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The man is barely visible, and his pink nose peaks out from beneath a rag-tag mound of blankets on the gray street corner. He lies upon a tattered mattress, and a few lonely springs dare to bare themselves to the weather of a January in Boston. It’s just over ten degrees out, and the cold bites.

Food wrappers and used chemical hand warmers are forgotten around him, slowly being painted a dusty white by the gently falling snow. A rusty shopping cart and an umbrella sit next to a freezing mountain of cans and bottles. They crackle as leather-soled feet move by, like a river, over the icy sidewalk.

He sticks his head out from his blankets, wrapping them tightly around his body, to watch the people passing by above him. He has on a dark hat, pulled down tightly over his ears. His tanned skin is turning red, and dark green eyes speak of a childhood filled with flooded swamplands and thick forests. A beard covers his gaunt features, and it is streaked with silver around his chin and sideburns. If you sat down for long enough to talk, he’d be able to tell you that he’s not really quite as old as he looks. He’d say that months digging through trash for cans and bottles, along with sleeping on the sidewalk add years that cigarettes and office stress can only dream of bringing. After all, he’s gone over the conversation a thousand times, just in his head.

The green eyes flicker as they see a man in a blazer walk by, clutching on to a shiny silver phone. He has a briefcase in one hand, and a laptop underneath his arm. His hair is cut neat and short, and his lean face is clean shaven. The steps he takes are fast and wide. He clearly has someplace to be, and he glances at the pile of blankets before he disappears into the ever-moving, ever-churning sea of bodies.

The sea spits out an old woman, plump and hunched over. Large glasses magnify wrinkled blue eyes, and wisps of silvery blonde hair find their way into the air from under an out-of-style baby blue hat. She smiles at the passing people, and her warm expression extends like a spotlight in darkness to the lump nestled a few feet away from her on the mattress and cement. The homeless man smiles. He can picture her teaching a class, or sitting with grandchildren on a hot afternoon somewhere far south of here. It’s easy to tell that she is not from the city.

A group of adolescent girls, cheery and laughing, appears from the crowd. They don’t see the man on the edge of the sidewalk, and disappear as quickly as they came. Businessmen and businesswomen, soccer-moms and teachers, teenage boys and fathers all walk past, and no one looks back at the man since the old woman in the blue hat.He sticks out his tongue, and catches snowflakes that float down to him like feathers. They land in his beard and he shakes them out, gaining him a few suspicious glances from the people shuffling by. He looks out at the frozen trees, and looks carefully at how the afternoon light catches and dances on the cars around him. Icicles drip winter tears from their bumpers, and their exhaust pipes cough out fumes of whispery smoke as cars drive ever so slowly aside the pedestrians on the sidewalk. As they start to clear, he can see ice frozen in dazzling patterns on the windows of the buildings across the street.

He looks up at the tumbling snow, and lets out a deep breath, shivering as the cold sneaks its way deeper into his body. Individual flakes twirl and twist themselves down from the sky above, cloudy and specked with bits of light as the sun shines its way through to the city below.

The gap closes as quickly as it came, and his view becomes obscured by fast-moving legs and boots. He sinks back into his blanket, burying himself, shrouded in the warmth he can scavenge from his hand warmers and decaying winter clothes. As his shakes become more tremulous and violent, he smiles as he thinks of the weeping icicles, the dancing sparks of light, and the temporary warmth of the old woman’s smile as she passed by.

He closes his eyes, and in the midst of a raging sea of commuters, begins to fall asleep.





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Blue4 said...
Sept. 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm
I really like this, the descriptions are marvelous; great job. (I'm from Suffield too; who would have thought there's someone else on here from this tiny town?)
 
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