The first snow came early that year, and heavy. When the baby woke them up at first light it was piled upon the sills, grey on grey against the dimness outside.
She changed the little girl and brought her back into their still-warm bed while he went to the kitchen to warm a bottle. When she heard him scream she gathered the baby to her and ran downstairs to find him struggling into boots, his parka already on over his pajamas. He couldn’t speak. He just pointed out the window where, at first, she didn’t see it. There was the garden, as usual, full of snow this morning, but no monster, no man with a hook. The stillness of new snowfall was compounded, she felt, by the stillness that followed his scream. When he grabbed the broom from the corner and carried it out the back door with him she believed, feeling sickness and sorrow, that her husband of three years was travelling away from her into some zone of inconsequence and folly. And she still didn’t see it even though she saw him, through the window, seeming to beat the trees with his broom.
It was the copse, she understood finally, and relaxed her hold on the baby. He’d planted it in the fall, the last days before frost, hurrying to get them — five young Whitespire birches — into the ground before the weather turned. Five for picturesque irregularity, he’d told her. The tradition of Brown and Repton, he’d told her. And he only ever called it the copse, loving the word. One night, just after frost, he’d persuaded her to come out of the house and make love on the ground among the trees. Baptize them, he’d said. She’d brought the baby monitor out with them, but the signal didn’t carry into the garden. The baptism had not been a success. This morning all five trees were bent to the ground with the weight of the snow. They stood, it seemed to her, in the posture of a woman vomiting. He moved among the trees, knocking the snow from their crowns and easing them into an upright posture. When he came back to the kitchen there were tears in his eyes.
He spent much of that day, abstracted and silent, making trips to the hardware store, pounding stakes and stringing wires to support the trees against the next snowfall. In bed that night, when he put his hands on her, she turned away.
Benjamin Goluboff teaches English at Lake Forest College. Aside from a modest list of scholarly publications, he has placed imaginative work — poetry, fiction, and essays — in numerous small-press journals, most recently Four Ties Literary Review, Stoneboat, and War Literature and the Arts. Some of his work can be read at www.lakeforest.edu/academics/faculty/goluboff/