More than an Ordinary Snowfall

Snow had fallen, snow on snow. The lyrics to that old choir tune “In the Bleak Midwinter” resonate through my mind as I gaze sleepily out my bedroom window. Christmas has already come and gone, but I can’t think of a better description for the gorgeous display that is just beyond my reach. Emmet sleeps in the bed, snoring like a jet engine that keeps failing. He doesn’t notice that I have moved. I smile as I wonder what he is dreaming about. Outside, the snow picks up and I can tell that we will be knee deep tomorrow morning.  I remember another snowfall, quite like this one, as if it were yesterday. Yes, I remember that snow. It was the kind of snow that brought joy to elementary school teachers in the form of an unexpected day off.  It was the kind of snow that made small children press their noses to the windows for hours in anticipation of the snowmen they would build in the days to come. Over three years later, that snow is still extra special. It was the snow that brought Emmet back to me.

 

            That snow was ankle-deep everywhere you looked. It was dark and I was dancing. I spun around in the fresh powder with my arms wide open, kicked the piles of snow, and simultaneously broke in my new snow boots. My long brown hair, unrestricted by a hat, was drenched in melted flurries.  I was happy, but I couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason for the sensation. I had a feeling in my gut that something marvelous was going to happen, and that was good enough for me. The cold was invigorating, but I knew I couldn’t stay out all night. Keeping the smile on my face, I shook snow off of my jacket and went back inside the dormitory and up to room 200. I brewed myself a cup of tea and perused my bookshelf for a comforting story. That’s when the text message came.

            My phone displayed a number, not a name, with a message that contained only the words, “I’m sorry.” I recognized the number. It was a number from which I had not received a message in over two years.  My knees immediately went weak and I felt sick to my stomach. The message was from Emmet.

            I cringed from the mixed emotions of elation, confusion, and total outrage. Emmet was the first person that I spoke to when we first arrived at the university on the first day of our freshman year. I was quite shy and completely hesitant to speak to anyone, but he brought out my free-spirited side. He walked right up to me, introduced himself, and immediately became my best friend. We spent many fun evenings that first year just talking and getting to know each other. We would share stories in the laundry room and have dinner together. I remember one night he invited me to the movies and we talked about anything that was on our minds along the way. Some of our usual banter turned in to harmless flirting, but we never acknowledged it.

            Freshman year came to an end, and as we promised, we kept in touch over the summer. At the beginning of our sophomore year, I invited him to a movie. He answered my invitation with a text message that said, “Sorry, something came up.” That was the last I had heard from Emmet for two years. Why in the hell is he texting me now?

            The little diamond flakes sparkled like fairy dust in the bright sun that next morning.  I trudged through this snow, numbed to the bone by the coldness, but awakened by the majesty. I wished that I hadn’t left my camera back in my room. I was on my way to Emmet’s apartment. He had sent a few more messages, telling me that he needed to see me and wanted a chance to talk face-to-face. I was angry. Sorry, angry isn’t quite the word to describe it. I was red with fury, and my light stepping turned into enraged stomps. I had rehearsed my lines so well. I was going to get in Emmet’s face and hopefully spit on him as I launched choice expletives at his eyes. The snow was powdery fresh and would leave a wet mess on his skin and clothes as I threw handful after handful at him. He would look at me, mouth agape and I would cry hot tears of triumph. He would understand how much he had hurt me and I would feel complete again. When I arrived at number 5B, I knocked on the door, armed with all the ammunition I could carry inside my mind. He opened the door. One look at him and I was a goner. My mind went blank.  All I could say was, “Hey.”

            If he had changed at all, it was only that he was even more handsome than I remembered.

I was lost once again in his soft blue eyes. His teeth seemed to shimmer as he smiled at me. His smile was the feature I remembered the most. He was so tall, much taller than he was two years ago, and his shoulders were broad. I remembered those shoulders. He was a football player, and his form clearly showed how well he had kept in shape.   

            “Hi, Laura,” Emmet said a little nervously. “Um, would you like to go for a walk?”

