My brothers and I burrowed in the snow
for hours, digging a cave so large
that two or three could sit inside.
But there were five of us, and
I was the smallest and least
welcome, so I waited to explore
our tunnel in the snow when no
one was there to push me out.
I crawled inside in late afternoon,
the graying evening, when
the boys had gone in the house
to peel off their layers of soggy
coats and sweaters, to set
their hats, gloves, boots by
the woodstove, for the musty
smell of wet wool to fill the room.
As they warmed up in the kitchen,
the cave was mine. Someone had
stuck stubby white candles into ledges
scooped out of the snowy walls.
Finding a match, I silently lit each wick
and lay down, the white crystalline roof
glowing above me while the world
outside darkened and stilled.
Through the winters of my childhood,
I waited for the snow to pile again
so high, past my knees, my waist,
deep enough to contain me.
But each snowfall was a fresh
disappointment that could never
measure up to the beauty of ’78,
that storm so magical for a child
to climb inside and find sanctuary.
I don’t remember our cave melting, but
I can picture the roof giving in, the sides
melting away, drip by drip in the winter sun,
until only the oblong remains of the walls
stood in fresh mud like the ruins
of a temple, and then even they
disappeared into memory.
It was decades before I felt another snowfall
like that, and when it came I had children
of my own who, with drifts up to their thighs,
spent hours burrowing and digging,
packing and shaping the snow until they
had a glittering cave large enough
to crawl inside. As afternoon turned to eve,
my youngest, a year older than I had been,
lay down inside the fortress we had built.
As her sister went in to warm by the gas stove,
outside for a small girl in the snow,
the quiet night stilled and glistened.
Ann E. Wallace, PhD, writes about traumatic memory, family, loss, and illness. Her work has recently appeared in Intima, Wordgathering, The Literary Nest, Mothers Always Write, Coldnoon, The Same, as well as Eunoia Review. She is an English professor at New Jersey City University and can be found on Twitter: @annwlace409.