Stones lay on the slope like crumbs fallen from a giant’s mouth. Stones to kick, stones to climb, stones in between. It was twilight. You were wandering up the hill when you saw something burning drop behind the peak. You thought it was space junk falling back to earth. Wouldn’t most people call it a shooting star? you asked me once, before I understood what you meant by it.
From the top of the hill you could see me, naked and looking around. You ran to me, gave me your jacket, asked me questions. I had no words.
The only building anywhere around was the cabin you were staying in. I remember that first time I smelled it and that first time I smelled your bed sheets. In the night I was woken by thunder and lightning. I came to the couch where you were sleeping. We stood in the window watching each flash reflect off dancing white flakes. “Snow,” you said. I thought that snow must be the word for wonder.
In the morning, I learned more words as you and I ate “oatmeal” and got “dressed” to go “outside.” I wore your “jacket,” “snow pants,” and “mittens.” You wore a “flannel coat” and “snowmobile gloves” someone had left in the cabin. We made a “snowman” and you talked to me about things I don’t remember because I couldn’t understand.
The next day, we drove the two hours to town. The store at the landfill had a brown parka that fit me, so we bought it. Then we went to the thrift store. “Who’s this?” the woman asked.
“A friend,” you said. I didn’t have a name yet.
I tried things on. When I started to undress between the racks, you showed me the dressing room. I tried on that first outfit and sat there, dressed and alone, until you brought me out and turned me around in front of a cracked mirror. You talked with the woman working the shop. She rubbed her nose. You bit your pinky. Then both of you went to the racks to pick new things.
On the car ride home, you asked me what I wanted to be called.
“Snow,” I said.
I was learning quickly. By the time we went to that wedding in that church by the river, I could have a conversation. A lot of people asked me, Where are you from? The man who got married—the groom—asked, “So, uh, Snow, what’s your relationship with M——?”
I said, “Live in cabin.”
I didn’t know what he meant.
“You and M——, in the one cabin?” He made a roof with his hands. “Same cabin?”
He smiled in a way that I did not understand.
You grabbed my arm and pulled me away. “Congratulations,” you said to him as we went to find our coats and boots. For a while after that I thought “Congratulations” meant, Stay away from me, or maybe, I’m leaving. The bride came over in her big, sparkling dress and asked us if we had to go, and you just stared at your feet entering your boots as if putting on boots was brand new to you, as if you weren’t the one who had taught me to put my boots on. Your ears were glowing like the elements on your stove, so to check if they were very hot I licked my finger and touched one like you had shown me, but you slapped my hand away.
You apologized to me in the car. You explained blushing. You explained how when the bride and groom met, that was the end of your last relationship. I did not understand, so you tried to explain to me about love with sex and other types of love. I asked if I loved you. “Maybe the way a child loves a parent,” you said.
“We will do sex?” I asked.
“That isn’t that type of love.”
That felt okay.
One night, I had a dream that I was high above the earth, but coming towards it. When I woke, I went and lay on the ground along the front of the couch. In the morning you found me lying there. I said, “Sleeping, I saw,” I ran my hands across an imaginary plain.
“The ground?” you asked, tapping the floor of the house.
“Yes, but outside,” I pointed.
“I,” I held one hand above my head and let it fall towards the floor.
“You were falling?”
“You had a dream. When you sleep and see things, that is called dreaming.”
“Sometimes we dream about things that have happened to us.”
“In your dream, were you inside of something? Like a ship?”
When I finally understood what you meant, I shook my head.
You turned as though looking at me hurt your eyes.
That day we went for a walk out by where you found me. There was still just moss and scattered rocks.
Because that night I asked you to stay with me, we started sleeping in the same bed.
One day, you took me to the hot springs by the Takhini River. We bathed in the warm water while cold summer rain fell on our faces.
On the way back, we stopped at a place that rented movies. You picked one called E.T. While we watched, you got up many times. At first it was to get snacks, or go pee. Then it was just to get up. I couldn’t imagine wanting to leave my seat. When E.T. was over, you said, “So.”
“Pee,” I said, rushing to the toilet.
When I got back, you were standing by the window, looking at the sky and the mossy hill. I joined you.
“You don’t remember anything from before you arrived here, do you?”
I closed my eyes and played my life back like it was E.T., but there was only this place, here, with you. When I told you this, you made your mouth smaller. I felt an invisible hand press against me, holding me where I was.
“Really?” you said.
You nodded, too, but you didn’t look at me. You were standing still, but I felt you getting smaller and smaller like you were drifting backwards.
We stayed in this cabin and we slept in the same bed and you continued to teach me words and meanings. When the first snow came, I called you to the window, but that blank time before I met you was still bothering you.
I still do not know why it mattered, but I wanted so badly to know how I arrived here so that I could tell you and bring you back to me.
Things were like that for a long time.
Toronto, Aug. 2015
Emoji sequence: Paul Saltzman, of Sunrise Films Limited, who has one of the largest Wikipedia entries of anyone who has participated in this project.
Story: Lee Sheppard