First there is the cold crack of frost in the night, settling heavy over all the town, the stiff grass of your front lawn (gone brittle and brown after the long fall) coated with slick-silver ice.
Then there is your mother in the night, waking, hand fluttering to her throat as if she wants to clutch something that should be there, a strand of pearls, a skein of silver chain.
She is looking out the window when she sees you. First she sees her reflection, ghost-faded in the window, and she startles, nearly drops the glass of water she has poured herself from the sink. Outside there is the moonbright night and neighbor porch lights and your shape on the lawn, amongst the frost and yellow-brown grass, and the glass finally goes tumbling out of her hand.
First there is the frost. The first frost, the dry brown fall called up short by the winter’s silver-white bite.
Your father has an early flight. His alarm has been set, his bags have been packed. He wakes to the absence of his wife in the bed beside him, a cold empty where there should be something.
He hears the shatter of glass from the kitchen, thinks it is something from a dream at first.
He is the one who calls later; your mother takes the phone from his hands.
The operator tells her you need to calm down.
Your mother says my baby, my baby.
Your mother says please.
Your mother was a beauty queen when she was young. There are photographs, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks. Sometimes she gets them out of the closet where they are stored. There is a tiara in the bedroom she and your father share, perched on the edge of the bureau, all shine and shimmer and cheap sparkling rhinestone. Your small hand slapped red when you reached for it, every time you reached for it, that’s not for you to touch.
Your mother is the beautiful queen. Your father is the king. Your brother isn’t the kissing prince or the heart-heavy huntsman. He is simply your brother. He is in the basement alone. He has the television on while he sleeps. He says he didn’t hear a thing.
Your mother sees her reflection first. The frost first. Your mother is jealous of your beauty. Your mother adores your beauty. Your mother is getting old. Your father is getting old. Everyone is getting old, except for you.
Your mother has always made your dresses herself, the way she used to make her own. She showed you the prick of her fingertips from sewing needle stab, the welling of red on white skin.
You see, she said, how much I love you.
Your father misses his early flight.
Your father has a favorite photograph of the two of you. He is wearing a suit in the photograph. Your father is a man who wears suits. His ties hang on a rack in the closet: neat, pressed, pin-perfect.
In the photograph, he is seated and you are on his lap, smiling up at him. There is a shine in your eyes. He tells people it is love. In the photograph, you can’t see his hands.
The television rumbles in the basement, all black and white image and dialogue that has been written a thousand times. Your brother stares unblinkingly.
Your father brings you inside. He holds you the way he used to. When the detectives arrive, they will tell him he shouldn’t have moved you, should have left you where you lay.
I couldn’t leave her there, he will tell them.
Sometimes you had bad dreams.
Sometimes, you woke and stood in the doorway of your parents’ bedroom, waiting for them to notice you there.
Your mother often woke first. You remember how she’d stretch her arms out to you, pull you into her side of the bed. How she held you there, your breaths slowing and stilling together.
Your father weeps when they pull you from his arms.
My little girl, he says, my sweet princess.
Downstairs, your brother turns off the television.
There are photographs of you in every room in the house. They are hung upon the walls, set on counters and tables. Your brother takes one of the detectives around and shows him them all.
Pretty girl, the detective says.
Sure, your brother says.
First the frost and the simple moon shining down on it, the first frost of the season after such a long fall. Your mother sees her own reflection in the window, she thinks, as she often does, I am getting old.
Your father misses his early flight. He wakes in a half-empty bed, hears the shattering of glass.
Outside is the frost and the sleeping lawn; the moon is still high and white. When your father goes outside (from the basement, he hears the soft sad roar of the television), he finds your mother kneeling in the cold.
The first frost and your mother, barefoot in her nightgown, deer-stepping out into the yard, breath fogging out of her mouth, your mother falling to her knees in the cold, in the frost, in the dark before you.
On your mother’s bureau, there is a rhinestone tiara, askew on its perch.
Cathy Ulrich likes the earlier versions of Snow White the best. Her work has been published in various journals, including Moon City Review, Black Fork Review, and Splonk.