            “Yes, I think that would be fine,” I said, trying to stay strong.

            He led the way to a beautiful snow-covered path behind the apartment. The path led to a small wooded area populated with hundreds of sad grey trees. The snow was much deeper there, making it difficult for me to walk gracefully.

            “So, how have you been, Laura?” he asked.

            “I’m not really in the mood for small talk, Emmet,” I said, trying to remain as civil as possible. “You know you owe me some sort of  explanation. It had better be good, too.”

            With an uneasy blush, he ran one hand through his short, wavy brown hair. “Yes, I suppose I do. I’m really sorry, Laura.”

            “Two years!” I shouted so loudly I scared away a few birds resting in a nearby tree. “You completely shut me out for two whole years and all you can say is, ‘I’m sorry?’”

            “I didn’t want to shut you out…it just sort of happened.”

            “Oh, it just happened? Natural disasters ‘just happen,’ Emmet. You don’t just ignore someone and act like it was beyond your control.”

            “It wasn’t beyond my control. Forgive me; I’m not very good with phrasing under these types of circumstances.”

            “Types of circumstances?” I asked

            “To be honest, I’m kind of afraid you’re going to kick me in a spot that would be rather unpleasant to be kicked in.” He smiled. I could tell he was trying to add a little levity to relieve the tension, but I was too upset to deal with it.

            “This isn’t funny!” I was really angry at that point. I stormed ahead of him on the path and kept up a quick pace.   

            “Wait! I’m sorry!” Emmet had to jog to catch up with me. “Please, just let me explain. I didn’t want to shut you out. I wanted to talk to you, but I didn’t know what to say. People change and I didn’t like the person I changed in to during that time.”

            “What do you mean?” I asked, my voice shaking.

            “I was angrier during that time. I went through about three different jobs over the summer and by the time I had to be back on campus for football practice, I had barely made enough money to pay my bills. School began and I couldn’t handle my classes, but I somehow managed to pull through. I took my frustration out on everyone and I think you got the worst of it. I was scared and confused and things were just moving too fast. I thought you were harboring deeper feelings for me and I didn’t want to feel like I was leading you on.”

            “Why didn’t you just tell me? I could have been there for you, Emmet! Do you know how hard it was for me to see you on campus? There were so many times you would pass right by without even looking at me. Oh, my God, sometimes we would even have class together, and when I would try to make eye contact or get you to speak to me, you would turn away and blatantly ignore me. That’s when I gave up and realized that you hated me.”

            “Whoa! Wait just a minute,” He took my shoulders and spun me around to face him. “I have never hated you. In fact, I…Just listen to me, it’s not like that. In a way, I was protecting you. I didn’t want you to see me at my worst.”

            I scoffed. “And you thought the solution was to ignore me and make me feel like hell, is that it? To make me wonder what I did that was so awful?”

            “I never meant to make you feel that way,” he said with complete sincerity in his eyes. “It was a disgusting thing to do.”

            “Well, you were right about one thing,” I said. “I did have feelings for you. I never thought I would get the chance to tell you that I was falling for you. Why didn’t you just tell me how you felt? I would have backed off. Your friendship would have been good enough for me.”

            Emmet looked up at the sky as if he were searching for an answer. “To tell you the truth, I was trying to get a grip on my own feelings. And quite frankly, you were on my mind every day.”

            “I was?” I said, feeling my knees go weak again.

            “Come on,” he said. “Let’s keep walking.”

            We proceeded down the path and came upon a connecting trail that led to a steep hill. The hill was blanketed in ice with barren trees on either side, making an ordinary scene seem very picturesque. It was getting colder, but I didn’t care. I shoved my hands, red and numb, into my pockets and dealt with the discomfort. I was finally getting the closure that I deserved. For two years I had waited to hear the explanation that I deserved. I was done waiting.

            “This is the best route to take,” he said as we began ascending the hilltop. “It’s a shortcut back to my place. Do you need a hand? It looks icy.”

