The day turned over- 11:59 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. and Skip winked into existence again. He yawned and rubbed his eyes and scrinched up his nose, sniffling a bit. Then he looked around the small room was in, trying to acclimate. It was still a closet (there was a mop and a broom and a shelf full of canned goods- also a bare light bulb glowing above his head). Judy was right- it was good to know where he was going to begin his next day. It was much more convenient than suddenly appearing in traffic or on a construction site or, that one memorable time, inside the ladies’ room at the Crestmount Hotel. The closet door creaked open revealing a tall, almost gangly woman with dark skin and hair, and bright cheerful eyes.
“Oh hurrah- you are here!” Judy exclaimed, rushing Skip and giving him a crushing hug. That Judy was a lot stronger than she looked. “Come on, come on! I have a nice dinner waiting. You must be hungry after all this time.” Skip let himself be led out of the closet and into Judy’s small bungalow.
Over dinner, Judy talked excitedly about all the changes in the world over the last four years- wars and diseases and global warming and new technologies and medicines and new books and movies and music (Judy played the new Paul McCartney album for him). And, as much as there was to hear about, all Skip really wanted to know was, “Is there snow outside?” It had taken almost an hour of waiting for Judy’s excitement to run down before he could finally get a word in edgewise to ask the question.
“Oh- no, sweetie, I’m sorry. There isn’t,” Judy had said, her voice turning from animated to pitying. “Of course there’s always a chance- let’s turn on the weather forecast and find out!” she added, perking back up. There wasn’t much that could keep Judy down for long. It was a little annoying, but it was hard for Skip to make friends- no continuity, you know- and beggars can’t be choosers, so he just nodded in agreement a lot while gritting his teeth.
Alas, the meteorologists offered no hope- it was likely to be unseasonably warm in the morning, but the first of March would bring a cold snap down from Canada- with a possible blizzard. Stupid first of March- always taunting him with its in like a lion-ness. Then, for the third day in a row, Skip spent the 2 a.m. hour convincing Judy that yes, he really did need to get some sleep- that four years of non-existence was not actually equivalent to a good night’s rest.
A solid six hours later, Skip was awakened by super-excited Judy bringing him breakfast in bed- which was nice, but would have been nicer another two hours later. Then Judy informed him that- “Well of course I took the day off- I haven’t seen you in years, silly!” And Skip stifled a groan at the thought that no, he wasn’t going to get a few hours to himself while Judy went to work.
“So, what are we going to do today, then?” he asked, having learned over the last three days that resisting Judy’s plans was fairly useless. Plus, it wasn’t as if she would be around all that long from his perspective. In another month she’d be dying of old age and he’d be looking for another benefactor- which he was definitely doing because, well, as annoying as Judy was, he had a soft landing every night and food to eat and all.
“Well, I was thinking paint your own pottery!” she chirped out and- of course that was what she was thinking. It went with yesterday’s bead your own necklaces that were around both their necks and the day before’s paint by numbers, which were framed over the bed in the guestroom that Skip had slept in. She never answered that question (So, what are we going to do today, then?) with anything good like “Beer!” or “Vegas!” or even “A Movie”. Would that really be too much to ask- just a good action flick or out for beers? But, even as he thought it, Skip knew that if it ever did happen, the movie they went to see would be long, depressing, in French without subtitles, and would be about a dying woman or child or puppy- possibly all three. Either that or a romantic comedy, which would be even worse, by Skip’s reckoning.
So, they spent the morning painting spittoons and oversized teacups and saucers and ashtrays shaped like feet (even though neither of them smoked). Then it was back to Judy’s for lunch and the afternoon in with the cats (she had six of them now) and the scrapbooks of them that Judy put together so he wouldn’t miss out on seeing them. (Aww- look at Mrs. Tiddy Pom’s wittle hat- it was her birthday that day, you know.)
And then a Miracle happened.
As Skip stood at Judy’s kitchen counter, chopping onions for the feast she had planned for dinner (You never get Thanksgiving- you should have a Thanksgiving!) as he stood there, eyes stinging, he saw them coming down in the dying afternoon light- Snowflakes! That blizzard from Canada must have moved faster than expected. Skip wiped his eyes to make sure they weren’t playing tricks. They weren’t.
It was snowing- right there in front of Skip’s eyes. New Fallen Snow. This was it! He was free! He washed the onion off his hands as he made to holler to Judy- oh crap- Judy.
Damn it, Judy! He couldn’t holler to Judy- what would he say- “Hey, I’m free now. I’ll see ya around, sucker!” he’d used her- sure she maybe wanted to be used and he’d mostly been able to tell himself it was harmless- he didn’t make her any promises, didn’t ask for more than he needed (just a soft landing place and three squares once every four years), but… But, he’d let her think that he cared, he let her think that maybe someday- if it snowed and he got free of the enchantment, he would want to stay with her- would want to be in her cloyingly sweet and achingly annoying life. But- no. No. No way he could spend that kind of time making kitschy arts and crafts and admiring her horrible cats and listening to her drone on about the banal things she found interesting- No- he had been able to resign himself to a couple of months of that in trade for the use of her closet, but an actual lifetime? No. No- just no.
Maybe he could just step outside before she noticed- maybe he could just break the spell and keep on walking- not look back- find somewhere else to be- in a town he hardly recognized, since he was only there one day every couple of years- where he knew no one else- in a blizzard. Maybe that wasn’t such a good plan.
But- all these days- all these 29ths- hundreds of years’ worth and he’s never touched new snow- not since the spell was cast. Every other damned time since he’d been trapped, he had missed it by a couple of days or been stuck inside somehow (he spent almost half a century with that flu and even longer with that broken ankle). But today he was fine and it was snowing and yet… there was Judy.
She came into the kitchen then, having changed into a truly ugly sweater with a large and somewhat scary turkey on the front. “Are those onions all ready?” she chirped. And, Skip took her in- stupid turkey sweater and psychotically cheery expression and ugly, chunky beaded necklace. Then he glanced outside at the snow again. There really was nothing for it- he was too much of a coward for there to be any other choice.
“All done,” he sing-songed back to her as he scooped up the cutting board and dumped them into the bowl she was mixing up stuffing in. After all, it can’t be that many more 29ths until it snows again, can it?