Tuesday, December 27, 2011
It is his idea to go for an early evening stroll through the neighborhood. I protest at first, laughing at the crazy idea of going out in the below freezing temperatures. Then he opens the door. The outside world is draped in misty wonder, the lights dim and fluttery as their beams try to penetrate the fog. He has caught me, for it looks like a fairyland. He knows I can't resist a fairyland.
He hands me my coat and puts on his own. Opening the door, we step from the place of warm, human familiarity and into a chilly, enchanted land--the realm of the fairies. It is as strange and wondrous as any of the Seven Wonders of the World, but it is upon our doorstep.
At first we talk and even chase one another through the slippery, frosty mist that tingles as it touches our cheeks. He laughs as I exclaim at the beautiful patterns upon the leaves and fences; I laugh as he sings "Frosty the Snowman" at the top of his voice. "There isn't any snow to sing about!" I cry. "Well, you never know," he replies, "Maybe if we sing loud enough, your fairies will make it snow." He winks at me and begins to run again.
Soon we lapse into companionable silence. We walk in step with one another, listening to the crunch of ice and frost under our feet. It is impossible to tell the time--there is only the dull, shimmering glow of the streetlights in the fog.
On and on we walk, commenting on a particularly interesting icicle hanging from a tree branch or the way the blue and green and red of the Christmas lights on a fence bleed together in the misty air to form new colors. But mostly we just walk together, as we always do.
He stops suddenly. I stop a few paces ahead of him, turning to see what the matter is. "What's up?" I ask him. He shrugs and lets loose a breath. It creates a puff of white in front of his face. He does it a second time, then points a little ways ahead of us.
"What do you see?" he asks.
I walk to where he is standing and position myself to follow his line of sight. Ahead of us is the park. There is a smattering of trees before us, each one standing apart from its fellows. They have no line or pattern, but they fit together all the same. I study them for a time, trying to find a satisfying answer to his question.
"Well?" he says. "Well, what?" He laughs and moves to stand at my side, putting a hand on my shoulder and pointing again to the trees with the other, "Tell me what you see." I frown at him, "You'll laugh." He shakes his head, "Won't."
Squinting at the scene before me, I begin.
"I see figures, frozen by the night in their acts of life. See? That one, there. She is waiting, waiting for someone to come home. Over there, he remembers what it was to be young and free. Beyond them both, another pauses on the path of change before taking the step that will alter his life forever. And there, she holds inside tears that cannot yet be allowed to flow.
These figures, they're shrouded. Shrouded in the frost--shrouded in delicate, intricate, fragile life. Each life is so very different, as is the way of things. And yet, if you notice, each one is clothed in the same material. You see them? All clothed in diamond white. But look at them closer and you'll see that none is the same. All of the patterns are different. No ice crystal is the same. Neither is any human experience.
And so they stand there, paused in their time. They stand, waiting in the winter of their lives, praying for the tender touch of spring."
I am so caught up in the scene before me that I’m startled when I hear a soft chuckle. The magic is broken and I turn, a rush of anger rising at his laughter. "You said you wouldn't laugh," I remind him sharply.
He shakes his head as looks at me, an expression of amusement on his face. Again I feel upset, but then I notice the sadness creeping up in the corners of his eyes. The anger fades, and I wait for him to speak. He sighs again and stuffs his hands deep into his pockets. I wait still. Staring straight into my eyes, he speaks.
"You missed your calling in life."
Startled, I reply, "My calling?"
"Yes," he walks toward the trees. Glancing over his shoulder, he smiles at me, "You should have been a poet." I laugh and wave away the praise, "Poets only make an income after they're dead." He laughs too, and then returns his gaze to the trees. He gestures to the trees and speaks again.
"When you look at the world, you see people. A frost-covered tree isn't just a frost-covered tree. It's...it's more than that. It becomes a person with a story, a symbol of a life lived. Or even one not lived." His voice grows quiet, and he talks to the icy grass below our feet. "I don't know how you do it, Hannah. Or why you do it. You've always been like that."
I feel as though he's complimented me and in the same sentence pointed out some sort of flaw in my personality. Suddenly I feel unsure and almost frightened of what will happen next, so I laugh, "Well, Richard, you know what I see now! But you haven't told me what you see."
He smiles over his shoulder again but doesn't respond. I approach him and put my hand on his shoulder.
"Richard?" I ask softly, "What do you see?"
His gaze lingers upon the trees in front of us. Slowly he raises his arm and gently removes my hand from his shoulder. He holds it for awhile, tracing the design of my glove with his finger. Then, he looks me in the eye.
"I see trees covered in frost, Hannah. That's all I've ever seen."
He drops my hand. I watch him as he slowly walks back the way we came, until I can no longer see him through the mist.