The Fiction

The Snow Grave

From the Summer, 2002, issue 

(No. 8)

Art by Ian Phillips
Ian Phillips

Strangely enough, Jane understood his reasoning, though she still found it hard to believe him when he said he was still in love with her and yet attracted enough to other people to have affairs—and not just one-night stands, but friendships that included sex. Peter had always been both a serial monogamist and overtly bisexual. He and Roger had been together for almost two years when Jane met him, and within a week he had moved out of his and Roger’s apartment and taken one in Jane’s building, which was only a few blocks away.

Jane was looking for a gift for her brother downtown when she saw them. Peter was standing at a streetcar stop with a woman who kept kissing his cheek and running her hands up and down his back. Jane waited until the streetcar came and took them east; Peter’s office was in the opposite direction.

She confronted him about it that evening. She was surprised at how frank he was.

“She’s our new personnel manager. Her name is Kimberly. She’s bisexual too.”

“What does that have to do with it? ”

Peter got up from the couch and walked to the stereo, changing the station. “She understands things that you don’t. I love you, Jane, and I wouldn’t want to be married to anybody else. But there are some things I can’t discuss with you.”

“So you have to find someone else to sleep with? Why can’t you just talk to her? ”

“Because I like her.”

“More than me? ”

“No, it’s just...different.”

“Is it the sex? ” Jane always thought they had a good sex life. In fact, she was often more adventurous than he was. Once they were on a holiday weekend in Ottawa and, during a tour of the Parliament Buildings, she pulled him into a storage closet and they didn’t come out for half an hour.

“Well, yes, but not like you might think. I like sex with you, too. With her it’s just, I don’t know...”

“Different.” Jane went to the bathroom and locked herself in. She heard Peter follow behind her.

“I love you, Jane.”

“I’m supposed to believe that? ”

“Yes.”

She heard him move away and into the bedroom. Jane lay down in the bathtub, putting a bath towel behind her head. The next thing she knew she had a kink in her neck and her watch read two-forty-five. She went into the living room and slept on the couch. Peter left before she woke the next morning.

Peter called her at the office the next day and wanted to take her out to lunch. Jane managed to make an excuse, then called her friend Michelle and told her what had happened. Michelle told her she was crazy, that Peter was a selfish bastard and she should kick him out that night. Jane kept that in mind on her way home that evening.

It had been snowing the night before and there was almost of foot of it on the ground. Jane passed a park where some children were making snow angels. She had done that often when she was a child but she never got out to look at them. She sat inside the angel for what felt like hours, just buried in the snow, relishing the perfect silence and stillness of the world. Her mother would have to drag her back into the house, afraid she would catch her death of cold. But Jane always managed to sneak back out.

Michelle telephoned Jane at home that night and berated her after Peter handed her the phone.

“Why is he still there? ”

“Michelle, it’s not that simple.”

“Bullshit! He cheated on you. How can you cheat on someone you love? Answer: you don’t. If you do, it’s because you don’t love them anymore.”

“I don’t know. Don’t you remember when we were at the video store last week, there was that really cute guy, and I was flirting with him—”

“But you didn’t do anything, did you? Just flirted. Everybody does that, but only jerks actually follow through.”

“Yeah, I don’t know.”

“You love Peter too much to cheat. Listen, you can stay with me if you want to. Please, think about it.”

When she got off the phone, Peter hugged and kissed her. Jane began to unbutton his shirt and slip out of her shoes.

“Does this mean I’m forgiven? ” he asked.

“No, it means I want to have sex.”

It didn’t take very long. Jane knew immediately she wouldn’t have an orgasm, so she faked one after a few minutes and Peter followed her quickly. He fell asleep still inside her, and it took her a while to wake him up and tell him to move.

He whispered into her ear, “You know, if you want to try it with someone else, I wouldn’t mind.”

“So, I have your permission to have an affair? What if I wanted to leave you for him? ”

“I don’t want to leave you for Kimberly.”

“How long have you been seeing her? ”

“Only about a month, and trust me, I would never leave you for her.”

“So, why do you keep seeing her? ”

“God, do we have to go through this again? ” Peter rolled over and went to sleep.

Jane considered his offer, though somewhat against her will. That night she dreamt of herself back at the video store, though only she and the man she had noticed were there. She was in the foreign film section, and he came up behind her, reaching his hands around and unbuttoning her blouse, then her jeans. She reached behind his head and ran her fingers through his hair. When she turned around, though, he was gone, and she was outside in the snow. She fell back into it and began to make an angel. The sky was grey and snow began to fall, quickly covering her. Jane woke the next morning tangled in the sheets, covered in sweat.

