January Thaw

By on Apr 13, 2010 in Fiction

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Couple looking at melting snow

Winter came early and hard that year in Vermont. Tirelessly it had tantrumed, since October’s end.  So, as the two of them sat that January noon, at opposite corners of the sofa, those few inches between them a masonry, the heated air between them as thick as gelatin, that nigh space separating them as arbitrary, but as undeniable, as incontrovertible as the border between warring states, they did not at once note the sunlight streaming through the windowpane.

“You’re going to have to live with that,” Sarah snapped. “It’s all I ever wanted.  You’re taking it from me.  You’re taking it from me forever.”

She wiped her eyes.

And then, viciously, “Forever,” she spat at Andrew.

Sarah’s anger was an arrow, her aim precise.  The words pierced Andrew.  But to Andrew the poison was in Sarah’s tears, not her venom: It shook him to see her cry.  His reply was simple.  He knew she would reject it yet again.  But he had only one response to this argument.

“You present it as if it’s all my decision, Sarah. In the end it’s not my decision. I’m describing how I feel. You can’t put that responsibility of your life on me.  It’s your life.”

It was then, at Andrew’s repetition of this outworn rebuttal, at Sarah’s exasperation at the repeating of this rebuttal, at Andrew’s naked vulnerability before his endless fruitless explainings, at their mutual paralysis, that Sarah glanced up to find the warm sunlight falling over the snow and slanting through the windowpane.  Unconsciously, Sarah moved her hand from her chin and pressed it against the windowglass.  Andrew watched her hand move to the windowglass. Then Andrew saw the sunlight come to Sarah’s hand and pinken it. The sun transfused her thin fingers. Andrew’s paralysis lifted.  He turned to the window himself.

The snow lay in patches: sogging, wet and crystalline. Rivulets etched runs in intervening muds, furrowing the loosened mulch and decaying leaf-litter beyond the porch step. Where roof of porch met roof of house, an unbroken pour of snow-melt streamed off in a spring-like pattering. Andrew saw beyond, in the abutting park, a little boy rising on a swing. In two steps he had opened wide the back door to stand astride its sill, breathing deeply the loamy odor of relaxing sod.

Sarah came out to stand next to him.

Then they were sitting on the back step together.

Andrew grinned and inhaled big-chestedly.  Sarah smiled and tugged at a strawy weed.  For a timeless spell they sat so — without speech, thoughtless. Then the neighbor’s Labrador tromped up, sniffed, edged to Sarah’s side and nosed her knee.  Willingly, Sarah answered, scratching his damp, familiar ears.  The neighbor himself arrived then, to leash his filthy, wagging brute, to chuckle a greeting, to swagger on parkward.

“God, what a day,” Andrew exclaimed. He rose then and arched his back. He stretched his arms. Andrew stepped out onto the squelchy soil.

“Reminds me of the Cape, this smell,” Sarah said. “Almost. I mean if it had a little sea-like-ness to it. You know? So rich? Fertile?”

Andrew interlocked his fingers behind his neck.  He leaned back, tilting his head upward. The sun soaked into the pores of his face. The sun kneaded at his eyelids. The sun rosined his cheeks.

Sarah said, “You wanna go there in May again?  To the Cape?”

Andrew just repeated, “God, what a day.” And then, lightly, “Sure.”

They sat on the porch in the sun for a long time.  Late afternoon came, and still the day’s warmth held. Then dusk fell, and it felt like fall.  With the darkness, it was winter again.

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Stephen Muret lives and writes in Raleigh, North Carolina. He has more than fifteen publications in venues as various as Alienskin Magazine, Slow Trains Literary Journal, Unlikely Stories, Bent Pin, Sein und Werden and Ducts.