            “I think I can manage on my own.” No matter how much I wanted to, I refused to take his hand. “I have managed without you for two years, haven’t I?”

            He was clearly taken aback. “Okay, maybe I deserved that. But, don’t you think I’m trying here? I feel terrible knowing how much I hurt you. I probably made you hate men completely.”

            “Well, not completely,” I said.

            “Pardon?”

            “Well, I wasn’t just going to keep waiting around for you. That wouldn’t have been fair to anyone. Nothing really worked out, though.”

            “Oh,” he said with genuine concern. “I am very sorry to hear that.”

            In the years since Emmet’s “disappearance,” men had come and gone. I had been in and out of many meaningless relationships and only once was I ever seriously involved with someone.

            “No, but I didn’t put you out of my mind when I was dating other people,” I said. “Even when I thought I was really in love with someone else, I thought about you and hoped that you would somehow reach out to me again. Emmet, you were the first person to even say ‘hello’ to me on freshman move-in day.”

            “If it makes you feel any better,” he started, “I didn’t have much luck in the relationship department either. Sure I dated a little here and there, but it never turned into anything serious.”

            “It doesn’t, but thanks for trying,” I laughed.

            “Well, I am reaching out to you now, aren’t I?” he said hopefully. “Believe me, Laura, I have never gone a day without thinking of you. I could never dream of hurting you again. I think that you’re the sweetest and most beautiful woman I have ever met. Please, let me have a chance to make it up to you.”

           

            Emmet proved himself well within the next few months. I was thrilled to be able to connect with him again. When we talked to each other, it was like nothing had changed at all. I was surprised that he had remembered so many facts about me. He asked me if I still sang at church on Sundays and if I still kept up with my photography. One night, after he had taken me on a proper date, he revealed that he loved to write poetry.       

            “You sound so surprised!” he laughed as he pulled onto the interstate.

            “Can you blame me, though?” I said as I rubbed my hands together. The car was taking forever to heat up. “Mr. Cool Macho Athlete. You just don’t seem the type and you never mentioned it before.”

            “To be honest, you’re the first person I’ve told,” he admitted.

            “I’d like to see some of your work,” I said. “If you want to show me, of course.”

            “Once I feel like I have written something worth showing, you’ll be the first to know about it.”

            “Deal.”

            “Oh, great!” Emmet raised his voice so suddenly it made me jump.

            “What’s the matter?” I asked.

            “Would you be terribly upset if I told you that my engine is dying?” he said with a subtle laugh. “But don’t worry. I’ll just call one of my roommates to come with jumper cables. This is kind of embarrassing, though, because this isn’t the first time I have had to call him for help.”

            “Oh, so you’re a regular damsel in distress?”  I teased.

            “You’re really funny, you know that?” he said as he began to ease the car to the side of the highway. “You should take that act on the road.”

            It was cold the minute Emmet turned the car off. I zipped my jacket all the way up to my chin. It was still early, but already pitch black. The click-click, click-click, click-click of the hazard lights was going to get annoying very quickly.

            Emmet hung up his cell phone. “Joel is going to be here in about fifteen minutes.”

            “Spectacular,” I said shivering. “I have to say, Emmet, that aside from this minute, the last couple of months have been the best I ever had.”

            “I’m really happy to hear you say that,” he said. “And now I have to say that I really want to kiss you.”

            I expected that he would have said that sooner or later, but it still threw me off guard.  “This is hardly a romantic spot for our first kiss, don’t you think?”

            I had barely finished my sentence before he leaned over to me with his eyes closed. It was probably the worst first kiss that I had ever experienced because he missed my lips and ended up kissing my chin. I just giggled though. He had just proved that he didn’t have all of the composure and charm that I once associated him with. I was happy with that. It showed me that he wasn’t the Mr. Perfect I thought he was.

            “Wait,” I said, stopping him before he tried again. “Before you actually get it right, I think we should talk. I don’t want to bring up any history to make things awkward again, but I just need to take everything in.”

            “I understand,” he said with a hint of dejection.

