Not yet midnight. Clouds raced past the pale yellow moon. Pitch-black shadows danced on the glistening snow and a million stars lit up the glamour that was a winter’s night.
A solitary skater, he was one with nature. Sheer ice of the winding river, every twist and turn, he skated on and on, luxuriating in the pleasure of tingling blood, of being free from time and space. A wind swept down from the mountains where the snow was twenty feet deep but he whirled onwards, delighting in the dully lit curves beneath the moon. And then he stopped, admiring the winking lights of a far off village, nestled against one darkened mountain.
A noise on the ice behind him- he startled aloud to find he was no longer alone. On an isolated section, near a drift that covered the earth, she pirouetted- supple and sure and light. A knitted cap hugged her head tightly, long blonde hair cascading over dark grey clothes. She bowed and curtsied, flowing to a grace he had never seen. Her arms extended, he could see from a distance both hands were bare.
And when she suddenly stopped and turned to where he stood, she laughed. A natural impulse coaxed him closer, and when he asked if she wasn’t cold she said she had become accustomed to the ice for as long as could remember.
She looked at his attire as curiously as he looked at hers. “I like your skates,” he said. White fur around the ankles accentuated the bright red colour.
Her smile glowed with pride. “I have worn my brother’s hand-me-downs for years so I could save enough to buy them,” she said. “They’re called Valentine Red. Isn’t that romantic?” Her eyes brimmed with delight. She skated backwards, and for a moment he was horribly afraid she might leave.
“I know you from somewhere,” he called out, not wanting to sound dramatic, yet hoping she wouldn’t go far. His words were half-true, as though some dim memory told him they had skated together before, because her voice- sweet and soft- was tender and soothing.
She rushed towards him and took his hand. The touch thrilled him more than anything he ever remembered, even though his glove was thick. “Are you a ghost?” she asked with child-like deference.
He puffed a laugh at the question’s absurdity. “No. Are you?”
Without warning she leaned forward and kissed him, so quickly he barely acknowledged her lips on his. Only after she skated away again was he conscious of the warming sensation, of a faint reminder growing stronger- love- long since gone.
Age had taught him to be punctilious, and if for no other reason than self-protection he never made advances. Not any more. But here, in the semi-darkness, under the winter’s night grandeur, he dismissed what was socially correct, his heart swelling to a renewed belief in the unbelievable. “Anna-Mae,” he said, without knowing why. “You are my Valentine Red.”
She had glided to the edge of the ice and was already unlacing her skates. The clouds had thickened over the mountain tops; the light of the moon had dimmed. Snow had begun to sift from the sky, each flake so tiny, yet its mass capable of smothering the world beneath. Bewildered and frightened he couldn’t move, as though frozen where he stood, a sculpture in ice, despite the heat of coursing blood through every vein.
“Time to go home,” she said, waiting for him to join her.
He made a feeble attempt to explain he could not go with her. Yet a soft weight around his heart was more beautiful than what life could bring. As the distant village bell began to toll midnight, she reached out her gloveless fingers.
He took her hand. Together they made their way to the village nestled against the darkened mountain. And when he glanced over his shoulder he was not especially surprised at what he saw.
They left behind a single track.