It was cold out. Not too cold out, but the wind was predictably chill this time of year and everyone knew it too.
Scarves were tightened as an extra precaution and children were sent to school bundled up so high they looked like little marshmallow people. You would see them, waddling with their mothers, complaining about the sheer volume of clothing that winter demanded. “But why Mommy”, they would ask each morning as they struggled to keep up with impatient mothers who either had to get to work or back home to finish their soaps.
They would come in droves, all outside his window. Some with curlers in their hair, slippers sloshing in freshly melted snow and hands struggling to keep an unbuttoned coat closed. He did not know what to make of these women if anyone were to ask him, which of course they did not. He was never of much concern to anyone, and a this point in his life it would be highly unlikely for that kind of pattern to start. He woke up extra early every morning to….well extra early for him anyway…to look at the spectacle that took place. He couldn’t explain it, but the whole thing was just so human, so wonderfully ordinary that it made his heart ache.
He would clutch the same mug of coffee every morning, red just like the one from the commercial; they had sold it like that as some sort of promotion a few years back. The cup would be steaming, and sometimes he would hold it up so that the glass fogged up as he watched, his tired old hand shaking a little, but that was to be expected. There was very little in the tiny house, remnants of a life once lived, of old coats and hands in marshmallowy outfits going to school. He had told them to leave anything they pleased, that he would be happy to get rid of it when they left, but he just never got around to it. They even left pictures, a whole box of them in the attic.
At first he would just look at them, sometimes picking up one or two and looking at the smiling faces this way and that. Don’t judge the man too much, it’s a very hard thing to be alone. He came home to nothing after all, to no one. His clumsy opening of the door garnered no stirring from the inside of the house, and when something smashed nobody yelled to see what had happened. What he had discovered though, in his substantial life is that it is even worse for people to think you have always been alone, that the state of loneliness has that kind of permanence.
We would all like to think that loneliness ends at some point, that eventually there is a light at that common tunnel that saves just bout anyone. It made people uncomfortable that he was the living embodiment of just the opposite of that. At first when they asked him where he was from he lied. He said Chicago or New York, somewhere far enough away from here that nobody would really try and get an real answers. In fact, he used to sit on the front porch and swing in an old rocking hair from the flea market. He would watch the hustle and bustle of the morning, but the mothers eventually got curious and asked him all manner of questions, no doubt trying to discern what a man like that was doing sitting alone on his porch while a bunch of school-children walked by.
He eventually took the photos and put them in frames on the wall. He is not proud of this, but it made the place feel a little less empty. He thought of the photos he used to have, of the day he decided to burn them because he thought it would provide some sort of release; this proved entirely false.
He kept most of the furniture too, from the once lived there family, and you could even see the marks of growing children still on the wall. He kept all of it. Everything in its exact same place, except for the now-mounted pictures on the wall. He could smell still the piles of boots that would have no doubt taken over the small front closet. He could hear love through the walls and tears from the kitchen, and for whatever reason it made him feel just a little bit less of the lonely, and perhaps this was enough. He sipped his coffee, as the bell chimed a quick anthem and the late mothers dropped off the last of the children. he holds the steam to his nose and the cup to his lips; a silent day, a silent morning.
And now you can hear all the popes clattering and the heater humming, and he thinks just how much he hates that he can hear that sound. He is an old man, too old for reconciliation, too old to try and find her or them or the things he burned. Too old to take back the mistakes he made and too old to care to try. So instead he sits there and twice a day there is a little less of the quiet, and a little less of the lonely. There is the hope that maybe one day in the future, the pipes will be unheard again, and the pictures on the wall will, in fact, be his. He laughs at the thought, chastising himself for thinking of what once was.
“We are bound to the ground”, he said it out loud, to his feet and his hands, and to his imaginary friends. Bound to the ground and tied to the floor, with ropes we hung when we closed old doors and decided to throw away the key, decided that whatever it was just wasn’t important enough to put time and energy into. He thinks about the time he could have said sorry, he thinks about when he didn’t, he thinks about her promise to never see him again. He thinks about his arrogance, he thinks about them. He thinks and sits and drinks from a red cup, the one in the commercials, where a family sits down for breakfast and there just wasn’t enough time to pay attention to the lonely.
He stands and puts on the pot for another cup.