Issue #87

Summer 2023

Snow on Snow

by Katy Wimhurst

Snow flutters down in her living room, even though the windows are closed. She blinks. The flakes pattern the carpet into white lace and dust the top of her cacti collection. She can't afford to heat the flat, so she puts on a woolly hat and curls up on the sofa, tugging a tartan blanket around her. She gazes at the white miracle. How remarkable!

When the snow stops before bedtime, she makes hot chocolate and changes into fleece pyjamas. Snuggling under the covers with a hot water bottle, she remembers camping in the garden for a week one December when she was a teenager, sixty years ago; she preferred the quiet, cold tent to the heated rows of her parents. Before she drops off to sleep, the icy tingle on her face tells her more flakes are falling.

She awakes to a flat carpeted in snow, which reaches a few centimetres up the skirting boards and collects footprints when she crunches over it. Nature has adorned the place festively, even if she hasn't bothered to put decorations up. She puts on warm clothes, a woolly hat, mittens, a jacket, and boots. Her bones are chilly, but the magic of this arctic interior lifts her spirit.

Hot porridge warms her. Then, using a pastry brush, she flicks the snow off her cacti collection – the Fairy Castles, Old Ladies, Moons, Stars, Bunny Ears, and Golden Barrels. Her ex-husband said they were like her, prickly but resilient. Worried about what the cold might do to the plants, she wraps strips of hessian around their bases, pricking her finger twice.

Using a duster, she wipes the snow off a photo on the wall, revealing her niece and two great nieces in Montreal, Canada; so far away. She doesn't bother wiping the one of her nephew and his family outside Tate Modern, London.

In the afternoon, more snow arrives. Pretty feathers of frost festoon the windows; the mantelpiece and window sills are iced in white. She sticks her tongue out to catch snowflakes, which tickle her with their chill, and then she laughs at how preposterous it all is. Despite her arthritic hands, she clears a pathway from the living room to the kitchen to the toilet, so she can get about safely. That evening, she lays down newspaper sheets to mop up the pools in the kitchen. The chicken roasting in the oven has melted the snow there.

She eats her meal watching a programme about Europe's most famous mummy, Ötzi the Iceman, discovered in the Alps. Preserved by over 5,000 years of freezing temperatures, the leathery remains of Ötzi provoke her to wonder. Was his life hard? Was he lonely or loved?

By the next day, her teeth chatter constantly, and she feels oddly tired. She needs a trowel to dig her way into the bathroom, and when she pulls down her trousers to go to the toilet, her skin burns cold.

She picks up the landline to call her nephew for help, but then doesn't dial; he is brusque, and she doesn't like to be a nuisance. A tear running down her cheek crystallises into ice. She grits her teeth, puts on extra layers, and makes a pot of Earl Grey.

'Hello? Aunt Sara?' A week later, when she doesn't answer the front door, her nephew unlocks it with his spare key. A deep wall of snow greets him.

The firefighters use shovels to get to her. She is frozen solid on the sofa, cradling an iced cactus on her lap.

Author Bio


Katy Wimhurst’s first collection of short stories was Snapshots of the Apocalypse (2022). Her fiction has been published in numerous magazines including The Guardian, The Cafe Irreal, and ShooterLit. Her visual poems have appeared in magazines like Ric Journal, 3AM, Steel Incisors, Dreampop Press and The Babel Tower. Her first book of visual poems, Fifty-One Trillion Bits, is to be published by Trickhouse Press. She writes literary essays like this. She interviews writers for various magazines, including 3AM. She is housebound with the illness M.E.