Brushing little specks of white away from her cheek, he cannot but be aware of the softness of her skin, and the peppering of tawny freckles upon it. She smiles back, chapped pink lips stretching into a curve like a slice of melon, and probably, he thinks, just as sweet.
He feels the chill, despite the layers, but she is so still, and ice does not shiver. His thumb lingers, gaze frozen, and he wonders what he must look like, standing there, feet slowly petrified by the hard ground. He feels like he could watch her forever, under the whispered skeletons of ash trees, as the snowfall cloaks them both.
Sink, yes, sink into the moment, like their feet sink in the the giving snow. He shuffles his boots, bringing up ugly scars of mud onto the pristine surface, but she smiles and says nothing.
Maybe they should move. Maybe he should go home. He cannot tell the time of day, since the sky keeps secret the sun's whereabouts. All around him is a bloom of white, little blossoms of tiny white kisses on his skin, and he can barely see the forest, or the hill, or even where the lake is – no, he can see the lake. That is the only place where the snow does not cover – yet.
But he can see her, and as long as he is with her, he is not lost. Her hands are smooth, small, but so cold that he takes it within his mittens, and tries to pour his warm breath over the unreceiving skin. The sweet smile is still there, of amusement or even pity at his endeavours. He rubs her wrists to make them pinker, but still she remains perpetually white, cold. She does not appear to mind it – she wears neither gloves nor furs, and only a green woollen cloak, pinned at the neck with a little brass button; and yet her limbs are spry when his are stiff and clumsy, hampered by the numbing cold and the heavy coat his mother made.
Finally, she breaks away her hand, instead, twines her nimble fingers together with his and, still smiling, leads him on. She walks so lightly over the snow; his own churning footsteps feel louder in the flurried air. It falls less densely now, reminding him of the sprinkling of flour, or sugar from a sieve over a freshly baked tart. The thought brings a hot, stinging feeling in his abdomen. Hunger; he had forgotten it until now, and it makes him wonder how long he has been out here.
And still she says nothing, and he lets himself be led, following the guidance of her constant hand and concentrating on his own heavy feet. When he does looks up, he sees they have come down to the lake. Her hand feels less cold now, perhaps because she has loosened her pressure on his fingers. They stop, or she stops, and together, stand at the edge of the water.
It spreads across the landscape like a blurred glass plate, misting toward the horizon where the mountains nest. He turns to her, searching an explanation in her impassive marble face. Her eyes are grey, and watch the water. Tiny ripples hover at the surface, and he can see the crinkled white lines of ice, crystallising at the lake's edge. On a bright day the water glowed blue and clear, a mirror for the sky, but today it is covered by silk leaves and spun sugar. There is no movement on the glass, and for a moment he believes that if he stepped upon the water he could walk across to the creche of the mountains and beyond.
Like sweet tarts, the glaced surface is slowly dusted with melting white. It is difficult to see into the pool, shadowed by the low, grey sky above, and yet as he watches he is mesmerised by it.
The water has a hint of green today. It feels almost like there could be another world beneath, separated by this thin veil between sea and sky. It suggests to him mysteries and secrets, all waiting below the surface. He moves closer, and does not realise it. There is one part of the water, close to the bank, that seems more green of hue – he thinks he sees movement there, but it is hard to tell under the grey, dark water.
The green part waves like sea-grass, undulating in time with the current. It looks like mossy cloth. His eyes scrutinise the colour, faded through the jealous water, and suddenly his gaze is interrupted, caught, by a glimmer of a star amidst the moss. A ripple rolls over the surface, and, as if through a lens, he sees, through the curving liquid. It is not moss, but a woollen sheet, a cloak, green, pinned together by a button - brass. It sparkles gold within the water.
He feels a spasm going through his spine, and his hand tightens his grip with a jerk - but his grip is empty. He turns to where she should be and searches for her pale, ephemeral face; but there is only hollow air, and a faint impression of coldness upon his curled palm.
The girl in the water sleeps quietly, her skin as white as the clouding snow, save where the freckles dance upon her cheek.