The home team was getting beat by the visitors, older-than-he thought-Chinese food found behind the empty milk carton at the back of the fridge. He told himself that it couldn’t be that bad, and besides there wasn’t anything else to eat, and he didn’t want to walk anywhere in that snowstorm.
Hours later. Kneeling on the bathroom tile, realizing just how filthy the grout is. Taste of noodles in the back of his throat remaining, no matter how many glass of water he drank. Hair wet with sweat, dry now and standing up all over. Crawl to bed. Get halfway.
Dzinski let the old-timer at his left elbow go on and on. He didn’t need that arm, or that ear. The right could lift the pint glass. Could watch the door in the mirror behind the bar. Could wait the story.
“And what do you think happened then?” the old-timer asked, and waited.
“I missed that last bit,” Dzinski said.
The old-timer pushed himself up from the bar. “You kids are all the same.”
Dzinski smiled, thanked him for the compliment, and bought him another beer.
“Maybe you’re one of the all right ones after all, Frank,” the old-timer said.
We brought winter down the mountain. Kept it hidden in our sinuses. Congestion in our chests and side streets. Highways closed for the holidays, under repair. Grass almost green, under a perfect sheet of ice. Then snow and snow and snow. Glowing orange under streetlights at night. Not as comforting as the heavy blanket of pine-green darkness dropped in mid-afternoon. Or the oatmeal almond crunch of snow underfoot.
Sirens and shovels. Interminable red lights. Slipping on sidewalks. Elbows out in grocery aisles. Frozen pizzas served on cardboard trays. The days seem longer under artificial light, but a lot less real.
Bear only changed his shirt three times before leaving the house. Only ran back to make sure he’d turned the oven off and locked the front door twice.
The bus never arrived, so he walked. Heavy boots crunching snow, dress shoes in his parka’s pockets.
“Big party tonight? For work?” the cab driver asked him, just about an hour later.
“Got an early flight tomorrow,” Bear said. “Would’ve loved to stay longer, but, you know.”
The driver eyed him in the rear-view. “Sure do pal.”
Bear stayed quiet the rest of the ride, and tipped too heavily when he paid.
Pete and Charles hunkered down in the boxcar’s corner.
“Don’t feel like we’re heading south,” Pete said, chin against his chest, collar up around his ears. Fingers curled tight in a fist, shoved deep in his pockets.
“Mountain air, is all,” Charles said, quieting his teeth.
The already dark car went darker. Train got louder. They went quiet.
The whistle woke them up.
“Better stay quiet,” Charles said.
“As an empty bottle,” Pete said.
Outside, boots crunched on frozen ground. Hammers cocked.
A voice boomed.
“Come on out now,” it said. “Don’t go making us come in to get you.”
The other prisoner keeps him awake. Mumbles and whimpers in his sleep. Robertson turns to his other side, straw poking through his thin robe. In the morning, too early, the guard enters the cell. Kicks the old man awake.
“Breakfast, your majesty,” he says. He hands them each a small bowl of broth and a heel of bread. Robertson doesn’t ask why the guard calls him that. The old man eats and lays down again. The whimpers start.
Days later, Robertson awakes. The old man gone. Cell door open. He creeps up, and hears fighting somewhere deeper in the prison.
The professor tap-danced on the coffee table, while the painter emptied the vegetable crisper onto the one in the kitchen. She arranged carrots, lettuce, beets and leeks into a centrepiece. The neighbours, Well-meaning regular folk, who we only invited when we realized we hadn’t, stood huddled together in the hall, sipping at the punch. The reporter scrawled poems on the bathroom wall, hollering the whole time about how he’d always wanted to be a horseman, but the frontier was long gone by the time he showed up.
That thought rippled through the gathered crowd, and caused them all to quiet.