• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 05
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The Weather House

My grandmother has a weather house on her mantlepiece, a small Alpine cottage with an arched door on either side of a mercury thermometer. On the threshold of the left door stands a girl with golden plaits, wearing a dirndl. Her black bodice is tightly laced over a white cotton blouse, her red polka-dotted skirt is fluffed out by petticoats. On the right stands a boy in lederhosen, feathers pushed into the cords of his felt hat.

I have seen others like this in my friends' homes, where the figures dance to the tune of the weather. The girl steps out when the days are fair and the skies are clear. When clouds gather she scurries inside and the boy takes his chances in the gathering storm.

It is never this way with my grandmother. Nor has it ever been. We take our cues from her mood. If she is having a good day – if the tablets are soothing her arthritis, if the butcher has delivered lean beef, if grandfather has made her morning tea just as she likes it – then she coaxes out the wee girl and the skies turn blue. Sun picks out pathways between the spruce that cloak our valley, and deer pluck at green shoots, ears pricked for danger.

But on other days – when her knees stiffen, when the potatoes grandfather brings in from the field are riddled with grubs, when the priest calls for the monthly tithe – she pushes the girl indoors, poking at her belly with rough fingers. The mercury retreats and the boy is forced outside, cursing his lack of jacket, his polished and too-dainty shoes.

Grandmother's anger rises in walls of ice around us, a glacier of discontent, and we shiver as Arctic winds blow across the lake, freezing every ripple.