Harlin Allard sat in his easy chair in front of the picture window watching the snow fall on a mid-January winter's morning. The local weather guy on the radio was predicting ten to twelve inches before the storm passed.
There was plenty to see outside the wide window beyond the narrow side porch, including winter birds seeking snacks from the three bird feeders hanging from tree branches as well as the sight of the old barn beyond.
The squirrels had abandoned the feeder today but the birds were keeping Harlin entertained as he sat in the chair wearing pajama bottoms and a white thermal tee-shirt underneath his old plaid flannel robe, not to mention his slippers. He hadn't shaven in a few days but that didn't matter on a day like today.
The forceful wind was blowing the snow in swirls, causing the old Allard Farm Sign nailed to the barn's loft door to sway in the gusts. It looked cold and raw outside and Harlin was glad that he had the warmth of the inner house to protect him from the elements.
Harlin's daydreaming was interrupted by the sound of the doorbell. Who in the hell could that be on a day like today? Not that he got a whole lot of visitors lately anyway.
He pulled himself out of the chair and trudged himself to the front foyer of the old farm house, opening the inner door and then the outside door, surprised to see Nina O'Brien standing on the front porch. She was wearing a ski jacket with a scarf wrapped around her neck, a red socking hat and thick knitted mittens on her hands.
"Why are you out in the snow?" Harlin frowned.
"Hi, Harlin," she grinned. "Can I come in?"
It was too cold to debate in the doorway so he stepped back and allowed Nina to enter the foyer, closing the door behind her. She kicked off her winter boots and pulled off her hat and mittens before removing her coat which she hung on a corner coat rack.
Harlin opened the inner door and let Nina into the house. He followed, closing the inner door behind her as she shook out her long black hair, streaked with some gray. She was wearing black wool slacks and a heavy turtleneck sweater.
"Why are you out in a snow storm?" Harlin wanted to know.
"It's not that bad yet," she rationalized.
"What are you doing here then?" Harlin asked as he walked her to the two easy chairs in front of the large window, motioning for her to have a seat.
"This house is much too big for one person," Nina observed as she glanced around before collapsing into one of the chairs.
"You've told me before," Harlin replied as he took his seat.
"Nobody's seen you around lately," Nina reported. "You don't show up at Smitty's Pub anymore. Joe Bonds says you haven't been in to his store. You never showed up to volunteer at the Literacy Project like you said you were. You haven't signed up to substitute like you said either."
"I know," Harlin sighed.
"I knew you never should have retired," Nina noted.
"You came out in a snow storm to tell me that?" Harlin frowned.
"I'm worried about you," Nina replied. "I thought we could spend a snow day together."
"Forced socialization?" Harlin squinted.
Nina laughed. "Ah, it's not that bad! Do you have any coffee?"
He nodded as he stood and Nina followed him into the kitchen with its old cupboards. Except for new appliances, the room looked like it had for generations. Nina stood by the kitchen window and watched the snow fall as Harlin prepared the coffee.
"How old is that barn?" She asked as she watched the snow collect on its eves.
"Late 1870s, I'm guessing," Harlin replied. "I had the roof redesigned last year so the snow should fall of it easier now."
"It's starting to drift around the ground," Nina observed.
"The wind is blowing from the East."
"It's a coastal storm," Nina said.
It didn't take long for the coffee to perk and Harlin filled two mugs. He took a bottle of whiskey from one of the white cupboards and gave his mug a spike.
"Oh," Nina realized. "So you're becoming a stay at home drunk."
Harlin didn't say anything as he handed her the un-spiked mug and they returned to the chairs by the window.
"What do you do all day?" Nina asked once she was comfortable in her chair with the coffee. "Besides drink?"
Harlin gestured to the many books stacked on a nearby table. "Where'd you park?" He asked. "Andy will probably be by plowing the drive a few times."
"I left my car at the IGA and walked," she said. "On a whim."
"You don't have to worry about me," Harlin let her know. "I'm okay."
"Right," she said cynically. She paused as they watched the snow. "Do you miss it?" She wanted to know.
"I've really haven't been thinking about it," Harlin admitted.
"Well, do you miss me?" She asked more specifically.
He gave her an appreciative look. "It's nice to see you."
"Do your kids come by often?" She wanted to know.
"They're busy with their own lives," he explained.
"Are you sure you really want to live alone?" Nina wondered. "In this big old house? Maybe you should sell and be closer to them, or somebody else."
"My family's been in this house for generations," Harlin reminded her.
"I know," she said. "You've told me the stories."
"My great grandparents probably sat at this window just like we are now watching a snowstorm a hundred years ago."
"Probably," Nina agreed.
"I can't count the number of Allards and Glovackis who were born and raised in this very house."
"Houses and farms change hands all the time," Nina pointed out.
"My grandmother told us that tall Elm trees once stood on both sides of South Country Road, some of them tall enough so that their branches hung over the road," Harlin recalled.
"Those Elms are long gone," Nina said. "And so aren't a lot of Allards and Glovackis."
"Just like the cows that used to be out in those fields," Harlin sighed. "My mother died upstairs," he said. "I was holding her hand."
"Maybe there are too many sad memories in this house," Nina said.
"Margaret would have wanted me to stay," Harlin decided. "She was willing to move in here. She would have stayed if I had gone first."
"How are you doing?" Nina wanted to know.
"Getting older," he sighed. "I feel it every day. I ache. I'm stiff. I have no motivation to cook other than microwavable widower food. I've lost interest in most things and that's why I sit at the window watching the snow and the birds and the barn."
"You're fifty-seven, not eighty-seven, Harley," Nina reminded him. "You're depressed, not old. And you're probably drinking too much. Just not at Smitty's Pub."
"There's no baseball to listen to on the radio in the winter," Harlin lamented. "That makes time even more unbearable."
"You should be substitute teaching," Nina said.
"Too soon," he reasoned.
"You could do it at another school," she said. "New faces. New beginnings."
"I have my books," Harlin replied.
"Books and whiskey won't solve your problem," Nina warned.
"I bet it will be a good maple syrup season this year," Harlin predicted.
"I bet those Allards and Glovackis worked 24/7/365 from sun up to dusk milking, lambing, fencing, logging, spreading manure, planting, weeding, haying, harvesting, feeding the animals and all the rest of it," Nina said.
"I was part of it when I was a kid," Harlin confirmed. "My father and grandfather went from one task to another so quickly that I could barely keep up with them."
"You didn't want to be a farmer?" Nina asked.
"They were already beginning to sell off some of the land even back then," Harlin recalled. "I knew the farming days were numbered so I looked for other options. Teaching interested me."
"You shouldn't have retired," Nina told him again.
"My life was falling apart," he explained. "I couldn't face those faces anymore.."
"Your wife died," Nina said quietly. "People understood."
"I got lost in an alternative universe of grief," Harlin acknowledged. "It was too hard functioning out in the real world."
"You could have come to me," Nina said with disappointment.
"I didn't want to be a burden," he admitted.
"I'm your friend," she said with hurt in her voice.
"Winter is the season of death and barrenness," Harlin remarked, staring out the window. "I didn't realize how tough it would be on me."
"You should have called."
"Savinski, the farmer up the road, harvests the fields that once belonged to this farm, cutting, raking and bailing with his various contraptions. My grandfather and his father used horse drawn mowers or hand held scythes. I can still smell the manure after all these years. But every year the geese head south and more people die."
"You're not dead, Harley," Nina told him.
"All that remains are the ghosts of absent elm trees and dead relatives."
He got up and took her coffee mug with him for a refill in the kitchen. Nina waited in her chair knowing he was going to spike his mug with another hit of whiskey.