“You were thrashing around all night. What were you dreaming? ” Peter asked.

“I don’t remember.” Jane quickly got out of bed and went to the bathroom. Peter came in while she was in the shower.

“I have a dinner meeting tonight. I don’t know how late I’ll be.”

“Will she be there? ”

“No.”

Jane didn’t believe him. Over the next few weeks, whenever Peter was late coming home or she didn’t know where he was, she imagined him with her. Jane took up smoking again, which she hadn’t done since she was a teenager. Not that much—she rarely bought her own pack—but there were enough people who were happy to give her one or two over the lunch hour.

On a particularly blustery day, there was only one person outside the building when Jane was coming back from her local café. She asked him for a cigarette.

“You know, you really shouldn’t. I started out like you, just bumming a few at lunch. Before you knew it I was buying my own packs on my way home and finishing them before I went to bed.”

Jane smiled as he lit one for her.

“My name’s Sean. You work in the office next to me, I think—the internet company? ”

“Yeah. I’m Jane.” She put out her hand, which he took and held longer than she wanted. She found him staring at her.

“Are you O.K.? I mean, you only started coming out to smoke about a month ago.”

“Yeah, just decided to start a nasty habit. I need an excuse to get out of the office. Where do you work? ”

“The marketing company. It’s just part time, to pay the bills. I’m really a painter.”

“Would I have seen your work anywhere? ”

“Actually, there is some on display at the Bus Gallery, on Queen West. It’s there for another two weeks. If you get a chance, I’d love you to see it.”

“Well, I’ll try.” Jane butted out her cigarette. “Thanks.” When she was safely inside, she turned back and watched Sean through the doors. He reminded her of the first boy she ever kissed. It was winter then, too, and she was playing with the boy from across the street. She was lying in one of her many snow angels when he bent down over her and kissed her lips. Jane didn’t kiss him back; she didn’t really know how. He never wanted to play with her after that.

Jane and Sean usually saw each other and talked every day after that. Finally, she went to the gallery. She thought it would be rude not too, with all the cigarettes he kept giving her. It was out of her way, so she left work early. The woman at the gallery smiled when Jane came in, and showed her around. Sean never told her that what he painted were nudes. Not that she was offended, but he hadn’t mentioned it. She studied the work carefully. They were of men and women, some together, some alone, mainly indoors, in barren studio apartments, tiny bathrooms. Jane didn’t know very much about art, but she thought she liked it.

The next day, when she saw Sean, she complimented him on his work.

“I’m glad you got a chance to see it.” He looked at the ground. “I was wondering, do you think you would be able to pose for me for my next painting? I would probably need to see you once a week, for a few hours, for a few months. Do you have the time? ”

Jane smiled in spite of herself. She had always considered herself attractive, but certainly no great beauty, and she was flattered. “Um, yeah, I guess. For a nude? ”

“Yeah. I promise I’m not a psycho, and you’ve seen the kind of stuff I do. If you’re not comfortable, that’s O.K.—”

“No, I’d like to.”

“Great.” Sean reached into his pocket, and took out his wallet. “Here’s my card. Why don’t you call me tonight and we’ll arrange a time on the weekend? ”

Jane’s hand was shaking a bit. “O.K.”

“Great. I’ll talk to you then.” Sean went back into the building.

Jane called Sean that night when Peter was in the shower and arranged to meet him on Saturday. Later, getting ready for bed, she examined herself in the mirror. She was short, and not very thin, and her hair never stayed in place, so she always kept it back. She wondered if Sean would only want to paint one part of her, or perhaps without her face, as she had seen in some of his work.

“What’s the matter with you? ” Peter crawled into bed and fell asleep without waiting for an answer.

Sean’s studio was near King and Dufferin. Jane had to pass by all the high-rises, where drug deals took place in the open with no effort to hide them. She had lived here years ago, when she first moved to Toronto, and it didn’t take her long to realize nobody would give you any trouble unless you gave it first. She walked quickly with her head down until she reached his building. It was an old converted warehouse almost on top of the Gardiner Expressway. His room was at the top. When she reached his door, he was waiting for her, a cup of tea in hand.

“I thought you might like this.”

