Cherry Chan on Snow Dance:
"I always wanted to write a story about my godmother Alpha and my aunt Elissa, two strong women who fought so bravely against cancer. They passed away in early 2012 and 2013. Although I did not have the chance to see them when they were in their sickbeds, I heard so much about their battle, how they struggled daily to strive for a healthy life and how they greeted Death like a friend. I believe that they live in our hearts whenever we miss them."
My daughter Alva and I have this special Christmas tradition: the day before Christmas, when everyone is so busy with the last minute shopping frenzy, we will go to the graveyard and dance. We call it “The Snow Dance”. The steps of the dance are extremely easy: first you throw your hands in the air, clapping them as you jump up and down. Then you give yourself a twirl, take three steps forward or backward and start the whole set of moves again. Normally we will bring a boom box playing Christmas songs moving to the beat. Alva seems to like it so much that she will mark a snowflake on of 24th December whenever we buy a new calendar and a week before the big dance you will hear her talking endlessly about what she is going to wear and which songs she chooses to sing in front of her godmother Bianca.
Bianca was a huge fan of snow. The first time I saw her, she tried to explain how “vanilla ice cream” would appear from the skies in winter, “because winter is the perfect time for ice cream! If you eat ice cream under a freezing temperature, it won’t melt! God thinks that we deserve some ice cream in winter so he sends us snow – the sugar-free vanilla ice cream.” Why sugar-free? “Oh! That’s because he doesn’t want our clothes to be sticky after rolling in ice cream.” The five-year-old would say it with a big grin on her face whenever a person asked her about snow.
We usually spent Christmas Eve together so that our mothers could do Christmas shopping for everyone leaving us to a teenage nanny. It was the best day of the whole year. We dressed up as little princesses dancing and singing in the snow, making snow angels, comparing the patterns on snowflakes and drawing our dreams on the snow with a stick. Bianca called it “The Snow Dance”. For us, it was the highlight of winter, it was even more important than Christmas. What was so fun about opening presents from an unknown stranger full of white hair on his face when you could dance around celebrating the arrival of snow?
Then suddenly, one year, it didn’t snow in December. Bianca was so devastated that she believed God had left her. I was disappointed too; we had been planning The Snow Dance for two months but snowing seemed very unlikely to happen. On Christmas eve morning, her mom called saying Bianca was too sick to have a “play date”. I found that word disgusting; it was The Snow Dance! Not some stupid “mommy-is-going-to-pick-you-up-at-5, remember-to-behave” play date. My mother looked grim when she put down the phone. “Honey, Bianca is too sick to play…” there were tears rolling in her eyes, “Plus, it is not snowing today.” Her voice drifted away as I grew angry. Not only God abandoned me, Bianca too! I needed to make her see sense. If there was no snow on the 24th, we should ask God to grant us some with dancing and singing, it was the plan B. (Yes, as kids, we had already understood the importance of a backup. We had a plan B, and a plan C -- staying in the sofa watching Barney the purple dinosaur until our moms returned from their shopping spree after elbowing every single person off their way in department stores).
I stormed to her house and banged on her door. Her mother let me in looking worried but she managed to forge a smile when she saw me being all grumpy about her daughter’s betrayal, “Can I go see her?”
“Yes, but she is sleeping right now.” Her mother’s face was as pale as snow, having two dark circles around her eyes. “You can wait here. You can keep her company when she is up.” She kindly offered some cookies and a glass of warm milk and I spent the afternoon watching Barney the purple dinosaur on TV. Occasionally I heard some sobbing sound coming from the kitchen but I wasn’t sure so I ignored it. My head was occupied with the big speech I was going to give Bianca, about how we shouldn’t lose faith; we could make God change his mind with a new Snow Dance. I had even put in a few cool moves. There would be snow again!
After two hours, her mother returned with two bulging red eyes and a matching Rudolf nose. “Bianca is now awake, you can go see her. But remember she is very weak…” she muttered very quietly as if she was whimpering.
“OK!” I replied a little too brightly and stomped my way up the stairs. This was the time to convince my buddy that together we would bring the snow back. Our winter would be saved!
I opened the door with a loud bang. Bianca was lying on her bed. Startled, she looked at me and then gave me a warm smile. I never forget how she looked on that snowless day. How small and weak she became, lifeless and as white like her name suggested. Her face was pale, so pale that I had an impression that someone had dabbed her face with a thin layer of fine white powder used on Geishas, and her lips were bloodless, almost purple; she looked like a porcelain doll.
I told her about how we could remedy the situation. We needed a new set of dance moves and she should join me to save winter. We could make it happen: It would snow, it would snow, IT WOULD SNOW!
I started showing her the new moves, which was the basis of today’s Snow Dance. I threw my hands up in the air, clapping them as I jumped, I twirled a few times before I put my right foot forward and took three steps ahead; then I restarted the set walking backwards. I was singing Christmas songs when I danced, one song after another… Jungle Bells, We wish you a merry Christmas, Have yourself a merry little Christmas… I kept dancing until I ran out of breathe.
Bianca gave me a big grin when I finished, “I am sure you have just done a wonderful job.” She pointed at the window. “Look!” It was raining diamond dust—tiny little snowflakes floating in the air, melting under the sun. They sparkled like crystals being thrown out of heaven, somebody was shifting icing sugar on earth but still it wasn’t vanilla ice cream.
“I know it! It works!” I went beside her bed trying to pull her up. “Come on! Get up and dance!”
My best friend shook her head and told me that it wouldn’t be snowing that winter, “God puts the snow in my blood.” She said softly with the usual friendly smile. She held my hand and taught me a new word that day – Leukemia.
Bianca never thought that Leukemia was an illness. “I am living with snow in my blood, it’s a blessing,” She said. I visited her and performed the Snow Dance whenever I could, then we waited together patiently until the sparkling diamond dust graced the windows. The snow in her blood took her away by the end of winter. Before she left us, she made me promise that I would continue the Snow Dance to make sure that it would appear “right on schedule” every year.
My daughter Alva always makes me tell her the story when we are in the car on our way back after visiting Bianca’s tomb. “I told my classmates that I got a godmother who is a snow fairy.” She tells me proudly, “It is all thanks to her that we will have snow this winter right before Christmas! I even taught them the Snow Dance!”
It snows every year on the 24th December after Bianca was gone.
Cherry Cecilia Chan was born and raised in Hong Kong (with a yellow umbrella). Her works have been published in Linden Avenue Literary Journal, Festival Writer, The Bangalore Review and Wilderness House literary Review. You can read more about her life here: lavieencerise.wordpress.com