The small house is surrounded by other small houses, in a suburb on the hills outside the city on the coast. The colors for this story are the faded, grayish blues of a winter evening’s sky and the orange of sodium spotlights and streetlamps.
There’s snow on the ground, packed down, and more snow is falling tonight. My dad stands in the driveway—one of those faded, once-beige concrete driveways with narrow channels running width-ways across its surface. Once, the channels cut the driveway into perfect rectangles. In ten years, though, freeze-thaw cycles have cut cracks so jagged and wide across its surface that time itself is the only believable culprit.
My dad stands in the driveway, in the orange light cast from the lamp on the neighbor’s house. A fence separates our properties, but not because we want to keep anybody out; without the fence, there's this unstated thought that the houses could slide even closer together. As it is, my dad still can't get it down, backing out of the garage into the narrow driveway and cutting hard enough to miss the fence. Without the fence, my dad might've put the car through the side of their house instead, in one of his half-asleep, early morning commutes. This is all just to say that the side of the neighbor's house—and thus, the lamp—is no less than ten feet from where my dad stands, and about ten feet up, and so it shines on him like a spotlight.
Snow falls through the light, and probably everywhere else. Chunky flakes in diagonal trajectories. They give the cone of light its shape around my dad, standing there in the driveway, shovel at his side. He’s in his red winter jacket, one of those retro jackets that's in style nowadays. Yet he doesn't wear it for style; he's had it for twenty years. He's in his red jacket and his brown corduroys; he looks young, and he is young.
The light shines around and past him, down through the window well, into the basement where I stand, my back against the boiler for warmth. In the orange light, he's little more than a silhouette. He's leaning on a snow shovel, and smiling down at it. That ridiculous, goofy smile. He may have just remembered something funny—something he'll want to tell me about—but more likely, he doesn't even realize he's smiling. I'll catch him from time to time, wearing that stupid smile, and I'll smile too.
His head blocks the light, illuminating flyaway hairs like little glowing filaments. He needs a haircut. I could trim it for him, but I'd rather send him to his stylist. It's easy to make him smile, but she makes him laugh. I'm rooting for her.
It’s Friday, but nobody will be going anywhere. Nobody will be leaving this snowstorm. That's not to say we won’t see anyone tonight—the neighborhood will be about. With nowhere to go, the snowstorm draws us to open spaces, long rooms, picture windows; it draws us out, to porches, driveways, sidewalks. We'll pretend it's to shovel, to plow, to sweep the snow off the steps.
Tonight, for us, the world won’t exist outside of these few square blocks. Newscasters will read off minor accidents and traffic backups; camera crews will chase salt trucks. All of them will rather be home. In a few hours, cable’ll go out to most of the city. They'll queue up a night's worth of automated programming and head home, each to their own block, to their own snowstorm. By the time they arrive, we'll already be out here, shovels and plows abandoned for sleds and snowmen.
I tap on the window pane to get his attention. The glass rattles in its old wooden frame, warped from years of swelling. The window well is filling with snow; in half an hour, it'll be completely full.
He sees me, and I wave. I can see his mouth start moving, only stopping when he realizes that I can't hear him over the mellow roar of the boiler. He gives a sheepish look, and I smile. Seeing my grin, he tries to turn it into a laugh with a little jig featuring the shovel, but he immediately slips and falls. By the time I get out of the basement and into the driveway, he's picked himself up and is back to shoveling. I grab a shovel and help him out.
Already, I hear kids laughing and playing. In the street, a pack of them runs past, a motley of sleds in tow. Behind them follows their parents, carrying a set of traffic cones. They wave, and we wave back.
Later, we'll join them at the big hill down the block. Much later, I know I'll miss this. ◾️
Written between 2016 and 2018.