Winter’s Visit

Spring is my favorite season now that I live in upstate New York. In California, life drifted from one ice-blue sky to the next. Fog on the Golden Gate bridge was a wraith that always managed to sneak into my Indian summers, and palpable shards of sunlight fastened a deceptive caveat to the long nights crawling into winter solstice. 

Now, I feel my frostbitten heart warming, yielding to rain that bursts from low-hanging clouds and creates puddles of flowing grass around me. Coming out of hibernation happens so quickly here. No SADness that lingers inexplicably into June, or numb fingertips to shove into jacket pockets on days that blind eyes and heart with too-much-brightness. One day, I see the footprints of unidentified animals in blankets of snow; the next, I am drinking my morning tea beneath a canopy of waxy dark leaves that hang around me, humid and erotic, protecting me from the hum of highway traffic. 

Spring mornings are when I forget that it wasn’t always like this. A peaceful and easy transition from one season to the next. Lithesome, happy days slipping like newborns from the Earth’s womb. 

And with that, I forget that winter doesn’t die. She splits into a thousand tentacular beings and then she retreats to her windowless room, to a rusty playground full of rot and memories, to the San Gabriel Valley of my childhood. Until she returns.

Winter doesn’t like that I’ve forgotten her so easily, that I dare to traipse around with bare arms and feet and neck, that I trade in thick sweaters for sheer dresses and peasant blouses that show off my collarbones and cleavage, that the frog in my throat has become a golden ball which ripples off the walls when I speak. 

Winter doesn’t like that I’ve learned to be young again.

Winter thunders in disbelief, “How dare you? How could you? What kind of person could leave behind the only one ever loyal to her?”

On one of those spring mornings so ripe for forgetting, Winter knocks on the front door. I hear the thunk of her footsteps on the porch before she gets there. It’s unusual for me to have visitors this deep in the woods unless I’m expecting them. For a moment, I am flustered as I think about the cobwebs that have surely settled around the railings and doorknob, no doubt covering the stone mermaid and Kuan Yin who keep watch so serenely on either side of the entryway. 

When I open the door, I don’t recognize her at first. Her skin is colorless, such that a network of spidery blue veins peers through—half-erased script on a whiteboard. 

“You didn’t answer my phone calls,” she accuses as she brushes past me, her skin cold to the touch. There. I recoil at the familiarity of her sound and her skin. I am stunned by her appearance, and then my mind is whirling with the possibility that she really did call beforehand (although she doesn’t have my new number, I quickly note). 

“I’ve been traveling for so long,” she says, the statement elongating into a whine. “Don’t you have something I can eat—or can I even count on you for simple comforts?” 

“I’m making myself some lunch right now. Leftover lasagna,” I politely offer before busying myself in the kitchen. 

She lets her old cloak fall off her shoulders and into a moth-eaten pile on the living-room floor. “I didn’t eat breakfast today. Or yesterday. Or the day before,” she informs me. And darts me a venomous look, as if I have something to do with this. 

I smile as I would at an old relative I barely recognize but who still calls me by my childhood nickname and chucks me under the chin although I’m almost 40. Winter seems to know all my secrets, and the intricate forked branches of my family tree…but I wonder if she knows how many people I’ve had sex with, or what pleasure feels like in my body, or which solipsistic fantasies I indulge when I’m in a waiting room for long periods of time. I wonder if she knows that I stretched out of my skin and turned heaven, hell, and everything in between on its head in order to claim my deserving. 

I fix her a plate and simply wait. I never have to talk, because she always fills the spaces in between. With bitter complaints, corrosive laughter, needless nostalgia. And she always knows what to say to murder my better intentions and false cordiality.

She inhales the lasagna, not even bothering to use a knife and fork. Her fingernails are gray talons that rip into her meal. Tomato sauce spills from the carrion onto her napkin and rims the pale ridged lines of her mouth like a clown’s lipstick. She is ravenous. She smacks her lips and huddles over the table as if someone might snatch her plate away. 

“I’ve come for the thing I said I’d be coming for,” she burps, smiling her clown-red smile.

I shake my head. “I never made you any promises.”

“But you did. You said that you would never forget. That you wouldn’t rest until the ones who harmed you came to ugly ends. But then you left, and I’ve been traveling so long to find you. To show you that I intend to make good on what I said I would do.” 

I know better now than to engage with her when she talks to me about the past, as if I am beholden to it, to her. I told myself long ago that I would offer her my compassion, not my commiseration.

She senses that I won't be budging anytime soon. Her pupils dilate and her bottle-green eyes deepen to a furious black. She takes the plate with her half-eaten lasagna and hurls it against the wall. Pasta sticks, slides down in a defeated pulpy mass. Blood and ricotta cling to the wallpaper, and a sharp triangle of china comes dangerously close to my face. 

I force myself to stay calm. “You’re 23 years too late,” I pronounce.

I’m Nirmala Nataraj, a New York–based writer, editor, book midwife, theater artist, and mythmaker.

As someone who has woven in and out of a number of different word realms—nonprofit communications, advertising, theatre, publishing, and community arts, to name a few—I know that liberation is possible through the stories we choose to tell. As a first-generation South Asian American, I myself exist in the liminal spaces between cultures, art forms, and languages—and it is this multiplicity of narratives that informs my personal and professional approach.

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