(Another experiment with short fiction – a first draft, not sure if I have something or not)
December is cold and gray and black. Days are shorter and nights are longer, and we become nocturnal creatures, living in the dark. Days and nights blur and blend and run into each other. But December is also Christmas, and Christmas is a promise. Snow is a hope. There’s something about snow at Christmas.
That year it hadn’t snowed at all until two nights before. It was cold, in the mid teens. We were downtown, walking on the sidewalks, finishing our shopping. Christmas music was playing through loudspeakers, “Silver Bells” when it started to come down. At first the flakes fell big and soft and slow, sticking to the sidewalk, shining and glistening like stardust in the glow of the streetlights. Then it came faster and harder and steadier, coating the sidewalks, the ground a blanket of white. It was getting late, but neither one of us was tired. We went into the all night diner and sat in a booth next to a window. We took our coats off and laid them alongside our bags on the benches next to us. She ordered a coffee, me a hot chocolate, and we each ordered a sandwich. We settled in, warming up and laughing and watching the snow pile up outside, watching the dwindling crowds with their collars turned up and stocking caps on.
As we waited for our food, I became immersed in reading the back cover jackets of the paperbacks I had bought at the used book store. I was reading the blurbs on the inside copy of Catch-22 I had purchased for my younger brother when I happened to look up at her face. She looked distracted and sad. I pretended not to notice and looked back down at the book, and then back up at her again. She was looking at the diner’s counter, where a few random stragglers sat. When she looked down at her coffee, I snuck a glance, and I saw him. I recognized him right away. I looked at the book , pretending I was still reading, and snuck another look back up at her, and caught her looking at him again. From the corner of my eye I could make out movement from where he was sitting. He was getting up, putting his coat on. I put my head down, and as he walked by us, I looked up, and she was looking at him. It was only for a moment, I saw their eyes meet, I saw the look in her eyes, and I saw the look in his eyes, and I knew.
I watched him walk out the door, not caring any more about whether she saw me or not. Through the window I watched him move silently down the white blanket on the sidewalk. When he was out of sight, I stopped watching, and looked at her, and she was looking at me, her eyes wide and wet, and it took no more than a split second for us to process the information we now both knew. At the same time the waitress arrived with our food. As she put it on the table, we sat there in stoned silence, and I looked out the window, up at the street lights, at the snow swirling and tumbling like a white kaleidoscope, my insides spinning and turning and churning the blend of cold hurt and white rage that consumed me.
She tried to talk, tried to explain, but there was no explanation. I just sat there, dipping French fries into the puddle of ketchup I had poured on my plate, processing the betrayal, barely hearing her inadequate reasons. She was crying when the waitress finally brought the check. I pulled some paper out of my wallet, still silent, refusing to speak, as we put our coats on.
“Talk to me”, she kept saying, begging, pleading, “please, just talk to me. Tell me what you’re thinking.”
Then we were outside. The air was cold and crisp. The streets were nearly empty now. Everything was a smooth and pure blanket of white. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” was playing through the speakers. The wind had picked up and would gust and stop.
We turned down 57th street, into the wind. She was still pleading with me to talk to her, and she kept saying she was sorry. A strong gust blew into our faces as she said, “please, don’t treat me like this.” The wind was cold and icy. I felt it fill my lungs and I felt my arm rise up, and then I saw, in the street light’s glow, on the silent and white blanket at my feet, three small red circles. I don’t know how long I stood there, cold and frozen and motionless, staring at the three red circles, but when I looked up she was gone. I looked down again, and even though the snow and wind had covered up the three red dots, I could still see them, and I see them now, all these years later, whenever I see a fresh blanket of snow under the glow of downtown streetlights.