Dead of Winter
Dead of winter.
The first thing I see when I open my eyes is the empty doorframe before me. The room is cold, a breeze swirling through the gap and across the bare floorboards. The bedsheets stir. The lightweight blinds twist and turn on their plastic hangings. It’s like they’re saying something.
I feel an emptiness next to me, and as I turn I notice the slight depression in the mattress, the torn-back blankets, the absence of a head on the pillow. Only a stray dark strand remains, clinging to the starched linen. As I reach out, I feel the rapidly dissipating warmth in the person-shaped void. I can almost see her face, still there, sleeping gently.
Pulling the covers back, I swing my legs down onto the floor. I stretch, my joints cracking, and then move away from the tangled sheets, over discarded shirts and forgotten underwear. My feet pad softly over the smooth boards, the air chilling my skin. As I pass into the living space I note the takeaway boxes lying haphazard upon the low table. There are dishes lying in the sink, food glued to their porcelain faces. The TV sits silent, its black box betraying no movement.
She’s not here either. Instead, there are the faint traces of her presence: a stained cup of coffee leaves rings on the sideboard next to a book with rumpled pages. A cracked vase of deep purple flowers is slowly losing its lustre, so I find a nearly-clean cup and scoop handfuls of water into the icy soil. I almost want them to talk, to say something, because I live on words. But they’re just flowers. They won’t say anything back, ever.
I pick up her long-suffering black notebook and snap the elastic bookmark to the side so I can leaf through the pages unhindered. There are drawings in there, my drawings, rough scribbles of birds and dogs and squirrels that feel for all their wilderness like they’re going to leap off the page and run around joyfully in the cool on the floor. Then there are her drawings, more artful, precise sketches with defined linework and ink flourishes. I can’t match her skill. But she can’t draw life.
There’s writing in the book too. She writes – she might have been a writer, I think, if it weren’t for the difficult path we chose together. Her poetry is like twisted obsidian glass, fragile and dark and beautiful. She’s been trying to teach me to write. So I do. Eloquence isn’t difficult when you want to impress. Even for the comedian that I am, or at least try to be. Self-flattery has never been one of my strong points.
There’s a knocking on the glass. In the little window above the sink there is a bird rapping on the pane with its hooked black beak. I know just by the noise that it wants to get out of the cold, but I know all too well that I can’t let it in. The wild fuels the animal spirit. If I allow the raven inside, it won’t grow. It won’t survive. It will become accustomed to the indoors and grow weaker and weaker until it’s eaten by the cat next door. Somewhat better would be if it rejected the civilisation we present it with. Animals can’t be caged, not really. Their minds are always on the outdoors. Creatures bred in captivity dream of something better that they can’t envisage and will never understand. That’s often why humans turn to religion. It’s the call of the wild, the unknown, the sublime. I admit, it’s enticing. But I know nature better than anyone else. So I don’t need inner comforts.
That said, I’m reminded of the wind-chill. It’s coming from behind the standing shelf, where around the corner lies the balcony. I tread carefully, poised to react.
There’s another dark shape outside, feet planted in the snow. The skies are an alien dull white, bare branches devoid of foliage. Below, ice drifts sluggishly in the frozen river. The land is drowned in soft whiteness, and it has piled up on the wooden floor outside the door; the railings rust, the paint flaking off the iron. Broken metal vents on the side of the building occasionally issue steam and pale smoke. Down below, there are shopping trolleys submerged in drifts of pure crystalline nothing. Cracks race through concrete and foundations crumble. This building has been coming apart for a long time, and so have I.
Her hands grasp the rusty iron with a certain force, knuckles white so that a lone drip of crimson emerges from under her grip. Her legs melt the snow around with her inner flame, feet planted sturdily at equal distance. Her smooth skin pops with cold, her back and arms Braille, her form tight against her bones. I see the ridges in her spine, the tendons standing out in her legs, her shoulder blades raised as through fluid tectonic movement. Her hair is black as the raven. It cascades in an unruly mess to her shoulders, then cools on the nape of her neck. Individual short strands float in the breeze.
I can see her cheekbone, proud and tall. I can almost see her face. And although she doesn’t turn, doesn’t move a rigid muscle on her ashen, frozen body, I know instinctively that she is smiling mischievously through her red-black-purple-blue eyes. And if nothing else, she smiles through her voice:
- Garfield Logan (BB)