by Marcelle Thiébaux
After Hans Christian Andersen, “The Snow Queen” (Denmark, 1844)
Orinda and Tarzky grew up next door to each other in a tall gray house on Lake Street in Chemical City. As children they crawled through their kitchen windows to play on the fire escape. They planted roses in pots, and they were in love. At twenty-one they got married, and had an adorable baby named Jolie Rose, who was just eleven months and starting to walk and talk.
On Tuesday, December 5, 1933, as most folks know, booze became legal all over the U.S.A. after fourteen years of parching spiritual dryness. At the happy hour of Repeal, bartenders stood poised for the eager rush of customers. Jubilation bubbled nationwide, but especially in Chemical City, because for one night only, the drinks in Fun Park were offered free of charge. Posters were plastered all over town:
Repeal of Prohibition: December 5, 1933
Prices cut in half! Cocktails 25 cents!
In Fun Park on the Hudson Boulevard, All Likker is Free!
One Night Only!
It’s a blowtorch night; blowtorches stuck in the snowdrifts are shooting fireballs of bliss into the air. Snow blows down in white tornadoes over a frosty world of Lalique and diamond ice. Lunar dust like white pollen shakes out of the moon.
Everyone’s happy. Candy ballerinas sail around the icy lake, soused as marshmallow swans. Smashed snow bunnies ski down the sky ramps. Schoolkids from P.S. 25 Zabriskie Street dance round and round the village as they never did before. Boys with reindeer horns belly-flop down the slopes on their flexible flyers.
The whole city reels and rolls around the bandstand where the bar’s set up. Bartenders can’t pour fast enough. Jeroboams, magnums, and Rehoboams gush into mugs and glasses. There’s gin fizz and drinks you never heard of, silver fizz, gold fizz, platinum fizz.
Under the Soldier’s Monument, revelers toast the bronze Soldier. He lifts and quaffs a tankard with a hollow guffaw, still deliberating whether or not to lob that everlasting grenade.
Even the dead are dead drunk, crawling out of their graves. Gangsters in cement shoes and shrouds rise up from the Meadowland swamps, tottering over to the park for another swallow. No more gore, no more moonshine war, hooch forevermore.
Bartenders are yelling, “Drink up now, folks, while it’s absolutely free. Tomorrow’s champagne is gonna be a buck a bucket!”
Orinda and Tarzky push their elf-baby in her stroller. Bundled in white angoras, tippling snow milk from a mother-of-pearl baby bottle, Jolie Rose gurgles with glee. She swipes at a snowflake, licks it, and dribbles. Tarzky goes naked under his white T-shirt, no undershirt. In his white jeans he looks like a sporty snowball player. Barefoot Orinda dances, swirling in a long, floaty gown of diaphanous white. They’re no way feeling the cold. Love keeps them warm.
“Oh, Tarzky, aren’t we happy-go-lucky?” croons lovely Orinda. “Look at the stone buffaloes. Remember we used to climb on their backs? They’re on the loose, they’re stampeding.”
Tarzky roars with merriment. “They’re licking up moonshine from the icecaps.”
They hug each other, kiss each other. Tarzky pins a snowflake to her hair. “Orinda, honey, I’m crazy about you!”
They frolic over to the gazebo bandstand bar for their free drinks. Tarzky downs a couple of cold brews. Orinda keeps up with crystal martinis in a Queen Mab glass. They sing “Drink to Me Only.” Loudspeakers blast the latest pop hits. “Bottoms Up” and “Gimme a Rum and Coca.”
Barefoot in the snow, silly with joy, Orinda and Tarzky drop down to make snow angels for Jolie Rose, who shrieks with delight.
Now it happens that on this joyous night, a big roller coaster has been set up on the crest of Fun Park Hill. Operating this roller coaster, called The Sleigh, are two crafty individuals, a glamorous starlet named SnowGirl and her sidekick, MirrorMan.
Joy-wreckers, they watch Tarzky and Orinda and Jolie Rose, and it irks them to see how carefree they are, how pleased with themselves, how annoyingly in love.
“They’re having too much fun. Let’s break them up,” says MirrorMan. A bootlegger whose business has been busted by Repeal, he hates seeing these two kids deliriously happy and tipsy without paying a dime for it. He hates that his speakeasy business, run from the Silver Icicle Dance Hall, is kaput.
