"Can the fish see the snow falling?" Clara asked, looking into the half-frozen pond, crouched on her knees; I standing next to her, compacting a snowball in the palms of my gloves, preparing to snowball Ms. Kennedy's cats. Sleek and long with matted whiskers, spitting and hissing, they would slink through Ms. Kennedy's garden and Clara and I, the hunters with our stove-pipe hats bobbing behind us, would run after those felines and bombard them with snowballs until their tan fur was soon caked white. I often went for the greens of their eyes...
Clara would sometimes participate, but showed little or no excitement as I did.
"I'm not sure," I reply, eyeing one of those cats tip-toeing by through the snow-capped bushes. "What do you think?"
"I'm not exactly sure, either," Clara said, standing up and brushing the snow from her knees.
"Shh! There's one!" I tell her. I bend down behind a bush, Clara sighs and bends down beside me. The cat hears the movement our snow suits make rubbing together and stops dead in its tracks, staring in our direction. We were very quiet. I hold my hand up in warning. There is a crystalline silence now and the bitter December winds slice and gnaw at my ears. Clara pokes me in my side. "Stop." I whisper.
The snowball was beginning to break and melt in my hand so I threw its remains, but it misses the cat. It takes off, sluicing on its bottom. Now we stood like lost travelers at the edge of the pond as a silent, one-clouded piece of Heaven drifted by us and unzipped, releasing its innards: Snow. I turn to Clara and ask: "Do you wanna' post a snowball through Mrs. Clemintines' mailbox?"
"Nah...Let's make snow angels!"
She fell to the ground and began to bat and flail her arms and legs up and down, trying to make what would look like the perfect snow angel in the snow. I did the same. Soon, we stopped. We lay there looking at the pencil-gray sky and let the snowflakes fall onto our faces and to bespeckle our dark clothing and we spoke to each other, which was when I was convinced that Clara was somewhat strange.
She has been my friend for awhile now-- ever since the fourth grade-- but I never knew how peculiar she was until I had begun to socialize with her more often now that school was delayed a few days because of this inclement weather. I mean 'peculiar' very loosely, though. Her questions were very well thought-out and very unique. She was always a quiet girl-- inside of school and out.
"We should be getting back home now, Clara," I suggest.
"Don't you love the snow, Jim?" She asked me, still looking up.
"Of course I do. It's just getting a little bit too cold now, don't you think?"
"No. That's not what I mean. I mean the snow, it's so beautiful. So clean. Ever wonder why all the flakes are shaped like that?"
"I do, but I can never seem to figure it out."
"Ok, I'm ready. I'm so cold I can hardly feel by butt," I say, preparing to stand up and leave.
"Wait, Jim. Ever think--"
"No, Clara, I don't think of all these things all the time like you do. I don't care, really."
Clara turned and looked at me quizzically. "What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing. It's just that you ask me all these weird questions and I never know what to say. Yeah, you're clever for thinking of them and you're pretty observant, but I just don't know the answers and don't know why you ask ME anyway? I don't know!"
"I was just asking, Jim. I thought you DID know. There's no need to get all mad...Could I ask you one other question, though?"
I rolled my eyes. "Go ahead. It's probably going to be something off the wall, but what the hell. I can guarantee ya' I won't know the answer, though. And when you're done, we're leaving!"
Ghosts whooed like owls through the trees and I swore I could see monster eyes harbored from within the woods across the street. Clara smiled and asked: "What would you do if a whole heard of elephants were running after you?"
"That's just stupid," I reply.
"Yeah, it is, kinda' but what would you do?" She asked, still watching the sky. Her face was becoming red from the falling flakes. They piled and outlined her face. She never looked at me.
"Well, I'd do what any normal person would do and run. There. Happy?" I ask throwing my hands up and then letting them hit my sides. Another hefty gust of wind blew through the trees and the snow blew to one side. The sounds it made were hellish; it sounded like a wheezing, web-footed old man in a stagnant cave.
The hackles on my arms and on the back of my neck rose, either from the wind and its noises or from the look on Clara's face now: probably both. Her eyes... Why did she let the snow fall on her face like that and not wipe it off? Doesn't it burn?
"Hear that wind?" Clara asked as if she had just heard it.
"Yes...now, please, can we please go now?" I got up and so did she.
We walked back down the worn trail we had taken to get to the pond; I leading the way and Clara lagging in the rear. Our walk back to the main street of houses was quiet. Neither of us said anything to each other. The whole walk I thought of Clara, her weird questions, her eyes and why I hadn't noticed her like this before.
I wondered what SHE was thinking. Perhaps she was thinking of me or how many hairs there are on the human body...
The visibility was harsh and I could barely make out the houses on the street. No one-- or nothing-- was on the roads, but I could make out something in the distance breaking the dense sheets of snow. When I realized what it was, I stepped to the side and let them pass; my mouth hung open in awe; Clara standing next to me smiling as if she were proud. As if she knew something.
The elephants, iron-flanked and screaming, clanked and tromped through the scudding snow right past us. I closed my eyes and said some words to the close, holy darkness, then opened them again. And when I did, the elephants were gone...and so was Clara.
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