Snowy Stairs

The old man’s steely eyes stared through the frosted glass of his room. He caught a single white flake out against the gray skies and followed its flittering path to the ground. He felt his skin bump as he imagined the chill of the earth that little bit of snow settled on. Heat was ample in his room, but seeing the wintry world outside found him cold. The man tried to pick another snowflake to watch tumble from the heavens. Instead, he saw the wrinkled, age-spotted crow’s feet around his eyes in the reflection. No longer looking at the world behind the pane, he stared at the ravages of time on his countenance—so many years.

He smiled. His gums receded some, but not as much as his hairline, teeth not as white as in his youth. Where did it go? All the time, evaporated, much like the snow would soon in the blaze of the sun. He nodded his head. Life had been more than he bargained for and, at times, more than he could take. But he was still here.

Standing from his chair facing the window, he decided to go out and breathe in the crisp winter air. The world had grown too large, but he still had its flavor amongst his cravings. This tiny world that was his room here at the Shady Acres was too small in these moments. At times it was a comfort to have it wrap its arms around him. To see the pictures of a life he once lived, the loves he held made him warm, and other times it chilled him like February’s freeze. Today he would venture out. The man kissed his fingers and placed them on the faded lips of the woman in the frame. He waddled out of this cocoon and down the hallway.

The receptionist at the front desk smiled from behind her desk. “How are we today, Mr. Abernathy?”

He smiled, ignored that she spoke slow and loud like he was both stupid and deaf. “Fine, just fine. I’m going outside to look at the snow.”

“Do you need someone to assist you, Mr. Abernathy?” She stood up and began to come around.

“No, I don’t. I can manage just fine. Don’t plan on wandering off or anything. Just want to see the snow and get some of that fresh air everyone speaks so highly of.” Mr. Abernathy smiled as he continued to shuffle out through the glass doors. As the door swung closed behind him, he drew in the cold winter air. It was invigorating. He began to shuffle down the concrete walkway to the sitting area the facility had set up for its residents. It sat outside his window in a little wooded area elevated over the sidewalk of the steep hill of a street the building was on.

He looked through the black wrought-iron fencing at the barren street. Snow fell gently around him, and the old city fell silent with it. His eyes watching the snow and enjoying the brisk chill, he embarked from the fence onto the sidewalk outside the entrance of the old brownstone turned retirement home. He stood entranced by the snow as it fell into the empty city streets and followed the sidewalk to the stairs that led down the hill. Tree branches hung over the wrought iron fence of the sitting area and his head. White flecks clung to the wool of his peacoat as he looked down the stairs that followed the decline of the street.

White snow dissolved into a white light at the bottom of the worn concrete stairs. Mr. Abernathy heard the clack of footfalls against the pavement. At first, the light down below unsettled him, but the sound, he knew it, and well, told him there was no need to fear the bright shine. He looked at the pock-marked stair his feet hung over and took the first step. When his eyes focused back on the bottom of the stairs and the white light shimmering remained. It hid the sidewalk that was once there.

Mr. Abernathy continued to go down the stairs when a silhouette in the white shimmer moved toward him. With each step, the shape became more evident and apparent. The clack of his claws was like an angel choir. Mr. Abernathy felt them streaming down his face before it registered that the tears came. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Holding the railing, he hurried to the bottom and stood in disbelief where the white light met the stairs.

The noise drew closer and it’s owner stood inside the white light. Mr. Abernathy looked into the blue eyes, his tears mixed with the snow melting on his face. He fell to a knee and reached out his arms to embrace his long, absent friend. But the distance, those few steps, was too colossal. Mr. Abernathy knew, to be with his friend, those were his steps to take. He smiled as his dog’s tongue hung to the right out of his mouth, and the dog spun around, showing he too was excited. Mr. Abernathy looked over his shoulder, back to where he came. He took in the beauty of the stillness he saw, the gentle snow, the pure white on the ground, he drew in once more the winter air. Then he took a few steps forward and followed his long-absent friend to another adventure.

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