by Bryan Russell
The Marriage of Summer and Winter
They met in the spring, of course, with blossoms on the trees. January Heights with her hair down, so fey and beautiful, lingering and dancing and singing pale songs in the hollows of the woods. So odd, so different, Nathaniel August thought, so unlike the sun-licked girls of summer.
They were married with garland wreaths around their necks, and January became wide with child, and yet diffident and shy, the wreath withering to a noose. She kept creeping away, hiding in small caverns carved into the trunks of trees. Nathaniel August grew angry as the weeks passed, for he could not find her, hidden away as she was in the womb of an old oak tree, and his mood soured with the growing cold and the coming of winter. He blinked his eyes – the sunlight, reflecting off the new snow, seemed alien and strange.
Nathaniel came suddenly upon January in the woods, dancing, white fingers twining in the air, bare feet spinning through dusts of snow. Nathaniel pointed his gun and shot January, and she fell, her white hair whistling sadly like the wind.
The child, peering from the hollow of a tree, turned and fled, running swiftly into autumn, trailing red leaves like sparks and singing of the end of things.
Where had summer gone? Nathaniel August had slept through it, ignoring the blue skies, the yellow sun, the white clouds. He woke and returned to the clearing to find January. She lay on a bed of leaves, a hole through her, pale and cold and perfect. A layer of clear ice crept over her, lit with winter light.
The wind came from the north, and Nathaniel August sat, waiting, and his skin turned to snow, and his breath flashed to frost in the air, whispering only slowly to the ground – a blanket for his January. Nathaniel’s eyes were dark as coal, and when he opened his mouth to sing a lament his lungs froze, melancholy breath entombed.
The winter was long, the snows cold. But all things pass, and spring crept up, and blossoms came again to the trees, peeking through white shrouds.
Nathaniel’s tongue grew into a flower, a dark stem reaching out, white petals blooming. The petals fell, drifting down to cover January. Warm petals, touched with the heat of memory, melting slowly through the skin of ice. January breathed, pale limbs stretching.
She stood. The sun turned Nathaniel’s shroud of snow to water, and January drank and was refreshed. Beneath the snow was sun-touched skin, warm and brown and tasting slightly of strawberries when she kissed it.
Nathaniel’s breath flowed out, the melancholy air whisked away by the warm breeze, and they looked on each other and smiled. Nathaniel August told her it was fine, so fine, she could sleep through the summer. He would find her again in the autumn, and they would dance in the trees with their spark-haired child and sing of the seasons.