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Gail Ylitalo

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Snow Angel
By Gail Ylitalo
Monday, September 08, 2003

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A ten-year old girl gazed out of her bedroom window at the twenty inches of newly fallen snow. With pen in hand, she decided to write about why she didn't like snow. She thought about the homeless people she'd seen on television the night before and wrote, "If you are poor and live in a box you could freeze to death."

Another cold winter's night found a solitary being, mumbling to itself, slowly edging along a darkened building. Its movement was almost methodical as frozen fingers searched for a resting place. At first the form appeared to be of no gender but, upon closer inspection, a woman's face peered out from under a ragged shawl wrapped around the head. She stared into a black void, filled only by grayish pieces of a memory, paying no attention to the few pedestrians who quickly averted their eyes from this pathetic reminder of life's happenstance.

Over time Ada had developed an immunity towards the cold. It wasn't because she was well protected from the icy wind or the plump, white flakes that fell in a frenzy from the heavens. Her coat was threadbare and tattered. What remained of the thin fabric afforded no protection from the icy storm. Underneath this stained and torn relic, she wore a faded, yellow dress some pitying soul had given her last summer when she'd stumbled into a prayer meeting at a halfway house.

Ada had stayed for the meeting, uttering the appropriate "amens", as her dark brown eyes searched the many faces for some kind of spiritual sign. She wanted some vindication for her existence. Survival had meant brief retrospection of the past. This had carried her through the many years since she'd walked away from that cinder block house where her spirit, along with her jaw, had been fractured.

The halfway house was one of the many places her dirty, partially covered feet had traversed. The refreshments, what there were of them, consisted of stale cookies and watered down Kool-Aid. Ada had filled the J.C. Penney shopping bag, recently found behind a dilapidated gas station, with handfuls of cookies and a clean smelling dress. She'd told no one in particular that she had to visit a friend and proudly hobbled out the front door. She did not put the dress on until the shirtwaist she'd been wearing had worn itself away from the frail body. "Waste not, want not," she had often declared to those waiting at the bus station, a place where she'd go to attend to her weekly ritual of sink bathing.

Ada struggled through the cold as her mind drifted. She compared herself to a hoarfrost crystal. She was like those fragile crystals that endured the planet, the pain, for a very brief time. The shrouded night offered her no absolution. She found only a tomb of reclamation. Ada could not separate herself from the moment—she'd been through a lot of moments in her forty-five years. The voices were there, and she anxiously searched them out. Words, like the frost on the snowflakes, were tugging at her weakened spirit.

When a coughing spell struck, Ada stopped and leaned against the side of a deserted building for support. Her mind cleared for a time then her body was racked with chills. She stared intently at some shadow in the night, and ever so slowly a smile appeared on the wrinkled weary face. "So you've come at last—my angel," she whispered, her voice hoarse and tired. "May I rest a little while?" Sliding down the wall, she awkwardly dropped onto a snow-packed mound. Ada straightened out her clothes, crossed her outstretched ankles, and hugged the shopping bag to her breast.

A part of her seemed to meld with another era. Her thoughts floated to that special place in time that had given her life so much promise. "I would like to thank everyone here tonight for this award. Writing is all I ever wanted to do. My words, in the past, have often failed to express the human condition—the essence of life. We are all connected by our dreams and desires. This award gives me the courage to keep trying to write about the heroes of this imperfect world."

Ada stopped and then tried to laugh, a weak, mewing sound that no living being would ever hear. She shook her head and blamed only herself for the circumstances she was in. How easy it was to believe! To fall victim to her own choices! This was her life, and all she had to show that she was here was slowly being covered, like herself, in snow. She started to cough again, a deep rattle that shook the contents of the bag. She clung to it in the vain hope that what it represented would somehow keep her from dying friendless—alone. Now too weak to stand or brush the snow off herself, Ada closed her eyes and let the memory sustain her. The applause caused her heart to pound; her erratic pulse filled her ears and caused her temples to throb. Sweat formed on the palms of her hands as she looked out into a sea of eyes. Young Ada was on top of the world! She carefully walked to the podium to receive the award. A poor girl had done it—had written better than her contemporaries. Others would now read the story she'd so painstakingly written. Ada had cherished this fifteen minutes of fame and had vainly attempted to fulfill her dream—but that was before Willie. Her husband did not hold the same visions as Ada.

Ada found that she could no longer open her eyes. They were glued shut by the ice and by frozen tears. Blindly she fumbled around in the bag until she found the plaque, wanting to hold it one more time. A quiet peace gave her spirit an inner warmth. She sighed, wheezed, and spoke softly to the swirling mass of white figures that had come to pay her homage. There was no ridicule here. Acceptance and a respite from the sorrow were all she truly needed. "I tried; I really did, and if I'd been stronger, Willie would've never destroyed that need to create. I let him take it all away. I can understand it now. I have only myself to blame—no one else.

New tears pushed their way through the frozen mass that had become her face. They edged downward to blend with the crystal flakes that now encased her like a coffin. The writer inside her longed for the release that death offered. The word "failure" had haunted her too many years. She'd never regretted walking away from her husband's house on that beautiful autumn day. He'd caused her to lose her self-respect, and for that she could never forgive him. She'd survived on the streets by never looking back and never looking beyond a day. The voices were growing louder—sweet murmurings from far away—away from the pain and decay that had become her constant companions.

"Yes, I'm coming—I think it's safe now." She slumped forward as the plaque slipped away from the blue fingers. The snow continued to fall as a silence that seemed spiritual stood guard over the newly formed snow angel. Tomorrow will not find Ada among the living. Unnoticed in life and in death, there will not be a pause in life's daily struggle to reflect upon the death of a homeless woman; and the laughter of children will hang in the air as they make snow angels in this winter wonderland.

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Reviewed by m j hollingshead 2/17/2004
poignant read
Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 9/8/2003
Sad write; but very well done! Excellent! :( (((HUGS))) and much love, your Texas friend, Karen Lynn. >tears < We must do ALL we can to help our poor and homeless! They are people too, and they deserve our help and compassion!

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