The floodlight was on at the entrance gate, and the snow figures stood like sepulchres, one on each side. Loesser had made a mistake about them, though. They weren’t snowmen. One of them was a lady, with a pink ruffled apron tied around her lumpy waist and a bandana covering her head to hide its baldness. One of her charcoal eyes had fallen out of its melting socket. She had a witch’s nose made out of a carrot and a moist beet-mouth, and stuck in her chest was a long dripping icicle that gleamed in the light like a stiletto with a jewelled handle. The snow lady seemed to be aware of the wound: her blurred beet-mouth was anguished, and her single eye stared helplessly into the night.
[Later] During the hour he’d been in the house the snowlady had been melting in the soft air like butter in the sun. The icicle was still sticking through her heart, though her nose and her remaining eye had fallen out and the scarf clung moistly to her shrinking head. By morning, if the weather held, she would topple into an indistinguishable mass of gray slush, and no-one would remember her existence except two children.
commentary: Margaret Millar was a remarkable writer: her stories of malice and murder in suburban settings are compelling and as good now as when they were first written. I looked at this one earlier (in fact, twice) and said it gave a picture of miserable marriages and unhappy people.
Everyone drinks a lot, and either hates their closest relations, or is locked in an uncomfortable situation with them. She has turned her cold eye on these people and moves them round in superb plots, and she is a very very good writer.
It has to be said, Millar’s books do not contain many jokes: though this one came close: ‘I know one definition of [being] positive [about a key fact] – being wrong at the top of your voice.’
There are some nice people in the book: the Italians who try to look after Mrs Loftus. Meecham the lawyer hopes they will carry on:
Meecham took $100 out of the envelope and put it on the tray….Snowmen are nearly always bad news in crime stories, which I suppose is fair enough. These ones are merely metaphors. In Hilda Lawrence’s Blood Upon the Snow there is a more sinister one, and Nicholas Blake actually has a book called The Case of the Abominable Snowman, so don’t be expecting much innocent fun there.
‘I’ll give you a receipt,’ Mrs Garino said.
‘that won’t be necessary.’
‘It’s a funny way to do business.’
It’s not business, he thought, it’s life; and it’s not money that’s involved, but human beings. The dainty sandwich with its radish rose couldn’t have been bought for a thousand dollars.
The main picture is from the Missouri State Archives. The other one is from a postcard from Florida – presumably it was meant to compare unfavourably with the sunshine there, but I think it’s rather charming.