Thursday, September 3, 2015

My Last Winter - Chronicles of the Snow Ch. 1

IT WAS COLDER OUTSIDE than it felt. I considered turning back to get my coat. It was just inside the door after all. On the hook where it belonged. Mom gave it to me. She was so proud. Her face adopted that joyful glow when I first unwrapped it last Christmas. It was expensive – over a hundred dollars. I hated it and wasted no time expressing my disdain. I wish I could turn back.
          It was colder now. I should grab my coat. But I didn’t. I left it hanging. Mom was always doing her best. She worked so long and so hard. I missed her as my hand slipped from the brass doorknob. Oh well. At least I have my gloves today.
          Mom made them for me. They were a bit nicer than the coat. At least in my opinion. Knit I think. Or crochet maybe. I never knew the difference. They were soft – not entirely warm, but better than nothing. Of course I couldn’t let her know. When you’re seventeen years old, your parents are stupid and worthless. Nothing could stand in the way of that fact. No amount of kindness was permitted. No amount of gratitude. Appearances had to be maintained. I’m a fool.
          A slight breeze crept through the fabric of my favorite shirt. It was long sleeved, gray some sort of symbol on the front – I don’t know what it meant. I shuttered. Maybe I should’ve worn the other jeans – they’re warmer.
          I’d be eighteen in a few days. December 23. And then Christmas. New Year. Lather, rinse and repeat. Day after day; year after year. There’s nothing new – it’s all the same. It was strange having nowhere to be in the mornings. I’d spent the last thirteen years being conditioned to wake up at 7:00 so I could be at school by 8. Not anymore. I was a man now. Time to get a job.
          It’s not like I hadn’t been trying. I didn’t exactly wake up six months after graduation and decide that I needed a job. I had been to every fast food joint, drug store, bank, and video shop within a five mile radius trying to get a job since June. But I was seventeen and no one wants the risk. You need more experience. They said. But I couldn’t get more experience without a chance. You need a parent’s permission to work here if you’re not eighteen. Five more days.
          I really needed a job today. Rent would be due in less than a week and mom’s policy was almost dry. If I got hired somewhere, I could pay late. I had until 3PM to find a job.
          Summer had been difficult. Staci didn’t understand. Neither did Max. He kept going to mom’s bed, hoping for a pat on the head or a ‘good boy,’ but there was no one there to give it to him. He never gave up. Every single day he did that, wagging his dark black tail and leaving his mouth open like a big dumb oaf. He was sweet though. Staci just stayed in her room. I don’t know what she did in there.
          I walked down the empty driveway, scooting pebbles around underfoot. The yellow grass that peeked through the dirt crunched under my feet. There was still a little frost on it. I guess the morning dew had frozen. I hugged myself as I tried to blow a smoke ring with my breath. I never could get that right. Mom could. I should’ve let her teach me. Oh well.
          I made it about a mile before I had to rest. It was so cold. I was at the old bridge off Charmin Drive. I didn’t like this part of town. It smelled. There was a landfill a few blocks away and there was a little shack just around the corner. I pitied whoever lived there.
          But it didn’t smell so badly today. I guess the cold air killed the odor. I was glad. I leaned over the railing, looking at the old river below. It was dry. Had been since I could remember. I have no idea how the weeds grew there. Oh well.
          That’s when I first saw her. Of course I didn’t know her yet. And anyway, she was only there for a moment, casting a silhouette through the trees below. I thought I imagined her, but I know now that I hadn’t.
          I’d see her more and more over the next few days. Always in the same place below the bridge. By the time my birthday rolled around, I found myself going to the bridge just to see her. Every day brought me a little closer. I stayed home with Staci on Christmas. It was her break from school and she always loved the holidays.
          I didn’t have money to buy her anything, but I still did my best. I gave her one of my old video tapes and watched it with her. She seemed happy. I was glad. She went back to school the second week of January, and I went back to the bridge.
          It was January 09 when I saw her again – the girl under the bridge. This time I climbed down. Was she homeless? Did she need help? She was hiding behind some dried up thistles and vines, her back turned to me. I reached out to touch her shoulder, protected only by a thin tank top and her jet black hair. Her skin was pale – almost gray. She turned.
          Straightaway I saw her eyes. Bue. Blazing like sapphires in an inferno. Eyes don’t like that. They almost glowed. Beautiful. It took a moment before I broke my gaze from her piercing blue to see that the rest of her face was blank.
          I don’t mean to say that she carried on her face a blank expression. No. If I meant that, I would perhaps have used some other turn of phrase or idiom or perhaps I would be so blunt as to say that her brow was flat and her mouth neither smiled nor frowned. I mean to say that her face was utterly blank. She had no mouth at all. Just flesh and skin. Upon seeing her ghastly form, I stumbled backward and tripped on a root.
          The ground was cold, and I landed on a particularly uncomfortable stone. It maybe would’ve broken my hip if I’d been older. But I wasn’t and I’m not. And I won’t be, for that was my last winter.

Chronicles of the Snow will continue next Thursday.

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