Nov 01  |  Richard Krause

Nobody knows. Perhaps it was the loneliness, the physical cold that drove him out into the snow. The irony of duplicating the condition of his own life with the additional lure of softness, with the cushioning effect snow could have.

He stripped and charged out into the night before a countermanding thought could order him back. Before good sense took hold. The race of people he lived with were all huddled inside with their shutters closed. Not knowing the contrast they themselves would cause with their black hair on the white snow. Or the beauty of their moving shadows on the landscape. And so he burst out the door. The snow was hot at first like one giant footpad that muffled where he stepped. It absorbed his need, drew him to its burning coldness, just as if it were a mock lover that offered more softness of flesh than his senses could endure.

He grew cold, numb, finally frostbitten, and the alacrity of his movements, the pure joy of his frolicking desires slowed. He couldn’t keep up with the soft cushioning of snow, its noiseless hush; the way it fell in the night finally, when his energy ran out, was like a silent reproof.

The people huddled inside, clad behind shutters, began slowly to win the night, began with the pure white snow to reprove his desire, his nakedness, his imprudence in imagining that in the coldness of snow he could find something warming. And the burning soles of his feet at first told him that was possible, held out the lure, but that only served to get him in deeper. Until finally his body lost all the warmth, lost all capacity for the joy he had bounded out for. The flame as if dropped down to flicker. He had enough energy just to make the slow step to an apartment door.

It can’t be that he even thought of his nakedness, perhaps he now saw the vast blanket behind him—the whiteness–as a kind of loincloth. Perhaps he didn’t think of garments at all. Anyway knock, knock, the knocks grew fainter and mixed finally with the stirring inside that opened the door to a warm yellow light. At first they couldn’t believe their eyes. Perhaps it was snow blindness, perhaps it was his nakedness that passed beyond desire now, for his skin had lost the rubicund that he had in the first flush of inspiration, the first springing leaps free of a society behind shutters that closed the door to the beauty just outside.

Now he was seeking aid, crippled, hobbled, shivering naked. But they closed their doors on him, one after another. The wife, the daughters, blinking abstractly.

“It’s only the shutters,” they came back and told their spouses, their brothers. The shutters. So he died at their doorsteps. Not one but many.

Overexposure, the papers said. But investigate as they might, they could never explain why he was outside, exposed.