Hans Christen Andersen’s “Snow Queen” has always been one of my favorite fairy tales (and I’ve tried to retell it many, many times! XD) This is my spin on the story.

Wendy Xu

Frost

The one-armed farmer lived in the middle of the woods, just beyond a patch of permeating sunlight. Watch out for the one-armed farmer, whispered the other children. In a neighborhood of condos frosted white with numbers in gold, 1, 2 3, his house and tiny patch of forest was between fateful 5 and sinister 7, surrounded by a moat of sidewalk.

Daisy and Zacharias caught glimpses of him through the trees sometimes when rollerblading on that perfectly paved patch of street in front of Number Five, home to Patricia Cooper, an old lady who had a startling collection of Venetian blown glass and lamps the size of a baby’s head. On Fridays five identically seafoam green station wagons would pull along the curb and Patricia’s friends would go into the house where they would all sip tea out of china cups, eat gingerbread and read Tarot after the crumbs had been swept away. Then they couldn’t play on the pavement because the cars were in the way. So Daisy and Zack flitted around like moths, peeped in and out of Patricia’s window curtains and tried to listen for the sounds of ritual animal sacrifice (there never were any).

Daisy and Zacharias were both seven and Asian (Chinese and Korean, respectively). Their parents were the only pairs of Asians in the condo complex and had moved in at the same time. That, combined with the identical ages of their children and their mutual love for volcanically spicy food had prompted both parents to set up a play-date and get acquainted with one another, and that was where it all began, and that was also where the similarities ended. Daisy was small and had eyes like a wary cat. She always kept a blue rabbit’s foot on a keychain and had a habit of nervously flicking her thumb against the matted fur whenever she and Zack passed the woods or Patricia Cooper’s house. Zack was tall and had eyes as black and fierce as a cockatoo. He always had a bandaid on his face and smudges on his glasses from all the times he’d fallen into Patricia Cooper’s rosebushes and more often than not Daisy would be the one with the spare Power Rangers bandaid in her pocket. Zack had a different colored bandaid for each day of the summer.

That fall, Daisy’s father finally finished his graduate research in The Meaning of Meaning and got tenure as a philosophy professor in a small college town about an hour away. And because everything always happens in threes, the one-armed farmer (his real name was Tobias Smith) sold his plot and the woods and moved out with his new girlfriend to Idaho, and Patricia Cooper decided that the East Coast winters were too harsh on her bones and moved to Florida with her cat in tow. Only Zack and his parents were left behind, and in time they too left, starting a new cycle of three. By this time Daisy had long lost touch with him, but it didn’t matter much to her-Professor Huang had taught her wisely that the Meaning of their childhood friendship had been to make her a more pleasant and sociable person who could use the rollerblading memories to write little fairy tales and that to dwell on times past would be Meaningless. He bought her a watercolor set and new rollerblades with pink and purple fastenings and a journal and a music box with a twirling Kyoto geisha and ice cream on Sundays when he took his honors seminar students out to Sweet Claude’s.

Daisy painted in the summer and wrote music in winter, little piano pieces that were terribly discordant but she wrote them anyway.

In middle school her teachers chastised her for daydreaming through class and hmph’d when she passed them anyway. In high school her mother agonized slightly over her desire and decision to study painting and art history but let her go because her father had always also been pegged as studying useless things so she was really giving Daisy the benefit of the doubt here, do you hear, Daisy-ah?

So Daisy packed up her clothes and canvases and embarked on a journey to a big city school where on Move-In Day she met Arianna, a girl from Detroit who chewed three pieces of gum at once and sported a rose tattoo on her upper arm who asked to see her iTunes playlist and flip through her yearbook and admired her father’s book on philosophy. She could sing in the highest soprano Daisy had ever heard and played jazz guitar at parties, the first of which she dragged Daisy to two nights later. The shrieks of laughter was punctuated with shut-up’s and not-so-loud!’s. Arianna handed Daisy a vodka and cranberry juice which she drank too fast, and Arianna burst out laughing when she saw the berry colored flush that had crept over Daisy’s cheeks. Someone, a boy-What’s your name?

Daisy like the flowers on my dress. She squinted into stranger boy’s face. He squinted back. They giggled.

I’m Zack, nice to meet you. She grabbed the back of the sofa. And this is Jenny, he said, pointing at a tall girl with blonde streaked hair and an easy smile. Something within Daisy sloshed around and tumbled into place and out of her mouth. Wait. What’s your last name Zack?

Park.

