Frozen Earth Sonata

by Steve Carr

This place, this place, where tall oak trees that border the fields shed the last rust-colored leaves of Autumn that blanket the earth shorn of hay, where the dry, dead leaves crackle under Gracie’s footsteps, is soon to be the burial place of her beloved cat, Ginger. It is here, in this place where Gracie feels most detached from her home back in Ohio, disconnected from what defines her, as a member of a small community, as a school teacher just retired at age 67, that she wanders alone across a field, carrying the wooden pine box, built by her husband, Walt, that contains the body of Ginger.

Hanging tied to her belt is a small shovel. She hugs the box, the object she stubbornly refuses to think of as a coffin, close to her body. Though it’s just imagined, and Gracie is well aware of it, she’s giving warmth, her body heat, through the wood to her ginger-haired dead cat. Hours before, holding Ginger while allowing the vet to euthanize Ginger, was the hardest thing she ever had to do. Despite being told otherwise, and even after Ginger had become so ill from kidney disease in her last days that she could no longer stand, Gracie is convinced she murdered the one creature she vowed to never harm.

The air is crisp, full of moisture. It has brought a shiny, reddish blush to Gracie’s cheeks, like buffed Red Delicious apples. She has stopped crying, sobbing, and wiped the tears from her face before leaving the cabin, but her tears, and her handkerchief, left her skin vulnerable to the elements. The leaves shaken from their tenuous grasp on the tree branches by the damp, steady breeze, flutter to the earth around her like wounded butterflies. Other than sounds she makes walking, it’s silent. This is a place of quietude, only invaded intermittently by the barking of a dog from the nearest farm. The town in Ohio where Gracie spends most of her time – where she lives – with Walt, is also quiet, but not like this. There, in the town in Ohio, cars can be heard passing on the road in front of the house, and the shouts of children playing in the neighbor’s yard frequently echo through the open windows. Gracie has often complained to Walt that it’s too quiet here on this small farm where only hay is grown, that this place is like living in a cemetery. And now, in a bit of unintentional prophecy, she’s looking for a place to bury Ginger.

Ahead, a single, small oak tree standing near the shallow manmade pond, replenished every spring with a small quantity of trout when its frozen water thaw, Walt lures the trout to their deaths with worms he digs from the ground and skewers on the hooks of his fishing pole. There beneath the tree’s strong bows and besides its thick trunk is the place where Gracie decides Ginger should be laid to rest.

She sets the pine box on a pillow of leaves, unties the shovel from her belt, and uses it to brush aside leaves and twigs, revealing a nearly bald area of earth large enough in which to bury the box. She then begins to dig. In this place, this place that makes Gracie wish she were back home in Ohio with her friends and former students at her side, sharing this moment in laying Ginger to rest in a place there, perhaps in a spot where Ginger warmed her fur in the summer sun. She jabs the shovel in the ground, surprised that the ground is so hard even before winter has been officially declared. She thought it impossible that the ground would be frozen before the first frost of late Autumn had arrived, but the ground is so hard that it breaks her heart, even more, to think it was the place where she would place Ginger, an animal who had never experienced hardness or hardship during its sixteen years of life.

After some time, and sweating profusely, with the hole in the ground large enough for the box, she lifts it up and held in a tight embrace, kisses the lid, places it in the hole, and covers it with the dirt.

Carrying the shovel, with the breeze chillier, and the leaves on the ground and those that remained in the trees more agitated by the wind, and with her head bowed, she slowly walks back to the cabin and places the shovel against the door frame for Walt to clean. Inside, she throws two logs into the wood-burning stove, stirs the bright red embers and ashes, and closes the door as flames ignite and swirl around the logs like multiple arms of a fiery creature. She removes her beige wool sweater, the one she knitted while attending Ladies knitting Club meetings in Ohio, and hangs it on the coat rack, and then looks around the living room and over at the kitchen floor dreading collecting those things that belonged to Ginger.

Bereft, drained of emotion, as empty as the fish aquarium that still sits on a table in front of the window, its different colored pebbles still on the bottom like dull and faded jewels. Abandoned there by Walt who tired of transferring the fish back and forth between the cabin and their home in Ohio during their vacation jaunts to the farm. She takes her place on the sofa. Immediately the space beside her where Ginger always curled up beside her or stretched out, his front paws kneading the air, feels empty. So does her lap, where the cat’s purrs would gently tremble through her skirt.

Then, Walt walks in, his heavy boots sending tremors throughout the room. He’s a heavy man; everything about him is noisy, he carries loudness in his body. He fills every space he’s in with that noise. Before retiring he worked in a concrete plant for forty years, running machinery and equipment that invaded Earth with its constant rumblings. He rumbles like a whirling concrete mixing drum.

