It had been an in-between sort of winter – too warm for snow, and too cold for much of anything else. Days and days of frigid rains and half-lit skies had passed in a steely, gloomy blur, giving way to more of the same. All of that would change tonight.
From her cubicle window, Julia watched a robin perch on a ledge of the neighboring office building, and wondered if the little thing knew what was coming. Her farmer grandparents had taught her that nature always knows, and is prepared, and she wondered why humans so often counted themselves as separate animals. No one at work seemed prepared today. Forecasters anticipated the storm’s arrival by 7:00, and now, at 4:45, the office was still abuzz with talk of this meeting and that presentation. She just wanted to get out the door, onto the road home before the inevitable, interminable traffic jam, and only two emails and a check-in with her manager stood in her way.
Twenty more minutes, she thought, tops. Just twenty more minutes, and then she’d be on her way to pajamas and hot chocolate and BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, her snow-day traditions from high school onward, and tomorrow, she’d take a walk and make a snow angel. She wanted hers to be the first footprints. That had been her favorite thing, when she was young and living on a farm way out in the country with her parents and her grandparents. She always wanted hers to be the first set of footprints on a fresh fallen snow. It proved that she, and not anyone else, loved the snow best. And that had been so important, when she was ten.
Maybe she’d even build a snowman, she thought. She hadn’t built a snowman since college. “Let’s get crazy,” Julia mumbled to herself.
“Oh,” Julia said. She should have known nothing is ever just to yourself when you work in a cubicle farm. “Sorry,” she told Sarah-from-the-next-cube. “I was talking to myself.”
She watched as Sarah nodded and went back to her work. Julia hated working in an office environment like this. There was never privacy, but you had all the anonymity you never wanted. Everything was tinged in somber shades of off-gray – the desks, the carpet, the overhead lights – and people seldom smiled. Not even the company’s monthly “happy hour” was truly happy. It was just a tired-out group of not really friends pretending they weren’t networking to get ahead, trying not to appear as drunk as they were. Artifice and gameplay dressed up in business casual, that’s all it was.
But this job paid the bills, and the bills fed her, kept her in books and clothes, and allowed her the little luxury of a trip here and there when she needed to get away. She was planning to visit England in the summer, to see Bath. She’d always dreamed of going to England, and the salary from this job made it possible. You had to work to live, and work wasn’t always fun, she told herself, over and over. Her life was just like everyone else’s, she reasoned. And then she wondered when she had decided to be okay with that, and resolved to start looking for something new, just as soon as she got back from her summer trip. Maybe she would even move back to the country and take up work on the farm with her parents. It would be nice to be with her family again.
Two emails and a useless but thankfully brief meeting with her boss later, Julia had packed her messenger bag with her laptop, power cord, mouse, and notes on her priority assignments, and was standing in the elevator, waiting for it to make its slow, creaky way from floor eleven to the lower deck of the parking garage. She sighed and leaned her head against the wall.
“You look tired,” said an amiable, masculine voice from the other corner.
“I am,” Julia answered. She hadn’t realized anyone else was in the elevator with her, but that wasn’t surprising. Her mind had been running on one track since this morning – get home before the snow, enjoy the snow, daydream about snow – and now, at the end of the day, there just wasn’t any room for anything else. “But I’m really excited for the snow,” she added.
“So, you’re one of the people who likes snow?”
Julia straightened up and turned, and saw that her companion wore a smoky-colored gray suit and light blue tie, and a pocket square. A pocket square, of all things. She thought she’d seen him before, was fairly certain of it, but you could never tell. He looked familiar, but so did every other Caucasian male sporting a dad-bod wrapped up in a suit and tie in the entire building. Dark hair, brown eyes, and not very memorable at all. But he looked friendly enough, casual and relaxed, his hands in his pockets.
“I am,” she answered. “What about you?”
“I love snow,” he said, “and I like this time of year.”
“I do. I like the feeling of starting fresh.” He smiled. Julia noticed his straight, white teeth.
“Most people feel that way about January.” Julia smiled back. It felt like the right thing to do. She hated office banter.
“Sure,” he answered, “but I like February better. You know it comes from an old Latin word? Februa, to cleanse.”
Julia hadn’t known that, and said so.
“The Romans had this festival, the Februalia.”
Julia hmmed and nodded.
“And I really do love the snow. The best snows are always in February.”
Julia nodded again, and hummed a noncommittal “Mmhmm.”
“I’m boring you.”
