Sean was in his front yard making a snowman. I couldn't believe it. The guy was in high school. We'd been neighbors for years, ever since my dad died and me and my mom moved to Elgin Street. Sean and I went to the same elementary school and high school and even the same hockey club until Sean finally got a job. We were always buddies -- playing football and hockey and stuff -- but I don't know whether you could call us friends. We just didn't seem to click, you know. When he was into the Beatles, I was playing Tchaikovsky. When I was reading Ovid's Metamorphoses, he was subscribing to the Globe and Mail. When he said it was black and white, I said it was a rainbow. We hardly saw each other anymore except when he was out mowing the lawn or something. And now he was building a snowman. He's the last guy I figured would do something like that.
"Where are you going, Ryan?" Mom called down the stairs as I put on my purple and green toque and opened the front door.
"Back in a minute," I said.
I could see the snow by the street light coming down in big flakes the size of toonies. Whatever it landed on -- lawn, street, cars, sidewalk, buses, trees, houses -- was slowly transforming into a homogenous sea of melted marshmallow. Not a speck of grass was visible in anybody's yard except for that one house directly across the street where the snow had been completely cleared. That was Sean's house and that was Sean in the front yard busily shoveling the last bit of snow off his sidewalk and carrying it over to the giant snowballs he had erected, one on top of the other, like a monolith of white on his green front yard.
Grabbing a handful of snow, I crouched down and snuck up behind the neighbor's yellow Volvo, now completely white from the five inches of snow that covered it. The snow was heavy and packed -- perfect for making snowballs. I should know. I made the hardest snowballs and had the wickedest shot in the neighborhood, until I grew up. With a few squishes of my gloved palms, the snow was packed -- round and solid. I lobbed it over the car. It splattered on the cement walkway.
Sean stood up and looked around. He couldn't see me. I lobbed another one over. This time it hit him. I started to laugh.
"I knew it was you, Biz," Sean said.
That was a name I hadn't heard in a long time. I got it in grade six for being the king of Bizmania in a war game. I lost the game, but the name stuck.
"Yeah, so what, Muff?"
Sean didn't answer. I don't think Sean ever liked that nickname but that's what you get for eating bran muffins every lunch hour for three hundred days of the year.
"Don't you think you're a little old to be building a snow man?" I continued.
Sean knelt down and began work on his snowman's head. "I'm not. I'm shoveling the walk."
"It's not bad," I said as I sighted the snowman with my thumb. "But she's not big enough."
Sean picked up the head and carefully placed it on the body. "What? He's taller than me."
"That's not saying much. She's got to be bigger."
"It's just a snowman," Sean said in his matter-of-fact tone.
"Real big," I mumbled half to myself.
We used up every bit of snow in my back yard rolling a giant snowball. By the time it was done, it was too heavy to lift -- even for the both of us. Considering that, in high school, Sean could curl seventy pounds and I could curl just a few more, that snowball must have been a heavy sucker. We had to roll it onto my Mother's wheelbarrow to get it in the front yard. Then we tipped the barrow and carefully let snowball slide out. My back was sore. I wondered if Sean's was.
"This is like this story I read."
Sean groaned as he patted the corners and edges smooth with his gloves. He's heard a million of my barnyard renditions of the great classics and he was obviously sick of them. But that didn't stop me.
"This maid of Athena -- I can't remember her name -- was hunting in the woods and she got all hot and sweaty. So she stops at this pond, eh, and there was nobody around, so she, like, takes off all her clothes and goes for a little skinny dip." I paused.
After a few seconds, Sean stopped what he was doing and looked at me. He was hooked.
"So there she is, swimming in this pond with nothing on but her toe-nail polish, and all of a sudden the water starts bubbling and she starts feeling this tingling sensation all over her body like something was trying to grab her like in Jaws -- DUN-dun, DUN-dun." I reached down and patted a protruding corner of snow.