“Yeah, swamp them,” agrees SnowGirl. Before she was a starlet in the Astoria, Queens studios, she was Winter Beauty Queen of Chemical City. She flashes a crooked, scarlet smile. She’s always had a thing for Tarzky, a good-looking bruiser with biceps, coal-black eyebrows, an easy grin, and fine, dark eyes. So far he’s had these handsome eyes only for the two beauties in his life, Orinda and Jolie Rose.
“Let’s ride the roller coaster,” says Tarzky, seized by a notion that bombards his boyish brain. He pulls Orinda by the hand and drags the stroller over to The Sleigh, an aerial stairway soaring from a lattice of white steel lace.
They gaze up at it, awestruck, the way it crests in a loop to ride the air with a heart-stopping flip and a boomerang. Legs kicking, the riders scream in fear and ecstasy as The Sleigh hurtles down the other side with a crash like Niagara Falls.
Orinda demurs. “Jolie Rose is too little. It would scare her.”
Nothing scares Tarzky. “I’ll take care of you.” He laughs. “Come on,” he says, “we’re taking a ride.”
With a rumbling roar, SnowGirl drives down in the roller coaster’s topmost car, detached from the wondrous machine. Greedy red lips twisting, snickering, Kewpie-doll face aglow, she’s taken the wheel of her frisky touring convertible. It’s her own personal Silver Specter Sleighmobile. She folds her cold-feathered wings, in which hordes of snow maggots swarm and nestle. Her silver mane streams in the wind, and her ermine furs are flying. She swoops so close that Orinda feels the frigid breeze whip her own fair hair and chill her cheek. SnowGirl reaches down with a bare arm, snags Tarzky from a snowdrift—where he waits in a line for The Sleigh—and whisks him into the passenger seat.
Open-mouthed, Tarzky is tough, but it turns out he’s not that tough. He doesn’t fight it, getting picked up by a pretty girl in a sleek automobile. The Fun Park carousers are oblivious. They don’t notice a thing.
Orinda screams in high soprano horror. She feels an icicle dagger to her heart on seeing Tarzky take off with SnowGirl, both whirling up into the mountainous heavens. She beholds how SnowGirl kisses Tarzky on the mouth. How SnowGirl, even while she’s driving, magically manages to mix two frozen daiquiris at the Sleighmobile’s console bar and hand one to Tarzky. She sees them smile into each other’s eyes and clink glasses.
Though she’s pierced to the heart, Orinda thinks fast. She opens her mirrored vanity compact, not to check her makeup, but to find out where these two are heading. She’s good at scrying, reading shiny surfaces like crystal balls, water puddles, and mirrors, to get the facts. But MirrorMan muscles into the mirror with his scurvy, long-toothed grin and freeze-dried, comb-over hair.
His face leers at Orinda in the vanity mirror. “Hey, babe, he’s not worth it. Stick with me. I can give you a good time. I’m the real article.”
Orinda’s tears spring hot and fresh. “Get lost, creep,” she retorts. She snaps the compact shut. Tucking Jolie Rose in her blanket, she pushes the stroller and gets out of Fun Park.
“We have to find my darling Tarzky, but how? Where can we go?” she asks the gaggle of white snow butterflies that make her dizzy, fluttering like paper-lace doilies around her head.
“We’re the Snow Flurries, we do stunt flying,” they chirp. “Don’t listen to MirrorMan. With him everything’s cracked and backward to deceive you. Hitch the stroller to our silken bridles and we’ll fly you to the underground gardens, where they know everything.”
The butterfly team lurches skyward. They giggle like jingle bells, towing the stroller into the moon-bright clouds. Orinda hangs onto the stroller’s handlebar, and in twenty minutes, the butterfly aviators gently touch down on the snowbanked cliffs above the train yards. They drag the stroller, bumpety-bumping down the stone steps to the pit of a ravine, and unhitch.
At the yawning mouth of an abandoned train tunnel, Orinda reads aloud. “‘The Erie Lackawanna and Western.’ What are we doing here?”
The Flurries cheerily trill, “The mushroom gardens grow underground in the old railroad vaults. Ask the denizens where Tarzky is. They hear all the gossip.”
Orinda steers the stroller into the dark tunnel. Rounding a bend, she comes upon a garden of popping lights. They’re mushrooms growing in fairy rings, all wearing their twinkling hats. Jolie Rose squeals and pokes at the flickers that burst like luminous popcorn from every type of mushroom cap, the shaggy, slimy, inky, frilled, and the warty.
“Look, Jolie Rose. It’s the electric mushrooms.” Orinda kneels by a bed of loam, and appeals to the deadly Amanita, boss of the ’shrooms. “Where is Tarzky?”
