A Wander in the Night

May 19, 2010
Every now and then I could feel the cold touching just on the edges of my hair, coming from underneath the window frame. Hours of the night had already passed; the shadows of clouds and a bright moon moved continuously on the walls, staining them white. I could not sleep. Roger lay beside me, soundless, and did not wake when I moved the blankets and left the bed. The apartment was too silent, and too bright with the moon to wait there for the morning. I went onto the street, wrapped in my mother’s long coat.
It was snowing outside, and much too warm for December. Peculiarly clean snow descended upon Beacon Hill, forming masses, which sparkled unreally in the fire of street lamps. Boston was comatose, with no one else to watch the snow find purchase and gather in the grooves of dark windows. The falling snow muffled all noise, and I wandered the cobblestones in euphoric silence. I turned the familiar corners, and wondered at the way everything seemed to glow in this moonlight. I impulsively kicked at the piles like I had as a girl, delighted in the snowy Commons.
I had seen no one until rounding Acorn Street, and it was only once I reached about halfway down that I recognized the man walking up the hill. He was enveloped in a black waterproof jacket, which sagged mournfully at the shoulders. His name was Mr. Nelson, and he had taught me in the fifth grade, nearly twenty years before.
“Mr. Nelson?”
He looked up.
“It’s Joanna.” I paused, and he said nothing. “You taught me a long time ago, you probably don’t remember me now.”
“Oh,” he said. “I’m sure I do. I know... yes I’m sure I do...”
“Joanna Olivers? My mom brought in all those books for the school that time. I sat in the front... I played the piano-”
“I remember, Joanna. I said I remember.”
Mr. Nelson looked the same, in some respects. He was thin, and short, with short arms crossed tight to his jacket. And yet he was almost unrecognizably older. He had acquired wrinkles, but those were nothing. His eyes were what was disconcerting, I was sure from their expression that he had no idea who I was.
It occurred to me how strange it was for an old man to be walking alone in the middle of the night- or was it early morning? Then again, there was not much of a reason for being out here myself.
“Do you still teach at the school?”
“No, not anymore.” Mr. Nelson smiled, and awkwardly patted my arm with a mittened hand. “It’s a beautiful night,” he said. “Don’t you love the snow?”
“Oh, yes.” I remembered the winter when Mr. Nelson had taken a bunch of us to Frog Pond for ice-skating after school. It had been strikingly sunny that day; the heaps of snow reflected the sun into my eyes as I chopped the ice with the toes of my skates. It’s just too beautiful, he had said. He always had loved the snow.
“I hope your mother is doing well,” he said.
“She has been, yes, though...”
I wondered if it would be right to tell him, but I had already begun, and he was waiting for a truthful answer.
“She’s sick now. She’s at Dana Farber, for lymphoma.”
There was the necessary silence, the necessary respect.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“It’s only in the beginning stages, though. But that’s why I came back to Boston.”
The night seemed suddenly colder.
Mr. Nelson nodded. “Give her my best, won’t you?”
“I will.”
We said goodbye, and I never asked him what he was doing there. Mr. Nelson continued on his way. The night had been ruined; the snow was no longer perfect. I took the quickest route home, and it was a terrible walk. I came close to tears several times, but could never get all the way there. I pictured waking up Roger when I would get back, and crying with him.
I arrived at the house, hung up my mom’s coat, and went back to the bed. Roger’s back was to me, and I let him lie there asleep with his head under a pillow. I did not touch him; my hands were freezing.
It was still a long way off until the morning.

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