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The night seemed to be holding its breath.
It was that kind of cold only found near the end of a winter night. Snow lay all over the pavement, compressed into piles of ice and tinged orange-red by the streetlights. They looked so much like hard candy I just wanted to crack the shell, stick my hand in the middle and see if any cherry syrup ran out onto the road. Our giggles rang out like babies’ crying in a lofty church, piercing the silence which was otherwise interrupted only by the thud of our converse sneakers against the tar.
The full moon lit up the street like a police searchlight, throwing back long black shadows on the road which stumbled as we did, our bodies convulsing with the hysterical laughter of frozen toes and broken rules. The icy air burned in our noses, and the insides of our chests were coated with frost.
I could smell nothing besides the reek of beer on my own breath and his as we clumsily kissed, our hands entwined as we ran, schoolchildren on a frozen playground.
As we ran past houses with black windows, I tripped and fell, yelling out as my hand scraped across the rough gravel which meant we had reached my driveway. I tried to pull myself up on the black Porsche, but my hand slipped on the shiny new paint job. My boyfriend as of three hours ago helped me up and kissed my hand, shushing me, and with slap-happy grins stretched across our faces, we sprinted to the door, wincing as the gravel ran out from under our feet and down into the street.
We froze. A light was on inside.
I thought about that night as I lay in my bedroom, tracing the thick, dark red lines which swirled across the ceiling with my eyes. My daughter was in her bedroom, sulking and sobbing dramatically over the injustice of life and the cruelty of parents.
She had come home past curfew for the third time this week. We had no choice but to punish her, didn't we?
I winced as I heard the familiar thud of her possessions being flung against the wall.
Scorching summer sun shone down on my auburn head, throwing the frown lines on my forehead into sharp relief as I picked up pebbles and examined them. I was searching for one perfectly round and perfectly smooth, and it had to be red. Cherry red.
To be fair, it wasn't the easiest of tasks, particularly on a driveway of stubbornly rough, gray gravel.
I turned them over and over in my fingers, feeling for flaws and scowling with pure, undisguised disgust, when I found one. Seeing something glinting a couple of feet away I scrambled to get to it, stumbling and scraping my hand against the warm stones, a trickle of blood seeping down my palm. I nursed it to my chest and ran indoors for a Band-Aid and a kiss.
"Mamaa! Mama? MAMA!!"
"What is it? What's going on?" My mother stumbled down the stairs, hair in complete disarray and make-up half done.
"Was out, saw sumfin, SLIPPED!" I stuck my red hand out as proof of my ordeal. Her
"Sweetie, I told you not to play on the driveway without me or Daddy." I stuck my lip out and stamped my foot.
She sighed, rubbing her temple.
"Fine, grab something from the jar in the kitchen and I'll come out with you in a second" she said, and went in to the living room to tell my father to cancel their lunch plans.
I always got my candy.
"Do you remember the first time we kissed?" My husband asks, running his shaking fingers through my thick, gray hair.
"How could I forget? I don't think my father ever forgave me for that night."
"I think what he never forgave you for was the poorest sop in town being the one you tried to sneak in."
"Never regretted it."
I wrap my arms around his thick waist and lean my head against his chest, smiling as I feel the pounding of his heart against my ear. I shudder, seeing the bottle of pills on Jim's bedside cabinet, and bury my face further into his chest and try to stop the tears from welling behind my tired eyelids.
My granddaughter runs into the room, pulling on my hand. I quickly wipe my
eyes and smile down at her, stroking her curly blonde head.
"What is it, my Dear?"
Not old enough to speak yet, she reaches out one small fist and uncurls her fingers.
Inside lies a cherry hard candy.
"Higher, higher!" my brother yelled.
"I can't!" I replied.
I dug my fingers harder into the bark and shut my eyes.
"Stop being such a damn baby!" he yelled again.
"I knew we shouldn't have brought her" I heard one of the other boys mutter, the thinnest.
"Girls are always useless" said another, the shortest.
"What a stupid idea" said the last, the hairiest.
I heard my brother's retort.
"Do you want them or not? Then shut up, will ya? She'll do it, okay. Get a move on, Sis!"
Slowly I tried to climb again, one hand above the other, testing each branch carefully before pulling myself onto it.
"How much further?"
"Almost there!" "Keep it up!" "Don't look down!" the boys urged.
I finally saw what we'd been looking for. A juicy bunch of ripe cherries, just hanging on the edge of a branch.
I never got any "Get Well Soon" cards in hospital.
A man sits in a wheelchair wearing a black raincoat, his hands lying on top of a thick blanket which covers his lap. Droplets of numbing water run down between folds of skin from his temples to his neck.
The crowd of people standing behind him are similarly dressed in black. Some shift from foot to foot, some scratch their noses, some whisper to each other, some weep in silence.
The man knows that some will be thinking about dinner tonight, some about the weather, some about work, some about the car, none really paying full attention to the slab of marble they are gathered around.
This wasn't how it was supposed to happen.
Everyone said he would go first. All the doctors, the insurance company, the funeral director, all their children. Everyone agreed he would never have to bury his wife, never have to read her tombstone.
His eyes trace the thin red veins of the marble, undistorted despite the rain pouring down on him.
The cold reminds him of another night, so many years ago, and with spiny hands ravished by time, he unwraps a small cherry hard candy, brings it to his lips for a moment and drops it in the grass.
Then, just for a moment, he imagines it cracking and cherry syrup seeping into the ground, and bows his head.