The snow flurries whipped sideways across the window panes like Old Father Time’s beard. Through the glass, she could see the trees aloft with white powder, and the sky’s somber and lackluster light gave her a heavy feeling within her soul. Although she wasn’t, she felt trapped by a hundred winters’ weight bearing down on her like boulders bound to her limbs. She could not comprehend how she had lived such a long life, how she had survived it all, or how it was that another year had passed and she was still here to tell her story to whomever would listen. Alas, she was here. Alive and well, her pale blue eyes squinted to peer through the white storm on the other side of the glass in an attempt to find the one thing that kept her anchored each passing winter. The winds whirled around the old house until finally it came, a clear moment. As though a tsunami was released through her mind, the outcome of this tiny pebble dropped at precisely the right moment and location in the vast ocean of her subconscious, every event, feeling, emotion, person, circumstance, and story came flooding her. It was this extraordinary ability of hers that she believed was her gift to finally give to the world, but how? She blinked, and the moment passed. The wind once again blocked her view carrying its crystals of winter around like dust blown from an old book. She sat there a while longer, lost in contemplation. To an onlooker, she must have resembled some sort of statue awaiting its display in a park somewhere once the sun shone again. Although her body was still, her mind raced so as not to lose the moment like she had so many times before. If only there was a way for her to bring her memento with her wherever she went, to always remind her, to always open up her internal dialogue no matter where she was physically, but alas. In a hundred winters passed, she had yet to discover a way to do this.
The clock against the wall made the faintest ticking noise as the seconds passed. She glanced over to it, as she had so many times before, and took in its beauty. The hand-carved relic never missed a beat, and to think how many generations it had been reporting to since its birth was unfathomable to anyone who hadn’t been there to witness it themselves. Tall and regal, the dark stained wood was embellished from foot to face with no lack of love and labor. The posies’ pedals were almost lifelike, and the deep swirls resembled water rushing up its sides. The glass which covered its arms was slightly warped due to the novice attempts to make smooth glass in the early eighteen hundreds, yet the inclusions could only be seen at just the right angles. And although the slender arms always pointed the way to the correct time of day, the clock hadn’t chimed in decades and no one dared to move it to discover why. It read eleven o’clock.
Even more noticeable than the clock’s ticking was the crackling of embers in the fireplace behind her, popping and snapping like dry leaves beneath one’s feet on a blithe autumn day. The warmth was still radiating from the fireplace, though the flames had extinguished themselves some time ago, and she paid notice to the sensations on her back and neck which let her know she was not as frozen as she must appear. She felt comforted in this. The moment that had passed was now only a faint memory, and despite her best attempts at holding onto it, all of its detail slipped from the forefront of her consciousness like sand between one’s fingers. It had escaped.
Feeling defeated, she gathered her energy and willed herself to rise from her seat. Her bones popped into joint, and her muscles quivered as they stiffened to hold her upright. The age her body seemed to reveal was admirable given all that these bones and flesh had carried her through, and even though she was exhausted from the journey, she could still recognize her own face when gazing into the mirror that hung on the wall opposing the clock. Her hair was a dark chocolate brown speckled with a white hair here or there, her skin a pale, blushed olive tone with a hint of golden hue, and her eyes a deep and radiant sage green still fresh with life. The creases around her eyes and mouth seemed oddly absent, though they were apparent whenever she smiled sincerely. The frame of her body was still as regal as the days of her youth. Her shoulders were square and proud, falling gracefully back as though they were garments of silk gliding on the wind. The line formed as one traced her body with one’s eyes from her shoulders, over her chest, around her waist, over her hips and down her audaciously feminine legs gave one the sense that she must have been the terminal brushstroke of some ethereal artist before finally breathing life into his creation.
“Simone?” said a voice from behind her, startling her briefly. It was Melissa Bachteler. The two had grown up as friends and had become more like sisters over the years, although they were now like the sisters who never took the time to catch up with one another, taking the other’s presence in the relationship for granted.
