Two days before March, it snowed. It was a rare thing in the South that this much snow ever fell. All the schools had closed in anticipation, and Johanna, a high school teacher in Alabama, had spent the day at home enjoying her free time. She loved it when everyone went temporarily insane at the first forecast of snow. They usually said one of two things.
“We have to buy bread and milk,” which led to traffic jams and high tempers at the grocery store.
“Close the schools! Our roads aren’t equipped for a half-inch of snow!”
Johanna loved it when they said the latter. It meant she got a free day off from school and got paid regardless. Sometimes the schools closed before the snow even started—and sometimes it never snowed.
This time, however, the snow had started at three in the afternoon, and by dusk, a five-inch blanket covered the ground. Johanna had peered out the window all day watching for any possible kids who might be headed toward the one hill in her neighborhood. At six o’clock, she couldn’t stand it anymore. She had to get to the hill before anyone else ruined all that fresh snow.
“I’m going sledding,” she announced.
Her mother raised her eyebrows skeptically. “Well, we’ll see,” she said, as if Johanna were a six-year-old child. Johanna’s mother never wanted her to do anything the least bit risky, whether it be driving home from the movie theatre at night or flying to Europe by herself.
Johanna laughed. “I’m thirty-six. What are you going to do? Forbid me to go outside?”
“Well…” her mother said, smiling sheepishly.
Grabbing her sled, Johanna ran outside and made her way down the street to the only hill in the neighbourhood. She had bought the sled almost a year ago in a clearance sale in anticipation of a good snow. The last big snow had been at least five years ago.
Standing at the top of the hill, Johanna set the sled down and angled it toward the best path. The snow was light and airy. “We used to sled here all the time,” she thought, pushing off down the hill. The cold air whizzed past her face. Back when she had been a child, she had gone sledding with the kids in the neighbourhood.
“With Susanna and Johnathan,” she thought, looking to the right toward the two-story house next to the hill. The sled came to a stop even with the back wall of the house. Johanna picked up the sled and hiked back up the hill, making sure not to step in the path that her sled had made. “And we would always walk back up on the side of the hill because our footsteps would ruin the path our sleds had created and make them go slower.”
Back at the top of the hill, Johanna looked around. No one else was out on this beautiful snowy evening, not even Susanna and Johnathan. Somehow, sledding had been more fun with someone else, with one other living body.
“But I still think it’s fun,” Johanna said out loud, wondering what her high school students would think if they could see her out here sledding like a kid. She threw the sled down and dove onto it headfirst. Using the pathway from her first ride, she went faster and farther. At the bottom of the hill, she rolled off the sled and lay back in the snow, looking up at the snowfall that had accumulated on the pine trees that lined the side of the hill. Gentle snowflakes fell, hitting her face like icy flowers. “Beautiful,” she breathed.
Susanna had been the first to leave. She had gone away to college instead of attending the local university. Johanna had seen her every few months when she would come home, but she was never there when it snowed. Johnathan, younger than his sister by three years, had still called up Johanna to go sledding, if they were lucky enough to get a snowfall, until he had finally moved to take a job a few hours away. Looking to her left, the trampoline in their backyard was rusted with disuse.
“The fun times we had on that trampoline,” Johanna said with a smile. “I wish they had given it to me instead of letting it get this bad. I would still use it.” That was yet another thing that her students would have found interesting; not only did Miss Johanna Marks like to go sledding, but she also liked to jump on trampolines.
Johanna picked up her sled and marched back up the hill, careful not to step on her sled tracks. She slid down the hill a few more times and took a look around her. It was almost night, but the freshly-fallen snow kept everything bathed in light. No one else dared to step foot from their motionless houses, especially from Susanna and Johnathan’s house. Their parents had moved away just last year, leaving their empty house with a FOR SALE sign in the front yard.
Susanna had gotten married thirteen years ago and Johnathan ten years ago. Now, whenever Johanna looked online— (“Haha, back then we didn’t even know what the Internet was,” Johanna thought with a smile.) Now, when she looked on the Internet, Susanna could be seen in a perfect world—throwing a party for her best friends, on vacation in Madagascar, at the hair salon looking glamorous, hosting a baby shower, or posing for a photoshoot with her kids.
“And here I am still sledding down the hill,” Johanna said, feeling very juvenile compared to Susanna. “Despite the fact that I’m getting married next week.”
She grinned and pushed off for one last ride down the hill, for old times’ sake, in case she never got another chance to go sledding, in case it never snowed again in Alabama, in case she ever got too busy and started to forget about those good times they’d had up here on the hill.
The sled started down the worn path in the snow and then veered off course midway down the hill.
“I’m starting a new path,” Johanna thought.
She slid past the end of Susanna and Johnathan’s house, past the rusted trampoline, and past the edge of their backyard.
“But I won’t forget the old one,” she promised, the sled finally grinding to a halt.
This time she went further than ever.
Rebecca Linam’s writing has appeared in several publications including, Bumples, The Spadina Literary Review, The Caterpillar, Stinkwaves Magazine, The Write Place at the Write Time, Lights and Shadows, Fictive Dream, Spaceports and Spidersilk, and Balloons Literary Journal.