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The Camry slows to an early evening crawl as my blinker winks, signaling a desire to turn left into an ice rink parking lot.

Oncoming vehicles ignore my blinker’s plea as autumn snowflakes dab my windshield. Squinting, I look up. “It’s pretty,” I tell my empty car.

Traffic slinks by and, frustrated with the unending line of cars, I open my driver’s side window to prop an elbow on the door.

And upon opening the window, I am greeted not by a rush of cool air but by the screech of a bird. In fact, I am greeted by a sound so crisp and so sharp it cleaves the air above me, rending the fabric of time. Sensing the unattended opening, opportunistic snowflakes rush through the temporary wound and swirl in a whirlwind before my car.

Startled by the call of the bird, I poke my head out the open window and look for the source of the howl. And as the wound above my car seals tight I miss my chance to witness the screeching bird form herself upon a drooping wire. A tiny moment passes and I am greeted by a rush of cool air upon my cheek. Presently, I blush at the unanticipated greeting of air’s chilly touch. I look away and spy a snowflake on the back of my hand.

She quivers and shakes in response to her first sense of warmth.

I do not know it but the shivering snowflake is on her way home.

I do not know it but so am I.

I drum the side of the Camry with uncovered fingers and, as I do, that little snowflake slides softly from the back of my hand.  Closing my eyes for the briefest of moments I do not see the earth reach up, standing on tip toes, as she pulls a forming drop of water into her embrace.  And with the sound of a lullaby she whispers into the former snowflake’s ear, “Welcome home, snowflake. Welcome home.”

Below my car the former snowflake melts into earth’s warm embrace.

Around me time blooms, uncoiling like so many strings to form a tumbling cascade of invisible paths.

There, on one such path, I am greeted by the flashing headlights of a dark blue Saturn. Seeing my pleading blinker the driver of the most basic of cars slows to a stop. Directly behind the Saturn a BMW protests the driver’s act of kindness with an angry trumpet.

Before scooting into the parking lot I peek towards the Saturn as the vehicle’s driver, a girl no more than 18, slides long fingers under a waterfall of thick brown hair. Distracted by the blurting horn, her gaze settles on the rearview mirror. I’m close enough to see brown eyes narrow as she pulls a handful of hair over the top of her head in what I imagine to be a practiced habit.

I wave but she misses my show of thanks as she monitors the activities of her newest definition of an asshole in her rearview mirror.

My shoulders rise and fall,“Oh well.” Watching the driver of the idling Saturn I turn towards the parking lot, mouthing the words, ‘thank you.’

Still looking in the mirror she misses my second thank you. And as my thank you falls to the ground to join the newly born drop of water I swing my Camry in a graceful arc towards the ice rink entrance. Almost as an afterthought I withdraw my lingering gaze from the kindness of a stranger as I look to see where I am going.

A new path unwinds and, as if echoing the screech of the unseen bird, I scream.

HOLY SHIT!”

I slam the brakes hard as time recoils, squeezing into the tiniest of spaces.  In response, my car begins to slide.

Creeping across the entrance of the parking lot, a slender silhouette appears behind a veil of snowflakes. As if dropped from the sky, the silhouette bends and buckles but does not fall before rising to an upright position to stand directly in front of my car.

Goodyears glide over newly wetted pavement as arms stiffen and clutching fingers turn white. There, at the far end of time, my chest pounds as I realize I’m about to plow into a senior citizen.

Then, like an elastic band, time snaps back to familiar form and my car jerks to a halt. I sit and gawk at the outline of an elderly man less than five feet from my bumper. He does not notice the proximity of my car.

Exhaling, I release the steering wheel and melt into my seat, the tail end of my car blocking the path of the Saturn and the growing line of traffic.

“Oh my god,” I gasp. “Oh my fucking god.”

Placing my hand over my chest I take a measure of fear’s rhythmic echo. Relief washes through me. “Jesus Christ. Where the hell did you come from, old man?”

As my wondering words drift through the open window the elderly man quivers, mirage-like. Within a moment he comes fully into focus; crisp and clear in the autumn twilight.

Free of the burden of manslaughter I take a measure of the loitering old bird. Still he pays me no mind. He’s tall and thin with tangled wisps of white hair. Clothing hangs limp from a frail frame. An old wool cardigan drapes across slumped shoulders. The sweater sags, as if his pockets contain handfuls of wet sand. Baggy trousers cuff neatly over clown-sized dress shoes. He wears no hat and no gloves and appears unbothered by the autumn temperature and curious flurries. A face freckled with age stretches longingly towards earth.

As if unsure of his footing he wavers. Timidly, he takes a step and stops, steadying his stooped body with a brown wooden cane. He picks up his feet one after the other as if testing them.

I wait for him to take a second step. He hesitates. Then, hanging his cane from his wrist, he ever so gently places his hands on his stomach.  I watch as he pats his torso three times, each time moving his hands upwards. Removing his hands from a concave chest he stares at his palms as if in wonder. Head bobbing, he seems to digest his current status.

Does he even know where he is? Joining his face, my heart sags.

He stares ahead open mouthed as if in awe of the world around; as if startled to find himself standing upon a sidewalk behind a veil of snowflakes in front of a Camry blocking traffic. Moments slip by as he looks to and fro. Then, as if satisfied with his current status, he softly blinks his eyes. He smiles a crooked smile.

Finished with his blinking, he tilts a head balanced on a vine of a neck towards me. Catching my stare he raises his eyebrows. Then, as if sharing a secret, he winks a single wink. My mouth moves but nothing comes out. As if amused by my reaction he smirks before returning his attention to the treachery of the cracked pathway uncoiling under his feet.

Around me the world remains quiet.

A clock ticks.

Absentmindedly I look for the source of the ticking in the backseat of my car.  I find nothing.

Then, from above, another sharp screech. Looking upwards to a sagging electrical wire I spy a crow; a black one directly above the old man. Cocking her head she spies me. She blinks a single blink.

Again, she calls out.

Below the crow the old timer decides to make haste as he continues his journey across the parking lot entrance.  Above, the crow shimmies along the wire, keeping pace with the elderly man. With each step she tracks his progress.

Cawing loudly she spreads her wings as if to protect the shuffling man from falling snowflakes. White dots collect upon wings’ black edges. Rather than melt or roll off black sheened feathers, they accumulate to form a cloak of white.

Returning my attention to the elderly man I watch as he stops in his tracks. I should be impatient but I’m not; I remain bathed in relief. He tilts his face skyward. Sticking out a large white tongue he sways his head back and forth in a childlike effort to catch snowflakes on his oversized tongue. Searching for a snowflake, milky eyes drift to and fro. Then, as if by accident, his gaze falls upon the crow.

