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This January

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We had been receiving some strange weather lately. Though January may bring thoughts of icicle rimmed gutters and snow-covered streets, the past week had been unseasonably warm. At first I had gratefully accepted the boon of warm weather without considering any reason why, but this morning as I cranked my apartment window open I began to think twice. I wrapped my sweater around my arms tighter as an eddy of fifty-degree air swirled into the sun-dappled room. Really, it made no sense. Already January and we had no snow cover. I had been happy to postpone the snow and cold through December, as it made my unavoidable walks through campus more bearable, but now it is already January—should I be worried? Last night the weather man on the news had not seemed so. His face was complacent and calm as his voice drifted on in explaining the map of the jet stream patterns and precipitation predictions behind him.

I finished watering my plants and sweeping the floors by ten o’clock, leaving the only tasks left for my Saturday going to the Laundromat and grocery store. I briefly considered picking up a card and gift at Hallmark for my brother’s birthday, but found the gesture unnecessary because he had limited his contact with me to Christmas and Thanksgiving since I had left last August. This led me to recall that my parents’ twentieth wedding anniversary was approaching and I should at least send them a polite email, but I shot down this idea also when I remembered their shocking announcement of separation at the family Christmas gathering last month. I grabbed the bulging bag of laundry, and then barreled over to the kitchen to fetch the shopping list for the grocery store. Noticing the mail on the countertop, I fetched that too and briefly made a mental note to go to the post office on my way home. Oh! And then the library books. Those must be a week overdue! With the fines at the university library, that means no dinner tonight. I made my way to my room to retrieve them, and by the time I had made it out the door, I was out of breath.

I shut the door behind me, locking the door with three textbooks under my arm and a shopping list between my teeth. The balancing act would have been impressive if an all-too-familiar voice had not startled me into dropping the textbooks, the shopping list also fluttering to the ground.

“You look like you need some help.” It was not phrased as a question. I felt the laundry bag being lifted from my aching wrist and the textbooks being shoveled up from my feet into eager arms. Though it should be a relief, I was not grateful. It was Gordon Rockafeller, my annoying neighbor. We both attended the university, and shared several classes. We had once met for coffee to discuss a project we were collaborating on. I had briefly mentioned my new location at the apartment complex, and how I had gotten a nice place with an affordable rent, and the next thing I knew, he had moved in next door. He had been bothering me ever since. So many times had I found my mail slid under my door with a desperate invitation to coffee or a play slid inside of the stack.

He walked with me to my car, babbling on about how wonderful his ski trip over the winter holiday had been. I tried not to encourage him, only nodding and adding a casual word here and there for courtesy. By the time everything was in the back seat, the car was running, and my hands were gripping the steering wheel, growing more nervous by the second of the money wasted on gas, did he finally say what he really wanted.

“Want to meet for dinner sometime? I know a new place in downtown that just opened, it’s pretty nice.” I am not sure why I agreed to this proposition. Maybe it is because I had already refused so many and was eager for him to leave. But I had. And for some reason I did not feel such dread about the upcoming occasion as I had expected. I was almost excited, but was in denial of the emotion, almost embarrassed about my feelings about the date. I tried not to think about it as I studied for the upcoming biology exam while my laundry swirled in the drier at the Laundromat, and compared prices of canned goods and ramen noodles at the grocery store. By the time the mail and library books were dropped off, it was three o’clock and I wanted no more than to take a long warm bath, maybe treating myself to take out for dinner, and watching a movie on TV.

I returned to the apartment at four. It was dark and drafty, and had become cold. I dropped the bags of groceries to my feet and began to crank shut the windows with my weary arms. I looked out the window, at the city street, the river, the buildings, and the cars on the highway beyond. I noticed Gordon on the street below, walking his newly acquired pet dog, and he noticed me. He waved, and I waved back. I shut the curtain and picked up the plastic grocery bags from the floor. I was smiling and had not noticed. When I tried to stop, I realized that I couldn’t. After heating up a can of soup, I sat down on the couch and turned on the news.

“And now Carol with your weather report…Carol?” I blew on a steamy spoonful of soup and felt the thick and salty liquid on my tongue.

“Still above average temperatures for the rest of the week, with today’s record-setting high at fifty-three. Sunny all week with highs in the fifties all into next week and no signs of precipitation on the map.” I watched as the highs and lows for each day paired with the graphic for sunny filed on the screen like playing cards and wondered what it all meant.



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