"Yeah, so what happened?" "So she gets out of the water, eh, but the water follows her, running like Ben Johnson. It was a spirit of the lake or something. So here's this naked maiden running from a wave of water and she calls out 'Save me, Athena. Save my virginity from this dirty old stream.'" I laughed. "Can't remember what happens next."
Sean groaned. "What's that got to do with us building a snowman."
"Oh yeah, Athena turns her into an underground stream and she gets away. Don't you get it? We're transforming the snow into a man -- or a ball." I looked at the green yard. "It doesn't look like we have enough snow left to make the rest of him. You're going to have a short snowman in your yard and I'm going to have a big ball."
It was Sean's idea to use the boulevard. We walked to the top of the street and started rolling. We were only going to do one side but, when we got to the bottom, we just kept going. It was a mistake. By the time we got to the top of the other boulevard, our backs were killing us and the ball was gigantic -- over our heads. It wouldn't move another inch forwards or backwards. It was stuck.
"...But then she got turned into a tree. So here's this guy with an arrow in his butt, madly in love with a tree."
"Would you shut up." Sean sat down with his back to the snowball.
"Okay. If you don't like my conversation, you talk about something," I said between puffs.
Sean sat in silence with his chin resting on his fist. The Thinker. I knew he wouldn't say anything. Sean was the type of guy who only talked about something if it was concrete or readily reduced to Roman numerals. As Sean didn't get the Sunday paper, and there was no hockey game on tonight, he had nothing to talk about.
I sat down beside him. "What's her name?"
Sean looked at me through half closed eyes. He wasn't going to answer.
"Heck, I don't care. You don't have to tell me nothing. So are you going to ask her out or what?"
"I told you. She doesn't go out with guys from work."
"What do you mean she doesn't -- "
"They all asked her and she said no to all of them. All!"
"Come on, man. You can tell me her name. I'm not going to know her."
Sean looked at me again.
"Did you ask her out?"
Sean took off his brown toque and scratched his head. "No."
Sean stepped on the accelerator. His dad's truck had big winter tires but the wheels still spun. I know it was a stupid plan, but we, or I, figured that if Sean backed up slowly, I could roll the snowball off the curb, up the tail-gate and onto the flat bed. Like I said -- a stupid plan. But now the truck was stuck and the wheels were screaming and shooting dirty clumps of snow everywhere.
An old guy with a full grey beard screamed obscenities at us out of his window. The guy had a booby trap alarm in his back yard that we used to set off just for kicks. He was too old to chase us now, so we didn't listen to him.
With a sudden jerk, the tires gripped and the truck shot backwards. I got the heck out the way. It's not that I didn't have faith in Sean's driving. I just felt safer behind the neighbor's four-foot concrete fence. We were both surprised when the tail-gate dug under the snow and the old pick-up stopped. That was one solid, heavy ball of snow. Jamming the stick into park, Sean got out and together we pushed and heaved and cursed the snowball.
"What about the skiing party?"
"That's different. A whole bunch of us are going together. Come on, Biz. Push." Sean put his shoulder against the snowball and we tried again. Our bodies stretched out over the snow in unison as our feet slid out from under us.
"Yeah but you called her, right?"
Sean sat down on the snow. "Yeah but ..."
"And she said yes?"
"So it's a date."
"It's not a date."
"It's -- dribbling from your nose."
Sean shook his head, his finger unconsciously wiping above his lip. He put his toque back on. "I'm going home."
"No, wait. We can't leave it here. People are going to see this, you know. What kind of creative statement is a giant ball on the street corner?"
"I have to work tomorrow."
"So. I have a paper due in -- " I looked at my watch. " -- six and half hours. You don't see me going off and leaving the job half finished."
"So anyways," I said as we drove up in front of my house with the snowball in the back, "this guy makes this marble statue that's more beautiful than any living woman and he falls in love with her. So he asks the gods to make her come to life. Pygmalion. You've heard of that, eh? You know, with Liza Minnelli."
Sean rolled his eyes.
"So if you ever do ask her out, you going to tell me?"
"No," Sean said.