He brings with him inside the cabin, the odors of the woods: tree bark, streams teeming with fish, wet earth. A dead beaver dangles from his meaty left hand.

“What did you do today?” he asks, his voice like sandpaper applied to the inner ear.

“I buried Ginger,” she replies.

Snow flurries dance in the moonlit sky. It’s beautiful to see, to witness, like watching a crime of wonderment being committed in front of her eyes, but Gracie only feels the cold that has filled the cabin, the space, this space, that is a prison from which she wishes to escape. She pulls tight around her shoulders the blue and pink knitted shawl the other ladies in the Ladies Knitting Club gave to her as a gift on the day she retired. The summer and fall since retiring sped by like a train heading through a dark tunnel. Nearby the burning logs put in the woodstove by Walt just before he lumbered off to bed crackles and snaps. She places her hand on the window and allows the condensation to streak down from her palm print before removing it, staring at the wet lines that crisscross her palm, imagining they are tiny rivers that flow on in never-ending bad fortune.

Startled by a thump on the front door, she turns from the window, wipes her hand on her pale green nightgown, and stares at the door for several minutes, expecting it to open and seeing Ginger stride in, his fur and paws covered in dirt and frost. Turning to the closed bedroom door, the thought of waking Walt to see what made the thump sparks images of his confused, angry reactions when he’s awoken from a deep sleep. Judging by his loud snoring, he was as buried in sleep as Ginger was buried in the hard ground. Tentatively approaching the door, the leather soles of her furry slippers sliding across the hardwood floor, she grabs Walt’s industrial-sized long-handled flashlight from the stand next to the door, and raises it as a weapon in readiness to hit an intruder on the head, she opens the door.

On the stoop just on the other side of the door, a large icicle that had broken free of the roof is stuck upright in the stoop, its pointed end buried deep into the wood like an arrow shot into a target. She thinks, Had anyone been under it they would most certainly have been killed. A blast of cold air makes her look up, then she sees it, the thin layer of snow that carpets the landscape caught in the moonlight, sparkling like frozen teardrops that have fallen from the heavens. Her gasp is audible as she clutches her throat as if being strangled by the beauty of the scene. She steps back and grabs Walt’s hunting jacket from the coat rack, puts it on, and swallowed by the large volume of heavy material that smells of hickory smoke, fish, and dried deer blood, she pulls the door closed and walks away from the cabin, away from the safety of the space she never leaves after nightfall. There is light in this darkness. She slowly walks into it.

Quickly caught in a swirl of snowflakes, some attach to her face and instantly melt there, extinguished like candle flames snuffed out between two fingers. Gracie stands still, allowing the snow to bathe her in the damp cold and the moonlight to wash over her in iridescent warmth. Her breath forms small clouds with every exhalation as she surveys the surrounding landscape that is glazed with crystalline snow. Icicle earrings hang suspended from the branches of the trees that surround the farm, standing bare of leaves and seeming more rooted to the frozen earth than in warmer weather where they appear prepared to walk away in search of more fertile ground. Drawn to the tree where Ginger is buried, she walks on, the icy snow splintering beneath her slippers. There, she circles the tree trunk several times, kicking aside the drifting snow, unable to find the cat’s last resting place. She thinks, maybe the next thaw, and walks away and heads toward the pond. Walt’s large bootprints are still barely discernible just beneath the glistening coating of ice that marks his path to the pond. She knows he hadn’t gone fishing that day and wonders aloud, muttering, “What reason did he have to go to the pond?”

Even before she gets to it, she can smell it. To her, the pond has always had the scent of algae and the trout that live in it during warmer climates. By winter, Walt has fished most of them out. Those few left are trapped in the ice, frozen there like ice sculptures. She approaches it slowly and carefully; it’s coated with snow, blurring the bank and the edge of the pond. There she sees Walt’s bootprints go in both directions, coming and going. He was circling the pond, she thinks. But why? He knows there are no live fish left in it. She turns and walks back to the cabin.

Inside she takes his coat off and hangs it on the coat rack. The fire inside the stove is still going strong. She opens the stove door and with her hands held near the burning logs, she rubs them, warming them. Walt’s snoring rumbles through the cabin reminding her that she’s not alone. This time, while he’s asleep, is when he is the least silent; he tells her so little, giving a little verbal indication of where he goes or what he does while they stay at the cabin. In this space, she is mostly invisible to him. They don’t talk about his fishing, or hunting, about his feelings, or about his thoughts about her, or her feelings, about anything. It’s this last thing, her feelings, that she becomes most uncertain of. She wishes she had her friends from Ohio around to talk to them about her feelings, to validate them, to validate her.


