The grey stripped asphalt of the lonely country road outside his home would soon bring mourners.
It was the coldest winter in over fifty years. Could he remember being that cold?
He could see that old crippled man in his white nightcap, the crisp bleached sheets, the fluffy pillow where his hollow head rested, staring out a window, suddenly transported, the bed and the ground and the gently rolling hills of the snow-covered valley merging as one. Was this his grandfather? An uncle? A neighbor? Someone he saw die…so many people he saw die…was it during that winter over fifty years ago? That old man had known that cold, this cold. It wasn’t remembering…it was measured breaths bearing images, moments. He had wondered earlier in his life if these moments would be so obvious…the images of all the women he had loved, of all the people he had known, the childhood memories of that long narrow table in that crowded dining room, the space between two people on opposite sides not big enough to hold an exhaled breath, the closet in the hall that housed a phone and a chair and his sister, her laughter sneaking out by way of the space left from the door always slightly ajar, filling the whole house, the woods, the woods, the woods outside that were home to all brands of fanciful juvenile reveries, Sherwood Forest, the bandits, the landlocked pirates, creatures, friends, a first kiss, family, his father, robust and forever young reading from big thick books, the children gathered round the old brown armchair hanging on every word, waiting with baited breath, fevered excited chattering mouths, shiny eyes and bright happy faces looking up at that man as he paused between passages, between words, between worlds, between moments, the suspense, the space among them not big enough to hold an exhaled breath, yet was big enough to contain the entire universe. A car crash, a cancer, a fall, all that had taken them away from him too soon or not quick enough, seemed not to matter when there were those moments, these measured breaths, this cold that preserved his mind.
How sweetly these moments washed over him, keeping his blood flowing, his heart warm for those final breaths in that cold, cold room on this final night during the coldest spell of winter his home had seen in over fifty years. He was that old man. He was passing, just like those moments through his mind…drifting…gently soaring…higher into the pale clouds, riding the winter zephyr, circling now above his home which appeared barren, alone, final…not yet flooded with the warm, salty tears of hot-blooded banshees.
And suddenly he was no longer cold, his bones no longer ached, his skin no longer dry and cracked, and he was as lucid as he had even been. There were those moments spent by the sea, so many seas, the weather-beaten houses on the shore, the cracking paint flaking off like aged skin, the barefoot walks on the sandy, rocky beaches, the feeling of cracked seashells sticking into the bottoms of his feet, tiny speckles of blood trailing on the hardwood floors and up the stairs, the endless summer afternoons spent on the porches or lying in beds, the secrets between two hushed voices creating a slow burning through their hearts, the taste of salt on a woman’s skin, the summer breezes blowing in through open windows and delicately translucent curtains being lifted and twisted and fluttering, muttering honey-laced nothings into the naked ears of those who found peace and quiet there.
For all those whom he had loved, who had loved him, those mourners, those strangers and friends and family and fans, he was not that old man but instead that untroubled wind coming in from the sea, and the moments they created basking in his warmth would continue long after that coldest winter passed into faded memories.
Had it ever been that cold?
The space between them was not big enough to hold an exhaled breath.
His body expired, but that final breath would last forever in that coldspace.
D. H. Schleicher is an independent author, blogger and film enthusiast from the South Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia. He is the author of the acclaimed independent novel, The Thief Maker, and his writing has appeared in Scratch, Lit Noir and on Wonders in the Dark. He is the founder and editor of The Schleicher Spin and the digital literary magazine The Stone.