"See. You never tell me anything. Remember last year when I took Roxanne to the early show and her younger sister to the late one. I told you about that. And strip poker at Samantha's pajama party. I even showed you the tree where I carved Julie's initials. And she was ..."
Sean flinched. "Maybe in twenty years you'll get a phone call. 'Hey Biz. I'm married and have six kids.' Then I'll hang up," Sean said, and got out of the truck.
Using some of the wood left over from my old tree house as a ramp, we rolled the snowball onto the street. Then we didn't know what to do because there was no way we were going to get that huge ball over my fence or through the narrow gate. We stood there looking stupid until the snowball fight started.
"Ha, ha. I got you, man," Sean taunted as he ran behind the yellow Volvo.
"Heels don't count -- unless your name is Achilles." I wound up and fired. The snowball shot through the air, like on of Jove's thunderbolts, and exploded against the Volvo's windshield.
"Take it easy, man." Sean shook the snow out of his hair. "If you break a window, I ain't paying for it."
I'd hit him five times already and he was starting to wimp out. He ran to the next car and ducked down behind it.
"What-cha-doin' back there?" I closed in. He was dead meat! As I peeked my head around the bumper, he hit me with a lucky shot right on the side of the head. I felt like I'd been punched. My skin was burning and a big clump of snow had corked itself into my ear.
"I win," Sean announced.
"No way. I hit you tons of times."
"Yeah, but mine was the best shot. You're dead." He started to walk down the sidewalk. He stopped. I was between him and his yard with a solid, polished ice-ball in my hand. "Come on, Biz. I got to go."
"Maybe if you're fast, she'll go out with you?" I started to walk towards him.
"What's that supposed to mean?" He tried to sound interested.
"In this other story I read, this Hippo-whatever-his-name-is has the hots for this chick, eh, but she won't marry anybody who can't beat her in a race and she's really fast."
Sean started to walk backwards.
"So he gets these golden apples from this god." I held up my ice-ball as if to show him.
Sean faked interest and then bolted up the street. As he darted under the light, I threw the golden apple at him. It hit the metal pole and a loud gong echoed into the night. I kept talking as I ran after him. I knew I was going to catch him eventually.
"And when this Hippo guy is racing this chick, he rolls the apples in front of her and she stops and picks them up." I grabbed another ice-ball from my pocket and fired it at him. It skipped along the ground in front of him but Sean didn't stop to pick it up.
"Each time she picks another one up, she gets slower, and slower, and slower, 'cause gold is really heavy." I thought Sean would give up at the top of the street, but he kept going.
"Eventually that Hippo-guy passes her." I was really starting to puff now. He was faster than I thought. I was just about to give up when he stopped.
"And Hippo wins." I grabbed him by the shoulders.
"Come on, Biz. Don't be a goof."
"And they get married." I yanked him down on somebody's front lawn. "Then they get turned to stone because they forgot to thank the god that gave them the golden apples." I squished a handful of snow into his face. His glasses fell off.
"You're a goof." I think Sean was mad. "Bozo! Idiot! Jerk!"
I started to walk home. I felt weird, like something was wrong. Here we were -- teenagers -- caring about who wins a snowball fight.
Sean was following about ten steps behind.
I turned around. "Come on. It's not that bad."
Sean stopped and looked at me for a few seconds. Then he put on his glasses and smiled. "Goof."
"Don't worry, Muff. I know how to drive it," I yelled over the low hum of the engine. The bobcat backed out of the driveway in jerks and jumps. Sean's dad was a landscaper so he had all this radical stuff in his garage, like chainsaws, rider-mowers, and a bobcat. The bobcat was a neat vehicle -- like a Volkswagen bug with four fat wheels and a shovel on the front. It didn't make much noise either -- just a low hydraulic sound like the killer robot does in Terminator after the human flesh of Arnold Schwarzenegger has been burned off of it.
"We can't do this, Biz. You don't even have you license yet." Sean was wringing his toque. "My dad'll kill me."
The cat turned on a dime as I yanked the sticks in opposite directions. It was easy. Like driving a tank. Of course, I'd never driven a tank.
