The first short story I published was “La primera nevada” (The First Snowfall) in my book Una noche en casa (A Night at Home, 1995). It was about the first time my brother and I had ever seen real snow after my family moved to Madrid from Valencia. For a few months, we lived in an apartment on Menéndez y Pelayo, across from the Retiro Park, waiting for our new flat to be ready for us. That day, my mother allowed us to stay home from school and go play in the snow. We crossed the boulevard at the traffic light very carefully, it must have been slippery, and I know we didn’t have snow boots. I can’t imagine now how she let us, since I was only six years old and my brother was eight. Maybe there wasn’t much traffic that morning. The park was closed, but we sneaked in somehow. Ever since then, I can’t see a snowfall without thinking of that innocent, magical time, no matter how many times it has snowed here in the United States.
On that long-ago Madrid morning, my brother and I walked and run alone throughout the park, jumping over the eerie benches, all the way to the central pond. The boats looked abandoned, anchored in unusual shapes with ghostly piles of snow on their seats. I’ll never forget the ethereal aspect of the crystal palace covered with snow, that way it really looked like something out of a fairytale. Some of the statues were funny with whimsical hats and icy, drippy noses. The Zoo was still in the midst of the park then, before it was moved to the outskirts of the city. We could smell the elephants and hear the lions roaring, so we were too afraid to break in and have one of the guards appear; besides the brick wall was even more imposing snow-covered.
We started to make a snowman, rolling the snow, which was quickly getting dirty with the dead leaves. Somehow, he managed to take shape with chestnuts as eyes and mouth and branches as delicate arms. I’m sure my brother was giving me all kinds of instructions. We could tell it was getting late, maybe we were cold or were afraid we would be late, but we didn’t want to abandon our friend. We decided to take him home, rolling him down the car route, deserted that day. The wind picked up and the snow started to fall on us from the eucalyptus trees, it felt like a storm to us.
The snowman had turned into a hard, icy ball by the time we arrived back to the boulevard, where the snow had almost melted. The children coming home for lunch from school looked at us laughing. It wasn’t the first time they laughed at us; we came from the provinces, after all. The best part was that my mother let us bring the heavy man-ball in the apartment and into the bathtub, where it took forever to melt and made an awful mess. She probably got in trouble when my father arrived from the university. I think she liked snow too, even if it didn’t snow in Valencia.
I woke up this morning to the first beautiful snowfall of the season. From my balcony, before sunrise, the snowy view looks like an opera set: rows of small townhouses dressed in white all the way to the cloudy Walt Whitman Bridge. I put on warm clothes over my pajamas while the snow is still pristine and run down to Washington Square Park to take some photographs. There is no one around yet but the dog walkers. The flags sway in the wind and I think to myself: “Concha, when are you going to grow up?”