Lonely No More
The click of the automatic coffee maker dispelled the morning’s silence and woke Henry. Rolling up to a seated position, he paused on the edge of the bed. “Ruthie, dear, the coffee’s brewing.” He turned, hoping his voice roused her, to find her pillow untouched. Tears rimmed his eyes as he stared at the fluffed pillow. It had been six months already. Why did the memory rip through him every morning like it had happened yesterday? Why did his brain still see her standing in the kitchen pouring coffee?
Henry slowly rose to his full height and donned his slippers. Without thinking, he grabbed his robe and headed toward the kitchen. The droll of amber liquid stopped, and the house returned to silence once again. Closing his eyes, he breathed in the coffee’s earthy sweetness and filled his cup. He shuffled toward the table, the weight of a thousand mornings shared with Ruthie pulled behind him like boxcars on a train. How many more must he endure without her cup sitting expectantly beside his?
Henry shivered as he touched the nearby window, where pockets of snow lined each pane. Just last night the porch chairs stood expectantly waiting for their usual evening occupants, but mere hours transformed the entire porch into a perfectly stitched white blanket. Beyond the glass, the rising sun brought shadows into light compelling Henry’s gaze toward footprints. One set, undisturbed, led away from Ruthie’s porch chair and down the steps. Who would be on the porch during a middle-of-the-night snowfall?
Grabbing his toboggan, Henry headed out into the snow-covered morning, leaving his coffee behind. Punching his hands deep into his robe pockets, he followed the footprint trail, pausing where the visitor paused — in front of the old tree swing. What trespasser stops for a brief jaunt on a swing?
Henry took another step toward the swing, stumbled, and grabbed the rope for stability. A smile captured his blue-hued lips. Countless times, Ruthie had followed the same path on summer evenings. While fireflies danced in the dusk, Henry pushed, she swung, and together they dreamed of the future. Now, he pushed the swing only to send it toward the morning sunlight and scatter the snowflakes.
Their life together had flown by. The kids were born, grown, and out the door before he’d finished his second cup of morning coffee. Then it was just he and Ruthie again. Still young. Still dreaming of the future. But now there was nothing but lonely waiting.
The rustle of trees interrupted the silence, and Henry turned to see branches bouncing as the weight of the snow fell from their limbs. The footprints extended beyond the tree’s edge, so he followed. His wet slippers stepped into each footprint so as not to miss their leading. The chill of winter air snuck through the fabric of his pajamas, and Henry shivered as he stepped in the last footprint, which ended in a small clearing on the edge of their property. A chuckle bubbled up and boomed through the snow-laden trees. How long ago had he and Ruthie slipped away for some alone time in this exact spot? The children were too scared to venture this far from the house, but it was the perfect hideout for “romance.” Well, that’s what Ruthie called it. He had a different word.
A fully formed snowman stood cheerily a few feet away. The usual coal eyes, carrot nose, and stick arms accompanied a pink and green toboggan. A snow-woman! Beside the daintily dressed snowwoman sat a half-rolled snow-boulder. Henry’s chest tightened and a familiar burn formed in his throat. He couldn’t leave her alone in the cold.
Henry cupped a handful of snow and packed it hard. Another handful and another brought forth the snow-partner. Pulling a few items from the pine tree audience, he decorated the snowman’s face then donned its head with his own toboggan. He stood before the pair — his heart pounding and his breath short. What a cute couple! Even their toboggans matched.
Stepping closer to the snow-woman, Henry reached for her toboggan. It slipped from his hand. Steadying himself against the snow-plumped body, he reached for it again. The familiar green thread slid between his fingers. Ruthie’s empty nest moments had been filled with hours of knitting. His green birthday toboggan was a mate to her own pink and green version. And there it sat upon the head of the snow-woman. Had the footprint visitor borrowed it?
With a furrowed brow, he sat down in front of the pair, propped his elbow on his knee, and rested his cheek in his palm. He thoughts swirled around like snowflakes caught in the wind. Ruthie had always loved the mornings after a snowfall. Had she gotten up earlier than he to enjoy this one? Where could she have gone? She wasn’t in the kitchen by the coffee pot. Maybe, he had seen her in the garden? Yes, there were lots of flowers. He just couldn’t remember the place.
Henry yawned and closed his eyes. He just needed to rest his eyes while he waited for Ruthie to return. Tucking the pink and green toboggan beneath his head, he laid down in the snow. She’d be here any minute, and they could laugh together about the snow pair. Maybe she’d even bring him a cup of coffee.
The police found Henry the next day, pink and green toboggan tucked under his head with a smile on his face. A snow-formed pair of lovers stood before him. The girl was missing her hat, but the boy was dressed perfectly in a robe-cum-scarf, a hand-knitted green toboggan, and a pair of black slippers. Neither the snow-woman nor Henry was lonely anymore.
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