He shivers violently. So much so I think he’s having a seizure.

Steadying himself with his cane he stares at the bird as she makes a show of spreading her wings. He nods a quiet nod and breathes deep, filling his hollow chest with cool evening air. Then, ever so slowly, the man’s spindly arms drift upwards, spreading wide. As if carried by invisible balloons tied tight to boney wrists his arms begin to float. In concert with his slender arms the cane too floats to a position parallel to the earth. Arms and a wooden cane extend outwards in the shape of a cross. There, in the middle of the sidewalk, he closes his eyes and purses lips in what can only be described as rapture.

Untethered from the world and certainly not caring of my desire to enter a hockey rink parking lot he appears almost weightless. Wisps of snow drift along the sidewalk and I cannot help but ask if those swirls of snow slip under his feet.

“What the fuck?” I ask myself.

Lingering snow slides from his stooped back and from his uncoiling white hair to sketch a circle of white around his feet. Satisfied, he drops his arms to his sides and opens his eyes.

He stands within the circle of white. As if searching for an interloper he rotates his head in a most unnatural manner. His long thin chin comes to rest squarely upon his right shoulder and, finding me once again, he grins. He licks crusted lips with that big white tongue before jabbing his cane into the sidewalk. Determined, he steps from the tiny circle.

Above him the crow keeps pace.

‘What the hell are you doing old man?’ I ask my empty car.

As if hearing me, the old man slows and cocks his head ever so slightly. His right ear wiggles as if in jest before he begins to march forward.  With each step the pages of time tumble over one another, and blown by an autumn breeze, the tumbling pages lurch to a halt to expose a delicately pressed flower.

His cane-free arm sways like an ancient pendulum as he makes his way forward, avoiding frost heaves along the concrete sidewalk.

More a skeleton than a man he artfully slips between snowflakes sneaking past the crow’s protective shield.

A horn startles me, jerking me to reality and prompting me to move forward.

Soon multiple horns sound and, jarred to the act of driving, I look towards the driver of the Saturn. She shrugs an, ‘OK, let’s move it now,’ shrug. As if waiting for a crazy person to cross her path, she points to the parking lot with her chin before nodding a crisp nod indicating she’s done waiting.

I return her nod before turning my attention to the old timer blocking my path.

“Huh?”

The entrance is clear. Looking to the right I see the old man teetering along the sidewalk, safely removed from the parking lot entrance.

I look to the Saturn, shaking my head as if asking the driver, ‘how’d he do that?’

She rolls her eyes and scoots me along with an exaggerated back of the hand motion.

Removing my foot from the brake I lurch into the parking lot, find a space, lock up and make my way to the rink.

I loiter a moment, confused, and monitor the old bird’s progress. The old timer has made haste and drifted away. He floats like a dream just out of reach as I turn and enter the rink to watch DJ’s practice.

And upon entry, I’m disappointed.

In a near corner of the hockey rink DJ’s team is lumped in a gasping cluster. Every 30 seconds or so a whistle shrieks, launching a string of players up the ice in a series of repetitive skating drills. Left behind the goal line, exhausted teens await their turn.  They appear as a sorrowful lot.

Up and down the ice they go.

I find a position behind Plexiglas, near the lump of waiting skaters. 10 or 15 feet away from my position three fathers turn from their collective huddle. We know each other from years of coaching together; from years of standing in this same rink watching our boys play hockey. The men offer a series of smiles and nods. Dan, a father of three, gestures for me to join the group. Thinking I’d like to watch the kids and, while I’m at it, do a bit of reading I decline with a shake of the head. He mocks me with an exaggerated “What the fuck?” shrug before waiving me off and returning to conversation.

Turning away from Dan I realize I’ve left my Kindle in the car.

“Goddammit.”

Left alone, I monitor the boys as they take turns racing up the ice towards the far goal line. Upon arrival at the far end of the ice they stop with a sharp spray of ice and the squeal of cutting blade before returning to this end of the rink. Once returned they scatter, falling against the boards or bending over heaving on the other side of the Plexiglas. Periodically I catch their suffering gazes. I tap my chin with the back of my hand, whispering, “chin up.”  Those I’ve coached nod, satisfied with adult acknowledgment of their suffering.

Drool slips from hanging heads as their coach screams from center ice, “Move it!” You gotta learn to hustle out here if you’re gonna win!” He turns towards the heaving line of teens and blows his whistle, “Let’s go. Next group. Go!”

DJ takes his place at the head of the line. Hearing the whistle he and his line mates bolt up the ice. DJ’s arms pump high at his sides; like a boxer. As he skates towards the far end of the ice I am reminded of my father’s running gait; shoulders up, elbows bent sharply, arms pumping high.

I lose sight of DJ and consider my father, asking myself questions without answers.

‘If dad had survived would he still run? Or would he have grown frail like the old timer shimmying along the sidewalk outside? Would he be staggering about in the cold, alone by now?’ I shrug to myself as some of my father’s genes return to the corner of an ice rink in Massachusetts, gasping. And while the faster skaters coast across the goal line in exhaustion, DJ continues his pumping stride, catching his teammates at the end of the drill. Stopping short, he bangs hard into the boards before turning to glare at his coach.

Waiting to catch DJ’s eye I’m disappointed. Stick across knees he stares ahead readying himself for the next round. The drill continues and, disgusted with the lack of imagination, I turn to retrieve my Kindle from the car.

Before reaching the rink’s exit Dan yells to me from his group of three, “Hey, Bease, you around this Wednesday? We need a goalie.” I nod in consideration as he coaxes me, “It’ll be a blast. You’ll see lots of rubber. And if you’re worried about gett’n shelled, well, I’ll be gentle on you! Maybe we head to Conley’s to tip a few afterwards, huh? How ‘bout it?”

Smiling, I watch as his eyebrows drift upwards.

“Yeah, sure. 9:oo o’clock right?”

He gives me a thumbs up. Next to him, fellow coaches, Andy and Paul, nod approval.

Placing a hand on Dan’s shoulder Paul yells in an overly dramatic voice, “And don’t be so hard on Dan this week. Let the poor bastard score, will ya? He needs the confidence boost. I think he thinks he’s losing that youthful magic!”

Gently shoving Paul, Dan scoffs and points at me, “I got your number, Bease. I’m tell’n ya, I got your number this week. Me and you, goalie.  Me and you.”