            “Well, everything is happening a at rapid speed. I feel like I haven’t even had time to breathe. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is so strange to me. For two years we were completely out of commission. I have wanted you to kiss me since the day I met you and now it’s finally happening. I just want to know if all of the waiting you put me through is going to be worth it in the end.”

            “I can promise you that it is,” he assured me, taking my freezing hand. “I can’t make any more excuses for what I did. A lot can happen in two years, though. In two years, a person has time to change and to think. I can’t say that I am better person now, but I can confidently say that I want to be a better person. I know that you can help me with that.”

            “And you know that for sure?” I challenged.

            “Of course I do, Laura,” he said. “I have never been more sure of anything in my entire life.”

            “I think now you’re just exaggerating,” I laughed.

            “Well, maybe I am, but I know that right now I want a chance. I want a chance for us to really get to know each other and make up for the two years that I ruined. I honestly don’t know what will happen, but know that right now I what us to have a chance. What do you say?”

            “I say that I think your friend is pulling up behind us right now.” I said looking in the rear view mirror.

            “Oh, perfect timing,” Emmet said and went outside to meet his roommate.

            I was completely useless when it came to anything vehicle related, so I stayed where I was. It gave me some time to think about what Emmet said. There was still a feeling of anger in the pit of my stomach that I just couldn’t shake. I wanted to give us a chance more than anything in the world, but I still believed he had the potential to hurt me again. If he was unsure of his feelings when we weren’t even in a relationship, who is to say that he still won’t have a grasp on them right now?

            “Fingers crossed,” Emmet said getting back in the car.

            The drive back to the campus was quiet and uncomfortable. Emmet’s eyes fluttered back and forth between the road and the “check engine” light. I kept my eyes on the road, chipping at my polished nails in a nervous frenzy. After twenty minutes of complete silence, we arrived at my dormitory. I unbuckled my seatbelt and opened the passenger door quickly.

            “Well, thanks for the movie,” I said. “I had a really fun time.”

            “I’m glad you did,” he said. “Not to sound like a broken record, but do you have an answer?”

            “Yes, Emmet, I do have an answer.” I said with a smirk. “But I’m not going to tell you what it is just yet. Goodnight!”

            I slammed the door and ran all the way up to my room. I collapsed on the bed in a fit of breathless laughter. The look on his face was a priceless mixture of a sad puppy and confusion. Maybe it was a cruel thing to do, but it was a personal triumph. It was Emmet’s turn to wait.

           

            I shiver as the window begins to glaze over with fog. I gaze down at my left ring finger and smile as the moonlight’s reflection is captured in the small, but perfect diamond.

            “Coming back to bed, Laura?” Emmet stirs and calls my name softly through the darkness.

            I take one last look outside before finding my way back to the bed. Emmet pulls me close and kisses my forehead before drifting into another deep slumber. As for me, I’ll be awake for a while. My mind is a snow globe tonight, twirling my happy memories around just like the wind does with the flurries outside. Emmet will be disappointed because he hates the snow. He knows I love big snowfalls, but he doesn’t know why. I think I will keep him in suspense. It seems silly to think that snow could be capable of such a miracle, but I will always believe in it. It was more than just another snowfall. It was the snow that brought us together.

 

 

 

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My Sightless Eyes (A Character Sketch of Aiden)

I begin each morning, like clockwork at seven sharp, black coffee for breakfast with a typical side of nothing. The caffeine and chalky-cardboard taste is all I need to fuel my get-up-and-go attitude. Not really a suit and tie type of guy, I quickly pull on comfortable blue jeans, a long-sleeved flannel and boots and make my way toward the bathroom.  I floss for 47 seconds after brushing my teeth, a compulsive habit that I picked up at a young age from my mother. Back downstairs, I grab the leather jacket from the sofa and throw it over my shoulder as I head out the door. I light a cigarette and take a quick puff as the door shuts with a loud “thud.” Not bothering to lock up, I leave the small apartment behind as I walk to work with a light rain easing down upon my pale complexion. I didn’t carry an umbrella. The mist was refreshing.

