A Cold Holiday
Bridget Clark | Stephanie Matos
I stepped outside on the concrete, my feet laced in worn brown boots that made a rough, scraping sound as I began to walk down the driveway. My legs took only seconds to achieve that unpleasant, prickly feeling that is associated with an inhumane amount of cold air. The pants I wore seemed to intensify that cold, embracing my legs in a chill that made the rest of my body shiver. Allowing myself a brief glance to see if I had company on this frigid day, I zipped up my coat and stuffed my hands in my pockets, searching for warmth that wasn’t there.
I started the long trek towards the gas station, making rhythmic scrapes with my old boots along the sidewalk, and stepping on piles of dried leaves as I went. I kept my head down while the wind blew my hair in the opposite direction of its intended placement. Pulling my hood on, I stopped at an intersection while a car drove leisurely past.Most likely driving home for Thanksgiving with their family, I thought, but I didn’t know.
I lost track of time as I passed house after house, each one lit well from the inside, the yellow light teasing me with its artificial warmth. Occasionally I would see families walking in and out of houses carrying food and drink, sometimes a gift or two. I slowed my pace when I approached other people, hoping they would turn and I could avoid the inevitable awkward greeting- a “Happy Thanksgiving,” and then we’re on our way, each hoping that the other doesn’t stop to chat.
Light grew dim as I continued on, my feet taking me on the familiar path to my pack of cigarettes and bag of chips. My coat offered no protection from the incoming wind that seemed to pick up speed in correlation with the setting sun, as if the air was trying to catch up before nightfall. The last rays of dull warmth touched my back as I turned a corner onto the sidewalk of Main Street.
People were plentiful here, and to my relief, most were busy enough to spare me from any well-wishes. A grocery store, tobacco shop, and a few convenience stores lined the street, but none would serve my purpose and I continued past them, barely affording them a glance. My pace quickened as I passed the local bar, which was notorious for the kind of men who would wolf whistle and harass women as they walked by. I thought back to the time my mother first let me walk this route by myself- she was extremely adamant I avoid the bar at all costs. I always thought it was because of my father, who spent many a night there and participated in raunchy activities like all the other drunks.
My mind wandered further into my past as the gas station came into view on the horizon- my mother’s constant yelling, my father’s abusive tendencies. I gave myself a shrug as I started up the hill, towards the edge of the shopping district. I passed a few obscure clothing stores, which my mother frequented on days my father would drink.
As I stepped onto the gravel parking lot, I instantly felt relief from that sense of displacement. My mind cleared and I happily took hold of my purpose again. Swinging the door open almost extravagantly, I strode over to my aisle of chips, mulling over which flavor I was in the mood for. I spent a good 5 minutes contemplating, before deciding on the spicy ones. It seemed the most appropriate choice for the weather.
I glanced out the window to the cold, dark evening. Time seemed to go faster in the warmth of the gas station. Deep down, I wished I could stay, maybe chatting with the cashier a while, laughing with the other customers about how much of a fuss people make about this holiday- a holiday about family, a holiday that leaves everyone feeling warm but the rest of us.
Instead, I handed the cashier a ten dollar bill and asked for a pack of Marlboros. She proceeded to complete the transaction with experienced speed, and it was over before I knew it. Handing me the receipt, she spoke the dreaded words, “have a nice Thanksgiving,” and proceeded to greet the next customer.
I stood there for a moment, savoring the last bits of warmth before I opened the door to the unforgiving night. The door opened anyway, as a man walked in through the exit door and received a reproachful look from the cashier. This startled me into movement and before I knew it, I was out the door and making my way back down the hill.
Almost everyone seemed to have disbursed at this point, besides about half a dozen patrons that were standing outside of the bar, smoking. I opened up my own pack of cigarettes and tried to look hurried as I walked past. I lit one up, and the warm smoke filling my lungs brought almost instant relief from the debilitating chill. I stuffed my bag of chips in my purse, and tried to finish off the cigarette as quickly as possible. My fingers were losing feeling and when I tossed the half-finished cigarette on the ground, they found more warmth in my pockets than existed there before.
I found a sort of comfort in the coldness of the air. It was enough to keep my mind from wandering as my feet continued to scrape rhythmically along the concrete on my way home. I took a shortcut through an alley and a dog announced the neighborhood of my presence, though no one seemed to notice. Through the windows of houses I saw people sitting down to dinner, sometimes hands held in prayer and others enjoying a game of football on TV. It made me anxious to be an observer into the private lives of my neighbors but I couldn’t help but watch, as it was something so unfamiliar to me.
I started up my driveway, my feet and mind numb from the walk. As I unlocked my door, I peered inside the window at the quiet darkness that awaited me. The door creaked as it opened and once inside, I unlaced my old brown boots and stuck them in the front closet. I turned on a few lights, then changed my mind and turned them off again. I stumbled upstairs with my bag of chips and sat in bed for a while, my mind churning unpleasant memories as I crunched a few chips in my mouth. I fell asleep with crumbs on my bed and a chill in my heart that seemed a little different than before.