I back towards the exit, “Jeeze, now I’m nervous. How ‘bout I give you a hint? Just shoot at my chest. That’s my weak spot.” Tapping my chest I wrap-up, “I mean, any chance you get just toss it right in the old bread basket. Guaranteed goal.”

As Andy loudly questions Dan’s ability to lift the puck off the ice I turn from my friends and leave the rink. Behind me a whistle sends a group of teens lurching up the ice.

Outside, late autumn air gives me a gentle hug as I stroll among snowflakes and make my way towards the parking lot.  I meander and find myself facing the line of passing traffic. I think of DJ’s pumping arms and their reflection of my dad’s distant memory. Lazy snowflakes drift towards earth’s patient grasp as I look about wondering if dad would still be running if he had survived.

Then, looking left, I spy a shadow.

Far from the parking lot entrance a speck the size of a pencil point scribbles its way up the sidewalk.

The old timer.

Even from this distance it’s apparent he’s struggling. Vibrating like a dying star he drifts, alone. Maybe dad wouldn’t run. Maybe he’d just walk; vibrating and alone.

“It sucks to be alone doesn’t it, old timer?”  Of course, from this distance he does not answer.

Without a response I shrug to myself, “Oh, fuck it. My Kindle can wait. I mean, why not?”

Jogging slowly towards the old man, I make a game of avoiding wistful snowflakes and, succeeding, I’m quickly upon the senior citizen’s position.

About 10 feet to his rear I slow my little jog to a walk. I saddle up alongside the old man. He’s a human snail, cloaked in a shell of loneliness. As I approach I witness a slender line of drool drip from his open mouth as he stares at the sidewalk below.

Trying to catch his attention I fake a cough and clear my throat, “Ahmm.”

He turns and, wiping his mouth, gives me the tiniest of nods.

I give him a quick nod in return, “Hey, you mind if I walk with you for a bit?”

He tells his feet to stop moving and moments later he shimmies to a halt. He rocks, steadying himself. As if unfamiliar with the concept of talking he struggles to respond. His rusted voice cracks, “Huh? What’s that? What’d you say there young man?”

The words ‘young man’ cling to my face like snowflakes and I smile.

“Oh, I was just takin’ a walk and was wondering if I could walk along with you. I mean, we’re going the same way, right?”

From somewhere between the sidewalk and clouds a caw lances the crisp autumn air. Squinting through snowflakes, I’m startled to see a crow – it’s not the same crow is it? – shimmying along the electric wire above the old timer.  Looking from me to the crow and back to me the old man licks parched lips. Speaking slowly he answers like a grade-schooler, “Fine by us.”

Dismissed by gravity, my eyebrows drift upwards. “Fine by us,” I repeat.

The old man stares, as if waiting for me to continue.

Awkwardly I restart our conversation, “I wanted to say I’m sorry about what happened back there. By the parking lot, I mean. That was me driving the Camry and I was so focused on making my turn through traffic I didn’t even see you walking there; not ‘till the last second at least.” I slip into a sing-song cadence, “That was a close one, so sorry if I startled you, sir.”

Dull grey eyes look me up and down as he smacks his lips. His lips are thin and, like a sheet of ice, chipped and cracked at the edges. Ignoring my apology he takes a tiny step towards me and seals his mouth. Drawing in a deep breath he fills a large potato nose with autumn air.

He holds his breath before settling on a verdict. “That’s soap, isn’t it?  I smell soap. And coffee. Isn’t that coffee?” He sighs, “Oh, I loved the smell of coffee.”

Confused at his retort, I consider the scent currently accumulating within my own pointed nose. And as a courtesy to my new companion I opt not to publicly identify the smell I smell.

Decay and, perhaps, urine.

Sensing my unstated verdict he licks lips loudly with that oversized tongue. He shrugs. White spittle gathers at the corners of his mouth.

I shudder.

He looks up towards the crow. As if reminded of my question he returns his gaze to me. “And, ah, what happened by the parking lot? Did you hit me with your car back there? Is, is that what’s happening here?”

My heart tugs.

“No! Oh my gosh, no sir!  I didn’t hit you,” and fibbing, I continue, “I mean, I came pretty close but I guess I missed you by a good 10 or 15 feet.”

He sighs, as if relieved.

Adjusting his shoulders with a little wiggle he turns and walks away.

His progress is slow; painfully so. Looking up I see the crow shimmying along the wire, wings spread wide. I make a ‘what the fuck’ face at the bird but she ignores me.  Thereafter I take a quick couple of steps to catch up with the old timer.

“Um, my son’s playing hockey back there and I needed a break from watching his practice so I decided to take a walk. That’s when I saw you. And, well, some of those practices can get pretty boring, ya know?”

He scoffs and, as he responds, he appears to pick up steam; as if growing comfortable with the concept of talk, “Humph. Hockey. I’ve watched a lifetime of hockey players – even girl hockey players if you can imagine – and their parents and friends pour in and out of that damned rink. Never was much for the game.”

He shakes his head and turns slightly, waiving his cane in the general direction of the rink, “Those hockey players. They wake my wife when she tries to sleep, ya know? Before the sun’s up they wake her!  With their car doors slamming and their yelling and their roughhousing. And they’re at it at all hours. Right there. In the street and in the parking lot right outside that goddamned rink.”

Flustered he begins to teeter.  Without thinking I grab his elbow.  His twig-like arm is cold to the touch.

Looking down, he smiles a crooked smile. “Thanks. I got it.”

And though he’s got it I keep hold of his arm.

“Your home must be close by if they wake your wife like that.”

He starts to respond but, thinking better of it, he simply shakes his head.

With my right hand cupping a bony elbow we drift along the sidewalk.

“My name’s Beasley.”

He eyes me, “You can call me … ah, let’s see. Why don’t you just call me … Howie.  No, wait. Howard? Yeah, Howard. Call me Howard.”

Saddened, I try to smooth over what I suspect is his inability to remember his own name. “You sounded like you were picking or choosing from a couple of names there; like, there were a couple of options to consider. Is Howie a nickname or something?”

He lurches to a halt, shifting his face towards mine, “Oh for the love of Pete! I said ‘call me Howard’ because my name’s Howard, numb nuts! What’d ya think I said Howard for?  Because my name’s Richard? Or Joseph? Or Mary, maybe?”

He gives his head an exaggerated shake, “Jesus Christ. The world’s gone to hell in a hand basket.” He turns and shimmies forward.

I laugh a nervous laugh, “Um, OK then. Got it. Say, how ‘bout I call you Howard?”

Peeking with a sideways glance he smirks at my ability to absorb his tease and, nodding, he decides to keep me.