Jane took off her coat and gave it to him, then sat down at the kitchen table. It was a large space, though most of the furniture was against the walls, to give room for painting space in the middle. There was an empty canvas on an easel and a stool a few feet away. Sean joined her at the table.

“I thought I’d work just on some sketches today.”

“Where should I undress? ”

Sean smiled. “You don’t need to today. I’ll just sketch your face and neck so you can feel comfortable.”

They talked more than Jane would have expected. They had a lot in common. Sean had come from a small town too, and had moved to Toronto to further his career. He had never studied art anywhere, just picked it up from books and his own imagination. He wasn’t sure how much longer he was going to stay. He needed to move to New York if he was going to get anywhere. Jane was never much of an artist in any way. She had sung a bit in high school, but it was hard to try and be different where she came from, where most of the girls got married and pregnant right out of high school, if not before, and not always the former.

Jane didn’t tell Peter where she’d been. She said she’d been running errands, though she didn’t have any shopping bags. Peter had invited their neighbours over to have dinner and watch a video. Jane barely spoke the whole evening, letting Peter tell his usual jokes and stories. She went to bed before him and pretended to be sleeping when he tried to talk to her.

By the third week Sean had pulled out an old couch and Jane was lying across it with her back to him, her head looking over her shoulder toward her feet. Sean never made any comments on her body, except when he positioned her and asked her to make small movements or to sit still. He didn’t have to ask that too often—Jane was amazed at how still she could be. They would talk most of the time. They had similar tastes in movies and books. Once, when she was waiting for Sean to get his paints, she went to his stereo to select a CD.

“Oh, my God—you have Maxine Sullivan. I didn’t think anyone knew who she was but me.”

“I love her. My grandmother actually saw her perform once, in Chicago.”

“My husband doesn’t like jazz. He thinks people only like popular music because it’s not too deep and it means they don’t have to think about anything too serious.”

“That’s crap! I mean, maybe the lyrics aren’t all that profound, but they get to you.” Sean had come over and began looking through his music collection. “Here, why don’t you borrow this? And make your husband listen to it.” He gave her an older recording.

Jane put it on for dinner that night. Peter didn’t openly object, though he kept making comments. During dessert, he was silent for about five minutes, then sighed heavily, still looking at his half-eaten ice cream. “Kimberly broke up with me.”

“Oh.” Jane took another spoonful.

“That’s all you can say? ”

“Well, do you expect me to be sorry for you? ”

“I guess not. But, I mean, well, you didn’t really seem to mind me dating Kimberly, so I was wondering—”

“I did, I mean, I do mind.”

“Why didn’t you say anything? ”

“I did.”

“Well, anyway, I was wondering if you would mind if I saw someone else.”

Jane was speechless. She left the table and went into the bathroom. She sat in the bathtub for about an hour. When she came out, Peter was still at the dining room table.

“Well? ” He looked up at her, wide-eyed.

“Will my saying no make any difference to what you do? ”

“Well, I don’t know. If you really don’t want me to, I won’t. I told you, I don’t mind if you want to see someone too. In fact, I thought you were, with you being gone every Saturday afternoon.”

“I’m not.”

Peter looked at his hands. “Why are you still here, Jane? I mean, I don’t want you to go, but you’re still here after all I’ve said. I just don’t know what to think.”

Jane didn’t answer. Why was she still there? Forgiveness didn’t even seem to factor into it. It was just what happened, and she stayed awake most of the night, trying to decide what she should think or feel next.

“My husband has been having affairs.”

Sean poked his head out from behind the canvas. “Excuse me? ”

“My husband. He was having an affair with some woman from his office, and now I think he’s seeing someone else. At least he said he wanted too.”

“He wants a divorce? ”

“No, no, he just wants to see other people.”

“Why? ”

Jane looked at him. “I don’t know, I guess he doesn’t get everything he needs from me.”

“Well, no one gets everything they need from one person, but...I don’t know, if most of it is good, you put up with the stuff that’s not so good.”

“I suppose. He says he still loves me.”

“If he wants to be with more than one person at a time, I suppose that’s his business. But he shouldn’t be married.” Sean sat down on the couch with her. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be so blunt. You’re amazing, Jane. You should be with someone who wants to be with you.” He smiled. “Boy, that’s some load of bullshit, isn’t it. I’ve never had a relationship that lasted more than six months. I know fuck all about it.”

