A wintry walk in a wonderland like long ago

MICHAEL OLESKER

February 23, 1993|By MICHAEL OLESKER

She nudges him playfully in the ribs and asks him to go for a walk in the snow.

"Have you seen what's going on out there?" he says, feigning alarm. "They've got search parties out for Admiral Peary."

"Come on," she says, wanting to be playful but not certain they still remember how.

The weatherman is calling for many inches of accumulation. The neighborhood is already a blanket of white, and he's seeking something athletic on the television set, something to inspire him into aerobic napping, if only he can scan the dial long enough and she can take the hint that he wishes to be left alone.

"It'll wake you up," she says, knowing well his weekend sluggishness.

She coaxed him once before, a few years back, and for a long time afterward they were warmed by the memory: the two of them holding hands while strolling in the snow, singing songs out loud to each other, feeling their hearts pumping inside their chests like unexpected leftovers from previous lives.

For a little while there, he felt romantic again. They stood under this canopy of branches and watched the snow drifting past street lamps. Nobody else was around. They felt as if they were reintroducing themselves to each other, with background scenery provided by God.

"This is where you're supposed to kiss me, like Bogey," she'd said.

The reference freed him a little. It was OK to be holding hands in the snow and not be 22 years old. And so he'd kissed her, and they seemed to discover two people they'd misplaced somewhere along the way.

So she stands over him in the living room now, holding his overcoat in his hands.

"I don't know," he says.

The memory feels a little dangerous. It was comfortable when he had it safely behind him, but now he's being asked to be young again. He wants to be coaxed a little, assured that he's not going to feel stupid.

Middle age, and years of marriage, sometimes dull things: They have their happy memories, but it feels a little unseemly for people their age to be making a pass at vanished youth.

"Remember the last time?" she says.

"Yes," he says. "Can't we just talk about how nice it was, and drink a fond toast to it?"

"No," she says flatly.

And so they find themselves walking outside, late Sunday afternoon, with the snow coming down on their heads. He feigns vague grumpiness at having been roused from his weekend stupor, finds it's the only role he knows how to play. She wants to be girlish. He's not certain how to snap out of this ancient role of his. She picks up a snowball, throws it as far as she can.

"You throw," he says, "like a girl."

"You can do better?" she says, knowing he can. She's giving him a reminder of his strength, without being too obvious. He bends over, snatches a handful of snow, finds it molds easily.

"Good packing snow," he says, voice full of expertise. Then he flips it easily, finds he still has some arm, and the two of them see his toss sail far past hers.

"Oh, my goodness," she says, looking impressed. It gives him a little adrenaline, plants him in some time in his past when he still felt sinewy. They're walking down a hill now, and she takes his arm and begins to slide, holding onto him for balance as her feet glide over the icy road.

He flexes his biceps, hoping she'll notice his strength. She squeals, partly in delight with him, partly just to hear herself squeal. He notices, when she stops, the silence all around them: nowhere is there a hint of any other living thing.

"It's our little planet," he says.

"Our little moment," she says.

They have to keep reminding themselves to live for moments. The years pile upon each other, and a kind of numbness sets in if they don't pay attention. He wants to be boyish more often, but doesn't quite know how any more, he's locked into this persona carved out over time. She wants to be flirtatious, but doesn't want to risk looking ridiculous.

The snow, every few years, gives them a chance to remember how they used to feel. Now he cups her little chin, and kisses her on her mouth. Now she wraps her arms around him, and feels him hug her back.

They walk back to the house after a while, and wonder how long they can make this moment last.

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