I slip my right arm through the crook of his left elbow as we make our way forward.

“So, ah, where’s home, Howard?”

With a surprising swiftness he jerks his thumb over his shoulder, “Back there.”

In contrast to Howard’s jerking thumb, time unwinds with a tenderness usually reserved for the opening of a precious gift. Arm in arm Howard and I make our way in silence for a good 100 feet. He’s past his depth and his breaths add a whistling noise to the evening air.

“Hey, Howard, do you mind if we turn around and head back in that direction? Towards home, I mean?”

He answers with a slow shuffle. Like a supertanker, Howard takes time to turn around.

He nods before stopping in apparent concentration. “Yes, I’d like that very much.  I’d like to go home.”

Turning 180 degrees we begin to winnow the distance between here and home.

His steps are tiny and, chipping away, he shimmies forward with great effort. His whistling breaths are soft, like those of a sleeping baby.

After five minutes of shimmying we find ourselves in front of a modest stone wall marking the entrance to something called the Ruth Ippen tree walk. Howard’s breathing grows labored as his mouth hangs slack jawed. My eyebrows pinch together as he begins to wheeze.

“Hey Howard, mind if we take a break, and grab a seat on the wall here?”

Looking from me to the two foot wall and back to me he doesn’t respond.  Instead he grunts.

“I mean, I’ve busted my leg a few times playing hockey and it gets kinda sore, ya know? So, how about we take a rest?”

With our arms interlocked, I balance on my left foot. Ever so slowly I stick out my right leg and slowly rotate my foot. “See? Busted this leg twice; six screws and two surgeries.”

He huffs, “Don’t bullshit a bullshitter young man.”

“I, ah, I didn’t mean to…”

“Oh, fine. We can sit if you want. I guess the world’s full of big sissies now, huh?”

Before I can retort he pushes my arm from his elbow and, with great care, backs towards the stone wall. Bumping his heal against the base of the wall he teeters before plopping down hard. Seated, he rocks back and forth, wincing at the dull pain radiating from his bony rear. Looking up he gives me a grimace and an ‘oh well’ shrug. I take a seat to his left as he rests his cane in the space between.

He leans towards me, “Truth be told, young man, I’m not very good at walking anymore.”

Touching his chest he continues, “See? I’m all winded now. My wife; she makes me get out of the house. Tells me to just leave her be … to leave her in peace to enjoy her tea.”  He sighs, “Every day she chases me away.”

Turning right he looks towards home and, as he does, an unseen logjam starts to loosen. As if drunk, Howard begins to sway.

“But I don’t wanna go. I don’t wanna leave.”

I nod as he continues, “I mean, all I wanna do is be near her and smell her perfume. And sit and hold her hand when she has her afternoon tea. Good ‘ol Lipton. Not that sissy chamomile nonsense you young people drink. Every day I stand there and watch her pour tea, add her half a sugar and sneak in a little tablespoon of milk.”

He pulls his hands up towards his chest as if mimicking the tiny arms of a T-Rex. “And I sneak up behind her as she carries her cup to the chair and table by the front window. And I watch as she spreads her napkin and sits by herself. She just sits and stares out the window. Sometimes she plays music – Vivaldi’s my favorite – and sometimes she sits in silence, listening to the whispers of time.”

With a shaking finger he dabs at his right eye, “And I wonder what she’s thinking; what she’s feeling inside. So I reach out and try to take her hand in mine (Howard’s right hand extends, drifting like a specter above the sidewalk) but she gets all bristly and upset and jerks her arm away. And she tells me to go. Says, ‘leave me be,’ and shoos me away like some sort of dog; like a goddamn dog! So I leave. And I go on my walks. Rain or shine she makes me go. And when I’m out walking you know what I’m thinking about? About being home. About being with her. Just wondering if she’s sitting there thinking of me.”

He lets out a long slow breath as melancholy and the residue of time gone by envelop our perch upon a wall.

He continues to sway, though now at a quicker pace.

“And all I want to do is hold her hand.”

Frozen, I avoid his stare. Then, thinking better of it, I place my right hand on the small of Howard’s back to steady his swaying motion. His spine is bony, sharp. I struggle to continue before withdrawing my hand, uncomfortable with the feeling of his fossilized vertebrae against my palm. He picks up his cane and fiddles with the handle before returning it to the shrinking space between us.

As if buckling under an unseen weight, his eyes close to expose a lattice work of the thinnest of blue veins. With the sound of a resting farm animal he breathes through his nose. Resigned, he blabbers, “After all these years I still love her.”

I nod, not sure how else to respond.

It doesn’t matter.  He doesn’t know I’m here.

Silence arrives, joining the cane to fill the space between us.

After a moment I shoo her away, “My wife, Liz, she’s a doctor; an OB/GYN.”

Howard’s eyebrows scrunch together at the sound of the acronym.

“A baby doctor. She delivers babies.”

From somewhere far away he nods.

“And she loves it. I mean really loves what she does. But, I gotta tell ya, she works all the time. All. The. Time. Sometimes even 24 hours in a row. And then, when she comes home, she just passes out, exhausted.”

I shake my head speaking more to the loitering snowflakes than to Howard, “One time, on the way home from a 24 hour shift at Boston City Hospital, she was driving past the Museum of Science, to our place in Somerville, and she fell asleep at a red light. I mean, she just fell asleep right in the car! How nuts is that?”

I don’t wait for a response as my own logjam begins to breaks free, “And then, at home, she has to spend her nights catching up on bullshit paperwork; on the computer. I mean, she doesn’t stop.” Letting out a long breath I continue, “I tell ya, that Liz has got one tough job.”

“And,” suggests Howard, “it sounds to me like you got yourself one tough woman.”

“I guess so. And ya know what? She does it all with two kids. Gee 18. And DJ 14.  He’s the hockey player; the one over at the rink (I jerk my chin towards the rink but Howard misses my jerking motion). I gotta tell, though, her working so many hours is kinda good for me ‘cause I end up spending a lotta time with …”

He cuts me off with a wave of the hand.

“My wife, Ellen, she was an engineer, you know?”

Her name drifts and floats between us.

He smiles at the lullaby of her name.

“Ellen. That’s my wife. And boy is she a smart one! Went to MIT, you know? And I’ll tell you this: there weren’t too many ‘shes’ at MIT when she was there. No siree, Bob. And she started with nothing.  I mean started out dirt poor. And bein’ poor ate at her; just ate her up!”

