by Karen B. Kaplan
A professional inter-dimensional traveler, Iris Perle, is visiting a dimension she calls “Upward Spiral.” Her presence there cannot be detected. As events unfold she more and more intensely longs to be known to a sculptor named Clara and her friends, whom she has observed many times before. Iris’ yearnings lead to a surprise revelation, and Clara finds an answer to longings of a different sort.
Having just transported myself back to Dimension Upward Spiral, I look up just in time to see the firstborn flakes of the season dash down from the overstuffed clouds to the ground. The forecast for greater Risington was on target: the flakes are colored the same dark green as typical grass. As this is the first snow to embrace the ground in some while, the grass is this winter’s virgin. As more flakes wedge themselves in among the pioneering ones, it becomes harder and harder for me to distinguish between grass and snow.
Despite the cold, I am very pleased to be back in Risington. You never know what color the snow will be, and it gives me something to look forward to, unlike the same and completely predictable color (that is, non-color) of our own. Looking at the green snow siphons away all the tension from my jaw and shoulders as I pretend that it is warm enough for me to lie down upon it and give myself over to the distant staccato sounds of children playing hopscotch.
At the onset of darkness, the temperature unhesitatingly drops, as does any remaining fantasy I have of warmth. Most ungrasslike, under the plentiful street lamps, the frozen topping sparkles off and on like a bounty of fireflies.
Many other colors of snow appear each winter in Upward Spiral (which is what I call this dimension), some more frequently than others, such as red. When the sun throws down its brightness upon the red surface, the color is unbearably loud. It is as if a piece of the sun had broken off and fallen down upon it.
Upon melting, the hue quiets down to darker tones, becoming a sickly purple before giving up all hue and crying at this loss. If the melting is not halted, the snow winds up in transparent streaks upon the cement, or hides grieving in the soil. This is my least favorite color of snow in Upward Spiral, because it displays too much color or not enough.
This is how my mother was: her mood swung from midwinter to midsummer and back again, rarely pausing for spring and autumn. Darting here and darting there for a spell, then the next day or next week almost immobile in bed even past lunch, without even acknowledging daytime by a change of clothing.
And there I was, either rushing to catch up, or forced to slow down, never quite being in sync. Not only that, when I woke up in the morning, I would not know which season I would find myself in, nor for how long. I was always caught among Mom’s multiple worlds.
I suppose I like to visit Upward Spiral during the winter because it was my favorite season when I was a child. I relished the heaps of snow back home, despite their forthright coldness and lack of color. Words, whatever their source, often leaped out as abrasive and unpredictable, and so the muffling effect of snow upon all sound afforded me a temporary sanctuary.
Going out into a gentle snowfall was like slipping under a fluffy homemade comforter where I could fashion my own dreams of being adored by the multitudes. Its whiteness gave me a neutral background upon which I could build my own world without sabotage.
But for some unknown reason, I have never seen white snow in the town of Risington, nor anywhere else in this dimension. I wonder what it would have been like for me to have grown up venturing into snow now golden like harps and horns, now lavender like lilacs, now brown like dark chocolate.
Perhaps this would have multiplied, rather than limited, my options for stopovers into worlds better than the one I re-entered as I reluctantly came indoors to warm up my semi-paralyzed fingers and toes. I was not so desperate as to risk frostbite.
If the snow had looked like soil the color of bittersweet chocolate, I might have imagined that I was standing atop pleasant rather than disagreeable surprises: friendly things like ladybugs and acorns, and forgotten soft peppermint pieces securely wrapped in silver foil. And messages waiting and waiting all the way inside a nested Russian doll that would spell out directions to the grandfatherly wizard who would explain what had gone off course at home.
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Upward Spiral has been my sanctuary. But like all sanctuaries, it is safe but puts the unfolding of one’s life story on hold, for I cannot be seen or heard here (nor smelt or felt, as far as I know). This time I feel like I have come to a halt at a Dutch door whose top half will not budge. It seems I want to at least lean out a little from behind my enclosure. I wish, most of all, that I could touch the pieces of the well-regarded sculptor Clara Willow.
Alongside the preteens in Risington’s central plaza, Clara as usual is collecting some samples of the snow in containers shaped as cubes, spheres, and pyramids. Due to the stiffer requirements of old age she gauges each step carefully yet gracefully in the rapidly deepening snow, moving as slowly as a practitioner of tai chi. Her long color-free hair picks up some snow, too, as she rhythmically bends up and down to add another sample to the collection in her cooler.
Later Clara will combine the ice and snow to construct her sculptures. As she works, like an archaeologist chipping at or brushing away unwanted material surrounding her finds, she uses knives and brushes to modify the chunks that she coaxes out of the containers. Once prepared, she places them in a display case cooled below freezing in her gallery, and her patrons view the work through a transparent material that does not fog up.
But unlike other times I have seen her collecting her palette, today a disgusted expression erupts on her weathered face. I feel a spike of anxiety, because during all of my previous visits to see Clara, I had become happily lost in her banter with the preteens, satisfying their curiosity about her life and about her next sculptures. During her last exchange with them she even had alluded to plans for a piece made entirely of butter.
At that point, one youngster, bursting to ask his question, grasped her lower arm and said, “Why can’t you just make sculptures that can stay in an ordinary place like a museum?”
It’s true. Her materials always needed special conditions to preserve them. She took up his challenge to fall in with the norm and replied, “I like to make sculptures that need special places to exist, because guess what: that’s like all of us. We don’t do well without special care — and we don’t do well without being in the right kind of place.”
Being too young to get much more than the fact that she was puzzling him, he quickly released her arm and securely folded his arms on his midriff against hearing any more. But now that I think about it, she could have told him this less abruptly.
Generally, though, Clara typically has coaxed her young audience to try their own hand at snow sculpture. With their more modest and therefore less taxing goals in mind, all they do is put their unmodified cookie-cutter samples in their home freezers, and for special occasions, display all the spheres, prisms, cones, and especially three-dimensional stars (the most popular) on the town square, as long as it is cold enough out.
Since it is unfashionable for the youth to arrive too late to rescue them and preserve them in freezers, it is acutely embarrassing to let the melting get out of hand. So they take precautions to remove the colors in their prime, well in advance of any rising temperature that would sculpt away their distinctive shapes.
As I have seen many times, her fans crowd around to watch what she is up to and attempt to strike up a conversation, but uncharacteristically she lets their remarks peter out into more and more dead ends. Fewer and fewer words poke the air, like the increasing heat in a room allowing fewer and fewer molecules to jostle each other, as my father, a physicist, would have said. I am dismayed, because I have always enjoyed Clara despite a few rough edges here and there.
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Copyright © 2012 by Karen B. Kaplan