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.