Soft Hail

Sriya_soft hails.jpg
Photographer Unknown

Jo stormed off the porch and into the lawn. “I couldn’t have handled it better, Richard.” she muttered, rolling her eyes. “It really isn’t my fault that she’s gotten to believe that everything ought to sway her way. You’re the one who lets her have her way in everything. If you ask me, I would say she’s rather spoilt.” That, of course, resulted in Jenna taking off as well. Sulking in the lawn had almost become customary in the household.

It was a chilly day; something the Frasers didn’t see much of; not in their ever-warm, ever-clear neighbourhood. This heightened Jo’s expectations all the more. She was to turn five the next Saturday, and all she wanted was for it to snow that day. “What does my little pie want for her birthday?” Richard had asked her that afternoon. They never were well off, and however hard they tried to work, they could barely make their ends meet. But that didn’t deter them from allowing themselves occasional family trips, though never venturing very far, or treats during festive times, though never at those fancy ones where they treat you like the emperor himself when you arrive, only to flash you a cheque that amounts to your monthly earnings at the end of the meal. The Stokes’ next door were one amongst the flock that visit precisely such places, and not because they appreciate the food there, but because, as Jenna puts it, “they stink of wealth”, and these are the subtle means to portray the same.

Richard expected Jo to demand a stuffed toy, or one of those gown-clad dolls which appear all trim and shiny at the onset, until Jo spends a week with them, and turns them into hideous figurines with multi-coloured pencil smears all over their faces. But even a car would have seemed more feasible than what she actually asked for. It was winter, indeed, but it had never snowed in their locality. To be honest, it had never even snowed in the entire city, and this year was no exception. The TV commercials were all teeming with “winter-wear”, and all of Jo’s cartoons had their characters building snowmen and having snowball fights. But here, the sun shone bright through the tall trees, and even a light coat would suffice after dusk.

Both her parents, startled at her unforeseen wish, tried their best to reason out with her, but in vain. She was as adamant as could be. “Keep the Christmas spirit bright within, Richard.” Jenna tried to pacify. But Richard snapped, and branded his daughter’s desires impractical and unreasonable. Hence, the routine of flouncing and seeking refuge was repeated yet again.

He sat on the worn-out couch, fingered the threads over the dust-covered patchwork cloth, and pictured Jo’s tiny little face, and thought of how disappointed it seemed after his denial. He still didn’t know what fueled the rage within him- her irrational demand or his inability to fulfill them. Maybe Jenna was right when she accused him of getting worked up far too often; maybe his incompetency at work caused him to find an innocent victim to bear the weight of his disappointments. He looked up at the sun which would soon dip below the horizon, and set out through the low gates, which hadn’t been oiled in quite a while, and creaked as he pushed them open, onto the narrow curving road.

As he walked down the path, he cast his mind upon the life they had a few years back, and tried to figure out what went awry in the recent few, when something in the Brooke’s old store on the side of the road caught his eye. It was a scaled-down, messy little place with nothing much to attract buyers, and nothing much for onlookers to appeal. But Richard’s eyes shone with excitement as he approached the grumpy old man at the counter. “How much does this cost?” he asked earnestly. The crabby little man muttered something, just loud enough for Richard to hear. “How does it work, though?” Richard inquired. The man finally looked up, and examined what Richard was pointing at. It was a small glass box, with a tiny plastic snowman inside, and something whitish fell in little flakes from its crest, resembling snow. “You see that little black machine fitted inside at the top? That’s what generates It.” the man answered.

“I see. How many of these toys would you have, now?”

“Quite a few of them we’ve got, I believe; all stocked inside. How many do you need?”

“Umm… Is it in any way possible for you to sell me only the snow-creating machines?”

“No good, sir. You need to buy the entire ones. Who in the world would buy these articles without the snow when they don’t buy them with it? Anyway, if the switch’s on all the while, it’ll snow hardly for three hours.”

“Three hours are all I need, Sir.” Richard checked his wallet. It seemed pretty bare. “I ought to get a discount for a bulk order, don’t I?”

“Sure you do sir.” smiled the man, making his first transaction for the day.

Jo put on her dainty little frock and hurried downstairs, almost tumbling headlong in excitement. “Happy Birthday, Jo!” both of them screamed in unison. Jenna had baked a cake; roughly shaped but smelling delicious nevertheless. “Did you make it snow, dad?” Jo asked, expectantly, expecting the usual rebuke in return. Jenna bit her lower lip and stared at her feet nervously. “Sure I did, sweetheart. Come out and you’ll see.” Richard answered, gazing around the astonished faces.

The guy at the store didn’t lie; it really did last more than two hours. “How did you do it?” Jenna whispered after Jo had fallen asleep that night. Richard told her the entire saga of how he had joint all those machines and used a fan to have them blow a father distance- over the roof and onto the lawn. “Whoa. Wait a minute. When did I switch it on that day?”

“What do you mean?”

“I…I connected the fan and those little pieces but I never switched them on that day.”

“Of course you must have. How else would it snow, Richard? Did you switch it off?”

“No, it wasn’t necessary to switch it off. They just stopped snowing as the machines ran out. But I never switched them on, Jenna!”

Jenna smiled. “Christmas is early this year, Richard. Keep the spirit bright.”

A confused Richard drifted off to sleep, indistinct images of Jo and Jenna under the snowfall flashing before his hazy eyes. Jenna got off the bed and made her way into Jo’s room. She was wide awake on her tiny cot, and got up as her mother entered. “He bought them from Brooke’s store down the road.” Jenna smiled.

“He would have burnt our fan down along with those devices had I not switched it off!” Jo grinned.

 

~Sriya

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