The Winter Goddess

By Joanna Galbraith

Barry Eshensky never bought his white goods from superstores like other people did. He preferred the dump outside town next to the seedy Tit’n Spit Burger Bar, a popular table-dancing eatery for truckies en route to Sydney. The bar wasn’t really Barry’s scene - he was actually a ‘knees’ man - but unlike most of the townsfolk, the proximity of the bar and the fact that the whole area was rumoured to be an old asbestos dumping pit, didn’t put him off his weekly visits to the dump.

How he loved to forage amongst the red dirt and spinifex grass searching for broken lamps, old televisions and other perfectly useable goods strangers had seen fit to abandon. Why in the past year alone he had found himself two Westinghouse fans, an air-conditioner (which had blown suspicious-looking dust for at least a month), a cat-shaped goldfish bowl, a settee with a shifty stain in the right hand corner and, of course, his cherished Holden bumper bar which he had hung over the kitchen door.

Today, however, Barry was on a mission. He needed a freezer and he needed one urgently. Winter this year was proving to be unseasonably warm and he had a bounty of home-brews which desperately needed chilling.

As Barry drove into the dump he saw his freezer, before the engine of his truck had even stopped turning. She was a neat, rectangular icebox sitting patiently in the shade of a scribbly gum; looking very much as if she was waiting for a bus, or in this particular case, Barry, to pick her up and take her home. She had a tight-lipped seal which ran around her lid like a big, rubbery smile and she was the colour of pale lemon-frosting. Barry was instantly smitten and he christened her Angie after his long lost pet canary.

Angie was installed in the garage beside Stevie, the outdoor fridge, and Nester, a rather crabby dryer. She fit in immediately. Purring softly in the corner, Angie was the perfect antidote to Stevie’s rattles and Nester’s moans. As Barry loaded Angie with his latest brew, she thoughtfully blew ice-cold breath across his entire body sending shivers down his skin. Shivers he hadn’t felt since Delia Canker had shown him one of her knees behind the kegs of the Imperial Hotel.

Not wanting to close the lid on such an unexpected pleasure, Barry decided to pull up a deckchair and sit beside her for the evening. It was a warm night after all, smelling faintly of barbeques, burning mosquito coils and mown grass; it seemed only sensible that he should enjoy her frosty gasps, at least until he fell into his nightly drunken stupor.

The next morning Barry woke frozen to his deckchair; small icicles clung to the edge of his moustache and crunched unexpectedly into his mouth. Shivering, he ventured out of his garage and was greeted by a sight so surreal he thought for a minute he had actually fallen deep inside his freezer. The entire cul-de-sac was blanketed in thick, wintry snow. Drifts so high they had swallowed Barry’s letter box and all his garden gnomes. Snow so deep it had dwarfed the neighbour’s kelpie so the only visible part of the mutt was the tip of his tail, which cut across the snow like a shark’s fin through the ocean. Ice so cold it had snap-frozen a chorus of magpies to a telegraph line above his head.

Barry had never seen anything quite like it in his life.

Gradually, the street began to buzz with children dressed in whatever their parents had managed to muster: lambskin car-seat covers, sleeping bags with arms cut out, layers of tin foil. Men came out with shovels and wheel barrows; women huddled together like penguins marooned on Antarctic icebergs. Barry flicked on the radio. He could barely believe his ears. Uluru had been dubbed ‘Cooluru’ and was covered in two metres of snow. The sails of the Opera House were in danger of collapsing from ice flows and the police were having trouble persuading people not to use them as ski jumps. Schools had been closed and Playschool was hurrying together a television special on making snowmen for children who had only ever been taught how to make damper and potato prints. Three people were reportedly booked for tobogganing down Pitt Street while under-the-influence. The Blue Mountains were being renamed ‘The Very Blue Mountains’ and even the Great Barrier Reef had turned Icelandic, with marine biologists desperately poking holes in the ice trying to reach the tropical fish before they all died.

"Well then, I guess I can close you now," Barry laughed looking at Angie who was still open from the night before.

Slamming down the lid, Angie let out an indignant huff.

Almost immediately winter began to fade.

“Strange!” muttered Barry, glancing first at Angie and then to the growing puddles out on the driveway.

He reached over and opened Angie’s lid again.

Just to see.

And sure enough, winter returned with a fresh dump of snow on his drive.

He closed the lid again and the neighbour’s pool began to thaw.

Open. Snow fell.

Shut. Snow thawed.

Angie, it seemed, was some sort of Winter Goddess.

Excited by his discovery, Barry decided to leave her open for the rest of the day.

Just for fun.

And so all day Angie reigned. Children played, politicians promised better housing for the elderly, shares in wool products skyrocketed. But hospitals began to fill with casualties, cars started skidding into poles, water pipes began to freeze. People’s homes were simply not equipped for such bone-rattling cold.

Barry knew he would have to stop Angie before the whole country permanently froze. He reached down to shut the Winter Goddess’s lid once more.

And, as she whimpered her last icy breath, he whispered with a twinkle in his eye:"Maybe an hour next Christmas Eve" - and Angie started to purr once again.

© Joanna Galbraith 2006