“What should I do? ”

“I don’t know. Have an affair, tie him to the bed and beat him with a stick, burn all his CDs. I bleached all my last girlfriend’s clothes. She was a Goth.” Sean got back up and went over to the canvas. “This is really weird. You’re sitting on a blue couch, but I can’t get the colour right. I don’t think I want the colour there at all. I want to surround you in white. Must be all the snow that’s outside.”

“What am I doing? ”

“Lying in white, in snow, I guess.”

“Like a snow angel or something? ”

“Yeah.”

“Well, why don’t we? ”

“What, go out in the snow? It’s freezing!”

“So, I’ll throw on a coat.” Jane jumped off the couch and raced to the door. Jane had no idea what made her move so fast, but she was out the door and down the stairs before Sean could respond. She had only her coat and boots on; the sun was shining bright, and no one was around. Sean followed her with his sketchbook.

“I don’t believe it, you’re serious.” Sean started to laugh. Jane did her coat up to the neck and threw herself into a snow bank. She began to make an angel, and Sean sketched as fast as he could. After ten minutes, he stood up. “O.K., you’re going to get hypothermia. Let’s go back inside.”

Jane was staring at the sky. She didn’t want to move; what did she have to move for? Would Peter really miss her if she didn’t come back, since he seemed to have so many other options? Though he said he loved her, she always got the impression from him that he could take her or leave her. Why couldn’t she just leave him then?

Sean sat down beside her. She looked at him and smiled. He bent down and kissed her, just for a few seconds. “Please, come inside.”

Back in the studio, Jane got dressed while Sean made tea. They didn’t speak while they drank. When Jane was leaving, Sean came up behind her and held her.

“Thank you.”

“For what? ” Jane turned around to look at him.

“For posing for me. You were a great model.”

“So, you don’t need me anymore? ”

“No. But I hope we can still go out for tea sometime.”

“Why? ”

Sean blushed. “I don’t know, I mean, if things changed...”

Jane knew this was her chance. She could kiss him, she could undress, and undress him, and she knew it would be good. She touched his collar and leaned into him, putting her face beside his neck.

“I’ll call you.”

When Jane got home, Peter had made her favourite dinner, ratatouille, with a spinach salad and lemon meringue pie for dessert.

“I thought you might like a romantic dinner.” He lit candles and pulled out her chair for her.

“You’re not going out with someone else tonight then? ” Jane took a sip of wine.

“No. I don’t know, I think maybe that was silly, all that stuff. I guess some things just have to end.” Peter went to the stereo and put on one of her CDs.

The dinner was lovely and Peter lavished attention on her. He left the dishes on the kitchen counter. When he came back into the living room, Jane took his hand and led him into the bedroom.

“Wow. We haven’t done this in a while.”

She pushed him down onto the bed and went to the dresser. She had hidden two pairs of handcuffs in her underwear draw. She had bought them several months before and hadn’t worked up the nerve to bring them out. Peter undressed while she kept them behind her back and sat down on the bed.

“Close your eyes.”

Peter smiled and obeyed. “You’re feisty this evening.”

Jane told him to lay back with his arms outstretched. She handcuffed his arms to the bed, then went to the closet, took out two of Peter’s ties, and tied his feet down, too. She stood over him.

“Wow. This is a first.” Peter began to move his hips suggestively.

“So what do you did with her? ”

“What? ”

“Kimberly. What do you do with her? ”

“I don’t know, the usual stuff, I guess.”

“Never anything like this? ”

“No.”

Jane undressed slowly, kicking the clothes off the bed. She started at the top, running her hands through Peter’s hair, kissing his face and neck. She moved over to his lips and opened her mouth. When Peter stuck out his tongue, she took it between her teeth and held it there. He began to laugh.

After a few hours, when they were finally exhausted, Peter fell asleep almost immediately, but Jane stayed awake. She went to the window. It was snowing again. Peter began to snore. After looking at him for almost an hour, she went to the closet and put on her blue nightgown. She grabbed the clothes she had been wearing from the floor, threw them into a knapsack, put on her coat and boots, and left the apartment quietly. Outside, she could barely see her hand in front of her face, the snow was so thick. She went north and stopped outside the corner house. They hadn’t shovelled at all, and the yard was perfectly white and pure. Jane fell into the snow on her back and made an angel. After a while, she got up, careful not to ruin the angel—her angel. She made her way up the road and flagged down a taxicab.