There is something sacred about winter. The world falls asleep and lays still. The snow muffles all sound and tries to wash away all blemishes so the world seems clean and pure. Like a lover laying still and deeply asleep. No matter what sins they have committed or hurts they have caused when they lay there you just want to touch there skin softly and recall how they look with the lines relaxed from their faces and hands unconsciously still.
So often in a city the people never see past the smear of stained snow, the ice on the streets and the blur of windshield wipers. They dash from one place to another, snarling at the inconvenience of the weather and how they have cold feet. Well put on boots! The weather was here before you, will remain after you and will tie all things together into a single lifespan of the earth, not the concerns of a vain little human.
Rachel loved winter. It made her bones ache, made sleep hard, made her long for company and a fireplace but winter was a gift from the earth. The quite of the park was wonderful. When you could walk down the sidewalk and for a moment seem to be a million miles away from the buildings, the crowds, the cars and the abuse of mankind.
One had to slow down, to walk slowly, to not seek to overcome winter but embrace it with suitable clothes so allowing the slow easy walk and the chance to breathe in the beauty of the sleeping world. God knows the earth needed to rest! How could anyone begrudge the healing slumber of winter.
When the twilight of an easily winter night turns the world soft blue, to Rachel, it was like a sleeping lover reaching over, wrapping a tight arm around her and whispering for her to stay. She had to stop in her walk and just stand under the naked limbs of the tree and let the arm of winter hold her.
Something about such stillness always mad her mid spin up to her youth and the very few she had dared to love. For a moment guilt whispered at her to go back and visit the grave of the man who had once given her a name. They had been so young… it was so long ago. She could recall him and sadness for the fact he had missed out on so much, so many years had been robbed from him, but that was how life worked. All men died.
Snow began to drift down out of the sky as city lights began to pop on, turning blue light to pink. The sadness passed as her thoughts shifted from one to another and she found herself wondering what the only other man she had loved was doing tonight. Was he out walking in the snow? Was he rushing about in the life of a suburban father or was he sitting in front of a fire with his family?
She drew in a deep breathe and pulled up the collar of her long red wool coat and left the quite of the park. Her breathe steamed as she walked and the snow crushed and squeaked under her feet. Her thoughts wondered to her estranged sister and her long lost brother, wondering where they had gone, what they were doing and if her brother was even still alive. She hoped her was, she hoped he was well and happy and had found the life he could not in the shadow of their father.
He had been perfect in their fathers eyes until he made it clear he did not like girls and did not want a date for the prom. He had not rebelled as many with flamboyant clothes or forced lisps, he had just simply packed up and left. Rumor was he had changed his name and gone to college in some art field or the other but Rachel really had no idea. Where ever he was she was certain he was true to himself.
The park opened up and she left the quiet for the side walk and its muddy snow and slushy edges. Lights lined the way instead of trees and buildings formed walls of square lights and straight edges. She might have gone home but tonight she didn’t feel like being alone. She sent a gift of unconditional love to her son where ever he was tonight. She had left a message on his phone twice this week but had gotten no answer back. Few who inspired her to reach out answered back… maybe it was a curse… maybe it was a blessing.
She turned away from the way home and went the other way. Nights like this few went out and she would likely have Mc Kay’s to herself. She knew in her own heart loneliness was a thing that crept up time to time and even if she was told she was cold and void she knew better. Surly Chad had days no different.
It was a dozen blocks to the old irish pub but even if it was late and no one was there it would be open. It was always open. She dug in her deep coat pockets for the random ones and change she kept there and had several in hand when she reached the old man sitting near a doorway on her way. She paused to take his hand in her and put the change in his fist.
“Thankya’” he said with nod.
She smiled, meeting his eyes. He had dark brown eyes full of memory and pain but strength in a way most would never know. She wagered he was a veteran and had taken injury to his heart in a way few can even understand.
“You go have yourself a drink on me,” she said honestly. “Get yourself warm a bit and try to have a good night.”
He gave her an oddly startled look and smiled with toothless awe.
“I will Miss. You have a goodun’ yer’ self.”
“I will,” she left him find himself a place to get a drink and warm up without any guilt. She hoped he got a good blend and sat and sipped it for hours, enjoying it without guilt or shame. So many stayed home to drink there expensive brews and then turned around and looked down n those in so much pain they could not function. They would sneer at them and call them drunks, refusing to given them change because they might just go buy a tall boy… hypocrites.
She reached McKay’s as the mist of snow turned to a true down fall.
Chad stood in the door of the bar smoking a small pipe. He didn’t wear a coat, she wondered if he owned one.