            I know these streets, the sidewalks, and even the daily routine of everyone who is usually out and about at this time. Mrs. Turner, who reads on her front porch, always remembers to cough with disgust as the grey smoke escapes my nose and mouth. Every car stops for me as I cross the street while the drivers honk their horns in a friendly salutation. I turn my head in their general direction and smile at them through sightless eyes.

            Everyone in town is aware that I am blind, but they don’t treat me as such.  My neighbors are lovely and caring. The only thing that I ask them to do is to keep the walkways clear for me and they oblige without complaint. Other than this simple task, I never ask anyone for help. Ever. I think I’m what you would call a reckless independent soul. I know that I can’t see, but I enjoy throwing caution to the wind on occasion.

            “Hey, Aiden!” Mr. Russell calls out to me, “I’m thinking about putting a few more tomato plants in the front yard. If you ever get a hankering for a home grown tomato, I’ll send some your way.”

            “That would be great, Mr. Russell,” I reply with a smile, “just be careful they don’t grow too big or I might run into them.”

            Mr. Russell let out chuckle, but I could tell he was uncomfortable.  The neighbors make polite conversation when I am out, but I think they avoid me 60 percent of the time, probably because I joke about my condition and they aren’t sure how they should respond to it. I don’t do this to offend anyone, but to show them that I am comfortable with the way I am. They can’t blame me for God’s skimping them in the sense of humor department.

            The gentle mist stops as the overcast hangs in the sky creating a blanket of darkness over the little town. I hated sunny days. Those were the days when I had to rely on my cane to get me to work. The sun creates extra shadows that taunt my eyes and completely throw off my orientation. I put on a brave face, but the thought of stumbling and making a fool out of myself sends a shiver down my back. I relish in the blackness of the clouds. The clouds are my freedom.

Loveless Mrs. Lovett (An Ekphrastic poem of Sweeney Todd*)

Oh, there’s no place like London…

No place like it indeed.
Go and see Mr. Todd for a shave and
end up on the menu. My menu.
Hey, it’s a living.

Try the priest, sample the scholar,
just about anyone will do when you’re sick
of trying to sell the most revolting pies on Fleet Street.
Poor thing, poor thing.

One day, the blood and stench will be worth it.
A home by the beautiful sea, the day I am the one to
complete Mr. Todd’s arm, instead of a God forsaken shaving blade,
that proudly drips rubies of the innocent.

Call it obsession, call it revenge,
I call it an inability to move on.
The barber won’t settle until that high and mighty judge
is sittin’ pretty in the grave.
Poor thing, poor thing.

Perhaps it’s just as well.
Mr. Todd needs more time to see what sort of lady
he has in front of his nose. I said his poor Lucy was dead.
Ha! I’m ten times the woman she “was.”

Should I care that his precious Lucy wanders Fleet Street
disguised as a miserable old woman? Perhaps, but for now,
it’s Mrs. Lovett’s turn. What Mr. Todd doesn’t know won’t kill me
Poor thing.

*Sweeney Todd lyrics by Stephen Sondheim

Staffa (An Original Prose Poem)

kaylacuster

Image

This tiny little island, with beauty large enough to satisfy the universe, is almost too breathtaking to be real. This island is home to nature and nothing else. People come and go, but it is still a place of sweet seclusion not yet ruined by gift shops and litter. This is a place where the waves go from cerulean to frothy white just before they dance onto dry land and disappear. The water is so blue, yet so crystal clear enough to discover the small wildlife hidden underneath. As you turn away from the water, a salty spray mixed with a cool welcoming breeze bids you farewell. Climbing higher, higher, and higher still, you feel as if you’re on top of the world. The blazing sun is warm on your face, yet goose bumps creep onto your skin as a chilly wind sneaks up on you from behind. As you…

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Vincent’s Haven (An Ekphrastic Poem of Van Gogh’s “Pavement Cafe at Midnight”)

The somber night sky,
reflected in the deep,
navy pavement. Bright,
yellow walls beckon outward
from the protective shade of
a vintage awning.
A lamplight’s glow encompasses
a sanctuary in ember starlight;
A welcoming beacon
to a wayfaring soul,
who often speaks of beauty
while others cast their eyes in
the opposite direction.