Oh! She squinted again and he shrank into his clothes, and there he was again with that bowl cut and confusion in his face the day she’d told him she was moving. Little Zack hovered momentarily and then flicked back into his now-chiseled features. Ah-um-Daisy Huang, do you remember from… from th’ th’ th’ Rose Plaza?

Huh? Nawwww. He laughed. Sure you got the right guy?

Dunno. Daisy had the sudden urge to paint. She excused herself and stumbled back to 1503. In the morning her fingers smelled like oil and turpentine and were covered in reds and blues and purples along with the canvas. She’d attempted flowers but the result looked like shriveled broccoli and Jackson Pollock’s bastard love child. And now she had a killer headache.

That Jenny girl’s a cougar, said Arianna, remarkably unaffected. She looks like she’s at least twenty. They laughed. Daisy felt a knot beginning to tie itself in her throat.

Jenny always wore blue in a variety of different tints, although she was most fond of a pair of jeans the color of an Arctic shadow. She was also prone to spouting out the answers to five different integral calculus problems and quote from The Wealth of Nations when stoned. She was almost never seen without Zack, which was just as well because they had three business classes together. Sometimes on Sunday nights Daisy heard their good-natured laughter floating down the hallway, mixed, as it usually was, with the pungent smell of weed, which burned ever sharper as the golden late summer days turned into chilly fall evenings.

Daisy crunched her way through the gray slush and batted her eyelashes to keep the snowflakes off; the first snowfall of the season had turned out to be wet and sticky and she was thankful she had wrapped up her canvas in a black plastic bag before leaving the studio. Before she entered the building, Daisy paused and stared up, this time not caring if the flakes moistened her contact lenses with city ash. She caught a few snowflakes on the lapel of her coat. Oh! Reference pictures for the next painting assignment. Perfect.

What are you doing? Zack and Jenny.

Oh, um, pictures for my project, of the snow.

The canvas is already white. You don’t need to paint it. Jenny laughed and Zack chuckled. Daisy turned mauve.

Lighten up, she was kidding. Anyway, maybe I’d like to see your painting when you’re done. Can I?

Daisy’s good. She did that one that’s hanging in the window display of the anthropology building, right? All those colors. Daisy blushed even harder.

That night in her room she wound up her music box with the Kyoto geisha that twirled and twirled and tried to think of ways to make Zack remember. Don’t be such a mope, said Arianna. I know just what you need. A walk. She marched Daisy out into the cold and down a few blocks to a warm bookstore that sold crystals and meditation books and played New Age music, where the calm circulated with the smell of incense and cinnamon. Hello, said the smiling old woman behind the cash register. How may I help you?

We’re just here to browse. Actually-Arianna paused in her admiration of a turquoise bracelet-my friend here needs something to give her a little more positive energy in her life.

Rose quartz. The woman led her to a bin full of tumbled pale pink stones. Choose one and I’ll wrap it for you, free of charge. She winked. Rose quartz to promote self-love and love of others, friendships and faith. This pendant is lovely, too, and we’re having a fifteen percent off on all jewelry so there’s a little extra in there for you, sweetheart. And all of the backings are sterling silver. I always keep rose quartz on me; it keeps me calm. She smiled encouragingly.

Me too, Arianna said. It’s really helpful.

Daisy ran her fingers over the smooth polished surface and rolled the pendant around in her hands. Not a crack or a chip felt, just satiny stone that went on for eternity. She bought the pendant and a cord for an additional five dollars and when she went to sleep that night she put the necklace beneath her cell phone to promote friendship, as Arianna had instructed. The next day she wore the necklace and felt it snug against her flesh, and when she pulled it out on its cord to play with it was comfortingly warm in her fingers but cooled so rapidly in her cold hands that when she put it back in her shirt she felt a little jolt as it slid next to her skin.

It became second nature in the coming weeks to reach up to her throat for the little tumbled quartz heart. More snow fell, and Daisy took more photographs and painted it, this time in surrealistic settings as they studied Dali in her class. One night she asked Jenny shyly if she might take some reference photographs of her face or if she might sit and pose as a model, and Jenny smiled her easy smile and said sure, why not, but her eyes said don’t you dare get close to him, as though somehow she’d seen into the deepest dell of Daisy’s memory and desire. It was that beautiful and penetrating look of hers that Daisy wanted to capture and render along with all her snow, and so had Jenny pose in the studio against white backdrops and arctic blue setups as she tiptoed around her with the Nikon. How’s this? Jenny asked, standing up straight and tall and proud in her high-heeled boots.