He plucks at his sagging lower lip, “Long after MIT she used to tell me ‘no matter what happens to me I’ll always remember being poor.’ She used to tell me how when she first lived on her own she couldn’t afford to pay for heat in her Central Square apartment. So she wore a coat and wrapped herself in blankets all the time. All the time; even when she was sleeping she was wearing a coat!”

I nod knowingly as he continues, “So when she talked about being poor she talked about, ‘being cold.’ That’s what she called it; to her being poor was being cold.”

He shivers a mighty shiver.

And so do I.

“And she really did make somethin’ of herself.  I gotta tell ya, my Ellen, well, she’s one in a million.”

He grows animated as a flood of memories jockey for attention. He gesticulates with hands wrapped in a film of delicate white tissue paper. “And when she was at MIT I paid the bills. We was a team! She studied and I worked my job in Boston – a good one – selling appliances for Sears back when washing machines and electric dryers were hot ticket items. And man oh man, back in the day I was a Crackerjack salesman!”

Embracing his drifting memories he begins to float just above the wall.

Slowly, he draws his hands together as if in prayer. “And then after she graduated she got her job and we moved from Cambridge to the house across from the rink. And, I tell ya, like your tough lady mine worked all the time too.”

“All the time,” he repeats. “No time for kids that’s for sure.  Though we did try mind you.” Cocking his eyebrow he looks my way with his best caught in the cookie jar glance.

Catching my slow nod he continues, “She’s a chemist, you know. And, truth be told, she’s the real Crackerjack of the family. Not me. She’s the real go getter. Well anyway, after she graduated she got that big job; in a lab with her own team of scientists.  She – my Ellen – was the boss of a lab! And I’ll tell ya, there were not too many lady bosses back in those days.”

He stops to catch his breath and, as he does, I wonder if he’ll simply float away.

Making sure he doesn’t drift beyond my grasp I place my hand upon his knee. “And what about you, Howard?  What’d you wanna do back then? Besides sell appliances I mean.”

A smile flickers before he rubs his face. “Me? Oh, I was a free spirit. I wanted to move away from here and travel the world!”

Slowly his left hand rises in an arc before plopping back to his knee, brushing against mine, “That’s what I wanted. Me and Ellen; free spirits exploring the world!”

“I’d been in the war, ya know and, well, I wanted to see Europe again; without the blood this time. And maybe South America too! Unspoiled back in those days. That’s what I wanted to do. To see the world with Ellen.”

As I begin to realize just how old Howard is he spreads his hands wide, “I mean, I’m a salesman. As long as I was with Ellen I coulda lived anywhere!”

He looks up to the remaining snowflakes though he doesn’t notice they’ve slowed their decent to better hear his story, “With sales you can hang your hat anywhere. So long as there’s something to sell the bills are gonna get paid! But Ellen? She had lots of experiments that needed her attention. They were her babies.”

He draws a deep breath before continuing, “And conferences. She went to lots of conferences.  She even spoke at one at Harvard! I went and saw her there and I gotta tell you I was proud as a peacock! People was taking notes and writt’n down what she was say’n!”

He picks up his cane and stabs the sidewalk, “Yeah, she liked this place. So we stayed and, well, we moved to that white house – the one with the dark trim – across from the rink.”

“That’s where home is,” he whispers.

We remain quiet for a while.

“And did you and Ellen ever get to travel?”

He waives his hand, dismissively, “Oh a bit. Vacations to Mexico; back when it was still Mexican.  And Paris.  And Germany; twice for conferences with Ellen. But, travel? No. Not the way I dreamed of it. No. We pretty much stayed here.”

He looks up and exhales a long slow breath. Above our perch the crow tilts her head as electrical wires droop to form a sad smile.

He smiles back.

Coughing, he grabs at his chest.

I lean forward, placing my hand on his forearm, “You OK?”

He waives me off and, as he does, the crow shrieks from above.

I shiver.

And so does Howard.

He slumps forward to rest his face within his hands. Through skeletal fingers he mumbles, “And you know what? I’d do it all again, just the same. No questions asked if it meant me and my Ellen were together and she was happy.”

With elbows propped on spindly thighs and this face resting in palms creased with age I begin to rub his back. Gently I move my hand over the boney landscape. This go around, though, I don’t mind the sensation. As traffic drifts past we sit silently as the tide of time ebbs and flows.

And as I wick a sense of longing from Howard’s boney back a town police cruiser slows to a crawl, passing us on the opposite side of the thoroughfare. My eyes catch those of the pink faced patrol officer as he stares at a man so very far from home.

Looking from Howard to the passing officer I remove my hand from his back. I nod towards the car.

Alerted to the change, Howard looks up and stiffens his spine. His eyes narrow, “Goddamned nosy body. I’ll tell you right now, I do not like coppers.” With the back of his hand he waives towards the police car, “Keep it moving flatfoot. Keep it moving.”

Surprised by Howard’s clipped comments and his use of the word ‘flatfoot,’ I fail to contain my laughter and, covering my mouth, snort loudly.

Howard and I watch as the cruiser drives a hundred feet or so before stopping. The vehicle’s left blinker winks, signaling a desire to make a u-turn.

The lazy stream of traffic slows to allow the officer to make his turn. Retracing his steps the police car comes to a stop directly in front of our perch. I feign a smile as the officer lowers the passenger side window. He stares at me. Then, leaning over the empty passenger seat he begins his inquiry, “Ah, everything OK here sir?”

Howard grunts, waiving the officer away with his cane.

Looking from Howard to the officer, I shrug. The cop’s probably half my age with thick black eyebrows shielding black dots for eyes, a thick neck and closely cropped hair. I can’t help but notice his right ear is tiny, as if not fully formed. The ear seems out of place on his big round head. He squints past fleshy cheeks waiting for my response.

Waiving with my left hand, I nod, “Um yes officer. All set. Thank you for asking though.”

Howard leans back and rolls his eyes. He mimics me in a squeaky voice, “Yes sir.  No sir.  Whatever you say, sir!”

I tap Howard’s leg with my right hand and notice the officer’s eyes as they track the movement of my hand.

“And what, may I ask, are you doing here, sir?”

Again, I shrug, “Just taking a break.”

“Taking a break, huh? From what?”

“Walking.”

Nodding towards Howard I fill in the blanks, “Kinda tired, ya know? From our little walk from the rink to here.”

“Ah-huh. ‘Our little walk’ is that what you said?”

I nod.

Then, looking from me to a laptop bolted to a metal shelf jutting from his dashboard, he continues, “And, if you don’t mind me asking, what’s your name, sir?”

