21st January

A Wintry Tale

It’s snowing again, hard. You wonder how it cannot be snowing everywhere else. How can the sun be toasting people lying on beaches? How can there be a dry wind blowing sand across deserts? The snow is falling, thick and steady and constant, and what you can see of the sky is full of more snow – so much that it must surely fall for days, burying pavements, benches, bushes, bicycles, cars, trees, houses. You look through the window and it is hard to imagine it ever stopping.

Yet a man came by this morning who lives six miles to the north, and he scoffed at the paltry depth of what’s lying here. ‘Call this snow?’ he said, and boasted of eight-foot drifts around his house. After calling on you his job was going to take him up one of the glens. He might not make it, he conceded, if the ploughs had not been up that road, and perhaps even if they had. The folk in the glen would scoff at the snow he has.

You are reminded of a story written by a famous writer, set in one of those glens. It was the last story he ever wrote, and it had a subtitle: A Wintry Tale. The narrator, a minister, is keeping a diary, a record of his life during the weeks in which the glen is ‘locked’, by which he means when, because of the snow, no one who is in the glen can get out, and no one who is out can get in. That phrase, ‘the glen is locked’, has always appealed to you. In the story, this is the prelude to doubt, delusion and madness.

Six pigeons and a blackbird are sitting in the naked branches of the birch tree in the garden. Earlier they fed off crumbs and seeds on the bird-table. What are they waiting for now? Their shapes are silhouettes in the afternoon light. Are they waiting for it to stop snowing?

You go back to the screen, type and shape these words; ponder whether you are saying anything of any use or interest. When you turn back to the window, all the birds have gone.

Reader: Kirstin McLean
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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