It was the baby’s first snow. He was six months old that winter, a lovely baby, the apple of his young parents’ eyes. They would have other children, with other spouses, but he would always be the first.
In the old farmhouse that backs the scene, which belonged to his father’s family, there is a narrow dark room on the second floor redecorated with baby wallpaper: the only room in the house that would ever be papered. As the baby grew and became a little boy and then a big boy, he would spend weeks in that room, in winter and in summer, with his father and his father’s new wife and their other children. He would not remember sitting in the box tied to the sled with his mother when he was six months old. When he sat in that box on the sled with his mother, his father was away, working in the city.
The girl—the mother—is smiling, but it was a difficult time for her. The baby, like all babies, woke up a lot at night, soaking wet and crying, and after she went to him, she had trouble going back to sleep. There was a tree outside her window, and every night, she heard something clawing its way up the trunk. She didn’t want to look out and besides, it was dark. She was afraid to shine her flashlight into bright, feral eyes. Gripped by the sound, she couldn’t go back to sleep, and so when the baby woke at dawn, she was already exhausted.
Finally she asked a kind neighbor for sleeping pills, and after that she didn’t hear the scratching.
Years passed, and only the farmhouse remained unchanged. The baby’s parents separated and divorced when he was still almost a baby, and both married other people. There were all the usual confusions and painful adjustments, or non-adjustments. The idyll was gone, if it had ever existed.
What is the value of the past when it is long overlaid by the chaos of the present? There are memories, there are photos in old scrapbooks, there are words on a screen that represent, to some degree, love, loss, heartbreak, and the ruthless continuation of life. There is the girl, and the baby, and the sled: that much remains. Perhaps there is something more.