The dirt road to the town nearest to the farm is muddy. The spring thaw has turned most of the earth to varying stages of liquification, from puddles to mud. Each time the tires get stuck, the mud acts like an adhesive that results in them spinning and bringing the movement forward to a halt, Walt slams his fist down on the steering wheel, cursing loudly. He gets out of the car, and in his boots, he slogs through the mud to the back of the car and pushes the vehicle as Gracie gets behind the wheel and takes control of the pedals, stick shift, and steering wheel. It’s one of the few times during the time they’ve been away from Ohio he’s allowed her to manage anything other than cooking and keeping the cabin clean. The last time after the car gets stuck just before reaching the paved road leading to town, he kicks off the mud that clung to his boots and returns to his place behind the wheel, and shoves Gracie back into her place in the passenger seat. She says nothing about the pain – physical and emotional – being manhandled by him causes her. It’s the kind of abuse that takes place nowhere else, only here, in this here, the here that wasn’t Ohio. In Ohio, she always feels safe.

The remainder of the ride into town she sits in stony silence and stares out the passenger-side window, musing how nothing ever changes here; houses never receive fresh coats of paint and the same clothes hang from the same clotheslines. She thought clotheslines were a thing of the past. Even everyone in her small town in Ohio had clothes dryers. Seeing so few people in their yards or on their front porch, make her wonder, What are they all hiding from?

Entering the business area of town, Gracie turns her head to watch out the front window, aware that she and Walt haven’t spoken to one another since he pushed her. Both sides of the street are lined with booths and stalls where pedestrians are walking from one to the next. The brightly colored ribbon is wrapped around the telephone wires and poles. The store awnings have all been withdrawn allowing the spring sunlight to shine on the sidewalks.

“Looks like there’s some kind of street festival going on,” she says.


“I’d like to get out and take a look at what they’re selling at a few of the booths.”


“Because I want to,” she screams. She screamed it. Her voice filled the car, taking up the space previously filled by molecules. “Stop this car, now!” she screams. Another scream.

He slams on the brake, bringing the car to a screeching stop.

She opens her door and gets out, taking the air, and molecules, from the inside of the car with her and slams the door closed. If he immediately drove away or watched her walk away, she couldn’t have said. She had disconnected from him in a way she rarely did.

The first thing she notices as she begins to walk along the line of booths and stalls isn’t what is being sold, but the faces of the vendors or the other pedestrians. Their expressions are dour. There is no festivity at this festival. She doesn’t recognize a single one of them. It’s a market devoid of familiarity. She feels lost, adrift as a stranger in a small river of strangers, afloat amidst a gently flowing current of unfamiliarity. There’s nothing to latch onto, nothing that defines her or defines the location she is walking through. There is no here, here. She suddenly wants Walt to be nearby. She needs him to keep from drifting toward total obscurity.

When a Styrofoam cup is blown down the street by a moist breeze, she turns and watches it, thinking how much its color is that of snow. The thought sends a chill down her spine. Before she walks on, a female vendor with snow-white hair and lifeless blue eyes holds out a handmade apron patterned with toddlers chasing butterflies that is exactly like the other dozen stacked on the counter. “Something every grandmother should have,” the female vendor says. Gracie gives fleeting thought to explaining why she and Walt never had children but recalls it’s something she has only shared with the women in the Ladies Knitting Club because they knew her and understood that Walt didn’t want children. They knew Walt. They also knew about Walt. Sharing it anywhere else, especially here, this here, with women not in the knitting club diminished the importance of those women, and they were very important, especially when they seemed so very far away. “No, thank you,” she replies and walks on.

At the end of the street, a man selling snow cones holds one up and asks, “Want one? Only seventy-five cents.”

She looks at the shaved ice in the white paper cone and wants to laugh at the absurdity of the moment, the absurdity of winter being offered in a cup. She wants to laugh but doesn’t.

Walt pulls up in the car and rolls down the window. “Time to go home,” he says. “Back to Ohio.”

About the Author:

Steve Carr, from Richmond, Virginia, has had over 570 short stories – new and reprints – published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, reviews, and anthologies since June 2016. He has had seven collections of his short stories published. His paranormal/horror novel Redbird was released in November 2019. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize twice.


  1. Really enjoyed your story Steve. Loved it’s priorities and flow. I had recently lost my cat of 16 years so the story held personal meaning. It was beautifully conceived and executed. Glad I bumped into it. Good luck on your life’s journey. 🍀

  2. Steve, this is a wonderful piece with many layers. It reminds me of …And Ladies of the Club because of the Ohio reference I imagine.
    Nice to see, in the end, Walt and Gracie were two parts of the same whole.
    Love the description of Walt, my mother used to say my husband was a bull in a china shop.

  3. Walt, this is one of the most memorable of all of your wonderful pieces.
    Fine writing

  4. oops– I think I said < Walt when I meant to say, Steven!!!! His character really stuck in my head