“It will melt. It always melts. You don’t think of that when it snows.” The man said aloud, looking out of his window. Shaking his head he added, “That’s what we do, we don’t think very far from the present.” The sky was darkening, the storm was slowing, the snow not as furious now as earlier. He liked how the snowflakes played in the lights, throwing shadows across the brightness of the bulbs or catching the light showing off their whiteness, like fluffy white errant lost feathers. Even in the city, he thought new snow, fresh snow, is white. Shuffling, he made his way back through the apartment to the whistling tea kettle. The rooms had that glow, that peculiar, after the snow orange-ness from the reflected lights of the city. The water from his cup of tea rose up and steamed his eyeglasses for a bit. The snow made it feel colder than usual. He liked that, that faint brief time of snow cold in his home.
Resisting turning on his reading lamp, enjoying the slide of late afternoon into dusk, he parked himself into the lazy comfort of his chair. The tea was spiced, aromatic. Its warmth soothing, relaxing. In the snow darkness he could see his telephone and knew no matter how hard he wished thought imagined prayed he could not go back to before the last time it had rung.
“Paul is dead,” a voice had said over the telephone earlier.
“He was my best friend, best friends since high school.”
“A long time?” The voice responded.
“Yes, a long time. You don’t get friends like that from a catalog or your online internet stores. No, they are happenstance. An act of serendipity.”
“Uh-huh,” the voice was disinterested.
“He was the best man at my wedding to Linda. She was my wife.”
The voice went on with details about services. “Weather permitting, of course, although that never seems to stop anything in the city.” There was a pause. “Are you still there?”
“Yes, I know the place. I will be there.”
Memories of Linda’s warm energetic smile with her adventurous eyes overtook his thoughts. Through their married lives together, his favorite picture of her remained their wedding photo. In that picture that moment she was smiling that everlasting smile he had fallen in love with while her eyes sparkled with youth. They were young. They all were young once. When she died it was Paul who was at his side helping with the details seeing that he made it through, learned to live again. Paul, without explanation, told him he understood, understood the meaning of loss, of heartbreak. Together they continued their friendship as if they had never been separated by time, by distance.
He remembered telling him at Linda’s funeral. “It’s my good fortune that you should move back here to the city when you did. I lose her and regain you.” With Paul there was no animosity, no bitterness over their long self-imposed exile from one another. It was life. It was how things go.
Paul was at the hospital the day Linda died. On a weather-less afternoon the two of them sat taking turns waiting for that moment. He was holding her hand gently, softly while Paul stood behind him when she opened her eyes. Linda looked at the two of them, smiled and then made a joke about the old days about how right it felt being together again.
Before they were married, they were all friends, good friends. Paul went incognito after the wedding, finally turning up years later in the form of a postcard from Florida. The postcard had reconnected them for a brief time, but then as things go, they lost touch again. No one’s fault, that’s what happens. Lives go on.
He was surprised at the number of people at Paul’s service, happy about that, content in a way that friends honestly praise one another. Gabby introduced herself to him as Paul’s ex from Florida and politely asked who he was. They exchanged pleasantries. “Paul always talked about Linda and you. He was just shattered when she told him she was sick.” She wept, dabbing at her nose and eyes with crumbled, overused tissues. “Doesn’t he look himself?” He smiled and begged off the luncheon claiming that he had previous plans.
An hour later he found himself sitting in a coffee shop.
For a minute he bit on his lower lip and sucked making a raspy sound, a habit from childhood. Feeling a chill, he wrapped his hands around a coffee mug, inspected what was left of its contents, played with a half-eaten pastry of some sort, sighed for no reason, and went back to listening.
The conversations were an indistinguishable mumble of mingled voices. The combined noise separated out by pitch, timbre, and inflection could tell you who was happy sad lost confused grieving over missing friends, wayward lovers.
He wanted to turn around to study everyone. Wanted to see what each looked like, who they were, to identify them. It was human, he convinced himself, a human need to want to assign a face with voices conversations. He envied their laughter, their peacefulness, their youthfulness.
Closing his eyes brought back images, people, and places long since gone. Always remembering them as they were when they were young or new. Memories of Linda, Paul, friends, family. Youth, he reminded himself, is wasted on the young. The thought made him laugh, ill-timed with the conversations going on around him.
Two men at the counter stood, looked over, puzzled. They walked away not looking back, not scrutinizing him. When they opened the door the winter air snuck in, chilling what it touched at floor level causing the man to shiver for an instant.
The coffee shop was warm, smelled of coffee eggs and today’s special. The red leatherette covering the benches of the booth was worn, torn, and repaired here and there with strips of aging red vinyl tape. The aged tape’s curled edges revealed the gray sticky side that had successfully trapped dirt, lint, and anything willing or unwilling to lose its freedom.
From his suit pocket he pulled a wallet stuffed with photographs, notes reminding him of old telephone numbers, forgotten appointments, shopping lists of remedies and supplies for an aging life, and a postcard. The postcard until earlier this morning had been in its place of honor tacked to the pantry wall next to the spot perpetually reserved for a calendar. There it had stayed since its delivery.
The man ran his finger along the edge of the postcard, straightening the paper where it needed and laid the card face up on the table. “Greetings,” it said. “Greetings from Saint Augustine, Florida. Home of the Fountain of Youth.” The once brilliant colors were faded. Age does that, slowly sucks the vibrance out of things, family, friends, the flowered wallpaper in the kitchen.
“Wish you were here.” He said softly aloud to himself and then flipped over the postcard. As he read the message, he could hear his friend Paul’s voice. “Hello, from the sunshine state. You need to come here. Don’t think about it, just pack up everything, throw it all in a suitcase and head south. You’ll love it here. It’s true there’s a fountain of youth. It’s here wrapped up in the sun, the fresh air, and the sea breezes. PS: Ha. Ha. Of course, I mean both of you.”
He replayed the discussions, the whys, the wherefores, the reasons for not going. He finally convinced her that no one does that kind of thing. “No one just picks up and leaves on a whim on the advice from a friend on the back of a postcard.”
He sifted through the contents of his wallet on the table. Looking at their wedding picture he studied Linda’s smile, her eyes, the glow of her face. After they were married that look he had fallen in love with faded away. Aged away. Until he saw it again that afternoon when Linda realized that Paul was with them in her hospital room.
Folding the picture, he stuffed it away. The postcard was meant for her. The getaway, the adventure, the search for eternal youth was for her, for them. All these years, hiding from the possibility that her smile, her fiery eyes weren’t for him. Maybe he had known. Maybe he had forgotten. Maybe he didn’t want to know.
But she stayed. In that instant the postcard became just a piece of old mail.
Standing he looked around connecting voices with faces. He welcomed their laughter, their peacefulness, their youthfulness. Outside it was dark, the early evening dark that comes with winter. The streets were decorated, long strings of lights strung up this way and across. Festive. Welcoming. Pulling his cap down he shoved his hands into the pockets of his wool overcoat. The snow started again or maybe it was just a breeze tossing about what had already fallen.
Duane M. Engelhardt is a new writer who has recently self-published a novella, Code of Silence. Drawing from career experiences ranging from Chief Financial Officer of a branch of an international corporation, to managing an art gallery, stage acting, and working on sailboats, Engelhardt now puts his unique vision of life into photography and writing. When not traveling, Duane and his wife Kit live outside of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, with Ziva, a conspicuous and vocal German Shepherd along with Layla, an overstuffed house cat, while working on his novel The Forest Hill Crow Society.