To Fall Asleep
The wind that had punished me throughout my walk lessens, the snow now falling softly from the black, night sky. How I miss the stars of summer, their warm light both a blessing and a curse to my eyes. Would I have had a different path on life’s walk, I would certainly have wished to count the stars among them. But it was not to be; such was not my road, a farm boy from the Midwest who dreamed of greater things.
My tattered coat surrounds me in warmth, shedding the chill that swirls about the street corners, their asphalt surface hidden beneath soft powder. My boots push through it easily, though it clings to me just below my knee. I feel its presence against my skin, a touch, a kiss to let me know it shall invade my world should I hesitate. I pull my cloak tighter as I trod these sullen, winter streets of a place I now call home, a place I have no attachment to. It is only the place I live, the place that shelters me.
The barren streets are sparsely lit by the occasional lamp that throws its soft luminescence into circles upon the shadowed snow. It is only the hidden rolls, the curbs of this urban environment that take my attentions from my meandering path. Much like the varmint holes of an unplowed field in the days of my youth, they alone conspire to slow my progress, to press me to falter. I shake the powder from my hair, my beard now as white as that of an old man at the end of life’s journey.
My thoughts drift back to this day, this day a year past. It is but a carbon copy of what was; the brisk winds rambling down the city streets as winter’s white laid its blanket again across the cityscape.
My hands caress her warm cheeks as I brush away the snow from her face. I lift her head as gently as I would a newborn, held within the touch of a mother’s grace, and cuddle her softly upon my lap. I pull back her tangled, pepper-black hair, letting her face glisten in night’s stillness. Her eyes search for meaning as she looks past my face into the dark sky. I shelter her from the cold flakes as I hold her head.
“Who’s there?” she whispers.
Her lips tremble as her words slip into the night. Her breath rises in a soft cloud and I feel its warmth upon my cheeks.
“Is that you, Peter?”
“It is, my love.”
“Oh Peter. What has become of me?”
“It’s okay. I’m here. I’ll always be here. We’ll always be together.”
“It won’t be that way for long. I won’t be here.” Her eyes focus on my face for a moment, perhaps a last fleeting memory before she looks again to the heavens hidden behind the overcast night.
“I’ll be here with you always,” I reply.
“Peter, do you remember that day we went down to the shore? It was such a lovely time.”
“I can still feel the warmth of the sun on my face. You were so beautiful.”
“You make me blush, Peter. I was never that pretty. But, but you always made me feel that way.”
“You were always my first love. You know that.”
“I wasn’t though. There was another before me.”
“There was never anyone before you.” I brush the flakes from her dark eyelashes as I peer into her eyes. “Once you find your forever person, there is no one before, no one after.”
“Peter, do you see the sun? I feel it. It feels so warm.” She rolls her head toward me. I see the strain it takes for her to do so. “I’ve missed the warmth, Peter. I’ve been cold all day.”
“I’m holding you now, love.” I press my cheek down to hers. Her skin is flush with night’s chill. I will hold her life little longer. “Just feel the warmth of my touch, that touch we have shared for a lifetime.”
“Do you hear the water, Peter? Can you see it? See how it rushes to our feet? It makes my toes feel numb.” She blinks, her lashes depositing a white dusting on her cheeks. They linger for a moment before her fading warmth turns them to a tear rolling down her cheek.
“I wish our daughter’s wedding would have been on the beach. I tried, you know.”
“I know, my love.” I wipe the remnants of the tear from her face. “I remember.”
“Such a day it was. God had given us that day, Peter. She should have been married at the beach.”
“You would have gotten wet in the surf.”
“I wouldn’t have minded.” Her eyes find me once again, an inquisitive look on her face. Her lips relax as a smile embraces her. “Remember how beautiful she was?”
“I’m cold, Peter.”
“I know love. You’ll be warm soon.”
The darkness that surrounds us begins to reflect a new reality, harsh and penetrating. The azure lights create a pattern of chaos in our once silent world. Commotion fills the void that encompasses us.
“Peter? What’s going on?”
“Just the lights of the city, my love.”
I turn as I hear the sounds of footsteps rushing through the powder, shoes scraping against the pavement beneath. A dark figure now looms above me as I cradle her in the soft snow.
“Is everything all right?” The police officer kneels down beside me as he tilts his cap away from his face. “Is she okay?”
“Peter? Who’s here?”
“Just a friend, my love.” I brush my fingers against her cheek as she looks again to the night sky, the falling flakes blue against the flashing strobe.
“Is there anything I can do?”
I shake my head, knowing it is only a matter of time.
“Peter? What is that light?”
“What light, my love?”
“It’s beautiful. It’s warm, Peter.” She rolls her eyes to me again, scanning my face. “Are you coming with me, Peter?”
“Not tonight, my love. But I will join you soon.”
“I love you Peter.”
I watch as her face turns to the side and her eyes close for the final time. I am at a loss, a numbing sense of emptiness begins to overtake me as I feel a hand upon my shoulder.
“I’m sorry for your loss.” His voice is strong, but I know his words ring true. “I’ll call and we’ll get her moved inside.”
“What’s her name, Peter? I’ll need it for the reports.”
“I don’t know her name, and my name isn’t Peter.”
“But ... “
“I’ve never seen her before tonight.”
I remember that night a year past so vividly. It was a night like any other winter’s night in a cold city. I push through the snow, the soft powder that covers a harsh world nothing more than the blanket in which we wrap ourselves to fend off the night.