“We’re know-it-alls,” says Amanita, puffing out her bloated poison gills. “He’s cruising in the Caribbean.”
The crinkly Chanterelle sneers. “You’ve got that wrong. He’s joined the Army.”
Hen-of-the-Wood cackles, “Idiots, he’s at the flicks.”
Old Pig’s Ear oinks and grunts. “You’re all dreaming. I say he’s being questioned by the Bureau of Investigation.”
Orinda shouts at them, exploding their electricity like shooting stars. “I can’t tell which one of you is right!”
“Count on us,” says sweet Morel, blushing flesh-pink. “Down here we get all the dirt.” The electric mushrooms laugh spitefully. “Take your pick. Whatever!”
Orinda’s spirits sag. “Come on, Jolie Rose. These mushrooms don’t know anything. But how do we get out? I don’t see that tunnel exit.”
She pilots the stroller down a random dark aisle, when Jolie Rose stretches her hand to tug at the hairy tendril of a tree root that’s dug its way down here. “Ma-ma. Mousey tail.”
Orinda seizes the root and peers upward. She spies the circle of starlight as if from the bottom of a well. “Good for you, Jolie Rose! We’re going to climb.”
She ties Jolie Rose to her back with the sash of her dress. Hauling the stroller behind them with one hand, she shimmies with both knees and single-handedly up the thick, notched tree root to the open air, where she sinks in a heap to catch her breath. The Snow Flurries hover.
“You flea-brains!” Orinda gasps. “How come you brought me to this dumb place?”
“One of them had the right answer,” the butterflies twitter in a nervous chorus. “You had to figure out which. And we came back in case you needed us for more ferrying.”
“I still don’t know where my husband is.”
“Your husband? Why didn’t you say it was your husband? We know where he is. He’s waiting for you. Hoping you’ll meet up with him.”
“Please, please, take us!” begs Orinda.
The Flurries fly high through the curdled buttermilk skies, over Dickinson High where Orinda and Tarzky graduated, over the steeple of Saint Ann’s Church where they married. At last the Flurries land on a fusty street of shadows. Orinda, numbed with tiredness, scans the darkened storefronts. Rusty Nayle’s Tattoo Parlor next to We-Buy-Anything Junk Emporium. She stares at Beds and Showers, 50 Cents.
“Where are we?” she wants to know.
“Your husband says for sure he’ll be here,” say the Flurries, and they fly away with a gang of cruising white bats on the make.
A snow gust blinds Orinda. An Arctic icequake booms out of a back alley and nearly knocks her over. She staggers. From behind her, two strong arms grasp her, and prop her up.
“Oh, Tarzky!” she sighs, leaning into his cold ribcage. He twirls her around to face him, and she’s staring into the glittering eyes of MirrorMan.
“That’s right.” He chuckles. His stone teeth are stalactites and stalagmites, dripping with calcareous rime. “I’m your new husband now.”
She shoves him hard. “I hate you, scram! I have to find Tarzky. And where’s Jolie Rose?”
“I got the little brat right here.” He’s slung the stroller over his shoulder. Jolie Rose is frozen, asleep and blue-nosed.
Orinda snatches her baby up out of the stroller in her blankets, cuddling and warming her until she comes to. Jolie Rose yawns and burbles and smiles, but Orinda won’t let go of her. “Tell me where Tarzky is,” she demands.
“Forget him,” says MirrorMan. “I gave him a double cataract procedure. With his new glacier lenses, all he sees and wants is SnowGirl. He’s forgot all about you, so face it, you’re history.” He ogles Orinda, lowering his wormy eyelids seductively.
“Never,” she cries.
“Have some ice-wine, Orinda, my fancy. It’s Frostbite Chardonnay from my winter grapes.” He pulls out a hip flask. From his busy hair that flares like the aurora borealis, he extracts a dainty glass. He pours. “Ice-wine goes with dessert, and I’m your dessert. So drink up.”
Orinda sticks a finger in the wine. Her finger looks blue and she licks it. Finger, tongue, and lips turn into blue popsicles. “Cool,” she stiffly mumbles. She pretends to sip from the glass, while dropping in a deadly spore she happened to pick up from Amanita’s gills and pocketed in the mushroom caves. “Have some.” She hands him the glass with a nippy smile. “To us.”
He chortles, spewing chips from his icicle fangs. Orinda watches while he tosses back the drink in a gulp. She doesn’t worry about the way he gags, sways, and falls at her feet.