Simone didn’t turn, but rather looked past herself in the mirror to interact with the mere reflection of her dear friend. This, Simone thought, is befitting- she is, after all, nearly a ghost these days, merely a reflection of who I used to know her as… “Yes? I’m here. What brings you?”
“Well, I… I just felt like I needed to come by to check in on you. I know it’s been a while, and I’ve been horrible about calling- I’ve just been so… Oh forget it. It’s only excuses. I have no excuse. I haven’t called, and I haven’t come by.”
“Look, Simone,” Melissa said as she gently reached out and took her friend’s arm to turn her body around, “I get it. I get that you are who you are- I may not ever understand what the hell you mean sometimes, but at least I get that that’s just who you are. I’m sorry I get so frustrated sometimes. I just listen to your stories over and over, and I honestly don’t understand you- It’s as though you really believe this stuff. It worries me! I mean, I can never tell if you’re having a break with reality, or if you’re just eccentric… I’ve gotten to the point at times where I have really considered having you admitted! But I could never do it- I just can’t. I love you- you know that, right?”
“Anyway, the whole point is that I want to apologize. I’m sorry I’ve been absent lately. Can you forgive me?”
There was a pause, and in Simone’s mind played out the next few minutes in detail. As if not to miss the cue, she stated almost too matter-of-factly, “There is nothing to forgive… Yes, you have been absent, and no explanation is needed. I understand that I am both never alone and always alone in this world, and I cannot expect that any one person will remain perfectly constant in my life as I do within my own mind- I am my own company, which is sufficient for me. I am glad you came to visit today. Honestly, of all days, this would be the best. So you see, it is all perfect, my love, and there is neither anything for which to apologize nor forgive. Now tell me, what adventures has life brought your way in these last months?”
Almost confused, as she was so accustomed in the presence of her childhood friend, Melissa let the words sink in for a moment before understanding that Simone merely wished for the two of them to go on as though no time had passed since their last encounter. “Well…” she hesitated. “Well, I suppose I could tell you about my trip to the mountains to visit my brother.”
“I stayed over a month.”
“Well, I hadn’t really intended to, but it just sort of happened. You see, I went to give myself a break from all of the craziness that had been going on around here, and only planned to stay for a week or two, but after two weeks, I realized I just felt so much lighter and clearer there that I decided to just stay until I didn’t want to be there anymore. Honestly, I only returned to come see you…”
“So you are planning to go back, then.” This was a statement, not a question. It may have started as a question, but since Simone already knew the answer, it was somehow devoid of the inflection needed to distinguish it as such.
Melissa hesitated to reply, as though she might again need to apologize for leaving her friend behind without word of another visit or call. “Yes.”
They were both silent for a moment, still standing somewhat close together in the small hallway that led from Simone’s reading room to the kitchen. The embers in the fireplace were still crackling, and in an almost rhythmic fashion, the snow blew unabashedly against the window panes as if in protest to the barrier placed between them and the warm glow. Simone was the first to move in the direction of the kitchen. “I’m going to make some hot tea, would you care for any?”
“I appreciate it, yes…”
“I want you to know that I am okay. I know you are worried- I can even see it in your face now. I am fine, I assure you. I know I am an eccentric, and I am okay with that. I also know I am brilliant, intelligent, belligerent, bold, strong, and full of love. With that, how can I be anything other than okay? I know I have my moments- I go a bit far, at times. And I know you get me. I only wish I could invite you, or anyone for that matter, inside my experience! I get so lonely sometimes knowing that I will never really be able to share what I experience with another person. But despite that, I am just fine- and I love that you care enough about me to have concern. I will miss you terribly when you go.”
The two of them prepared their Earl Grey tea, and took the warm mugs cupped in their cold hands back to the reading room to sit and enjoy the scenery. Simone gently stoked the fire back to life and threw another couple of logs on the feed the flames. They each took their favorite seats, smiled to each other over the steam rising in front of their faces from the piping hot liquid evaporating from their cups, and turned their eyes toward the dancing flames.
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