"Watch where you're going, " Sean yelled as I ran over his mother's lilac bush.
I turned up the alley at a steady four miles an hour. "Meet you around front," I yelled. Sean shook his head. I couldn't hear what he was saying but I'm sure it wasn't complimentary.
By the time I got to the top of the street, I'd figured out how to lower the bucket. The only problem was, I couldn't figure out how to raise it again. It dug into the snow like a shovel. I could see Sean at the bottom of the hill, motioning with his arms. I shrugged my shoulders. The bucket was full and now snow was beginning to pack and curl in front of it like a miniature glacier. The bobcat was slowing down. The fat, deep-tread wheels started to spin. Half way down the hill, the cat stopped.
Sean ran up the hill. "Back it up, stupid."
I stepped on the right pedal. The shovel raised. "Don't worry. I know what I'm doing."
It was almost five o'clock when the bobcat ran out of gas. I wanted to leave it parked beside our creation, but Sean made us push it all the way back up the hill and back down the alley to his driveway. We had to go the long way because Elgin is a dead end street.
"What's her name?"
Sean grabbed the yellow tarp and threw it over the bobcat.
"Come on, man. Just tell me her name. Don't be such a -- "
"Julie," he said.
"Stubborn stick in the mud. What kind of friend are -- What?"
"Julie." Sean said again as he walked passed me towards the front yard.
"Julie?" I followed him. "You mean the same Julie that I -- "
"Yeah, the same Julie. So what?" Sean stopped at his gate and turned around to face me.
"Nothing." I kept walking. Grabbing a handful of snow, I threw it at our snowman. "She's nice. Real nice."
"What's that supposed to mean?" Sean grabbed my shoulder.
"Nothing, man. Take it easy." I shook his hand off and walked around the base of the snowman. "He's got no face." "She doesn't need one. Besides, it's too late now. How we supposed to get up there."
We rested the aluminum ladder against the base of the snowman and Sean held it steady at the bottom. He said he was afraid of heights. I laughed at him. I had climbed this ladder a thousand times when I was helping my dad. He used to be a painter and I was his little helper even when I was six. Grabbing the fruits and vegetables, I imbedded them into the snow. When the job was done and the last handful of strawberries had been place in the snowman's crown, I climbed down.
"If I'm late for work, it'll be your fault." Sean said.
I leaned the ladder down and dropped it in my front yard. "Are you going to work at the Jolly Roger for the rest of your life?"
"No. Of course not."
"What are you going to do?" I cleared the snow off my fence and sat down.
Sean looked at me as if I had asked a stupid question. "Get another job. Why, what are you going to do? Metamorphosize into fairy land?"
I looked up at the snowman. "I don't know. Go into teaching, I guess."
"What's so funny? I could be a teacher."
"You don't sound like a teacher. Teachers don't say, 'eh' or tell old, dirty stories. Why do you read that stuff anyways?" He looked at me. He actually expected an answer. I wanted to tell him how much I hated my life. How I hated to wake up every morning to this dull world and leave my dreams behind. How much I missed my dad. But I didn't.
"I shouldn't have -- ," I started to say. "I shouldn't have said those things about Julie. It was wrong. I was lying."
"I don't know. I lie all the time. The pajama party was true but the stuff I said about Julie was a lie."
"Really?" Sean suddenly looked happy. I don't think I had ever seen him look happy or excited about anything. I'd just told him my first lie. I don't think I would ever be straight with him again. A faint sliver of sunlight hit our snowman's crown.
"Sean. I got to go. I'll see ya to -- . I'll see ya." I said, but I was wrong.
Some people had to take the bus to work that morning because they couldn't get around our snowman. No one knew who did it, so they blamed it on kids. What a joke. I rattled off my paper a half-hour before class and dropped if off at school. When I got home, there was our snowman (or snow-woman) with his grapefruit eyes, cucumber teeth and nose made out of my rubber boot, shining in the sun like the great Titan, Hyperion. It was so big that I thought it was going to last forever. But it was gone in a week.
Previously appeared in Liquid Imagination.