“sparkle” and “rings,” and hospitality–“my sherry glass is full.”

    Isn’t it a little late in his life for him to worry that Poppy will “melt my heart”? He married; raised a family. He doesn’t seem, per what we’re shown here, to have ostracized himself from them.

    He even speaks to us, the readers, in perfectly courteous tones.

    It makes the whole story feel, to me, as an artifice without motivation and pathos, and when the technical aspects show skill and talent, it makes me wonder why.

    • Joseph Kaufman
      That's a very interesting point about why he is worried about his heart melting now... Hadn't really thought of that. After all, it would appear he has at least procreated if he has descendants -- didn't a woman somewhere along the line "melt his heart" enough for that to happen? Thanks for the more detailed commentary...good food for thought, both for readers and the author!
    • Jonathan Pinnock
      Have to say I definitely prefer your second version, especially as I did do a lot of agonising about this one. I'm still not entirely sure whether I like it myself, but not necessarily for the reasons you put forward. I could probably refute most of them, but I'm not sure that debating plausibility with regard to a story like this one would actually get us very far :)
      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
        "Plausibility" within the context of the story...impossible circumstances can contain their own logic and it's the writer's job to enable the reader to be convinced.
        • Jonathan Pinnock
          Oh, I fully agree. But if you're not convinced, there's nothing I can do here to persuade you otherwise. But there is an entirely logical explanation if you want to look for one. I've only just made this up (because tbh I tend not to think about that kind of thing too much when I'm writing this kind of story), but you could argue that the MC has lived his whole life inside an emotional barrier of his own making. Still entirely possible to have relationships (however unsatisfactory), still possible to have kids. Maybe he gets invited to Christmas because they feel guilty? Who knows?
          • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
            Well--you should know....
          • Jonathan Pinnock
            Not necessarily :) I don't always know what's going on in my stories! In some cases, a lot of what goes on comes from the subconscious and you just have to go with what feels right. It also leaves space for the reader - a good example of this is your suggestion below. It wasn't my interpretation at all, but it's equally possible that you're right.
          • S Conroy
            Interesting topic. I still haven't resolved it for myself yet..
    • Vicki Doronina
      It's interesting to see (there must be a name for this fallacy) how "that's not how I would've written this story" equates with "this story doesn't work". I don't see any problem with an internal logic. It's a known phenomenon that grandparents treat their grand-kids much nicer than their children and in many cases marriage does not mean love.
      • S Conroy
        I think one of the things that confused me a little was the love the child shows for the grandparent. If he had always been so cold, I'd imagine the child would have learnt long ago to keep her distance. I mean she's coming to him in such a familiar trusting way - at least that's how it came across to me - asking him to ally with her against her dad.
  • Catherine Edmunds

    Love, love, love it. Super story.

    • Jonathan Pinnock
      Thank you, Catherine :)
  • Michael Stang

    Um, the flash of emotion at the end that I assume was to connect the reader to the rest of the story, for me, was a disconnect. Sarah’s issue with the time-line is interesting enough for me when I overview the story in my head. I think the main character comes off self indulgent with little consequence. I enjoyed the fairy tell as a fairy tale, but separate from the story it’s self.

  • MPmcgurty

    The first time I read this, I was incredibly disappointed by the end section, partly because I think Jonathan is one of the top talents on EDF, and I felt he had cheated me.

    The first section reeled me in and hooked me with “But stay a moment and I’ll tell you a story.” I would have delayed anything to read the rest of this story. The fairy tale Grandpa then relates is lovely, and I hurried on to the wonderful payoff I knew awaited me. But the ending felt like a convenient wrap-up. I was bewildered at how Grandpa could be so cold, yet he had apparently married and had children.

    So I read it again, and again to make sure, and I’m quite happy with it, although to support it I might want some more indication about how hard Poppy is to resist. Or maybe we see Grandpa’s resolve wavering, even thought it means death. But it’s Jonathan’s tale to tell and I enjoyed it.

    Excellent, Jonathan. Btw, your story “Mirrors, Mirrors” is grand.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar
      "Or maybe we see Grandpa's resolve wavering, even thought it means death." I thought the snowman progenitor was animated by the vital force of its creator, who infused with her imagination and love. It had a heart of fire, not a heart of ice. Mom wasn't raped by a White Walker; she was embraced by the grateful love of her creation.
      • Jonathan Pinnock
        Whoa. Never even began to think that. Interesting interpretation, mind.
    • Jonathan Pinnock
      Thank you :) I feel really bad saying that I'm not so keen on Mirror, Mirror these days, though! This probably goes back to someone asking me if the MC in that one really deserved her fate, and I wasn't entirely sure she actually did.
      • MPmcgurty
        Well, no one deserves that fate but I certainly was not expecting it.
  • JAZZ

    WRITERS:
    I commend each and everyone of you for submitting your stories to EDF – knowing that it is inevitable that some others will take your creativity and criticize it with a heavy pen and hold it to a standard that even a professional would not do.
    Stay true…..

    • Jonathan Pinnock
      Ha! It's been a while since I've had anything published here, and I'd forgotten how much fun the lower half of the page was :)
  • S Conroy

    I really liked the story within a story structure and loved the voice. The end threw me off a little, but I should probably reread.

    • Jonathan Pinnock
      Thank you!
  • Oonah V Joslin

    I like that.

    • Jonathan Pinnock
      Thank you :)
  • Rose Gardener

    This is one of those stories I don’t want to get dragged into thinking about the logistics. I just enjoyed the concept and the character voice which conveyed it so convincingly.

    • Jonathan Pinnock
      Ha :) Thank you!
  • I like the concept of this – two stories in one – but being picky, I think I’d have preferred them to be integrated rather than having one bookending the other. Actually what the heck, the fairy tale element was far more interesting to me than the rest and I’d have been happy with that. Maybe I’m a cheap date 🙂

    • Jonathan Pinnock
      Interesting. Not sure how I feel about that idea, but thanks for the food for thought. Either way, I'm sure you're not cheap at all :)
  • John Towler

    Joining this discussion late, but in the final part of the story the storyteller seems to refute the entire fable he’s just related. He says very specifically that his mother never lived in a hunt, his father never hunted and so what follows (to me) is none of the fairy tale it true. So the logic/mechanics of him having a heart actually made of snow is kind of a moot point.
    He is cold hearted in a metaphorical sense and for whatever reason he doesn’t want his granddaughter to change his nature. You could have a long discussion about why people choose to wall themselves off emotionally from others. There isn’t any clue here about why it’s the case with this particular character. If the origins fairytale could have somehow related to his life/upbringing, maybe it would have shed some light.

    • MPmcgurty
      The first time I read it, I took it metaphorically, but it doesn't work for me. He refutes part of the fairy tale, but why does the snowman-building bother him? "You may think me nothing more than a silly superstitious old fool who would never let anyone in his family build a snowman." We've learned of just the granddaughter, but he says "anyone". Also, while I agree that we could have "a long discussion about why people choose to wall themselves off emotionally from others", we are led to believe his mother betrayed his father, the only clue to why he might be the way he is. Nowhere do we see that his father ever knew, that there was any discontent; it all sounds like a blessed event, a life created in love. He married and had children, then grandchildren. This is a fantasy. It says so in the tags. :)
  • For some reason this story didn’t do much for me, and I’m not sure why. The writing was fine, and it was a decent story, but I came away unfulfilled. The last line seemed awful cliche to me, so I’m sure that’s part of it.

    Even if he’s had issues with snowmen in his past (or one is his father), I can’t see him reacting so cruelly to his granddaughter. It didn’t make any sense to me.

    Thanks for sharing.