I look to Howard.  He leans back and rolls his eyes. His voice drips with distain, “Oh, for the love of Pete. Just let us sit in peace.”

The officer ignores Howard’s comments.

Then, leaning into my ear Howard whispers, “Tell him your name is Haywood. Haywood Yablowme.”

I shoot Howard a pissed off glance and hush him. Again, I tap his thigh with my right hand. Like a curious dog the officer cocks his head.

Ignoring Howard’s harrumphing I grip the edge of the stone wall. And as I squeeze tight I’m surprised when Howard’s ice cold hand envelops mine. Looking from my hand to Howard the warmth from his smile trumps the cold of his touch. For the first time I notice black gaps between his yellow teeth. “Home,” he whispers. “It’s time to go home.”

“Um, sir. Your name? And your address while you’re at it.”

Turning to the officer I answer his questions. He punches the information into his laptop and waits. Looking from me to the laptop his expression is unchanged. He rubs his cheek.

Preemptively, I blurt out a quick story, “Ah, my son’s at hockey practice (nodding in the direction of the rink with my chin) and I just couldn’t stand to watch the kids run through 60 minutes of mindless skating drills, ya know? So I left. The drills, they’re ah, well they’re a total waste of time if you ask me.”

The officer looks up without responding.

“So I decided to take a walk. And I ended up meeting Howard and then just taking a break here.”

“Howard, huh? OK, right.” His screen chirps and, in response, he leans forward. Soft green light bathes his boyish face.

He nods to himself, “And what makes you think skatin’ drills are a waste of time, Mr. Kinkade? You some sorta hockey expert or something?”

I shrug, “No, but I teach the goalie clinic here on Sundays – every other Sunday that is with Sully; Billy Sullivan – and, well I coached town Squirts and Bantams the last couple of years and played for who knows how many years. So I know when your team’s on a losing streak it’s a good time to work on plays and breakouts. Not mindless staking drills.”

Growing bored with my narrative the officer looks at the dashboard clock.

“And when’s practice end, Mr. Kinkade?”

“I’m guessing 5:30 or so. Plenty of time to get back there.  To the rink, I mean.”

The officer nods a slow deliberate nod.

“And you’re OK, sitting here?”

I look to Howard. His lips are pursed. His withering gaze bores through the officer.

Turning to the cop I nod, “Yes sir. All set. And thank you for asking, officer.”

“Well then, have a nice evening, Mr. Kinkade.”

He drives off, leaving me and Howard alone on our little perch upon a wall.

And as the officer drives away I let loose a long slow breath. Looking up I spy the crow giving me a nod. Satisfied with the turn of events, the bird leaps skyward. Snow grabs for her wings as she disappears into evening’s twilight.

As the cruiser’s taillights drift away I have the opportunity to be annoyed.

“Howard, you can’t be busting balls with cops like that. I mean, come on, I’m too old for this sorta stuff. You gotta show respect.”

I continue, incredulous, “I mean, what were you thinking saying ‘hay would you blow me’ in front of a cop?”

He shrugs and stares ahead, “I didn’t say that. I said ‘Haywood Yablowme.’ It’s just a name. Sounds Italian if you ask me. So there.  And besides, I don’t like no nosy bodies; cop or no cop.”

Shaking my head I leave it at that. Silences returns to take a seat upon the wall. We remain quiet for some time as Howard starts, and then stops, to say something.

Resigned to the aged stubbornness of my companion I give in and fill the silence accumulating between us, “You know Howard, I didn’t like this town when I first moved here.”

He grunts, tilting his head and prompting me to continue.

“It wasn’t until three years after we moved here – when I started coaching hockey – that I felt like this place could be my home.  I mean I like my neighbors but you only got so many neighbors you can be friends with right? And everyone’s busy, ya know? I mean it was only after I met other dads coaching hockey and I started hanging out with them that I started to feel right about this place. Like I was gonna be friends with more than the people on my street.”

Howard’s head droops silently, lost in thought.

“I didn’t feel like I belonged here. Didn’t feel at home here. I mean it’s not like Somerville, ya know? That’s where we moved from. There people hang out on their front porches and you’re so damn close you just walk over to them, say hi, and have a beer or a coffee with your neighbor. It was friendly, ya know? Open.”

He looks up, nodding.

“I mean, the first week we moved here I was out in the front yard doing this or that and this woman – turns out she lives down the block a ways – comes up to me in my driveway. And at first I think, ‘hey, she’s gonna introduce herself, ya know, and welcome me to the neighborhood. How nice.’ But she stops like five feet away and just stands there, looking me up and down, like she’s inspecting a horse or something. I guess ‘cause I’m in old shorts, work boots and an immigrant tee shirt.”

He interrupts, “A wife beater you mean?”

I crack up, “Yea, that’s it.”

He cranes his neck before pulling back the collar of his cardigan, “Love ‘em.  Got one right here.”

Frayed at the edges, he shows me his sleeveless tee shirt, circa 1950s.

“Sorry. Go on. I cut you off there. You was saying she comes up to you in your driveway.”

“ Yea, right, and after I introduce myself and tell her we just moved here from Somerville she steps back and goes, ‘Really?’ You own this house? Doesn’t even tell me her name and I was like, ‘what a frigg’n a-hole.’

Again Howard interrupts me, “You mean fucking asshole?”

“Um, yeah, Howard. Correct.”

He tilts to the side, “Love ‘em.  Got one right here.”

He leans towards me and reaches for his pants.

“Whoa!  I believe you, Howard! No need to show me your butt hole!”

He rocks backwards and howls at his own joke, “Jeeze Louise! Ya think I’m crazy or something? Think I’m not gonna show you my butt hole right in the middle of the street!  I mean that’s one thing you’re not gonna want to see! Believe you me.  So, get on with your story and stop asking me to show you my butt hole.”

I shake my head, “Where was I?  Oh yeah so then she starts rattling off all this work the previous owners did to the house we bought and she starts telling me what they paid to do this and that. It was weird, right?  I shrugged and was like, ‘OK, if you say so.’ Then she asks me what we ended up paying for the place. I mean I’m sure she already knew.”

The old man sighs, “That’s what Ellen and I called a nosy body.”

“Yeah, well I was so put off I just told her we came to a mutual agreement and after some horse trading and some this and that they sold it to us for $1. And I left it at that. And she was acting like I was lying to her face – I mean I was but I just didn’t want to get into it with her – and she stood there and crossed her arms like this (I cross my arms for Howard and he nods) and she sticks her nose up and sniffs, ‘Really? And how’d you make that happen? You some sorta real estate mogul or something?’