“No!” He was, and she would have loved a quiet ride, but she certainly didn’t want him to know that. “Not at all. I love snow, too. When I was little –”
Before she could say more, the elevator lurched to a stop. Floor two. Julia felt stuck in a nightmare. Bad enough being trapped in the elevator. Worse being trapped in the elevator with an almost complete stranger right before a snowstorm. They could be in here for hours.
“I don’t think it will be long,” the man said.
Well, that was strange, Julia thought. “I hope not,” she replied.
“When you were little…”
“You were talking about the snow, when you were little.” The man raised a hand from his pocket, prompting her to continue.
Julia had lost the thread of the conversation when the elevator stopped. “Um, yeah, when I was little.” She struggled to collect the thought. The man waited. “When I was little, I used to stay up all night waiting for snow. I wanted to be the first one outside. I wanted to make the first footprints.”
“I get that,” the man said.
“I just thought snow was the most magical thing. I still do, actually. Work is boring, you know? It’s like life just gets in the way of the things we should be enjoying.”
“Yeah,” the man replied.
“I think if I could just live in a snow day forever, I’d be okay with that.”
“Really?” The man raised an eyebrow.
“Of course!” Julia found she couldn’t really stop herself from adding, “everything slows down when it snows. People actually take the time to be happy. It’s like they can’t do that on a normal day. Because there’s too much to do.” Julia paused for a moment, to take a breath. “Snow means you have to stop. You just have to stop and appreciate the moment for once, and I love that moment.”
The man smiled again, and Julia realized it wasn’t an unpleasant smile. “I think everyone has a moment they’d like to live in forever,” she said, “and that’s just mine.”
“I can see that,” the man said.
“Well, what’s yours?” Julia asked.
The man opened his mouth to answer, but before he could, the elevator jerked into motion. “Well,” he said, “that wasn’t so bad.”
“No,” Julia said, and asked again, “so, what’s your moment?”
The doors pinged open on level two of the garage, and the man stepped out. “I’m made of moments,” he said. He winked as the door closed.
That had certainly ended abruptly, Julia thought as she went down one more level, and then walked to her silver sedan. 5:31 – earlier than she’d left in days, and plenty of time to beat the storm home, if she took a few neighborhood roads and shortcuts.
It snowed for a solid fourteen hours, give or take. Julia spent the time looking out the window, curled up in her favorite overstuffed armchair. She caught up on some reading, drank hot chocolate, and watched some of her favorite BBC miniseries. She stayed up all night. When the snow stopped, she put on her winter coat and galoshes and walked for an hour or so, enjoying the crunch of the crisp white powder under her feet, and the fresh, icy smell of a winter finally come. Hers were the first footprints. She made a snow angel, and she built a snowman, and when the sun went down on the glistening landscape, she sat on her front porch steps and stared at the full moon, high and bright and silver against a dark blue satin sky. Yes, she thought, I could live in this moment forever.
A desk in the corner in the corner of a nondescript office building sat empty. A manager approached Human Resources, asking to hire for a position, and curious as to why it had never been discussed before. The work went on as it always had, as if Julia had never existed at all.
The man in the gray suit had moved on, too. A new office building, a new elevator. He found himself alone with a young man, on the tenth day of March at 5:16 in the afternoon. The young man looked on the verge of tears, his eyes glassy and rimmed with red, and his hands trembling as they tried to grasp the handle of a black canvas laptop bag.
“Rough day?” the man in the gray suit asked.
The young man dropped his laptop bag to his feet. It landed with a thud on the floor of the elevator. “Yeah, people suck. But it’s just a job.” He took a deep, shaky breath and said again, “It’s just a job.”
“Sounds like it’s not the right job,” the man in the gray suit replied.
“Yeah, really,” the young man snorted.
“I always thought I’d be doing something more interesting,” the man in the gray suit said. “I’ve never liked working in an office, but it sure is convenient.”
“I hate it,” the young man said. He ran his fingers through his hair and added, “I’d rather be hiking.”
“I love hiking,” the man in the gray suit said. “What’s your favorite trail? I’ve heard there are lots of good ones around here.” The man in the gray suit did not hike.
“Oh, man, when I was a kid, there was this trail out west that we used to go to every year and –”
The elevator jerked to a stop between the fourth and fifth floors. The man in the gray suit smiled. “And?”
Winter turned to spring, and then to summer and fall, and then winter again, and again many times. Julia’s face grew fine, spidery lines, and her hair turned coarse and ashen. Hers were still the first footprints. And as the world outside moved on, one season after another, year after year, she sat on her front porch steps and stared at the full moon over the diamond-bright snow. Yes, she thought, I could live in this moment forever.