Then she sees it. The grand movie palace looms, its spires shrouded in arctic fog. The decrepit box office crawls with snow spiders and white wyverns. Weather has washed out the posters. The marquee reads, ARCTIC FANTOSCOPE. Cheap Thrills with SnowGirl. Reel to Reel SnowGirl. All Nite Every Nite All the Time SnowGirl.
Wheeling the stroller over MirrorMan’s crumpled body, Orinda thinks he’s down for good, but he springs up to grab her hair from behind and yanks her backward. Jolie Rose, seeing her sweet mommy in trouble, jams her baby bottle into the monster’s face, where it breaks against his long, stony teeth. Pearl fragments and tooth particles spray his face, and while he bats the air, Orinda scoots away. She barges into the theater with the stroller and slam-locks the doors behind her.
The movie theater is a spacious vault with igloo walls. It’s been hollowed out of a giant iceberg. From within their coffins of snow, the singing bones of SnowGirl’s victims chant a dismal movie-tone chorus: “Baby, it’s cold inside.”
Orinda calls out, “Tarzky, where are you; Tarzky, talk to me. You aren’t dead, are you?”
Jolie Rose wails, “Da-da, home!”
The chandeliers rain down hailstones. Sleet falls throughout the polar night from lofty ceilings, drenching a solitary moviegoer, a lone spectator dazed as an ice sculpture. His clothes are rags. Through splintered eyes and cracked spectacles, he views the parade of shadows flitting across the screen.
On the silver screen SnowGirl smiles, baring a white mouthful of preying mantises. Endlessly she glides. Black-and-white images of SnowGirl drift and melt, fade and reappear. Whatever the script, SnowGirl plays all the roles. The ghoulish organ grinds out haunted music, playing every instrument in the orchestra, plus polar lightnings and thunders.
“Tarzky,” cries Orinda, “wake up! We have to get out of here.”
But his cataract procedure has wrecked his eyesight. He turns to Orinda, his joints creaking. “Don’t you want to see the end of the movie?” His voice sounds like ice cubes getting pulverized in an ice crusher.
“Forget it. I can give you the spoiler and the punchline when we’re on the bus.” She takes his skeletal body in her arms. “Darling Tarzky, there’s a bus from Journal Square every hour, and we can make it.”
Between them they hug Jolie Rose, who bawls with infant joy. Orinda tears off Tarzky’s glasses and steps on them. She wraps Jolie Rose’s blanket around the three of them, thawing his false lenses with their hot tears and kisses. His glacier cataracts melt. At long last, Tarzky blinks and sees clear.
“Orinda, where have you been? I thought you’d never get here.”
Back home, Orinda builds a blaze in the fireplace. They drink hot grog spiked with Repeal Booze. Jolie Rose gets her snow milk sprinkled with stardust as an extra treat. Tarzky is so glad to be home. He sets up the Christmas tree with lights, while Orinda and Jolie Rose cut out ornaments from gold and silver paper. They decorate the fragrant evergreen branches with chains, stars, crescent moons, mushrooms, and butterflies. Orinda gives Jolie Rose a tin spoon, and they sit by the open window. Jolie Rose flips spoonfuls of snow everywhere. Tarzky joins them at the window and they watch her play.
Celebrations in Fun Park can be heard for many dazzling nights of a very long winter. Seen from afar, the blowtorches burn down with fitful brilliance. The roller coaster stands vacant and still, its machinery out of order. Blizzards rage over the winter months, at last blowing flakes like frilly lace valentines.
When it storms, SnowGirl’s wings often brush the windowpanes. Snow maggots teem and wriggle in the feathered seams. Her silver hair grazes the bars of the fire escape. SnowGirl’s laments re-echo when she soars to the rooftops, but she always returns to weep frosty tears, nuzzling the window with a runny nose. She moons and moans, drooling icicles and licking the glass with her needle tongue.
No one sees her but Jolie Rose.
Marcelle Thiébaux has published stories in The MacGuffin, Delmarva Review, decomP, The Ignatian, Avalon Literary Review, Good Works Review, The Griffin, Forge, Dogzplot, Grand Central Noir, Home Planet News, Starward Tales and elsewhere. Books on medieval themes include The Stag of Love, The Writings of Medieval Women and Unruly Princess. Her fiction received a Pen&Brush Club Award and a Writers Digest Award, and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Image: Chandler Cruttenden/Unsplash
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