“By this time I was like ‘screw it’ so I told her with a straight face, ‘I performed oral favors on the previous owners’ and …”

“Oh no! You did not! Oh my God!” howls the old man, “And what’d she say?”

“She just glared at me. Just glared. So I gave her a ‘whatcha gonna do?’ shrug.  And she just turned on her heal and walked away steaming. Haven’t spoken to her since. And now, when I walk the dog and see her, she just ignores me. Five years running.”

“Oral favors,” he nods and tugs at his zipper. “Love ‘em. Got one …”

“Don’t even say it, Howard!”

He leans towards me and bumps my shoulder, “See? You’re catching on.”

We share a slow motion laugh.

Then it’s quiet.

Just the two of us.

Howard breaks the silence, “Not so easy, is it? To feel at home?”

“No. Not for me.”

He sighs.

Shifting my weight on the stone wall I volunteer, “My home when I was a kid in New Jersey is gone now.  After my father died I’d go and visit my mom there.  And my sisters and brother would be there too. And friends would always be coming by, ya know? And I could walk uptown and always bump into people that knew my family. And it was like, after 30 or 40 years there, we knew everyone. We had stories that went back decades! It was the one place I felt 100% comfortable walking around and just saying hi to people I knew; like we were living together in an ancient village.”

I look away as Howard pats my hand.

“And, then when my mother died we sold the house. And when we did that sense of home died along with her.  It just floated away. Gone. And now, well, now there’s nowhere I can just go and walk around or go for a coffee and just feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be. Ya know?”

He nods slowly, lost in thought.

“Like my home here is my family and my neighbors and the guys from hockey but that’s it. It’s a small circle and it’s like when I’m outa that circle I’m alone.  Like I’m…”

“Adrift?”

“Yeah, adrift.”

He closes his eyes, “Like a snowflake.”

He squeezes my hand before releasing his grip and opening his eyes. Then, with unnatural speed, his hand jerks forward and catches a lingering snowflake in his palm. Unmelted, it rests among the crevices of his hand. Then, ever so gently, he draws his hand to his mouth and blows the flake away.

We watch as the snowflake arcs forward, spinning, before falling into the sidewalk’s waiting embrace.

In a moment it disappears into a black dot.

“Home,” he whispers. Then, in his quietest of voices Howard removes his mask, “Without my Ellen I’m all alone.”

He wipes his eye and I notice a sliver of snow upon his eyelash. “I really do miss my wife. And all I want to do is hold her hand.”

He turns away, “I wanna go home.”

Shoulders slouch as he shrinks, diminished and broken.

“Will you take me home, young man?”

He squeezes my index finger as a child might. Pointy knuckles act to separate blue tributaries pumping the echoes of his life.

Looking up he smiles, weakly.

“Let’s go see your wife,” I suggest.

Standing first I reach down and place my hands under his arms. My hands find two hollows where his armpits should be. Slowly I help him to his feet.

Over the next ten minutes we shuffle a few hundred feet towards home. Behind us wisps of snow conspire to hide his footprints. Mine, perhaps heavier and relying less on a foot dragging shuffle, remain exposed.

As we walk he stumbles. He falls against me, shivering.

He seems to grow weaker with every step.

“Home, can I go home now?”

“Almost there,” I whisper.

Returning to the wire above, the crow screams; this time with a sense of urgency.

Holding Howard tight against my side, his aged hand resting in mine, I give him a squeeze before leaning my head against his, “The white one.  With dark trim, right?”

He nods.

“Almost there, Howard. Almost there.”

Doling out a broken smile he sighs and a cloud of dead air catches me square in the face. Old and rotten, his breath swamps me.

He appears to age before me.

Leaning heavily on my arm he convulses.

He mumbles, more to himself than to me, “The crow. She knows where home is.”

Ignoring his ramblings I clutch him tight as we approach the crosswalk. Stabbing, the button we wait for traffic to come to a halt.

A moment later a glowing white stick figure tells us it’s safe to cross. Traffic stops.

“Ready?”

Trying to use his cane, he realizes he’s too weak to lift the slender stick from the ground.  He lurches forward, dragging his cane.

From the left and from the right impatient drivers stare as Howard and I slowly make our way across the street, arm in arm.

We reach the far curb and turn right, making our way to Howard’s front walkway. Up close, I notice all but the living room blinds are drawn.

“Home,” he murmurs.

“Here we are Howard. Now, are you all set getting inside? Do you have a key or something I can help you with?”

He struggles. “I’m all set. I can take it from here, young man.”

Turning towards me he leans in and presses his faces against my cheek. Prickly whiskers I hadn’t noticed scrape my face as my right hand rises to squeeze his upper arm.

He steadies himself. Old person breath fills my ear as he whispers, “Thank you.”

We separate and he smiles meekly.

“You, you have to go now,” he warns. “Go. Go home to your wife and children.”

Nodding towards the brick steps leading to his front door I ask, “Do you want a hand getting up the stoop?”

Before turning he pats my shoulder and shakes his head; more with a tremor than an answer.

Watching him shuffle to the front door I’m interrupted by the crunching of gravel in the street behind me. Turning, I’m greeted by the pink faced police officer as he slows his car to a crawl in front of Howard’s house. I nod and, as I do, he raises his thick black eyebrows in mock surprise. He creeps along before, ever so slowly, driving away.

And turning back to check on Howard’s progress I’m shocked to see he’s already inside.

Just like that.

“No way.”

Making sure the cruiser’s out of site I rush up the stairs to Howard’s front door.

I tug at the handle of the outer storm door. It’s locked. Rubbing the back of my neck I peek over the stoop railing to see if Howard’s taken a tumble into the shrubs.

Now I’m nervous. I knock on the front door.

Three sharp knocks.

As I wait for a response I cup my hands together and lean against the storm door in an effort to peek through the large oval window gracing an inner wooden door. On the other side of the window hangs a white lace curtain worthy of any grandmother’s house.

And, as my face is pressed against the storm door glass, the inner door swings inward, opening to present Howard’s wife, Ellen.

I cover my mouth, stunned.

I know her! It’s the Crow; from years ago.

Through the storm door she takes a measure of me. Recognition slips across her face as she cocks her hip to the right. She crosses her arms and stares.

And as she monitors my reaction I’m unable to speak.

I stand there, dumbfounded, soaking her in.

Over 20 years have passed since our introduction yet she remains unchanged.

Her lips are just one or two lipstick laps away from the mouth of a circus clown.

