The Coldest Winter Yet

Friday, March 2, 2007

Written by Aaron Ingram

I’ve always found the park very beautiful in fall. I love to come and walk, and watch the people here. The children, with their chill-pinched apple-red cheeks, forever playing; the lovers walking arm in arm; and the elderly couples sitting quietly on their wooden benches, like Simonesque bookends. It’s around this time of year the leaves begin to turn their most vibrant. Their colours are so robust that I can almost taste them, raspberry red, or pineapple gold.

The late afternoon sunlight is beginning to fade in the trees as my way winds from the busy buzzing of Bleecker Street. The Salvation Army band is here today, swathed in their red coats and black slacks, and I listen to them as I stroll; they string their brassy tunes out for me like freshly washed laundry.

Not far ahead, there is a group of children playing. One of them breaks away, unnoticed by the rest, and sweeps towards me, like a discarded paper napkin caught up in the cool autumn breeze; my eyes cannot help but follow him. I turn to watch as he dances past

“Taylor! Come back here this instant!” A voice of practiced annoyance and impatience sounds from behind me – the boy’s mother, presumably. “It’s time to go!”

The fugitive child continues as though deaf, his bumbling, tumbling, twirling flight leading him steadily away from his playmates, his mother, and closer to the avenue.

“Taylor! Come back!”

The timbre of her voice has changed now, no longer frustrated, but somewhat desperate. Footsteps pat the ground behind me hastily. I stand stock-still and study the child with innocent, mesmerized eyes. He pauses for a moment on the boulevard, bending back his head to take in the dimming light of the sky, and watching the trepid descent of the leaves and the meandering path they follow from the only home they’ve ever known. His eyes come level again, and he looks across the street – a small, stray cat is there, smoky grey-brown, on dingy garbage. He looks back, smiles a mischievous smile. He skips lightly from the curb.

“Taylor! STOP!” She lunges past me, her cry high with fear. She brushes the cloth of my coat as she carries by.

Her voice is washed out by the cacophony in the street. The heavy, peppery scent of rubber is strong in the air.

A short Asian woman appears at my side. “Why…why didn’t you do something?” she asks. “You were right there.” A wide stare has entered her dark eyes, and she quivers faintly. Wordlessly I look at her, and then back at the street.

Traffic gathers behind a blue Honda.

I turn back to the Asian woman, but she no longer sees me. She focuses instead on the scene before her eyes. I turn away and continue across the park.

The further away I get from Bleecker Street, the more things seem normal again. The light continues to fail, slowly retreating after another day, treading a weary path to rest. I notice that my breath clouds before my face in soupy pools of white. I look up into the dust coloured twilight, into the clouds, and I swear I can see winter’s cold hand waiting to grab my throat as I round a corner.

From the skeletal branches above, a stout gust of wind shakes loose a hail of leaves that descends around me – their solitary audience. Those already on the ground are swirled about my feet; they are all already brown. A frail, crumbling symphony that alone my feet play.

The sounds of the city sift through the darkening trees and rest heavily on my shoulders, like a thousand years worth of dust. Like the suicidal leaves, jumping, brokers in a crash, from the trees. A kind of odd silence is following me, permeated only by the increasingly distant honk of impatient, ignorant horns, and the soft, dry rustle of the leaves crumbling beneath my shuffling feet. I listen for a second longer. But the band had stopped playing long ago.
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