Winter's Bite This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

By , Small Town, NJ
It’s a jacket not made for the cold. It’s thin, and insubstantial in this weather. Its gray is just a few shades darker than the sky. There is no hood to shield my head. It is a jacket, not a coat. Boots clip on the sidewalk. Boots that will be ruined if wet. Ones that are supposed to be worn to indoor events on nice days. My jeans are thin from being washed too many times. The cold air seeps through the denim and clings to my flesh.

It’s so cold.

My lips are chapped and bleeding. I taste the tang of iron in my mouth whenever I lick my lips, trying to give them moisture. I lick my lips again, but a piece of my hair is drawn into my mouth. Using bare a hand from my pocket, I wipe it away and let it fall back in place. But the wind is blowing now, and insists my hair flies in my face, letting the cold air wash over my ears.

It’s very, very cold.

I sneeze. I cough. I sniffle. I reach my wrist up to wipe my nose just as the first snowflake flutters to the ground. It lands on my boot. I sigh. Soon, there will be tiny snowflakes everywhere, creating a picturesque scene. The snow will pile up and I will have to walk back home with frozen feet and ruined boots.

And it’s cold.

Christmas lights shine on every building. The sky is steadily becoming darker, and the lights’ shine becomes more prominent. There is an evergreen tree in someone’s yard draped with colorful lights. When the sky is nothing more than inky blackness, they will click on. I turn the block and find myself in the commercial area of town. There are lights everywhere, not all originating from decorations. The snow is falling steadily now, in little flurries. If I wasn’t so frozen, I would think my little town is adorable.

But I’m cold.

There’s a cute little cafe, tucked snugly between an antique dealer and privately owned pet supply shop, that is famous in our tiny town. When I step inside, I’m immediately blasted with hot air. Instantaneously, I relax and weave through the crowd to find an empty table. I don’t mind if it’s not by the window. Actually, I prefer the back corner. I’m no tourist, so the sights of the town do not call my eyes.

“The usual?”

I nod my head.

A few minutes later, the young waiter returns with my piping hot latte. I burn my tongue and place it down to let it cool.

“Too hot? Sorry, I’ll remember that for next time,” he says, grinning. I hadn’t realized he never left.

I shrug. “It’s fine.”

“Mind if I sit down? I have some extra time.”

I don’t say anything, but raise one eyebrow and eye the crowded tables.

As if reading my mind, he says, “Oh, don’t worry. You’re a regular. They’re just wandering tourists.”

At that, I roll my eyes. I take a chance and sip my latte. “So,” I say, once I have placed the styrofoam cup on the table, “how have you been?”

He shrugs. “Same as always. And you were just here yesterday. How much does one day change?”

“You’d be surprised,” I mutter, low enough so it remains undetected. I glance around at the rest of the customers. There are couples, groups of friends, and family members. No one is alone. I’m suddenly grateful for his company.

“What was that?”

I shake my head. “Nothing.”

“And you? How have you been?”

“Fine.”

Silence. Until, “I’m done in twenty minutes. Would you like to go for a walk?”

When I nod I have forgotten that my jacket is thin, that it is cold and snowy, and my boots will inevitably be ruined. I bring my latte up to my lips after he has left, hiding a smile. It is another half an hour before he returns to my table, the latte long gone. He’s wearing a coat, a real coat.

He holds the door open for me, and I am greeted by a slap of cold air that leaves my cheeks stinging. The snow is no longer falling in flurries, but as one cloud of white. We turn left and he says, “How was your day?”

Shrugging, I say, honestly, “Not one of the best.”

“Oh. What happened?”

I train my eyes on the sidewalk. “My mother is dying. I have to move in with her to keep an eye on her.”

“And your father?”

“Died years ago.”

“I’m sorry.” There’s a pause. “Do you have siblings?”

“My brother is too busy. And anyway, he’s hours away,” I say, trying to keep a tone of disdain from entering my voice.

“I’m sorry,” he says, understanding.

I smile slightly. “That’s life I suppose. My mother lives about half an hour away.”

“Oh.”

I nod and wrap the jacket tighter around my body. I won’t be a regular at the cafe anymore. “Maybe I’ll stop by if I’m in town.”

“That’d be nice.”

“Yeah.” I glance down at my boots. Destroyed. The water marks from the snow will be permanent. Cold moisture leaks into my socks. We walk in silence. “I have to go,” I say abruptly. I’m frozen.

“Can I walk you home?”

“Sure.”

At my front door, he surprises me by enveloping my body in a hug. “I’m sorry about your mother,” he says once he lets go.

I bid him goodbye and close my door. I will miss him.

My boots are ruined, feet cold and wet, lips chapped, and hands dry. But I can buy new boots, change my socks, put on lip balm, rub lotion on my hands. These things are readably changeable

And I am warm.





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