She has always loved winter -- the feel of sharp, cold air cutting through her lungs when she steps outside. She likes how dark it is in the morning, how early the sun sets at night like it is too tired to stay out any longer. She loves wearing hats and scarves and thick gloves that make her hands feel useless and clumsy. When it snows, she stands outside with her face up and palms out until she can no longer feel her feet. If she could she would stand out there longer, until winter wrapped its arms around her and her whole body felt like ice. It’s in those moments that she feels him the most — the moments when her breathing slows, and her teeth stop chattering and her skin goes from tingling to numb and the world feels like it is standing still and that if she even breathes she will ruin it.
It’s been two years and she misses him. She misses his cold hands next to hers, misses his long, extravagant stories that always made her laugh. Sometimes, she imagines that the trails of ice outside are for her, bread crumbs for her to follow. Other times, when the snow obscures everything and all she can see is a blur of white around her face, she pretends the snowflakes are the press of his lips against her cheeks. Without him, the house seems too big, like it is trying to swallow her. She finds herself staring into rooms, forgetting why they had wanted such a large house in the first place. By now, she’s gotten used to the quiet, used to drinking her coffee in the morning without anyone asking her what her plans are or trying to kiss her before she has had a chance to brush her teeth. The quiet is nice, or at least that’s what she tells herself.
When she first met him, he warned her not to fall in love with him, not to get attached. She had laughed and assumed it was some kind of pick up line he used to get women into bed and then never call them. But then, he had called and kept calling. He took her out to dinner, let her choose which movie they would watch. It was summertime, and they would go hiking and sit in the shade of the trees and eat cherries and turkey sandwiches that were warm from the sun. The cherry juice would bruise his lips and make it so hard not to kiss him. When she told him that, he laughed and pursed his lips out and kissed her behind her ear in the spot where sweat gathered at her hairline. When they were finished, he would reach out his hand to help her up and the two of them would hike holding hands until their palms were slippery with one another’s sweat. When she told him, she loved him he had shaken his head and chided her for doing the opposite of what he told her, but when he spoke his eyes were shiny and electric.
They moved into a house together that fall, bought a bunch of IKEA furniture that they spent weeks intermittently putting together. They would come home after work, spend their nights drinking wine and trying to make sense of the directions, getting less and less done as the night wore on and the wine kicked in. One night, they build a set of shelves for either side of the TV stand. They thought they had it all set up, but as she put books on one of them, the whole thing collapsed at their feet and the two of them dissolved into laughter. After that, they vowed there would be no more wine while building and eventually made it through the stack of flat, cardboard boxes that filled up the would-be dining room. By winter, they had fallen into their routines one of them would cook or they would get take out. On the weekends they would work on the house and she would mark pages in design books she had checked out at the library to show him.
Then, he disappeared. Which is a tidy way of saying that they found his car in a ditch after a particularly icy patch of road, but never found his body. When it first happened, she found herself listening for the sound of his footsteps coming up the path, the sound of his keys in the lock, the sound of his laughter as he told her about his harrowing, near-death experience and how he had fought mother nature and won. Eventually, she trained herself to stop listening, trained herself to speak of him in past tense, trained herself to stop correcting people when they assumed he was dead. She trained herself to accept that he wasn’t coming back and that she was now alone in the huge house they had yet to finish.
Still, every winter, he visits. She knows that makes her sound crazy, but she knows that it’s him who kisses the glass of the windows and leaves patterns of flowers across them. She knows that he is the one who hangs the icicles from the rooftop and freezes the small pond in the yard until the ice is so smooth it looks like glass. In the winter he is everywhere. She can hear his laugh in the crunch of snow that she shovels from her driveway. She can hear his voice in the wind moving through the trees in her backyard, their skeletal branches shaking and waving like his own arms. Whenever the snow starts to melt, she scoops it up into glass jars that she stores in her freezer, so she has a piece of him all year long. She loves winter, and it is never long enough.