This story is by Kathryn Funk and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It is one of those gray times—one of those times where the sky is bright with darkness, and all that she is is a blur in the back of her mind. An old woman leans against her doorway, watching as the blizzard dissolves the world outside. Great gusts of wind and snow ripple through the trees and tousle the fringe of her shawl.
Gently, a man—wrinkled and unfamiliar—kisses her cheek, and a song—unmistakable—begins to play. Its mellow tones ease her aching joints, willing her to dance. Grasping her hand, he twirls her into the living room.
As they dance, the fireplace cackles at the two old fools. She snickers and spirals out of his arms, snatching a garland from the sofa. The man humfs his way to the armchair and retrieves their dollar store star. Carefully, she loops the garland round and round the evergreen’s branches. He, not carefully enough, climbs onto the rickety step-stool(she’s told him a million times not to use) and fastens the star atop the tree. As he hops down, she scolds, he winks.
Warily, she wanders down the shadowed hallway into the bedroom.
The faint crooning of the singer is muffled by the agony of the wind. The woman lies on the duvet, curling toward the wall, cocooned in blankets and tissues. Still, a sharp chill penetrates every inch of the room. Was it possible to forget? Possible to pretend that the white crib with the pink bow in the corner wouldn’t stay empty? Beside her, the man strokes her back and rubs gentle circles into her shoulder blades. She glances over at the floral wallpaper decorating the walls. Here, lilies bloom in the midst of the frost.
Sighing, she rises from the bed and pads out to the kitchen.
The scent of gingerbread has invaded the house—not that he or she minds in the slightest. She flurries from cupboard to cupboard, laboring on her famous holiday sugar cookies. It’s really her grandmother’s recipe, but the man doesn’t have to know that. He enters the room and hangs his scarf on the rack by the door. Strangely, the creases have smoothed from his face and his dark eyes are full of that luster that sometimes she liked, sometimes she didn’t. Before she can react, he’s swiped her spoon from the mixing bowl. Across the green and white checkered tiles, they go— her swatting and missing, him dodging and grinning. She puts her hands on her hips and musters up her most ferocious glare. Shrugging, he surrenders the spoon and gives her that smirk that never fails to make her blush.
Forgetting her coat, she barrels out the front door into the bare, untouched snow. Hurriedly, she pries open the frozen mail box and retrieves his ink-stained letters. Her ring sparkles in the morning sunlight as she rips into the envelope. Reading his words is hearing his voice, feeling his breath brush her ear—I’m fine, I’m safe, I’ll be home soon. With a shiver, she turns.
He stands in the doorway, beneath where the mistletoe first forced them to kiss. As she runs into his arms, he is that smiling boy, young man, old fool—love. This man—unforgettable—kisses her lips, and a song—timeless—plays on.