The Strength of Winter

There was too much summer in Winter when she met the other queens. Blackberry wine burned her stomach as Summer and Autumn approached, pale in the blue light of her palace. Summer shivered in her cotton dress, her sandaled feet ankle deep in snow. Winter understood the bitter touch of ice. Her wife was dead. The winter would not end by her choice.

“Come to wrest power away from me, sisters?” Winter welcomed the hollowness the summer berries carved inside of her.

“The winter months have long passed and Spring is due her right to rule in turn,” Autumn said beneath the carved arches.

Winter laughed, gesturing to her ice palace around them. Windows of interlocking snowflakes, her crown of icicles, tapestries spun from frozen threads. All of her nice things. The rooms that her wife, Nadine, spent time in. The statues of her, carved in ice. Her face was already fading from Winter’s mind.

“You speak of turns like we’re children? You would take everything I’ve built this season and leave me with a puff of frost amongst the dew.”

“We want to help,” Autumn said. “We were sorry to hear of her death.”

A flash of a memory burned Winter’s mind before she managed to freeze it back out. Dark skin against the snow. The warmth of her kiss. Rage bubbled up hard and cold. “You were against us from the very beginning.”

She raised her hand to send an icy blast across the hall, but her powers were dead. Drowned in the blackberry wine along with her heart. Her sisters dodged the intended blast and Winter’s mouth crooked up in some small satisfaction.

“And where is our dear sister Spring?” Winter asked. “Only she can take the power from me.”

“Spring will be along,” Autumn said.

“She’s always late, our Spring.” Winter giggled into her cup.

“You’re drunk,” Summer said.

“On your wine, m’dear,” Winter said, toasting her sisters. “I’m all filled up with summer fruits.”

Summer covered her mouth. “But the powers. You’ve shut them off.”

“You can’t take them if I don’t have them.” Winter cackled, falling back to her throne. Let them come for her. Let them hold her down and rip the powers out. They would find nothing there. There was nothing left inside of Winter.

“That wasn’t very nice,” Spring said.

Always the drama queen, Spring shuffled through the snow carpet of Winter’s throne room wearing pink fuzzy slippers and her baby lamb pajamas. She carried two bags with her. Winter thought she smelled popcorn. A neutral food. If they meant to crowd the summer fruits out of her, they would find Winter had an icy bite.

“Winter is harsh and unforgiving,” Winter said.

“Grief, too,” Spring said. “But you don’t have to grieve alone.”

The powers churned in the pit of Winter’s stomach. They wanted to abandon her. To leave her with nothing. The wine was hot and heavy inside of her, anchoring everything else in place. With each step, the snow around Spring softened. Crocuses found the audacity to burst through Winter’s frozen carpet right there in her palace.

“Stop,” Winter shouted. A loud crack resounded from her beautiful archways. One drop slid down the statue of her wife, falling to the ground in the warming air.

Spring followed her gaze, shuffling backward. “Oh, Winter. I’m sorry. I didn’t think. Was that her?”

Winter’s voice whispered out of her like the barest frost. “Wasn’t she lovely?”

“She must have been a wonderful person to put up with you,” Summer said. Autumn nudged her in the stomach and she muttered, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”

“She was beautiful,” Spring said. “Do you want to talk about her?”

The universe ripped the breath out of Winter’s body as she choked back a sob that she didn’t want or need. A rattling breath couldn’t fill her again as she tried to form words. “I loved her. And now she’s dead.”

She sobbed without tears, forcing them back, still certain she could contain herself. But soon they fell unbidden, frozen pellets sinking into the soft snow. “I can’t release the winter. I can’t. If you take it from me, then she’ll be gone, too. Don’t you see?”

The words tore out of her very soul. She clung to them, afraid to lose her last memories of Nadine.

“I can’t get any closer,” Spring whispered to her sisters.

Autumn’s wrapped her arms around Winter as the strength in Winter’s knees evaporated. The smell of fresh powder mingled with cinnamon and cloves. “It’s okay,” Autumn cooed.

Winter beat her hands against the snow. “No it’s not. My wife is dead. It will never be okay again.”

“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Autumn,” Spring said. “Tell her she’s right. It’s not okay. It’s abominable. We won’t take the powers until you’re ready, Winter.”

Every breath Winter managed was a gasping, burning mess. “Do you promise?”

“We promise,” the other queens said.

“We brought sappy movies to watch. And popcorn and chocolate. You won’t be alone until you’re ready,” Summer said.

“I brought you some jammies, too,” Spring said, holding her bags out.

A breath of spring air brushed Winter’s cheek. She sobbed again. “I can’t let her go.”

“We won’t make you,” Summer said, kneeling down beside them. “Do you want to pick the first movie?”

“You didn’t even like her,” Winter said. “The three of you always called her my ‘little mayfly.’ My ‘mere mortal.’”

“We didn’t know her,” Autumn said. “But she must have been special if she loved you.”

“Tell us about her,” Spring said. “Please.”

Winter managed a steady breath, trying to squeeze out the grief with air. “I don’t know if I can.”

“When you’re ready, sister. We won’t do anything until you’re ready.”

Snow soaked through her dress before she could find the strength. But she knew her sisters would be waiting for her when she did.

Dianne Williams lives in Lawrence, Kansas. She grew up reading Nancy Drew mysteries and classic science fiction. She once dreamed of being an astronaut. Or maybe a lawyer. Or an artist. She settled for being as many of them as she could all at once through fiction writing.

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