He awoke, the chest hurting again, a sore ache with each breath. Not enough to worry about, but more than enough to prevent sleep. Looking out the window, he saw snow gracing the driveway. Crystalline in appearance under low clouds, he could tell it must be freezing outside, and he shivered. Snow, his beautiful enemy, taunting him.
Breakfast was eggs and coffee. He’d eaten too much the day before, as he always did when he drank. Pastrami and sauerkraut on rye bread with thick slices of Swiss cheese, grilled to perfection. Strange the foods one learns to love after decades of disgust at the taste. But time changes people. He knew that. Every frail moment altered him, swept him up and moved him into the next present, like a broom sweeping dust and debris.
The news was not good, but when had it ever been? He couldn’t recall. Though, there were a few stories that made him smile, the gingerbread monolith in San Francisco, in particular. He thought of his daughter then, her love of cooking shows they used to watch together, because … because she was his daughter.
Now she lived far away. Had a dog, a fiancée, plans for the future. All the things he once possessed before the years passed, a sandstorm that blasted away at his dreams until they were ancient ruins. He couldn’t even feel sad about them. Not enough energy left. He must preserve it for the rest of the day, measure it out in teaspoons, as Eliot once wrote. Or perhaps wrote. He wasn’t sure anymore.
The dishes piled in the sink called to him, but he ignored them. It wasn’t their time yet. Pulling a scarf on, and his coat and gloves, he stepped outside the door to experience the miracle of whiteness. The air took his breath away, and he pulled the scarf over his nose to keep from freezing his lungs with every breath.
Time for a walk, he thought, though that hadn’t been his plan. The street was barren, no people, no birds, just the steam rising from homes near his own. His hip wasn’t happy, but he ignored it. The mind should rule the body. He kept at it for a good half hour, finding himself walking through a nearby grove of trees, following a familiar trail until at last he exited.
There it was, as expected, the school and its playground. Empty, except for the ghosts of children past. He sat on a swing and pumped his legs, a slow rhythm, until he became a pendulum, like Watanabe in Ikiru, the film he loved so much. Here would be a good place to die, he thought, frozen in place, his hands clinging to the rusting chains of the swing, a smile on his face. How confused those who discovered him would be. The thought amused him for a while until the cold seeped into his heart. “Time to go,” he said to the empty air.
No, today was not the day for making a statement about his life, confusing or not. There were things to do. The dishes, for one. To leave them behind, unwashed, would be uncivilized. He left the playground behind, retraced his steps back through the trees. It was a struggle now, his stamina gone. How had he forgotten that? When his foot slipped on ice covered roots of an oak he went down hard, and yet, with enough time to be astonished.
Stunned, he couldn’t move his legs without great pain, his right hip broken. He called out for a while, but his voice, hoarse from the cold, didn’t travel far. The snow laughed at him. He could hear it, all the voices of each crushed flake. He caught a few of their words, but they were in a language he never learned. But he understood the gist: destiny is a strange companion, and it never shows its hand until the final lay down of the cards.
He laid down his head. It would be good to sleep, he told himself, to sleep and perhaps to dream, while he waited. Eyes closed, he did just that. Far away, church bells rang, pealing for all the lost souls in the world.