Saffron Wings

The edges of the scarf frayed into saffron wings, threads dancing and twisting in the wind. Cold air whistled between cold buildings on a nearly empty street. The bulb above the scarf flickered once, and then burned brighter as if in defiance of the cold. A bell inside the door of the small café clanged briefly as pale, rose-tinted light poured out. A hairline crack formed in the thin sheet of silence that had covered the street in a protective cage. A couple soulful draws of a violin bow followed the girl out of the doorway, and then retreated, unable to withstand the frigid night air. She glanced up at the flickering street lamp, head tilted slightly to one side, light glancing off of the dark metal wings around her neck. The saffron threads had tangled themselves into a series of messy knots. She peeked down the street in both directions, and, seeing no one, scurried over to the lamppost. A particularly ambitious gust of wind ran underneath the end of the scarf and flung it off the street lamp, high into the night sky. For one lonely moment it was only a shadow against the stars, beyond gravity and time. Then the saffron wings fell again, landing about a hundred yards away from the rose-tinted café. The girl sauntered in the general direction of the scarf, staring up at the stars. Hands in her pockets, she spun in a couple of circles, hair flying out of its disheveled bun. She knelt down on the pavement and gingerly picked up the scarf. The fabric was cold and smooth against her warm, winter-chapped palms. The girl unbuttoned the top two buttons of her tan coat, and wrapped the long scarf around her neck. The frayed ends caught on her stack of gold bangles, leaving behind a few bright threads when she yanked her hand free. Shoving her hands back into her pockets, the girl strode purposefully down the street, black heels clicking on the pavement. At the corner she paused, craning her neck up at the name printed in all caps on the battered street sign. The girl disappeared from sight around the side of a building. The light bulb flickered again, lonely without its saffron companion.

The sun slept late in the early spring. It did not care that the winter solstice had long ago passed, or that the people of the city were desperate for something other than the weak light that leaked from the cafes. The street lamp on the lifeless street stayed lit and flickering long past eight, its light barely spreading through the thin air. This morning was worst than most, with a laminate of clouds covering the sky. The woman stepped out of the café, changed the menu in the window, and stalked back inside without bothering to send so much as a glance in the sky’s direction. A small dog rounded the corner, wearing a thin leather leash with a teenage boy at the end of it. The dog trotted briskly down the center of the street. The boy trailed behind him, peering nervously over his shoulder for cars. The woman inside the café paused in her work for a moment and stared out the window at boy and dog. She watched them until they had passed the street lamp, and then continued cutting the thorns off a pile of roses that lay in front of her. The café had not yet seen its first customer of the morning. Most of the town’s population had not yet come out of their winter hibernation, daring the sun to make the first move. Sunday mornings usually saw a flood of people, running in for a coffee to get them through church. Others came in groups of twos and threes, lingering over cups of tea and plate after plate of blueberry blintzes. The woman began to replace the wilted carnations in the white vases scattered around the room. Pitcher of water by her side, she carefully arranged the dethorned roses, prodding each individual stem until it was exactly right. She brushed the curtain of black hair out of her eyes. Yawning, the woman painstakingly gathered each bit of discarded carnation before walking through the kitchen and nudging the backdoor open with her hip. She opened the lid of a scuffed black trashcan and threw the dead flowers inside. Wiping her hands on her patchwork skirt, she wandered back through the deserted kitchen. Sheets of cookies lay waiting to be baked as the need arose. An open box of confectioner’s sugar balanced precariously on end of a flour-streaked countertop. The woman sat down on a stool behind the bakery case and propped her head on her hand, glaring at the door. She unwrapped a butterscotch lollipop and rolled the paper stick between her fingers. Outside, the street lamp finally turned off.

The air was perfectly still. No tendrils of breeze lovingly ruffled the edges of the café’s awning. No gusts of northern wind froze the ears of hurried pedestrians, all rushing frantically to get to another, not so different street. No far away gale sent the clouds scurrying to and fro, as indecisive as crowd of teenagers in a candy store. The boy walked down the street, white dog replaced with a black backpack. One zipper was partially unzipped, and the streetlamp could see the top of a metal water bottle peeking out. In front of the café, he stopped suddenly. The backpack slipped off his shoulder. Pulling a memo pad out of his pocket, he knelt on the pavement, neck craning to read the sign above him. The memo pad slipped out of his fingers. He cursed and dug a pencil out of his other pocket before picking up the memo pad. Shapes began to form on a clean white page. Dark words stood out against a gray mass of motionless clouds. Matisse, with a small flourish on the final e. The s’s ran together in a blur of hissing lines and unexpected bends. The boy frowned. His fingers began to fiddle with a piece of yellow string, clumsily knotted around his wrist. He reached into his backpack and unscrewed the top of the water bottle, never breaking eye contact with the memo pad. Lifting the bottle to his lips, he started to swallow. Empty. He threw the metal back into his bag, not bothering to reattach the rubber plug of a lid. The woman inside looked up from her lollipop stick. A wind ruffled the pages of the memo pad. The boy picked the pad back up and added a final line to the edge of the sign. He sighed and threw the pad into his bag, heedless of the already crumpled pages. The pencil slipped back into his pocket. The clouds started to scurry across the sky again, although no blue appeared. The boy’s ears ached from the deep cold of early spring. He glanced towards the door of Matisse, swung his backpack back on to his right shoulder, and continued on down the street. The woman threw away her lollipop stick and spun herself around on the stool. Stretching, she left the counter to go start the cookies.





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