Life between the arrival of Bonhomme de neige and the rebirth of Jesus was nothing short of a quiet death. No candy and no loud voices. Instead, ashy crosses on foreheads and mass after mass after mass.
- - -
When February rolled around and teachers started to tack up photos of a prodigious snowman dressed in red toque and sash--Judy knew that life was taking a turn. Bonhomme was not just any snowman he was the happy go lucky ambassador of Carnival all across la belle province Quebec.
A Bonhomme sighting meant that life at St. John's Catholic School would soon descend into the darkness that is the season of lent and that it would not rise again until Easter drew near and the children were given pictures of Jesus' resurrection to fill in with sharp colored pencils.
The photo gallery in the grade three classroom was complete: Bonhomme smiling and waving; Bonhomme riding on a Clydesdale's back; Bonhomme squishing a small child in his elephantine arms. Judy blessed him and cursed him as she examined each of his poses. She imagined Carnival, a sparkling extravaganza of excess and wantoness and the lent that followed as long weeks in a bamboo cage with guards poking, taunting and keeping all the good stuff for themselves.
- - -
It is the very best time of year, Jean Pierre thought as he donned his plush Bonhomme costume. Underneath he wore not one but two layers of long underwear to fight against the prickling cold. Yes, the heavy material would provide some protection but he would spend many hours outside judging the best ice sculpture and frolicking with the jolly children come to sing a song just for him.
Jean Pierre grimaced as he pulled the grinning Bonhomme head over his own. Then he stood before his full-length mirror and waved as he'd been taught to so many years before.
Once again, he was magnificent.
- - -
"It's time to go, Judith Mary Fitzpatrick," Judy's mother warned three minutes prior. She was unmoved. "Get in the car, miss," was yelled two minutes later when Judy still hadn't budged from the bathroom. Time had already begun to sour.
In the cold car the family's breath formed deep permafrost on the windshield. "Dammit," Father mumbled as he scraped at the glass before him. When he had a dime-sized hole, he backed the car down the driveway and onto the street and drove peering forward through the pinprick of clear glass as the frost slowly melted.
"I think I feel sick," Judy said.
Her mother whipped her head around to see if this was a fib. "You're sick, are you?"
"Like I might throw up."
"Take a few deep breaths and think of something happy."
Judy thought of wieners swimming amongst glossy baked-beans served in paper cups in the school gym. She thought of hot chocolate with a marshmallow spreading across its steaming brown lake just ever so delicately, which she would sip slowly while watching the outdoor ice dance in the hockey rink.
She thought of Bonhomme, his face looming, fat arms grabbing and lifting her in the air, spinning her around until she was shaky. She thought of his whispers and his secrets.
Then there would be her own Jesus walking barefoot through the snow until he reached his perfect ice castle. Jesus would sit on the ice throne and motion for her to be seated at his right hand, Bonhomme at his left.
The car skidded in a patch of black ice and Judith Mary Fitzpatrick vomited that night's dinner of chicken, mashed potatoes and peas all down the neck of her father's coat.
- - -
Before he'd even left his makeshift changing room--the teacher's lounge--Jean Pierre was anticipating the snow-suited bodies ready to be scooped up into his arms and swung around and around until the children were giggling with delight. There were no better times for Jean Pierre. None. Not working at the front desk of his mother's motel and certainly not working in his brother's pet store. This one time of year was when he shone.
And he had his stepfather to thank for it. It was Gilles, and Gilles alone, who had sought out this pleasure for his stepson. "You will make the children so happy," Gilles said to him on the day he brought home the application to Jean Pierre. "They will love you."
And Jean Pierre had to agree that they would. He'd always had such a special relationship with the little ones around the house. Playing hushed games and keeping secret secrets.
And now, with each passing year as Bonhomme he rose farther and farther above the playing and whispers. He strolled the snowy playground of school after school as only a good Bonhomme could, with head held high, with laughing children skipping behind. He was no pied piper, though, not he.
What Jean Pierre knew as fact was that he no longer represented the heady Carnival alone rather he was a symbol for the whole season of denial and relief; it was not just a costume he wore but a layer of forgiveness as thick as blubber. A touch of his hands could save and offer a life of constant rebirth.
He whispered his vow to those he'd come to think of as his followers. "I will save you," was what each child heard as a last muffled tone through the smiling mask of Bonhomme de neige.
About the author:
Myfanwy Collins is a freelance writer who lives in the woods with her husband and her dog. Visit her at http://www.myfanwycollins.com.