In my spare time I like to mess with ideas that aren't novels or novellas. Sometimes one of them grabs me enough to write the whole thing out just to see where it goes. This one did.
The snow fell in careless circles that drifted to the ground around him, catching softly on the worn fabric of his coat and the frayed hat he wore.
He blinked up through the yellow halo of light thrown from the streetlamp, its glow staining the snowflakes before relinquishing them to their true virgin white. It was cold but the wind wasn’t blowing. For that he was thankful. His hand holding the roses was nearly numb though he tucked it close to his chest inside the open flap of his jacket. He’d bought the flowers from a shop on Thirty-Sixth an hour before, having marked it weeks ago. He always liked to get roses for her from a different place. For some reason it made him feel mysterious though he couldn’t say why.
The snort of air brakes made him turn his head and gaze down the street. The seven o’clock bus wasn’t living up to its name, though he was glad of its tardiness. The two trains he’d had to catch to make it across town after his shift on the docks had left him running for the bus stop, sure that all he would see when he arrived was the final blink of taillights and the flash of the amber letters spelling out its schedule.
But now it was here and he was the only one getting on. He waited until the doors hissed open, giving the silent park behind him a last look, its hedges and bare trees decorated with snow, before climbing up the steps slick with moisture. He flashed his pass and kept balance as the driver pulled away from the curb, making him lurch to the right before finding an empty place on a bench seat. He brushed the melting accumulation from his hat and coat before drawing out the flowers.
They were beautiful.
Roses this year. Last year it had been daisies. Lilies the year before, and posies before that. The shops he bought the flowers from weren’t the only things he kept changing.
He noticed a woman his age riding across from him. She had dark hair and eyes to match that were soft with small lines where crows had danced around them. She gave him a smile and looked at the flowers.
“Someone’s special tonight,” she said.
“Special every night,” he said, giving her a smile back.
“Very sweet. Wife?”
“Yes.” He paused. “It’s our anniversary.”
“That’s nice. Congratulations. Going anywhere special.”
He simply nodded and gazed down at the flowers. They were so deeply red they were nearly black at their edges. Fading from beauty to darkness like everything else alive.
He rode the rest of the trip studying the flowers. He didn’t want to talk to the woman across from him anymore even though she’d been nice. He flexed his fingers, the feeling coming back into them as well as the ache from unloading crates for nine hours. He spun the wedding band; silver, polished to a mirror from the snow.
His stop approached and he rose from his seat, nodding once at the woman.
“Enjoy your night,” she said.
The air seeped through his clothes as the bus drew away, leaving him in a swirl of snow. Traffic was light here, the occasional car flowing past, tires muttering across patches of ice, exhaust drifting through the air, noxiously sweet. He hunched his shoulders as if he could flex the cold away, but it caressed him like a lover as the first gust of wind he’d felt all night came down off the hill and poured a curtain of snow across the street beside him. He looked at his watch. They had some time before his sister would want to go to bed. Their kids would have no doubt ran her ragged today. He smiled at the thought and began walking. He still had a ways to go.
The moon played a game of hide and seek with him as he walked, its pale face sliding out and behind clouds stitched to the night sky. It gave him some light and he was grateful for it, savoring it as he had the warmth of the bus heaters.
He switched hands that held the flowers to keep his knuckles from stinging and hurried onward, looking up only when the moonbeams struck the ground before him. The snow was a memory now, wisps of frost fluttering in the light like ghostly moth wings. He turned the last corner and strode without stopping, heavy boots crunching snow and after several more minutes of walking he slowed.
There she was.
He moved forward, coming closer to her and a smile pulled at his face chapped by the wind. When he spoke he felt his lips crack at the corners.
“Hi darling. Sorry I’m running behind. I hope you’re not angry. Doring showed up late for shift and the manager wouldn’t let me leave until he clocked in. Lisa’s got the kids like I told you last week. She said there wasn’t any hurry, but you know her. I hope you didn’t think that I’d forgotten. Especially tonight.” He smiled wider and laughed a little. “I know I forgot our second anniversary, but I’m pretty sure I made it up to you. Remember? I got you an orchid.” He hesitated, the smile slipping from his face. He looked down, fingers burning. “I brought you these,” he said, holding out the roses. “They’re from that shop on Thirty-Sixth, the one with the white Christmas lights in the windows year-round. I saw them last week and knew I’d be getting them for you. Couldn’t believe they were the last ones when I went there tonight.” He tried to smile again but failed. “Like it was meant to be.” He hesitated a moment, the air becoming so cold around him it seemed to freeze in his lungs. He glanced up as the moon returned, burning the clearing with its frigid light.
“Happy anniversary, honey,” he said quietly, stepping forward. He laid the bundle of roses on the frozen ground and leaned in, kissing the headstone gently. “I love you.”
He brushed away the single tear that he’d promised himself earlier wouldn’t fall. And he didn’t let it as he turned and walked through the fresh snow to the waiting street beyond the gates.