Countenances of strangers gather
among scents of amaretto and cigars,
Clinking glasses and indistinct
conversations fill the silence of the night.
The echoes of forgotten solitude
ascend to the heavens
where the hushed, yet vivacious joy
is reflected in the
eyes of the stars.

Undeniable

Linda’s father was undeniably dead.                                                  

          There was nothing more to say, no more tears to dry. She and her mother would no longer think it necessary to sleep in shifts to make sure his breathing continued throughout the night. The dismal concept of the upcoming funeral arrangements left a cloud of gloom over the dim atmosphere. There would be no more doctors announced on the doorstep only to deliver the promise of false hope. Pesky neighbors with appetites for gossip would be the only visitors in the next few days, wearing sympathetic expressions and presenting them with empty condolences of the edible variety. Linda would be eating tasteless baked casseroles for weeks to come.

            Linda Walker released her father’s cold hand as they placed a gentle white sheet over his face and carried his body away. Her mother, Karen, who was looking at the face of the grandfather clock in the corner of the house, meditated in silence with a Bible in her lap. Linda turned and left the grieving woman in peace.

            She began her journey up the wooden staircase. Twenty-seven. Twenty-seven stairs separated the bedrooms from the living room and kitchen. On this day twenty-seven felt like two hundred. Phantom countenances haunted her as she passed each framed memory from her childhood. The icy fingers of first days of school, Christmas times, and birthday parties reached out and caressed her spine in an attempt to steal her attention and affection. She kept her head erect and continued her ascent for she could not bear to meet the happy gaze of the proud father contained within each photograph. As she reached number twenty-seven, she was drawn to the open door of her own room. She hadn’t slept in her own bed since her father had been taken ill. With courageous fear, she stepped inside. A nervous laugh escaped from her throat. There was really nothing to be afraid of. Her father taught her that.

            She remembered how safe she felt with her father. She was quite fond of both of her parents, but valued her father’s teachings the most. Her mother always taught her to be polite, respectful, and practical. Little did Karen know that her husband had been simultaneously corrupting the child with ideas of curiosity and wonder.  He would always teach her to look at the world from a different perspective than everyone else. He showed her that adventure awaited her every time she stepped outside. When she was very young, Linda believed that her father was a wizard, a thought that would have caused her mother to die of embarrassment.  He would fix her broken toys in what seemed to be the blink of an eye. When he pushed her back and forth on the swing set, he would tell her that she could fly higher and faster than the blue birds that greeted them alongside the morning dew.  

            Her entire life, Linda had thought there was some special element that divided her parents. How could they be so different in raising their little girl? Was her mother truly torn apart by her husband’s passing? Or was it nothing more than a numb shock? She thought hard for a moment and felt disgusted with herself, remembering all of the times she had thought her parents did not love each other while she was growing up. Numerous scenarios ran through her head, but a knock at the front door disturbed her thoughts as she vowed that she would never solve the mysteries that kept her parents apart.

            Knowing that her mother was in no mindset to answer to any visitors bearing false apologies, Linda answered the door herself. A man in a suit and fedora was standing on the welcome mat. He was a stranger that Linda had never seen before, not even on a crowded Sunday in church. The man’s forehead was glistening with a nervous sweat and he wore a proud smile. Linda noticed that the shade of his blue eyes undeniably matched hers exactly. His eyes made Linda uncomfortable, but she did not know why.

“How do you do?” the man stammered, with just a hint of confidence behind his shaky voice, “This is the home of Karen Walker, is it not?” His eyes grew wide and his smile grew with genuine happiness.  “You must be her daughter, Linda!”

Linda hesitated. “Yes, that is correct. I’m sorry, but this is not a good time for either me or my mother. What do you want?”

The man removed his fedora in one swift motion.

“Linda…I’m your father.”