Snow

by janeeatonhamilton

“Kaleidoscopic with fever. How many times hospitalized? Five, seven, nine? The hospital a place when I gave up, where I could give up, where giving up was the only possibility towards recovery. Me, white. The room around me, white. The curtains, white. The bedsheets, white. The nurses, white, in white uniforms and white shoes. The silting silting air white. My skull the white bone bars of an aviary; in it, white birds whitely swung on white perches while singing the whitest of songs by Sato Chiyako, Kuro Yori No Hana. Illnesses vague as snowflakes, white as snowlashes: there, then vanishing, then there again, then vanishing, until I could go home with my reluctant mother who hated to leave. Allergies, perhaps, or asthma, or an infection lurking in the dark shadows under my icicle skin, an interior boil filled with the pus of my living.

In order to see a thing, you need its opposite.

She cared for me the entire time I was hospitalized, leaving the other youngsters with a babysitter named Mrs Sumiko. At night she slept on a cot much lower than my bed, tossing under thin white sheets and white bedcovers and moaning when nurses with blood pressure cuffs, thermometers and stethoscopes woke me to see how well I was sleeping. Sometimes she would sit bolt upright and say, in nearly flawless English, “My daughter, how she is?”

And I knew I was loved.

She smoked leaning against the windows looking down at the parking lot. She could see winter from my window through the morning haze of her smoke, the sleeting sideways snow, the window crystallizations. Once, she brought me a snowball and placed it in my feverish hand until my fingers went numb.

And I knew I was loved.

In the morning, Kaachan pulled the white curtain and while I sat up, coughing from my weakened lungs, she unbuttoned my white cotton pajamas and slipped them from my shoulders. Tenderly, she pushed me down and lifted my hips so she could slide my bottoms off. I saw myself as if I was looking down from the white ceiling, each tile with holes the size of snowflakes, a scrawny child lost in a snowfall of sheets, my nipples the centres of cracking ice, my cleft the large footprint of a goose. Shoulders round balls, hip bones snow hills, knees knobby with moguls. She bent across two metal pans, one with soap suds, one with brook-clear water, two clean sponges floating. Devotedly, she washed me. My face first, her sponge nearly hot against my already hot head, my sizzling cheeks, but soon shivery cold, and as the sponge moved downwards, I puckered into gooseflesh and only wanted it all to be over so I could crawl back into my snow cave of white sheets. Rolling to my stomach, the process repeating, neck to toes, the sponge across the thin white ice of my back, across my buttocks like icicle scratches, down my legs prickly as ice skates, across my feet like chunks broken off ice flows.

The snap of fresh sheets.

And I knew I was loved.”

–Jane Eaton Hamilton, novel excerpt, “Snow”