December 4, 2023 | Rome, Italy


By |2018-03-21T18:26:26+01:00February 16th, 2008|Area 51|
The next day, before the sky caught cold, I answered, “Percy Sledge."

his time of year we demanded snow. We wanted rain’s seizures to stiffen. February should catch cold. Anything to cancel school. It might have been easier just calling the weather number — 966-1212 — but the woman’s droning bored us. “Here,” she said, “is the latest weather forecast for Washington and vicinity.” Once finished, she began again.

We knew always to listen for the magic last line: “The barometric pressure is falling.”

The falling was imperative. Low pressure wooed snow. It took to the lowest number like a clapping infant to a lullaby. Wanting white was a kind of scientific longing.

Most boys didn’t want to go to class because they dreaded math or English, science or geography. Snow spared them. A canceled day felt like a month.

My problem was different. I’d fallen for a girl called Corinne. Corinne had a Swiss mother and an American father. She had brown eyes and brown hair. To me she was perfect. Perfection meant I didn’t need to speak to her. At 12, timidity thwarts adoration. Or confuses it.

Corinne’s locker was close to Phoebe’s which was close to mine. I saw her each morning and each morning she saw me and giggled. Phoebe also giggled. What were these sounds, and were they about me?

One day Corinne talked to me. Did I know the song “When a Man Loves a Woman?” she asked.

I was frightened and mute. She walked away.

The next day, before the sky caught cold, I answered, “Percy Sledge.” It was all I could muster.

She giggled and nodded. So did Phoebe. And they left me at my locker.

Percy Sledge, I said again, this time to no one.

Snow is a formulation of crystals that depends on moisture and dryness to prosper. Fat, wet air changes shape and bears down. If the lower atmosphere is cold, it thrives. Otherwise it dissipates quickly, a pretentious illusion that can’t bear scrutiny. Or refuses it. Call it cowardice.

I went to the record store and bought the song “When a Man Loves a Woman” for 79 cents.

“This for a girl?” smiled the clerk.

Again I was speechless.

“Romantic song,” he continued. I blushed.

By the time I pushed off on my Sears bike the first flakes had begun to fall.

Corinne lived on a street called Butterworth Place. I’d pass her house on my bike, slowing slightly and breathing hard. I never wanted to be seen. Nor could I imagine no one was looking.

That day, snow’s prospects warmed. The neutered woman said the word “falling” and spoke of accumulation. The lower atmosphere promised cold. I’d take the record to Corinne’s house, nudge it behind the screen door, and bike back home through the snow. The next day school would be closed. I’d compose myself. I’d pretend not to be me.

I willed it to be as I wished.

By the time I rode the mile to Butterworth Place the roads had a thin and creamy film that my wheels parted but didn’t melt. The cold, impending night would freeze the film.

Delivering yourself to small terrors is not simple. You must plan ahead. My plan was to hide the bike behind the big maple tree and dash to the door. I’d leave the record in its dark brown bag and rush to back to bike. The note for Corinne read simply “For you.” She would read this missive only when I was safe from consequence and judgment. I could then embroider her certain pleasure.

I came out from behind the maple tree only after many postponements and made a sloppy dash in which I kicked up my heels like a misaligned deer. But when I opened the screen door to leave the damp bag the main door opened.

It was Corinne.

“What are you doing her?”

I said nothing.

“It’s snowing.”

This is for you, I stammered.

She looked inside and pulled out the record, which she inspected like an insect.

“This is nice but I already have it. You can keep it.”

She handed back the bag. “It’s snowing,” she said again. “You should go home.”

Snow hushes. In tropical cities noise is constant. Streets explode. Argument is loud music. But snow makes for subtraction. It’s as if things don’t happen at all.

School was canceled. By the next day, though, the pressure changed. So we resumed our vigil.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.