by Alison McCabe
The snowman was not right. The man lay in bed, flannel up to his chin, and peered through the third story window. Outside his apartment, kids skipped in circles around the frozen behemoth. The man stared at the snowman, squeezed his eyes shut, rubbed, opened, and blinked again.
The kids did not concern him, but the snowman, it looked like his wife. Not a vague resemblance, but spitting image, inch for inch, flake for flake. From the pale sloping shoulders to the sharp carrot nose, from the bottom, plenty ample, to the tilt of the frosty head, the man recognized all of it. The snowman, his wife, impossibly one and the same. Of course this didn’t help the man’s mood.
He should call her, he thought, it being the season, but then she’d go on about forgiveness and how he should move back home. The man looked outside again, and couldn’t believe it, the snowman winked. Just like his wife used to do, adorable and sad, when she wanted something she knew he’d be reluctant to give. He looked again at the snowman, and again the wink. Then again, and this time it blew him a kiss.
This was too much. The man tried his best to focus on the TV. A seeing-eye dog nipped by a rabid squirrel. A three-car pileup on Parkway South. An exotic reptile store burned down.
The man called for Oliver to keep him company. The cat jumped onto the bed, the man’s lap, and started punching his groin, as it always did, before settling down for a nap. Oliver was black because the woman at the shelter told the man how no one ever wants the black ones. “Call it superstition if you must,” the woman said, “doesn’t change the fact it’s just plain racist.”
Oliver joined the man after his wife left. Or rather, after the man left his wife. But she’d been the one who had the choice, not him. It was absurd, her loving another, and the other a woman. What man was a man who stuck around for that? There was a word for it, he knew that much.
“You’re allergic to cats,” his wife had said over the phone when he shared news of the adoption. This was five months ago, back when the man still answered her calls.
He was allergic, yes. But he’d read somewhere that, spend enough time with one, your body will adjust. Tolerance can be built.
It was true. He’d been sneezing less.
Another night, his wife had called with “I found your cable knit sweater in the wash.”
Then “they still send Backpacker magazine here each month.”
“You were right about Patricia Cornwell. I can’t put Postmortem down.”
“I was wrong about the hammock. This morning it finally gave out.”
After that the man just let the phone ring. But you know what they say about absence and the soft, acquiescing heart.
Oliver stretched out over the man’s thighs, purred, and eyed the TV.
Police suggested the exotic reptile store fire might have been arson. Someone somewhere was shot nearly twelve times. A man lost to Lake Ronkonkoma again. This time the drowned man was a father, set out to retrieve a remote-controlled boat that had quit mid-lake. This happened every year, or something like it. Some said the lake was bottomless. Some said there was a vortex at its center that sucked them in, always male, usually young and capable swimmers. Some said it was the Lady of the Lake, a Setauket Indian princess who, long ago, had fallen into forbidden love, then suicide, with a white settler, her spirit forever haunting Lake Ronkonkoma where she and her lover had, together, drowned. Always a man, the newscaster said, every year, as if the Lady, still starved for love, pulled them in.
Snow had been falling for four days straight, and the man did not once step outside. Too cold. Too wet. Too bright. Now that snowman, and the neighborhood kids skipping, circling, pulling. Eventually the snowman would melt, the man knew, and he’d have no choice but to go with it. Already the man was certain. Already his thaw had set in.