The edges darken and curl beneath my fingers. Flames creeping up the flimsy paper, the dancing orange light illuminates the faces of the two children running through the snow. They’re laughing. I will it to make some impression, let the little smiles imprinted onto the photograph seep into my own face right now. They don’t.
Instead, what flickers through my mind while the page I drop from my hand is eaten by the fire is that that picture cannot be seen again. The fantasy of happiness existing in these bleak white months that hurl biting storms at you has long been wiped from my knowledge. Really, the past months have swept the remnants of any other reality off the checkerboard that is the once-exciting world we live in. It is like watching with despairing eyes that last bit of hope, for something better, for something to make out of this bitter life, trickle out of a flask. Here I am, reduced to sliding faded photographs out of their dusty frames to feed to the fireplace—after the few children’s books that once lay on the bare shelves have already vanished in smoke—just to save me a couple shivers.
Somewhere, through the cracks in the door and walls that never manage to keep out the little devils called snowflakes, the aroma of something sweet seeps into the air and lingers, tantalizing. I wait a moment to decide whether it’s there or, senses dulled and numb as I am, its subsistence was created by my longing that I didn’t know was there. And before I make up my mind which it is, and even though every fiber inside my body screams in protest, I rise from my chair and make my way to the door.
I shiver as a blast of wind and snow nips at my cheeks the second I step outside. The storm is at least no longer in a ruthless rage, but I only have on the few old scraps of clothing I could find, and the cold spreads through every inch of me like dye in water. I force myself to walk before I freeze into a statue.
It makes for a change, I suppose, being outside. But good or bad, I don’t know. I could die out here if another blizzard hits.
I walk past shuttered houses, past the scarce trees, over their branches snapped with the weight of snowfall, into the bedraggled streets of town. I imagine myself: a solitary figure, wrapped like a bundle of rags and caked with snow, and in a row of colorless, dilapidated buildings each topped with a thick white cap. And barely visible through the haze of white that veils my surroundings. I can tell what a lovely picture that must make.
I walk on.
Desperate for whatever it was that had pulled me out of the house to trek through a couple hundred feet that seem miles. From just a trace of it in the air, maybe imagined. Which I’m starting to be convinced of, up until a warm breath of what I had followed over here drifts into me. It hits me as hard as if it had arms to push me over with. I stumble blindly towards it as if it’s life-saving sustenance.
Over the door to one of the buildings, a frosted gingerbread house beginning to break apart, the name reads:
B L ’S C FÉ
Broken, by what there’s no doubt, but it looks like someone has tried to write in the missing letters, before it was erased by snow.
The letters stir something in my memory. The bells still jingle when I pull the handle. I’m surprised to see two of the tables are occupied.
It’s like being back in another time and place. One where children smile in the snow.
One where no perpetual storm is sending what used to make up the order of the world spinning into disarray.
Or perhaps. . .perhaps it is only in my mind that the storm is still blasting in full power. Because there are people here. Fellow café frequenters that were a sight of from before, from the past, from times long gone. But perhaps. . .back once more.
I go up to the counter, my stiff fingers reaching into my pocket and dropping my last few coins on the cold surface. I don’t know if it was a good choice.
But when I take the first sip, I know that I need it. The substance flows through me, rich and sweet, burning like liquid fire but heavenly to my senses, reviving me. I smile like those little faces that have disappeared into the small fire I left at the house, smile for the first time in months.
When I take the next mouthful of my hot chocolate, it feels like I’m inhaling pure sunlight. I close my eyes, and I can feel the sun’s beams, infiltrating the unbroken whiteness that blankets the world in this time of year, reaching down to bathe me with the warm touch of its rays.
Sunlight, bottling smiles, laughter within.
Sunlight, unseen for so many months.
Sunlight, almost forgotten.