I listened to the stark silence of the snow, listened for a sound or a sign of life. No breath other than mine could be heard and with each passing second, my heartbeat grew softer and softer. The snow sank from the skies, falling like fainting fairies to rest upon the cold ground and hiding the last stems of grass that had finally lost the tenacity to hold on to life. That was the truth of it, I knew. One beautiful thing must take the place of the old beautiful things: the summer flowers and lush grasses faded into flurrying flakes and snow covered fields, color withered into white, warm grew cold. And the silence. The prevalence of silence became almost deafening. No more buzzing of bees or sounds of children playing in the afternoon sun. Time for quiet, for reflection, for observation.
But I did not want to be quiet, reflect, observe. No, no, no. I wanted to play, to rip off my coat and kick off my boots and slide down the icy sidewalks with my bare toes. I wanted to laugh and play in the sun. But that was not what winter wanted me to do.
Winter said I needed to walk, head bowed to the wind, and shiver. Oh, winter, you devious little bastard—you've turned me into a malcontent, haven't you? With your biting cold, you've distracted me from your beauty, your gentle majesty so effectively masked by your unpleasantness.
I heard a voice then. If it was man or nature, I couldn't discern, but the sound reminded me that I was not the only person in this world. Malcontent was I, without a true cause for it. How many people out there wandered around like me, only to be insufficiently dressed, hungry, exhausted? Me, I had a home to disappear in. My fingers were enclosed by mittens, a scarf wrapped around my neck, a hat over my ears; what right had I to complain of the cold?
The voice floated over the snow in song and still I could not decide if it was human or only the wind. I walked slowly, snow crunching and squeaking under my boots, listening to haunting sound that stung the raw silence. It might have been an angel or the devil, and I couldn't have cared. The song carried a specific tune, I realized. No longer was it a hollow, dissonant hum but a solid melody, one that I recognized almost instantly. I smiled into the warmth of my scarf, the words sinking into my consciousness. "Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?"
Song drifted so close that I almost turned to see just who it was who sang in this bitter cold, this bitter calm. Almost. I walked slowly enough for him to continue his pace and catch up with me. And he did. He slung his arm over my shoulders—a warm, friendly gesture—and the song died suddenly, though we continued walking.
I did not want to be rude, but I did not know this person and I felt great discomfort to feel him so close, feeling the unwelcome warmth of him. We did not speak, though my thoughts were dizzying me and desiring nothing more than to ask him to leave me alone. Perhaps I could have shrugged him off and begun walking briskly down the sidewalk, though I loathed the thought of being so serious, so introspective, so unwilling to be adventurous.
I caught a glance of him as I pretended to look around at the snow. His coat was tattered, patched and frayed; there was no hat over his wild curls; his red, cold skin was plainly visible in the holes of his gloves. But he was smiling. Not a mad, escaped-from-the-asylum smile; he appeared sincerely pleased with the snow, with the cascading flakes landing upon his cold body and the chill that reddened his cheeks.
For a few blocks, we strolled without words. We drifted from neighborhood to neighborhood; all the while I forgot to remember where I was going. Sometimes he hummed, sometimes I almost bid him farewell, but most of the time we only breathed the wintry sighs.
I touched the hand that hung over my shoulder. I unwound it from my body and held his hand in front of me. We paused as a pair of headlights flashed in our eyes; for that brief moment, I caught the puzzlement of his eyes until the car disappeared. Underneath the lamppost we stood as I pulled the torn glove off his hand, exposing his cracked, dry skin. I took off my own mitten and slid it over his fingers. He admired his new mitten as I fit his old glove over my warm hand.
We continued walking until the snow became too tall to walk through and up ahead my house appeared, ablaze with lights and driveway laden with cars of relatives who I cared little to see. I stared at it, watched the dark shapes inside laughing with each other, delighting in the comfort of togetherness and love. He was watching too. Though I tugged on his hand to follow me in, he shook his head. I almost asked why, I almost invited him in. Something, however, held my voice inside my throat, guarding the words from escaping. He understood.
He began to hum again. So we stood, reflecting on my house as we hummed Auld Lang Syne. The wind still chapped the uncovered skin of my face, still chilled my cold bones, still whispered to me. Though, somehow, I felt warmer. The song melted the ice of my thoughts. I closed my eyes as words tumbled from my lips, "For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne, we'll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne."
I felt the emptiness beside me but the warmth remained. I smiled down upon the footprints that were so quickly recovered by the vehemently falling snow, already forgetting where I'd been, what I'd seen. I glided toward the house and drifted in through the door. A rush of welcome overcame me from the people I so often scorned, so often felt were below my own intelligence. A smile on every face, a twinkle of love in every eye. I slipped my old mitten and tattered glove into my pockets as the family welcomed me home.