Teardrops of snow danced in the night to the melody of the wind, spiraling toward the earth by the thousands. Angela watched the storm by candlelight from the window in her living room, sipping hot chocolate. She figured the candy cane she placed in her mug had finished dissolving since the roof of her mouth was coated with a peppermint film.
“Come on,” she said, frowning at the snowflakes streaking the glass. “Christmas is tomorrow. Time to let up.”
She stood in the spot where her family’s Christmas tree usually stood. She always considered it to be the perfect location: the wall receded, there was ample room for presents, and, when the tree was decorated, its lights shone like halos on the sidewalk in front of her home. But perfect changed at the beginning of the year, right after Angela and her daughter, Emily, were in a car accident.
The headline in the local paper that followed was chiseled into Angela’s memory: Black ice claims ten-year-old girl on New Year’s Eve.
Angela shivered. The blackness of the ice that took her daughter’s life shot through her veins.
I should’ve put the chains on before leaving the house that night, she thought, swallowing a mouthful of minty sweetness. Then I wouldn’t have lost control. The memory of screeching tires and glass shattering chilled the cocoa in Angela’s stomach. On what planet is it fair for me to sustain a mild concussion when my child pays with her––
She set her mug on the coffee table, eyelids clenched. Cinnamon from the candle nipped inside her nose.
“Remember what Dr. Roth said I should do when I start to blame myself. I must think how Emily would react in this moment.” If there was anyone Angela trusted, it was her psychologist. Dr. Roth was there for her through everything, listening and directing. He was there when her parents passed, during her divorce, and now, as the light of her life needed a bulb replacement.
Counting to three, Angela’s eyes fluttered open. The distortion from tears cleared after two blinks.
“Scales,” she said, gasping. She pressed her palm against the window, clutching at the icy pane as if it was a portal to the past. “Emily loved to compare snowflakes to dragon scales.” The more she thought about it, the more she remembered how Emily compared nearly everything to dragons. The child loved dragons. Her room was practically a dragon museum.
A flake landed next to Angela’s pinky, twinkling. She squinted in order to see her version of a dragon scale, but was blinded by headlights as her neighbor, Harry, pulled into his driveway.
I can’t let him see me. Licking her fingers, Angela pinched the candle’s wick. With her half-empty mug pressed to her chest, she scurried down the hallway. Glowing green, the clock on the wall read 6:05. Dinner time.
For the last three years, Angela and Emily had eaten Christmas Eve dinner with Harry and his son, Taylor. It used to work well, for Taylor and Emily were the same age and classmates. Plus, Harry’s situation was a lot like Angela’s: mid-thirties, divorced, and a devoted parent. But this year she didn’t want to share that meal, nor did she verbally agree to do so. Dr. Roth may have told her being around others during the holidays is therapeutic, but she wasn’t ready for that prescription.
Though she’d expected it, Angela’s heart jumped as three knocks rapped at her door.
The softness of Taylor’s voice bled into her home. “Where is she, Dad? I was excited to ask Ms. Jacobs.”
Sorry, but I don’t want to be asked to dinner. Angela hated how disappointed Taylor sounded, but she just wasn’t ready.
“She might be in bed, kiddo.” Harry’s voice was deep as usual. “But I don’t think she’ll mind.”
Not at all. Please, eat without me. As she listened to the fading sound of footsteps crunching snow, Angela transformed Harry’s guess into fact and headed off to bed.
Christmas morning requires coffee, or so thought Angela as she stirred another teaspoon of cream into her drink. With the ceramic toasting her hands, she walked to the treeless spot in front of her window. She expected to see the aftermath of the storm, but what she saw nearly stole the cup from her fingers.
Standing in her yard, wings spread and roaring, was a dragon built out of snow. It had blue gumballs for eyes, carrots lining its back as makeshift spikes, and sculpted scales that glistened yellow, as if it was a giant snow cone.
Angela practically galloped outside, uncaring of her silk bathrobe and slippers. The dragon’s head reached her waist. Engraved in the powder by its coiled tail were three letters: G.O.D.
“God?” said Angela, teeth clattering.
“It stands for something.” Taylor was standing by his dad’s truck with a blanket draped over his shoulders. He crossed his yard, straightening his glasses, then stopped on the opposite side of the snow dragon. “Last year our teacher asked our class to describe what God means. Emily described Him as the giver of dragons.”
Angela swallowed. The lump in her throat seemed bigger than a bowling ball.
“Are you mad, Ms. Jacobs?” Taylor’s forehead creased. The bottom of his glasses fogged. “My dad and I came by last night to ask for permission, but you didn’t answer. We built it as a Christmas present.”
Kneeling, Angela grabbed Taylor’s hands. The child’s fingers were icicles. “I love it.” She glanced up and spotted Harry standing on his porch, dressed in flannel pajamas. The crisp air reddened his cheeks and hairless scalp.
“Merry Christmas, neighbor,” he said. “Don’t be alarmed by the yellow scales. It’s food coloring, not . . . you know.”
Angela laughed, a tear salting her tongue.
“Will you eat breakfast with us?” asked Taylor.
“I’d love to.” Angela angled her neck to look at the sky. I hope you received your dragon, Emily.
Cody Nowack lives in southwest Montana where he can be found hiking to the tops of mountains, whitewater rafting, snowshoeing, and, in the harsh winter months, huddled next to his fireplace. His love for helping others allows him to create magical stories where all things are possible. He’s represented by literary agent Cyle Young, and his debut novel is currently with publishers.
Merry Christmas to those who celebrate it,
and joy of the season to all.