Perfect, said Daisy, and snapped the picture and ran her fingers over the pendant.

I did watercolors in high school, said Jenny, as unmoving as a marble statue. My teacher said I had excellent technique.

I’m sure you did, Daisy murmured. There. Thank you, Jenny.

She painted the face with slight alterations; changed the black hair to silver blonde and the skin from porcelain to spun sugar white, but that burning cold look in Jenny’s gaze was always there as Daisy layered on the pigment, first darks for the shadows, then paler and paler and paler till finally there was nothing but Jenny’s dead white face staring out from a vortex of arctic colors. She couldn’t sleep with the painting facing her. Jenny kept asking to see it, along with Zack. Finally three weeks later Daisy was ready to show them. They walked to the studio, footsteps crunching over ice and with each step closer Daisy felt that breathing was a little less easy. Up the stairs that echoed and sent small tremors of dust through the floor, past three different studio doors. Daisy pulled out the easel and they scrutinized the painting. Jenny smiled her easy smile and said it was excellent, though the technique could be better here-see how it looks like it’s been slopped on over here? I’d also suggest layering from light to dark, looks like you’ve done it the other way around. Zack said nothing, but reached his fingers out to touch it.

No! Daisy exclaimed. The oil’s still wet. It takes a long time to dry!

Oh. He withdrew and put the hand on his chin and stared some more. Daisy tugged at her necklace. Why do you do that? he asked. What’s on the end of your necklace? She pulled it out. What’s that?

Rose quartz. It’s like a stressball, I guess. I just touch my necklace. I used to touch a rabbit’s foot. It helps if I have something to play with, she babbled. Um, the painting-

Yeah, it’s cool. Fingers twitching, she waited until they had left the studio before furiously yanking at her necklace. What had she done wrong? The chain snapped and fell to the ground with a loud CLUNK that echoed in the hollow studio and Daisy picked it up and went in search of tweezers to fix the clasp.

Daisy, her professor said, this is such a clichéd concept. You aren’t illustrating a book. The chain on her necklace broke again that night. She sat curled up on the bed and wound her music box with the Kyoto geisha that twirled and twirled and moped for a good bit before she abruptly got up, put the polished cherry case away. She put on her favorite dress with the daisies on it, a pair of navy blue wool tights, a belt, a black cardigan, a lavender scarf, her charcoal peacoat and her favorite suede-lined leather boots. She put her digital camera in her bag along with her room keys and ID and her phone and a twenty and headed out.

She crunched through ice and sloshed through slush and walked ten blocks from her dorm to the ice-covered park that had a CLOSED AT 11 sign on it but was still brightly illuminated by the orange street lamps and the glittering snow. A few homeless men stared at her and she stared back defiantly, unable to fidget with the necklace beneath all her layers. Daisy chose a bench away from them and brushed it off. All the city sounds were muffled; even the jarring taxi horns sounded softer in this air, further away. She sat on the bench, her legs outstretched so that she could see every scuff mark on the toes of her boots and every crack in the leather and she stared until she nearly nodded off were it not for the buzz of her phone in her pocket. The text was from Arianna telling her to cheer up. Daisy smiled and inhaled deeply the scent of wet city mixed with dead leaves.

There was a playground in the park, a little fenced off area where mothers could feel safe about their children in the daytime and it was always lit by the lamps that surrounded the fence. Daisy opened the gate. The little cone-shaped towers and swings and bridges were all frosted white in the glare of the fluorescent lights save for one dark spot. A person. She tensed, but then recognized the figure sitting on a swing. Zack, she said tentatively. He looked up with red-rimmed eyes.

Hi Daisy.

She came and sat on the swing next to him. What are you doing here, he asked.

I was on a walk. Your friends at a party? Jenny not here this time?

Jenny’s home for the weekend.

I figured. Aren’t you cold? You’re not even wearing a coat. The snowflakes caught in his hood like so many butterflies. He shrugged. Daisy shrugged. She stared up at the fuzzy outlines of the skyscrapers against the smoky air. My professor hated my painting.

You know, I lied.

What?

I lied. The rosebushes, your rabbit’s foot, that old one-armed farmer-

Oh. Daisy stared again at the toes of her boots.

Jenny-

I know.

They kissed. His lips were so cold she could almost taste the frost along with the vodka but sober or intoxicated it didn’t matter anymore, and when he cupped her flushed face in his freezing fingers she felt the rose quartz pendant nestled beneath her scarf humming with warmth.

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