We built the snowman in the front yard the minute we got home from Mass General. Inoperable pancreatic adenocarcinoma. Claire had been silent until we were headed west on the Pike toward home. A heavy, wet snow had started to fall.
“I want to build a snowman when we get back,” she’d said. “A good, old fashioned snowman, with stick arms, button nose, and charcoal eyes. Keep him up in the yard as long as we can.”
So we rolled up huge snowballs and stacked them one on another.
“Your back, George! Be careful,” she said.
When we finished, Claire said, “Virgil. We’ll call him Virgil. Like Dante’s Virgil.” She looked at me with bright, liquid eyes.
All winter, Virgil looked in on us through the front bay window. He saw Claire vomiting after chemo, then crying in pain on the sofa. He saw me carrying Claire to bed where I read Dante to her. Her favorite book to teach.
Virgil was impassive as friends and relatives came and went that cold, joyless winter. Final visits.
One mid-March afternoon, I returned from the market to find Claire kneeling in front of Virgil, without coat or gloves. She looked so frail and colorless against the enormous mossy pines behind her. A winter sprite.
“Claire!” I stumbled to her through the slushy snow. “What the hell are you doing?”
“Almost adventure time, George.”
Then spring came, warm and wet. Virgil slowly lost shape and sank into the earth, taking Claire with him.