(This is the fourth in a collection of related shorts. I would very strongly recommend reading Do You Hear before reading this. Most Wonderful Time and Blue Christmas are also related, but they are not as essential for following this one. There will be at least one, probably two more in this series so keep your eyes open.)
December 3rd, one year ago – Eric and April
“In the meadow, we can build a snowman.”
I laughed. “This doesn’t quite count as a meadow. Besides, with the snow we’ve got here, we’d be lucky to build even a six-inch snowman.”
“Oh, come on,” April said. “Don’t be such a spoilsport. Sing it with me.”
I didn’t know the song well enough to sing along. The best I could do was hum with her as my girlfriend continued.
“We’ll pretend that he is Parson Brown. He’ll say, ‘Are you married?’ We’ll say ‘No, man. But you can do the job when you’re in town.”
“Wait, a minute. Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “Are you trying to hint at something?”
April blushed. She folded her gloved hands and looked over at me demurely. “Maybe.”
I took her hands and pulled her slowly into a kiss. Her lips were warm but her nose was frozen as it brushed against my cheek. As we pulled apart I said, “I thought you wanted to wait until you graduated.”
“I do. But… not always.”
We pulled apart and I held her shoulders as I looked into her eyes. April was so beautiful. She was without question the best thing to have happened in my life in a long, long time. She was finishing up her last year at LeMoyne College for her nursing degree. I had graduated from Syracuse two years earlier but a couple months back I had asked work for a transfer down here to New York City to be closer to my mom. Her cancer had taken a turn for the worse and I wanted to be nearby. I was all she had.
Part of me wanted to propose to April right here and now so that she could join me. But no. She had her own life. I didn’t want her to be one of those girls who put their careers aside to start a family. There will be plenty of time for that in the future. For now, we were together most weekends and we talked through skype almost every day. A year and a week from today, December 12th next year she will graduate. If that seems too long to be apart, I can always transfer back to ‘Cuse once mom is better. They told me the door is always open.
For now, we just held hands and walked through Central Park on this crisp December afternoon. The tree at Rockefeller Center will be lit tonight for the first time of the season and so April and I are slowly making our way from my apartment, through the Park, to the Center. Apparently, some American Idol “also-ran” from a few seasons back is doing a concert and so its something we were going to do together. Part of me wishes I was going to pop the question tonight. It would be a great thing to do just as the tree lights come on. But I haven’t saved as much towards the ring as I would like and I’ve never been a fan of long engagements.
– – – – – – – – – –
December 3rd, this year – Eric and George
“In the meadow, we can build a snowman. We’ll pretend that he is Parson Brown. He’ll say, ‘Are you married?’ We’ll say, ‘No, man, but you can do the job when you’re in town.”
I know the words now. There is no snow here this year. We did manage to build a tiny little snowman that day one year ago. Really, it was more like three snowballs of diminishing size stacked on top of each other. Twigs served as arms and a couple pebbles did for the eyes. I’ve still got a picture of it on my phone. The last thing I want to do as I sit on this Central Park bench watching people walk by is to pull out my phone and start going through pictures. Not here. No tears in public.
Right now, I would rather sit with my memories of a time before everything fell apart. Before the year was out, mom’s cancer had taken a turn for the worse. I started withdrawing and my relationship with April started going south. After mom died in March I completely shut down for weeks. April wanted to be there for me, but I refused to let her. On the surface, things seemed to get better by the summer, but underneath we just weren’t the same. She had her abortion in late September and I don’t think anybody in her family knew. Two weeks later she called it all off. Her choice to end the pregnancy hurt her more than she would admit. I had wanted to keep the baby, but ultimately it was her choice and I went with her to the clinic. I think she partly resented me for not fighting harder for the baby.
Or maybe, that is just my imagination. Now I will never know. I still can’t believe she is gone. I always had held out hope that we would get back together. I know her brother, Jayson, was in my corner in that regard. But now… she’s gone. I am left with two years worth of beautiful memories and horrible regrets.
I pull the ring box out of my pocket. I don’t open it but just roll the little box around in my hand. I should have bought it sooner. Maybe if I did it would have been a bit cheaper and the carat a little less. So what? In my stupid pride, I waited. Then I waited some more. I thought I had all the time in the world. I thought we would have a lifetime together. That is a fantasy as stupid as the song she was singing. Real-life is no Winter Wonderland. I open up the box and I am right about to pull the ring out when I see him again. He is walking right towards me.
