By Joseph Biancalana
Charlie wakes to sunlight, bright on the parchment beige walls. The white light floating on the ceiling means snow. In his dream he and Stevie were sledding down a steep hill and the hill became a mountain and they were going faster and faster and Stevie couldn’t stop and Paula grabbed his coat and tried to stop him and Charlie pushed her away saying, “Let him fly. He can fly.” Stevie went over the cliff and Charlie jerked awake into a bedroom of snowy sunlight.
In flannel pajamas, he walks on the cold wood floor to the front window. He winces until his eyes adjust to the glare of sunny snow. Two dark ruts run down the middle of the street but he can’t see how deep. He guesses over a foot sits on parked cars. A red car carrying a crown of snow glides slowly down the street, its motor muffled by the snow on its hood. Wind has flocked the north side of the green clapboard house across the street. He goes to the side window. Paula’s Beetle resembles a burial mound. On the neighbor’s flat porch roof, maybe two feet. Somewhere a car whines, spinning its wheels, trapped, struggling to be free.
The clock on the nightstand says eight. He’s overslept, but the bank probably won’t open. He checks his phone. Yes, the bank’s closed.
Last night he and Paula were drinking in the living room.
“You were sending the message we didn’t love him,” she said.
“Me? As if you weren’t with me one hundred percent. You could have called and gone up.”
“I had classes.”
“And I had the bank. And we had agreed.”
“I think I’ve drunk too much,” she said. “I’m going to bed.”
He turned off the lamp and sat in the dark living room with his Scotch and water. He brought their glasses to the kitchen, set the thermostat at 68, and made sure the front door was locked. That’s when he saw the snow. White flakes drifted downward through street light and porch light settling on the sidewalk and on the grass and among the needles of the evergreen near the front porch.
Paula is moving around in the kitchen downstairs. The radio’s on. He smells coffee. She’s having breakfast. He shaves and showers then puts on his brown corduroy pants and his green plaid flannel shirt. Going downstairs, he says, “Paula?” The furnace clicks and starts. At the foot of the stairs, he makes a U-turn, hears the furnace fan come on, and goes through the snow-bright dining room into the kitchen. Here, too, snow light brightens the sink and counters near the windows. Warm air shushes through the vent. The radio’s off. A half grapefruit sits on a plate. His half. Her gift. He puts a piece of multigrain into the toaster, sits down at the wooden table, and eats his grapefruit. The toast pops. He throws out the grapefruit rind and rinses his plate and spoon. Then it’s butter and marmalade on his toast.
Paula comes into the kitchen wearing her pink down jacket, jeans, and fur-lined boots.
“You’re here,” he says. “I thought you might have gone outside.”
“I was about to but I forgot my hat. I had a Stevie dream last night.”
“What was this one?”
“It was weird. I was at the viewing looking at him in the casket when he comes up to me, he was beautiful in his dark blue suit, and says, ‘Don’t worry, mom, everything is all right.’”
“Really? He said that?”
“He was always so kind and generous and sensitive.”
“That was his problem. Too sensitive. We were too soft and the school was firm yet nurturing. That’s why we sent him there. It was very good academically.”
“When he asked to come home, why didn’t I hear how desperate he was? A mother should hear that.”
“Don’t keep torturing yourself. We were reasonable. We agreed he should try to stay another few weeks and if he felt the same way he could come home.”
“I know, I know, I know. But still.”
Charlie remembers “Please let me come home.” and waits a few moments. “College closed?”
When she got her Ph.D. Paula took a job in the English department of a junior college until she could find one at a four-year college. After a few years, she stopped looking.
“Yes. What are you going to do?”
“I thought I’d fill the bird feeders and then prepare classes. You?”
“I’ve got research on some companies I can do. Any word from Heradio?”
He likes it when Heradio shows up with his panel truck and guys pile out with snow blowers and shovels and go at it. In no time the drive and the walks are clear.