Short Story by Leigh Charles

Fragments of Winter

The scruffy little boy knocked timidly upon the blue painted door. His knuckles hurt against the cold. Still, he rapped again. He shuffled his feet in the snow beneath and began to flap his arms against himself in a vain effort to promote warmth upon his frail little body. The waiting seemed an eternity. Presently, he heard a bit of scuffling behind the door, the click of a latch, and eventually a weathered old eye peered at him through the small crack of the opened door. The boy jumped back with a little start.

“What is it you want boy, and be hurrying about it, I don’t like this draft coming in”, the old woman announced imperiously.

“Please lady, can I come in for a little while to warm myself? I promise, I will be on my way soon.”

“On your way to where?”, the woman answered, with a dubious look on her face.

“Just on …. my way, ‘tis all” , answered the boy, looking down at his sodden feet. Then he looked up at her defiantly and announced: “I’m being honest; I won’t bother you at all”.

The woman lifted a gnarled hand to her hair sprouted chin and stroked it thoughtfully. She looked him up and down and immediately discerned this was an urchin. Probably out to rob me of some sort, she thought to herself. She assessed the situation, took in his age, which was somewhere between 7 and 10yrs old. He was so undeveloped, it was hard to tell. He did seem to have an honest look about him though. And, m’well, she thought to herself, it’s been a long time since company has come her way.

The woman moved back a bit. At first the boy thought she was about to close the door in his face, therefore letting the perils of winter take hold of him. This frightened him very much and he made a soft O movement with his mouth. Suddenly the door miraculously creaked opened. He felt the blast of the warmth coming from the fire and fought the urge to race in to comfort himself right there in front of those welcoming crackling flames! As he stepped in, he felt the icy blast of the wind smash up against his back and he almost collided into the woman’s bosom. He purposely stumbled a little to avoid such an embarrassing moment, and instantly lost his balance. The woman grabbed him with surprisingly strong arms and settled him upright again.

“Thank you” he mumbled, as he took off his sodden ice crusted cap. The old woman silently took it off him and placed it upon a peg near the fire. She turned around and this time made it obvious she was assessing him. His cheeks burned in shame.

“So, what brings you way out here, in this god forbidden frozen wasteland, far away from anywhere? You ought to have frozen to death before now,” she said gruffly.

“I…. I…. I lost my way,” answered the boy.

“Lost your way? Lost your way? How, by whom?”

“I don’t know. Just did”, he shrugged.

He’s being obstinate thought the old woman. She shuffled over to her food cabinet and brought out some cheese which was already resting upon a cutting board. The cheese was placed on the rough hewn table, and then she turned to retrieve some bread. Supposing he was hungry, she sliced the bread, put cheese on it and handed it to the boy. He grabbed at it hungrily and fed himself quickly. She watched him with wise eyes, studying his movements, his manner. Discerning just where he came from was a little difficult. She’d not seen such a child as this for many years around these parts.

“You’re young and a little restless boy. How old are you?”

“I don’t know”, he answered.

“You’re being obstinate,” the woman finally announced her previous thoughts.

“No, really. I am lost. I don’t know how old I am. But I know I’d been freezing out there in that cold winters’ weather outside. I really appreciate you bringing me in and helping me get warm again, lady.” The boy settled into a chair opposite the table. The chair was far too big for him. He shuffled his body as far back as he could against the backrest. Ohhh, he needed a rest!

“Hmmpff,” the woman only answered, and she went over to stoke the fire. The flames roared into renewed life.

“What about you?” The boy asked.

“What about me what?” asked the woman surprised.

“I mean, what about you? How come you are way out here? YOU should have been frozen to death by now too. I mean, how did you get all that wood by yourself for that fire?”

“Why, you’re an impertinent thing aren’t you?” She gruffly replied as she turned around to retrieve another chair in order to sit opposite him. Yet at the same time, she was careful not to let him see the indulgent smile upon her face.

The woman settled the chair opposite him, made her own cheese and bread, held the sandwich half way up to her mouth and announced, eyeing him:

“I will tell you presently” she ate in silence, with care and took her time finishing her meal. The little boy grew restless, and became a little uncomfortable in the silence. Silence, except that is, the howling wind, the window panes rattling, and the drafts of snow come crashing down from the eaves occasionally. Why, in this noise, is snow itself when falling is so silent he wondered? He looked around the sparsely furnished room. The worn rug on the floor in front of the fireplace, the neat fire implements lined up like soldiers against the mantelpiece, the clean curtains, which, for some reason were drawn wide open. Wouldn’t one close the curtains in order to retain more heat from the fire he wondered? His eyes rove over every detail of the small cosy cottage, and his thoughts were elsewhere as he finally jumped when the woman spoke.

“I have come here because of the seasons”.

“The seasons?” Asked the boy, confused.

“Sshhh.. tsk! Don’t interrupt boy! I’ve had a good life, a wonderful life. Now is the time to slow down. I’ve asked many questions here, here in the autumn.” She got up from the table.

“I’ve lost something!”

The boy got up, looked at her, looked at the table, and then looked under the table.

“What are you doing boy?”

“You said you lost something, I am helping you to find it”

“No no, I’ve lost something in myself. I had many things, many years ago. Now it is lost, all lost, those things. In the autumn I lost it all. All the things I dreamed I wanted to happen then. All the things I thought I could aspire to ….,“ she turned around, leaving the thought hanging. She placed one hand on her hip, tilted her head and said wistfully ‘….. Things. Things I ‘should’ have aspired to and achieved. But that was lost in the summer. That was a bad summer, particularly bad. The autumn was worse. Why was it worse? Because it was then I finally knew I lost it all. There is no going back”. She shook her head sadly.

“But of course you can go back, there is always next year” said the boy hopefully.

The old woman smiled a sad smile, and ruffled his brown hair.

“Why do you say that?” She asked.

“Because there are always new beginnings. There is always a fresh way to re-start. Dreams are just that, dreams. You have to make them reality. You can always revise dreams, but you can’t revise reality”

A huge blast of cold air came whistling by the old cottage, rattling the windows. How appropriate, thought the old woman wryly. But all she said was:

“Hmm. You talk gibberish boy”. But that simple statement cut deeper than she liked to have admitted, and she went to stoke the fire once more. She smiled though. It was an ironic smile.

The boy looked quizzically at her. Then finally he mentioned he had better get going and made a move to the door.

“Are you going now? Into that horrid weather? You will surely freeze to death!” She protested.

The boy ignored her and grabbed the door handle. Then he turned around, looked her up and down, and asked,

“What is your name?”

“Winter’ she replied wryly. “What is yours?”

“Spring” said he. And he silently slipped out into the cold drafts of the snow.

“Impertinent boy!”

Poetry by Michael Simon

Holiday Cur Sings

Ambition has no season. Nor does
blessing or curse, two presents we long for
and fight against in any season.
I have been given a bone with a bow.

I carry it into my dark kennel,
gnawing away with purpose, with passion.

I will not savor it. I will not be sated.
We are both hopeful. We both howl.
We both lived in cages that are locked
each night. We both dream, and whimper.