“Well hello again. Fancy meeting you here.”
“Hey. George, isn’t it?”
“Well, how about that. You remember my name. I’m honored.”
The funny thing is, he genuinely looked it. This strange man was as open as he was talkative. I smile. “You left kind of suddenly the other night.”
“Yes, that I did. That I did. I thought my job was done, but apparently, I’ve still got a bit more work to do.”
I grunted something in reply and George continued, “Say, I really love this park this time of year. It’s a regular winter wonderland, isn’t it?”
“Sometimes.” He says the word back at me, but it seems to hold a lot more weight for him than it did for me. “And those are the best of times. I’ve found we have to hold those times closest to our hearts, no matter how far away they might seem.”
He’s looking down at the box in my hand as he says that. I look away without responding. I’m choking up and I don’t want him, or anybody to see how close I am to losing control right here on the bench. We sit in silence for a while as I pull my emotions back from the edge. I wipe a tear from my eye and George is good enough to pretend not to notice. After a minute or two he says, “Say, I hear they will be lighting that big tree tonight down by Rockefeller Square. What say you and I go on down and watch it? I hear it’s a regular spectacle.”
I shrug, “Why not.”
“Now there’s the spirit.”
He pats my back as he stands. We walk together through the park taking the same route I did with April one year ago today. I’m lost in the memories, the sweet memories of that day that keep floating to the surface. George just strolls along with me, letting me pick the pace. The whole while he is whistling one Christmas carol after another.
The tree was beautiful. It always is. For all the wrong you could say about American extravagance and consumerism, every now and then, they do get it right. We grabbed a couple coffees and leaned against the rail watching the people ice skating in Rockefeller Center.
“I never really was a big fan of ice,” George said. “I lost my hearing in one ear thanks to an unplanned dip in frozen water back when I was a kid. It was the death of me getting it back.”
The way George talked, it seemed like he was from a different time and place. There was something familiar about it, something that was tickling the back of my memory, but I just couldn’t figure it out.
“I took skating lessons as a kid. I tried a few times to get April out on the ice, but she preferred what we are doing now. She’d sit back, sipping a coffee, and take her pleasure watching the enjoyment of others. She was so beautiful as the cold turned her cheeks and nose red just smiling and staring off. I never did like winters until I was with her. But her joy in a simple snowfall…”
“She certainly was right. There is something special about this season. Every snowflake is beautiful in its unique design, yet they come together to magically transform the world.”
I looked up at George in shock. I could swear those were the exact same words April had said to me when she was trying to cajole me into going outside with her last year.
“Eric, I know you have a lot of questions, but our time is almost up. We need to get you down to the bus station.”
“The bus station?”
“Yes, Isn’t her memorial tomorrow afternoon? You need to get up to Syracuse.”
“But I wasn’t planning on going.”
“I know. But they need you there. And you need to be with them. What would April have wanted?”
“How would you know what April would have wanted? Who are you? Why are you even here?”
George paused before answering. “I thought you would have figured that out be now. I’ve been sent here to make sure you don’t make the same mistake I almost made. You still have so much more to live for. And I’m pretty sure you will understand that better upstate. In this city of millions of people, you are too alone. Go and connect with your old college friends. Go and connect with her family. Christmas isn’t a time to be all by yourself. It isn’t healthy.”
I wanted to argue with him, but I knew he was right. Besides, apparently, George had already bought me a ticket and a hotel room. The 10:30 bus got me there at three in the morning so I would still have plenty of time to rest and get ready before the service. Now that it seemed a real possibility, I knew that I wanted to be there. I needed to be there.
Sleigh bells ring, are you listenin’?
In the lane, snow is glistenin’
A beautiful sight
We’re happy tonight
Walkin’ in a winter wonderland
Gone away is the bluebird
Here to stay is a new bird
Who sings a love song
As we go along
Walkin’ in a winter wonderland
In the meadow, we can build a snowman
And pretend that he is Parson Brown
He’ll say, “Are you married?”, we’ll say, “No, man
But you can do the job when you’re in town”
Later on, we’ll conspire
As we dream by the fire
To face unafraid
The plans that we’ve made
Walkin’ in a winter wonderland