She wears a house dress. Her skin is remarkable. She appears as a long lost doll made of ancient porcelain, found, after years of slumber in a black trunk tucked in a neighbor’s attic. Her white skin is delicate, like a fossil. It’s drawn tightly over a pointed nose and high cheekbones. Through the storm door her skin appears translucent. Pulled together at the outer edge of each eye half suns form crows’ feet. They radiate towards her ears and up to her hair line. Black librarian glasses with swooped tips increase the size of green predator eyes. The eyes catch me watching her.

And as I soak her in she levels her gaze at me.

I stammer, “You’re Ellen?”

Her eyes narrow at the mention of her name. Ignoring my question she smirks as if uncovering a secret, “Well, well. Look who it is.”

Her voice is otherworldly. It cracks, like ice. Her words reverberate through the storm door as if trumpeted from old wooden speakers crafted to bellow the songs of Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin.

My words?

They fail me.

She juts her chin upwards, “It’s about time you showed up.”

Air pours from her mouth to fog the glass separating us.

Having lost my bearings I step backwards and, as I do, a crow caws from behind.

Then another.

And another.

Turning I find the slumping electrical wire draped with crows, all staring. Watching.

Ignoring the crows she presses me, “So, you remember me, huh? After all these years?”

I nod, toungue-tied, as she dramatically taps her finger against her chin, “How quaint. And I imagine you’re here to repay your deb, no? $40, right? Left for you in an ATM machine in Kendall Square. The year? Let’s see… it was 1990 or thereabouts. And I hope you used that $40 wisely, young man.”

I grope for words but she cuts me off, “And tell me, after your little lecture on poverty – you remember that right? – you promised you’d remember what it’s like to be poor. So, do you? Do you remember what it’s like to be poor? What it’s like to be cold?”

Growing dizzy I stammer, “Of course I remember. And the $40 you left me. My god, I remember all of it and … but, wait, I mean, that’s not why I’m here. I’m here for Howard. I, ah, I wanted to make sure he made it home OK.”

Her porcelain ear seems to wiggle like an antenna picking up a secret single. Digesting my statement she bristles, stiffens, and as she does an imperceptible layer of ice creeps across her skin, crackling. Now it’s her turn to step backwards. She staggers.

As if slapped across the face her cheeks grow red.

“Howard? My Howard?  Is that what you just said?”

She’s visibly shaken, alarmed.

And now, so am I, as I have no idea what I’ve done to upset her.

She glares and, as she does the crows on the wire scream wildly. She looks from me to the birds and back to me. Her eyes narrow. She seems to vibrate with a growing fury.

She sprays venom, sprinkling her side of the storm door. “Howard? Is that what you said? Is that how you repay me? My God, you, you…you do not have the right to speak to me of my husband, let alone speak his name to me, young man.”

I stand silent, stunned.

Trying to compose herself she swallows hard, choking on memories as her eyes well with tears, “You’re out of line with your little joke, young man. Way out of line. So go! Just leave my home and get out of here.”

“Joke? But…”

Now!” she screams. “Just go! And leave me be!”

Cold dances across my skin and I look down to see if I am naked.

She grabs for the inner door, seeking to slam it in my face but I persist. Leaning forward, I press my palms against the storm door.

As if pulled into a whirlpool of her anger my voice rises, silencing the crows upon the wire, “Fine! I’ll ‘leave you be’. But you should know that every time you say ‘leave me be’ to Howard you break his goddamned heart. Every frigg’n time. I mean all the poor guy wants is sit with you and hold your hand.”

Releasing the door handle she covers her mouth and stares, nonplussed, as I continue, “Just let him hold your hand while you drink your stupid tea, will you? Lipton, right? Milk and sugar?”

She stands frozen.

I press forward, “Jesus, I mean this is his home too, ya know. And all he wants to do is be with you; to be home with you. With you.”

I realize I’m gasping.

And so is Ellen.

Mindful of her black librarian glasses she covers her face. She’s shaking, not with rage anymore, but with confusion. And loss. Her eyes fill as she twists her head back and forth. Like a child she turns and wails, “Howie?  Howie are you here?”

Hearing nothing she falls against the door jamb and begins to cry. Ashamed, she whispers through the storm door, “Please, go now. Just leave me be.”

What the hell have I done? I reach for the handle of the storm door. From inside the house she reaches for the handle as well. She confirms the storm door is locked as I place my hand upon the handle.

Releasing my grip I back away, “Ok then, fine. I’ll go. Just tell Howard I was here, OK? Is that too much to ask, Ellen?” Then, remembering my debt, I withdraw my wallet and search for two twenties.

“Here.”

Disgusted, I shove $40 towards the storm door. “I’ll stick it in the mail slot and we’ll be square. Truth be told, Ellen from MIT, I’ll never be able to repay you for what you did for me; never in a million lifetimes. But here. Here’s your money. Paid in full. Maybe you can use it to start a little fire; you know, so you’ll finally feel warm inside.”

Though the sheet of glass she falls apart, sobbing. Choking she, waives her hands in defeat, “No. Keep it. You’re paid in full. Believe you me. Now, it’s me. Now I’m the one in debt. So, please, just go. Just leave me be.”

Slowly she steps back and closes the door. From inside her home I hear her sobs.

I stand there, looking though the closed doors and past the swaying curtain. She withdraws into the shadows and I’m left alone. A crow caws, reminding me of a world away from Howard and Ellen.

Leaving the stoop, I walk under a throng of gawking crows. They spread their wings wide as I drift back towards the rink. I’m stunned at what has happened on my walk and, rather then enter the rink, I stand outside and let the snow accumulate upon my shoulders.

And as I stand in silence I am unaware that in a white house with dark trim across the street an old woman finishes her first cry in years. Finally depleted, she composes herself before putting on a kettle to make some tea. Selecting her husband’s favorite, she places a Vivaldi record on the phonograph.

I do not know it but, in the house across the street, Howard silently watches his Ellen pour boiling water into a cup with a Lipton tea bag, add her half a sugar and sneak in a little tablespoon of milk.

And there in that house so recently washed with tears Howard notices his wife’s hands shake as she carries her cup of tea to the chair and table by the front window. Heart pounding, he watches as she spreads her napkin and sits by herself.

Her eyes well and, ever so gently, she moves her hand across the table, seemingly slipping it through a viscous membrane. Arm extended, she rolls her hand over in supplication and waits for her husband.

She closes her eyes and shivers. “Don’t go,” she whispers.

“Stay.”

Howard takes a step forward. With his favorite record playing over familiar scratches he smells her perfume. Shaking with fear and joy, he extends his hand.

Inside he feels warm.

And now, after all these years, so does she.

He’s home.

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