A trail in the snow, p.1
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       A Trail in the Snow, p.1
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           Bernard Fancher
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A Trail in the Snow


  A Trail in the Snow

  by

  Bernard Fancher

  Copyright 2011 Bernard Fancher

  All Rights Reserved

  The story that follows is fiction.

  *********

  A Trail in the Snow

  The tail of each ski lifted and flopped alternately in turn as he sprinted. Taking long strides, extending with each one the lead on his brother, he raced between stubble-cut cornrows along a wide trail of packed snow, ribbed like a washboard. Approaching exhaustion, he coasted at last, gliding off the high ridge of the field down a slight slope, following the trail as it veered towards the sun and the start of a steep run at the field’s edge. But instead of descending further, he slid to a neat stop on a small ledge at the end of the field and, bending over his poles, waited to recover his breath as his brother caught up.

  For a minute neither of them spoke and Will felt his heart’s pulse like a small bird pecking insistently at the side of his neck. When the sensation subsided he straightened and looked into the bare limbs of a blue beech tree situated directly before the sun. The smooth branches and fine twig ends captured the light, holding it centered and immobile in a circle of sparkling web. Behind the tree a truck came up the near hill road, and, while still looking up towards the sky, Will listened to it crest, heard the motor’s temporary suspension of momentum as the transmission engaged a higher gear, before resuming the work of propelling the truck, moving it gradually faster until it emerged from a thin line of trees. He lowered his eyes and watched as the truck engaged an even higher gear, quartering away on a diagonal, until eventually it disappeared into the quiet.

  Only then did he allow himself to look and see how smoothly the sledders, now gone, had packed the run directly below. Halfway down the hill, someone had constructed a small snow ramp, an obstacle they would have to go around. To avoid it they could go either to the right and risk the trees, or go left where there was slightly more room. But lower down on that same side waited the concrete abutment jutting out uncomfortably close to the run from the near end of the old cow barn. Will decided, without considering the alternative, to pass alongside the trees where there was plenty of room as long as you didn’t make a mistake and fall down.

  I’ll go first, he said.

  All right, said his brother.

  But still neither of them moved. Will continued to look down the hill and beyond where the run leveled out into a field bordered at the far end by a rail fence. A square mustard-color stucco house stood a little beyond the fence while a green house, the last on the street, stood all alone on the left. Across the street from the stucco house stood the white Methodist church with its steeple tapering above the bare treetops. Will looked at the steeple and a little higher beyond it at the long serpentine curve of Grindstone Road going up the hill beyond the still hidden creek.

  All right then, said Will. He gripped his poles harder and pushed down on them, anchoring himself as he slid his skis back and forth to loosen them in the snow. When he was ready he sucked in a deep breath and pushed off the little ledge.

  The run came at him fast; he bent his knees only a little until past the ramp towards the bottom of the hill he crouched into a low tuck, the poles up under his arms and trailing behind like vestigial wings. The momentum from the hill took him all the way to a fence of thick pilings at the far edge of the small field at the bottom. To the left stood a tarpaper shack with a near windowpane of dull tin and a dark hole where a smokestack had once been. A driveway went down a steep slope behind the last house to the road opposite the shack. The house of mustard stucco stood directly ahead.

  He turned to wait for his brother, who pushed off from the top of the hill and proceeded around the ramp close by the concrete projection near the end of the barn. He made it look dangerous and then easy as he came across the field and then the two of them stood quietly together and watched as a purple snow machine followed after them down the slope, cutting a wide turn in the field, leaving a looping trail in the snow before returning back up the hill.

  Who is that? The woman who asked stood at the back door of the mustard color house holding a broom, looking beyond them towards the high fields from where they had come. But neither Will nor his brother could tell her who had followed them down, so after another few seconds of waiting she whisked a layer of snow powder from the top step and went back into the house, while the sound of the machine faded away behind them into nothing.

  As they continued toward the road, Will remembered the people who lived in the low grey house on the other side of the drive opposite the mustard house. The man had died some years before and, remembering, Will recalled Sunday mornings as a child when his parents sang in the choir; he’d been made to sit in a pew between the man and his wife. Will hadn’t liked the man but he liked the widow, and now he wondered idly as he passed the house how she was getting along. Someday he thought he might stop to see her. Not today, though.

  He got to the road first and stepped out on it, walking with the tips of his skis raised, trying not to get dirt embedded in the wax on the bottoms. He felt like the deer he had once seen crossing a paved lot, transformed from an agile animal into an awkward tentative beast.

  Where the back corner of the church jutted almost out the road the church sidewalk began. Will felt instantly agile again as he began gliding on it and passed the side door and remembered for some reason it would be locked now in response to somebody taking the little walnut table that used to stand by the door going from the back of the church into the sanctuary. He remembered the story of how as a little girl old Missus Shucknecht put her offering pennies in the little carved bowl situated where the legs curved in under the polished white marble tabletop and then he remembered the weekend all the family members came for the viewing and dinner at the house where she’d lived, all the years he could remember, before dying. He remembered standing on the snow trail in the woods behind the house watching the family enter that day, and suddenly he felt sad—but then, almost as quickly, sadness left him as he turned the front corner of the church and started up the sidewalk going along Liberty Street towards the post office and main part of town. He noticed the gable end of one of the houses with its cut-out stars and moons in the arches and then they were crossing the road going away from the post office towards the creek, passing the façade of a pewter-colored tin building with three plate windows; upon the center one, in a wide arc, were painted fancy gold leaf words, advertising: Groceries and Dry Goods, beneath which in small black letters appeared the staid coda: Burton Negus, proprietor.

  Will remembered going into the store only twice, the first time as a young boy with his father. He remembered the long narrow board floor and the large cake of cheese kept under a clear cover on a thick wood table and the white butcher wrap paper ripped from the roll at the counter and a tapered cone holding the string that tied the wedge of cheddar his father had purchased that day. He remembered the second time, too, a dozen or so years later when he stopped with his boss and another man to get something to drink with their lunches. He and the other man bought Cokes, but the boss selected a paper quart of milk which he tipped back and took a big long drink from when they sat down on the grass to eat. When it turned out the milk was spoilt, he spewed what he could of it out, cussing and saying if he were a lesser Christian he’d take what remained of the carton and throw it back in the store.

  But that man had since died and so had the store owner, and the store itself had been closed for some time now. Still it was a funny memory and Will was glad to have it, as well as the others of those times and those people and this place. He started across the bridge high over the creek far below and remembered crossing the older wooden bridge as a boy holding o
nto his father’s hand while looking down from the plank walkway to the cold creek and glass-green nearly frozen falls far below. And then a year later the lime truck tried to cross with too big a load and collapsed it. He remembered the truck holding to the edge of the far bank by its front wheels, allowing the driver to climb out and escape.

  Instead of turning down Claybed Road, the brothers decided by an exchange of a few words that amounted to nearly an act of mental telepathy to proceed across the intersection and up another hundred feet or so where, veering from the small field adjacent the near side of the old granary known in its last incarnation as the firing range before its sideways lean necessitated it be padlocked and abandoned. They crossed Grindstone Road and went up the snow-covered driveway to the small house at the top of the rise. The woman inside waved to them through the kitchen window as they removed their skis and planted their poles in the snow. Climbing to the front door on temporary steps made of stacked cinderblocks, Will lifted the heavy pewter knocker and let it fall hard, adding two softer knocks to soften the blow.

  From inside, a voice Will recognized as the woman’s
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