Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Snowflake

a short story by Bill Adler

“Daddy’s back!” Isabel bent her knees to dash to the door, but Angeline pinched the back of her pink and white striped dress, holding her in place.

“Don’t run, sweetie. You’ll broil. That’s not good for you.”

“Okay, Mommy.” Isabel walked in exaggerated slow motion, lifting her feet high and moving her arms like a windmill. She began panting as she got close to the apartment’s front door, through which her father’s red face peeked. From the living room, Angeline could see rivulets of sweat running down Isabel’s neck. The back of her dress looked like a sponge; her long, black hair clung damply to her skin.

Photo by Mark Lim
Angeline had tried to cut Isabel’s hair multiple times, but each time Isabel protested, “I like my hair! I like my hair!” Even though short hair would be far more comfortable, Angeline let Isabel have her way. There were few pleasures a little girl could enjoy, with fewer to come.

In a single, fluid motion, like a performer at Cirque du Soleil, Samuel rested his carry-on bag on the marble floor and scooped up Isabel. “How’s my little girl? I missed you.”

Isabel clasped her hands around Samuel’s back and wrapped her legs around his waist. “I’m hot, Daddy. It’s been terribly hot. You’re hot, too, but I want you to hold me. ’K?”

“I missed you, sweet pea. I’m glad I’m home.”

Angeline wiped her forehead with a cotton cloth as she enjoyed the reunion of father and daughter. “I’m sorry, Samuel.” She remained seated on the sofa, leaning forward so her back didn’t touch the leather. She picked up a white paper fan adorned with cranes and fanned her face. “I’m sorry, babe. They just cycled off the power. No electric fans for another” — she glanced at her watch — “six hours.”

“I know. I walked up.” Clutching Isabel with one arm, Samuel wiped his forehead with the back of his other hand. He could probably have released Isabel and she wouldn’t have fallen; his shirt and Isabel’s dress were glued together with an amalgam of salty sweat and cotton fibers. He reached into his pocket and withdrew his paper fan, pale blue with a white Merlion in the middle, snapped it open, and fanned his and Isabel’s heads. He chuckled. “It seemed like such a good idea at the time to get an apartment on the thirty-seventh floor.”

“Ooo, a breeze,” Isabel said. “You’re the best fanner, Daddy.” Isabel turned her head. “And Mommy, too. You’re both the best fanners in the world!”

Isabel raised her arms, a signal she wanted to be released. She sat on the floor. Samuel sat beside her and continued to fan her.

“Can I have ice water?” Isabel asked.

“There’s no ice, sweetie. Mommy’s sorry.” Angeline was glad Isabel couldn’t see where her sweat ended and tears began. “I can bring you a regular water. I’ll get you a glass to drink and drizzle water on your head and then wave my fan real hard to cool you.”

“’K.” Isabel stretched her legs out on the floor, spread them, and spread her arms. She turned her head toward Samuel. “Do you have to go back to Japan? I don’t want you to go. I missed you.”

“No, sweet pea. I don’t have to go to Japan again. In fact, I caught the very last flight back to Singapore. After today there are no more flights.”

“No Disneyworld?”

“No anywhere. It’s become too hot for planes to fly.”

“Will I go back to school?”

“Maybe, sweetie. Maybe you can,” Samuel said. He pushed the wettest parts of Isabel’s hair away from her face and fanned her faster.

Angeline slid to the edge of the couch. In a low voice, she asked, “Did you get it?”
Photo by Tim Gleason

Samuel lowered his voice, too. “Yes.” He held out his wrist.

Angeline stood slowly and walked to the front hall, sweat trailing her. She sat next to Samuel and Isabel and put her fingertips on the watch’s crystal. Even though the watch existed in the same awful place as the three of them, it felt cool. “A Snowflake?”

“It is.”

“How did you find it? How did you manage—”

Samuel put his finger on Angeline’s cracked lips. “It doesn’t matter how. We have one, that’s all that matters.”

“A Grand Seiko Snowflake.” Angeline cocked her head to the side so she could get a better view of the watch’s snowfield dial. Never in her life had she wanted to run barefoot through the snow, but in this moment, she daydreamed the soles of her feet were being tickled by cold, feathery flakes. Snow appeared to drift across the watch’s dial as if blown by a north wind. Angeline imagined how delicious crisp air tasted. 

Samuel nodded.

“Did you find a priest? Did you have the watch blessed at a temple?” Angeline shook her head. “I still don't understand how this will work.”

“No priest, no shrine, or incense or prayers or anything like that added. The man who sold me the watch told me, ‘You are the magic.’”

“I still don’t understand.”

Samuel took Isabel’s and Angeline’s hands. He stood up, lifting them. He guided his wife and daughter to the balcony. His flesh burned as he pushed open the metal door.

“Ow,” Isabel said. The fiery sun scorched her face.

Samuel cast his eyes to the ground, thirty-seven floors below. He nodded to Angeline.

“Do we—”

Photo by Stefan Molin
“We are the magic,” Samuel repeated. “Just look at the watch when we do it.” He kneeled, put his hand under Isabel’s chin, and lifted her head so her eyes met his. “Sweet pea. We’re going to do this one thing. We’re going to a place where it’s never hot. A place where we can be cool and happy.” Samuel kissed Isabel’s forehead. “All you need to do is look at Daddy’s watch and keep looking at it. Okay?”

Isabel touched Samuel’s watch. “It feels like snow.” 

“It does. Can you keep looking at it, no matter what?”

“It’s a pretty watch, Daddy. I can.”

“Don’t be afraid,” he said. Samuel lifted Isabel to the balcony railing and held her right hand. Angeline climbed onto the railing on his other side. He stuck his left arm out, wrist twisted so the Snowflake’s dial faced them. “Everyone look at Daddy’s watch. Remember, keep looking — eyes on the snowfield on the dial.” Samuel took a deep breath. The air seared his lungs. “One, two, three!”

They jumped.

A hand reached down and firmly grasped Samuel’s hand. Samuel blinked, then blinked again. He began to stand on his own, but the man attached to the hand that was pulling him up said, “Slow, slow. It’s best you don’t move too fast at first. You’ve got some acclimating to do.”

Samuel looked to his left and right. A girl about twelve years old was helping Isabel to her feet, while a woman a little older than Angeline was helping her stand. Snow filled all the space around them. Tall mountains loomed in the distance, also covered in snow. “You made it, partner. Welcome.”

A crunching sound surrounded Samuel as his body displaced the snow. He grabbed a fistful of snow, opened his hand, and let the flakes fall between his fingers. “Where are we?”

“Can’t exactly say for sure. Where are you from?”


“Well, you’re not in Singapore anymore. You’re not anywhere on Earth as best we can figure.”

Samuel pointed to the man’s watch. “A Grand Seiko Snowflake?”

The man nodded. “That’s the ticket.”

“Daddy, is this snow?” Isabel plopped down onto the soft ground. She rolled over several times and then said, “Look at me! Look at me!” Isabel laid back, spread her legs and arms, slipping through snow like a manta ray gliding through the ocean, and made a snow angel.

Thanks to Samuel Chan for inspiring the idea for this story.

Thanks to the Grand Seiko Owners Club for the fantastic Snowflake photos. 

And thanks to Ashley Jenkins for her comments on an a draft of The Snowflake. 

If you’re not familiar with the Grand Seiko Snowflake, start here

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