All That Glitters
Snow. Fresh snow. Fluffy, crisp, snow that crunched under his feet as he padded through the yard to his mailbox. Tendrils of cold wormed their way across his flesh. He hadn’t been prepared for it. They, predicted for weeks that the first snows of winter were still over a week away, nothing to worry about. But this wasn’t the first time the weather stations had been wrong.
The empty mailbox screamed at him, an effect of the heavy white that covered the road. Everything had shut down in the sudden onslaught. Overnight two feet of the stuff had fallen and blanketed the world. Road crews couldn’t keep up. It still came down.
He had considered firing up the snow-blower earlier, but he needed gas and two cycle oil. Both were a hike through the tundra his neighborhood had become. He had heard all the closures on the radio earlier and even then, he considered himself lucky to still have power.
Gary scanned up and down the street, expecting to see the neighborhood outside, building snowmen, clearing driveways, or even as he was doing, questioning the whole thing. But no one he could see had joined him outside. Wisps of smoke rose from chimneys but no movement other than the gentle susurration of the falling snow. The quiet, unnatural, brooding, chilled his bones more than the cold itself.
He turned with a shiver as he pulled his robe tight against his chest. The trip back to his porch took longer than the trip to the mailbox.
The icy wind’s fingers scraped across the skin of his legs and belly from the bottom of his robe. As he shivered through the chill he gave a soft curse into his robe. His warm breath brought on a deeper chill and he quickened his pace to the door.
Once inside he kicked off his boots and set them on the mat beside the door. Janine would scold him. She would go out of her way to remind him that kicking off his boots and the snow like he did would send it further into the living room.
She didn’t allow shoes of any kind on her living room carpet. Not past the front door and the mat. The cold and the snow weren’t a good enough reason to punish those in the house. Especially her. She worked hard to keep the living room clean, keep it ready for presentation to any guest who may drop by.
Gary chuckled at that. They hadn’t had visitors in quite some time. Janine’s tirades in front of little William’s friends had scared them off. What else would explain it? The boy spent most of his time away from the house. It’d been like that for a while now, longer than Gary could remember.
The boy and his mother had gone at it, feral cats, and neither would give ground to the other. That last fight, the one a few weeks ago, well, even now it made Gary cringe as he thought about it.
William was 15. Probably a typical teenager, rebellion was in their psyche and they couldn’t go against their nature. Gary remembered some of the fights he and his father endured when he was William’s age. Brutal, not quite bloody but they may as well have been. He never really felt at home till the time he moved out.
Quiet and stillness had settled over the house. The steady fall of snow outside pressed on the picture window in the living room. The soft crackle of the fire’s glow was lost to the window’s light. He poked at the remaining log to adjust it before adding a couple more. A fresh snap sent a shower of sparks up the chimney. He turned and allowed the heat to warm the back of his legs.
After a lingered moment in the radiant heat he spun around and used the poker to lift the top of the cast iron pot hanging above the flames. He dug into the liquid inside with a long-handled spoon. Bits of stringy meat and bacon mixed and swirled in the stew pot, a bean thickened gruel. He withdrew just a portion of the stock with his spoon and blew on it before he sampled it. He couldn’t contain his soft smile as he recovered the pot. Janine loved his stews, fresh from the fireplace. He hadn’t made them often enough this winter, supplies being what they were now.
“Won’t be much longer,” he said. The words for his benefit, his alone. The time in his living room was the time to collect his thoughts and clear his mind before he went to work. His eyes had locked with the fire, prey to the dancing flames that had overtaken the fresh logs he added.
“I’m sorry it’s so late.” The words, the only ones that still registered after the all the times he had played the message. It had gone on for some time, a conversation between William and Janine. The apology for the fight. Gary had forgotten which one blamed the other after all this time. He wanted them home for the holidays, like his mother and father so many years before.
The day his father had walked out was a dark day, though Gary’s mother had sworn he would always be with them for the holidays. He couldn’t see how. His dad never even said good bye. It wasn’t until years later that she shared the family recipe for their holiday stew, the same stew he hung over the fire now, a family tradition.
He had gone to the basement work room. Janine had never been allowed in the work room. He liked the solitude, the quiet, the time away from the fighting. He had built it himself. One side of the room had been converted into a freezer/refrigerator. The other side had been set up with washable walls and a sturdy table that worked as a butcher block and work bench.
It had taken a few years but he built up a decent catering business that focused on specialty meats and cheeses. Recipes that had been handed down for years on his mother’s side. They took their charcuterie seriously and she had taught him well. He had intended to teach William at one time but the boy never took an interest.
And then the fight…
He couldn’t get it out of his mind. Sometimes people say things they can’t take back in a fight, the things that hurt the most. But he did apologize, he did, didn’t he? It was on the phone message. Janine had spoken with him for a long time that day.
Funny thing with that though. Gary’s mother had said that his father was sorry too. She said that he would be with them for a long time even if he was only there for the holidays.
Now he remembers his father with a smile every time he makes his mother’s Christmas stew. Just like he will remember William. He will be with them for many more Christmases to come.
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