Snow sat fat and heavy on the ground outside the cottage. Winter whispered its silent elegy for the green of spring and summer. Trees sat barren, gray battered obelisks showing only shades of their former verdant glory. Color had drained from the world, the sky and ground matching pallid sheaths, shadows and smoke and ice and clouds. A crow announced himself to no one. A pale man trudged through the snow drifts, face down, beard covered in ice formed by the freezing of steam from his nose, a swirling vortex surrounding his head with every breath.
He pushed the door to the cottage open and stepped inside. In the fireplace, the struggling flames danced and jumped at the influx of air from the outside but quickly resumed their lingering death as the room settled. He pulled off his coat and brushed out his beard and wrapped a dry blanket around himself. He touched the coffee cup on the table to feel for warmth. Cold. He would have to make more. Dissatisfying. He threw a new log onto the fire and collapsed into his ragged upholstered reclining chair.
Silence. Only silence. And the screaming echoing in his head. He didn’t miss her, but he couldn’t be sure. Something was amiss. Did I do the right thing? Where did she go? he thought. How long have I been here? He looked up to the clock on the fireplace mantle below the portrait of his father. It wasn’t there. Nothing is in the right place. Everything has been moved. I really need some coffee.
A bird flew into the windowpane and fell stunned into a pile of snow.
“That bird is going to die.”
“Please. Not now,” he said.
“It seems Death will have his hands full today.”
“What do you know about it?”
“Am I not allowed to mourn the fate of that poor, innocent, little bird?”
“You never mourned anyone.”
“Then perhaps my age has softened me?”
He got up and walked outside to where the bird had fallen, not bothering to put on his outdoor clothing. He could see the perfect bird shaped hollow in the snow drift. The bird was cold and stunned but alive so he sheltered it under his blanket and brought it into the house. A kitchen towel served as a perfect bird blanket. He placed the wrapped bird on the stone by the fireplace. He pulled an unlabeled bottle from the cabinet above the stove. The fresh wood on the fire was starting to catch, cutting some of the frigid gloom from the cottage. He drank from the bottle.
“Better?” he asked.
“You’ve shown a real kind streak, my boy.”
“A real kind streak…it would be a shame to have two deaths sullying your hands today…”
“I should throw you into the fire.”
“You’d never throw me into the fire.”
“No, James, I know you. You’re not strong enough. And you need me.”
“Oh, you do. You always have.”