“Today’s my birthday,” he said to her. “When I turned sixteen my father gave me his grandfathers pipe,” he showed the pipe to her in a gesture. “We stood outside and he showed me how to load it, talked of tobaccos and the things people smoke. He showed me how to smoke it and told me that on that day I became a man. That he was no longer there to tell me what to do, but to be there to protect me and help me when I made mistakes. That I was old enough to know the sort of man I wanted to be and while the law might not see me as an adult he did and he asked only that I return the favor and see myself as one and not behave like a rebellious child.” He drew on the pipe and let the smoke curl about his fingers. “I only smoke on my birthday and on the day he died.”
He blew out the smoke from his lungs and offered the pipe to Rachel. She took it, honored her very private friend shared his story and his pipe with her. She took a small draw on the pipe. She didn’t smoke any more and her lungs would not be accustomed to it any more. It was a fine blend of tobacco, smooth and rich flavored.
She gave it back and attempted to blow smoke rings, they didn’t work real well but made Chad smile.
“What brings you out so late?” Chad asked tapping the last of the tobacco and ash out of his pipe.
“Just one of those night,” she said. “I figured your be up and was in no mood to sit up at home.”
“You up for rum tonight or just lime water?”
She considered it as she followed him into the warm of the low building. She took her place at the end of the bar and pulled her gloves off.
“Red wine actually,” she said.
Chad lifted an eye brow but went to get the wine. He poured two and caught a stool on his way to set them all down so he might join her for once.
“Happy birthday,” she said lifting her glass. He smiled and let the glasses meet to make a soft chiming ring. “I didn’t bring you a gift,” she said.
“Sure you did,” he smiled and laughed a little. “What more could you ask for then the company of someone who dose not ask anything of you nor expects you to be one way or another. Do you have any idea how rare it is for someone to just take what you give and allow you to keep what you want?” he chuckled. “Oh by the way you know Liz Holland?”
“Hmm, young blonde woman?” Rachel asked making a face to try and recall. “Comes in now and then about the time I go home.”
“Young?” he chuckled. “She thinks she is young enough, she is nearly forty, a lot of plastic and paint on that one.”
“Hmm, guess I never looked too close. She the one that giggles a lot.”
“Yah, that’d be her.”
“So what’d she do?’ Rachel asked curious why Chad brought her up.
“She has been trying to convince me to let her stay after hours…” he said with a look of pained distaste. “Gile’s saved me another night of trying to get her to go home and told her that you and I had a thing. I think she might hate you now. So if she seems a bit rude that’s why.”
“But we do, my dear,” Rachel laughed. “Just what exactly no one needs to know but you are a good man and take care of me when I need you to.”
He chuckled and took a drink to that.
“You work tomorrow?”
“If you’re up for it, after hours I have something to show you. I’d go get it now but I don’t like to leave the bar. Last time I did that it got robbed.”
“Sure,” she said with a shrug. “You expect anyone else tonight?”
“A few. There’s been a small group of late nighters coming in after they go bowling. They come in and bitch about their wives and kids, talk about girls young enough to be their daughters and pretend they are young men yet.”
“I don’t get it. Why do people get married and stay that way if they are so unhappy they must bitch about it in public? If you’re not happy end it. Chances are if your not happy neither is anyone else who has to live with you.”
“Duty, obligations… habit.” Chad took a drink. “Sometimes I think that people complain and make themselves unhappy because they think that’s how it is supposed to be and to be happy in marriage is almost a sign of weakness. Then there are those who pretend so hard they simply have no chance to live up to the image they create.”
“I’d rather be alone then live a lie,” Rachel said shaking her head.
“Thus here we are,” Chad laughed as he lifted his glass. “Oh,” he laughed suddenly. “You know Dwight?”
“He asked about you the other day. Wanted to know if you were married.”
‘What’d you say?” she asked hoping Chad had given the man, who ever he was, the run off.
“The truth,” he chuckled “I said I didn’t know.”
Rachel twisted the glass of wine in her hands and looked at the swirls of sugar on the walls of her glass.
“I was once. I have a son you know,” she looked up at Chad. “His father died a long time ago.”
“Sorry,” he said. “About your husband, not about you being a mother.”
“It was at the end anyway. I loved him, wanted him happy but knew he wasn’t. He drank a bit too much and went too fast. It was ruled an accident but…” she shrugged. “He was very unhappy.” She left it at that. “It was hard on my son but we got through, I had enough friends to give him support when he needed it.”
“Where is your son now?”
“Oh he is a pianist. Travels about doing concerts, dancing with as many young women as he can, breaking hearts I am sure.”
“It’s a tough time to be an artist.”
“He’s doing alright, he’s young and good enough he can pull it off.”
“If he comes to visit I’d love to meet him.”
“Yeah, me too.”
Chad looked up as boots appeared on the top step. He drained his wine and got up.
“Everyone has their own path to take, its nice when we get to travel a bit with someone but sooner or later the path will spilt off and the sooner we all understand that the better the world will be for everyone,” he said and went to get the drinks for the bowlers.
(All the photos not taken by myself were taken by Quiet Walk Photography. Thank you for the use of your beautiful images.)