A New Southsea Gothic Story – First Draft

Below is the first draft of the opening to a story provisionally entitled “The Snow Witch” I am writing.  Will let youknow how it goes!

The Snow Witch

The musician blows in one winter night, as the weather is at its most severe. That is why no-one sees her arrive.

She is a violinist with a distinctly exotic look. Beneath a shawl like an Eastern European gipsy, she walks in heavy furlined boots through the snow, the ermine edging of her skirt tumbling over the drifts like little winter creatures at play. Her face is a delta of narrowed chin and wideset eyes above a fine, straight nose and emotionless mouth – a line that forever promises to turn upwards but does so only rarely. The hair that pokes from beneath her white fur hat is long and straight – and dark as the winter night. Tall and lissom, she holds a violin in her right hand, and where she walks she leaves a trail of thawing snow behind her, as if she is so used to the cold that she keeps a fire stoked in her soul as its natural counterpoint.

The following day, she sets up outside an empty shop on Palmerston Road – and as people hurry by, huddled against the bitter air, she lets out from that tropical wood a stream of long, sinewy, sensual notes that flutter upwards into the winter light. She plays bewildering melodies with dips and turns and something quite alien and Eastern in them, melodies that make one or two of the locals wonder if she might perhaps be a refugee from a country with a deep, sorry history – an extreme terrain with snowclad mountains and hot dusty plains.

There is something in that music. When people hear it, it even seems that for a moment the sunshine breaks out from behind a snow cloud, and the trees shake off their white dusting in the sudden gust of warm wind that swirls around them. It is as if the sound holes in her violin are windows onto another island in another sea far warmer than that around Portsea – hot air rushing through.

As she plays, a child skips by to the noise, and an elderly lady recalling something in that melody of childhood, takes a slide on the ice with a deftness that speaks of childish delight long before the osteoporotic danger of broken hips and cracked bones and blueing bumps ever filled her mind.

At home later that day, the old lady will smile to her empty room, and with a kind of youngster’s joy in her heart, declare the house “open” – inviting neighbours and their children to come and play, and baking a cake to take it to her neighbours.

During that unusually cold winter in which the snow is piled up on the shore, and beachbound snowmen stand in pebbledashed ranks on the shingle beach like a frozen amphibious invasion force, it seems the thaw has started.

Still the musician plays – sending up into the air little notes from the chestnut box of her violin, and turning the notes, it seems, into a blizzard of sunshine.

It is a fluke of the weather that when she stops in the darkening afternoon, as the shadows gather, that the snow starts to fall again, piling up higher on that whiteness, and making a scrunch scrunch beneath her feet. Then she is gone, her fingers icy cold, her fiddle a block of icy granite in her hand.  She will start again the next day.

*

Nobody knows where the violinist goes to at nights. True, over the following evenings she appears in pubs, stepping in with her trademark graceful presence and inner calm, causing locals to stop a moment and drink her in. A fine line to her jaw and large dark eyes, she is framed with a border of hair as ebony as the neck of her violin, her light brown skin a kind of caramel to savour. But afterwards? Nobody knows.

In The Barleymow on Great Southsea Street, that funny 1930s utility pub with its high windows, a local asks her “if she plays that thing” and once again she raises it to her chin and begins to send magic into the air.

In The King Street Tavern, she joins the Irish Session and weaves in a sumptuous series of harmonies to the Irish jigs and reels.  A chorus of tweets flutters through the twittersphere pulling pale hordes of Uni students in, until the landlord is prompted to speak closely with her, urging her with his boyish smile to come back again.

In the RMA Tavern at the far end of the long beach that fronts the island of Portsea onto the south sea she meets Riley. Riley of the dark eyes, who looks her up and down, drinking in her skin and her notes, and feeling a sense of hunger in his body, a yearning to possess her that burns like a fire inside. When she leaves in the black night he follows her out, tracing her melted steps in the fresh snow – until they seem to vanish, suddenly into nothing – ending at a roadside and not appearing on the other side. He stands swaying on his feet, a lot drunk and a little angry and promises himself that he will have her. Yes. He will have her. He thinks it again, saying out loud to the snow in the air with a kind of frustrated ferocity. I will have her!

Then he turns, and heads back to the pub, where his guitar is waiting for him, next to a pint. As he walks, he notices the icy white powder tingling his nose as it settles on it, and remembers the little twist of cocaine in his pocket. It reminds him to pay a visit to the toilets. A little snort his solace at losing his quarry in the snow.

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