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Snow day

The frost stung at the windows that day. Snow fell in delicate waves, following paths to the ground, bleaching the world. Snow has a funny way of purifying, it doesn't actually clean anything, it just blankets and congeals. There was a man in all that white, wrapped up in scarf, sweater, jacket and hat. His eyes, a light gray, mocked the chilling wind. With every visible breath the man dragged a plastic trash can through a snow covered nook, the space between a house and a cement wall. His daily routine of sweeping dead leaves and pecans seemed useless now that his yard was covered. The snow made his un gloved hands too cold and the cold made his back hurt. He was starting to feel his age. In a desperate attempt to salvage what little work he had done, the old man trudged along the alleyway stopping only to set his half empty trash can amongst its kin. Nodding with a smudge of satisfaction he set for his next duty.
The night had not been kind to Holland, the freeze played tricks with her. Stabbing her when she was most awake and causing the passing unconscious shiver as she slept. The morning came but she did not fully wake. Instead, she slipped into her winter garments, at moments nodding off when the stress of moving was too much.
A sudden warmth came from a voice beyond the darkness of a child struggling to put on her winter wear. " Aye sweetheart, you need to wake up first. Clothes don't dress themselves you know!" A hearty laugh came from behind a door letting in a sliver of light.
Holland slipped into her light blue jacket, it was bloated on her but at the very least it kept her warm. It was not too long before she was sleeping again.
The old man was working on getting the last of his heavy clothing off. He loved to sit on his chair in overalls, working pants and long johns and watch the day go by. A retired construction worker he knew the meaning of hard work but he also knew the value of relaxation. His chair, a dusty old gray with grape juice stains on the outside, was a recliner and this old man took every advantage he could afford from it. Before the old man could really settle in, a knock came from the door beside him. His house was an odd shape, years of extensions and renovations had procured a maze of a home. The old man wobbled to his feet and again wobbled to the door.
"Oh, Michael! 7 o'clock already eh?" The old man scratched the white stubble on his and tried to produce a smile from his broken teeth.
"Hey, Dad. Listen, I am running a little late, here's Holly." A man stood in the door way with a child on his shoulder, his long black wooly coat kept them both toasty in the beating snow.
"Hey, it is Wednesday! Remember the deal! You make me fried chicken!" The old man licked his lips a little as he spoke.
"Damn you got me Dad! Fine fine. Friend chicken it is." The man sighed and walked into the maze. He looked around and set the blue covered girl on a couch overlooking the old man's chair. The two men said their 'good byes' and leaned to make a hug but Michael tried to dodge. The old man, experienced from years of dodgy children landed right on him and squeezed him tight. A pat on the head and they parted ways. The old man sat on his chair, gave the girl a quick glance, and whether from age or fatigue fell asleep.
Holland, in a short fit, awoke to find herself on her favorite couch. More grape juice stains littered this piece of furniture, She peeled herself off her resting place to the old man in the dirty chair, snoring his life away.
"GRAMPA!" She kicked his chair as she screamed. Her blue jacket's hood covering her face and the rest of it puffed up like a marshmallow.
"What is it, Peanut?" The old man cracked his eyes and stared into the 7 year old's face with sheer grump.
"That is lady Holland to you, grampa! Quit snoring you woke me up!" Her pout turned to a smile and she took off her hood, letting her short black hair loose, her brown eyes lit up at she scolded the old man.
"Yes milady." The old man winced, recalling a certain younger man pulling the same stunt on him.
This was their deal, in exchange for homemade fried chicken, Holland was kept out of trouble during her winter vacation, but apart from the everyday spilling of grape juice and long walks in snowy parks nothing peculiar happened in those days. Nothing normal really happened either.
The park they visited was barren of trees and stood as an ivory temple amidst the normal winter winds and stinging cold. A large stage was setup in the middle of the park. Two railing led up the stage, one flat ramp, the other a set of stairs. The stage itself was large, enough to hold several families in the summer months. But this time, the roofed stage was empty, not even the snow set down there.
Holland ran up and down the ramp touching the cold wet railings briefly forgetting her disposition. The old man sat at the top of the ramp, like a hooded sentry.
"Grampa." She said starting up her mouth, "Why do you call me Peanut?"
The old man, as if surprised, rebutted. "Why do you want to know?"
"I don't like peanuts Grampa." She stared at him.
The old man slightly raised the black trilby hat covering his face. "Well you see." He cleared his throat, pretending to be important. "When you were young..."
"How young?" Holland interrupted, her attention already rapted.
"Very young, you were inside your momma's belly." He answered, holding back a hint of anger.
"Like 2 years old grampa?" She interrupted again, this time her intent was obvious.
The old man gave her a strange look. "More like 2 months! You were the size of a peanut in your momma's belly. The first time I saw you I thought you were a peanut." He spurted each word out trying to beat his grand daughter to the punch. He waited a short time for her response. Holland stopped staring and ran down the ramp and around the stage. The old man, still awaiting a response, stared in her direction. The old man relaxed a little as she left his sight.
"That's it?" Holland was behind him now poking at the old man's hat.
"What's it?" The old man replied, startled and bothered.
"That is why you call me Peanut?" She continued to poke him.
The old man took the abuse and held onto his hat. "Yes yes! Geez! You are just like your father!" The old man straightened himself out and tried to regain some composure.
Holland stared at the back of his head as if ignoring him. "Grampa." She said, with her familiar starting tone. "Grampa." She continued.
The old man stood up and dusted himself off, paying special attention to his hat. "Yes, Peanut?" He responded. "What is it?" He said when he heard no immediate response.
The young girl walked in front of him and stared up at him, her hood was on again, making it hard for the old man to see most of her face. "Grampa, what is a lich?"
The old man's body shook as if her words had a physical impact. He looked down at her, squinted, he could see her eager smile. "Your dad reading those books to you again?" He asked and only received a nod. "Well, Holland." He tried to sound important without clearing his throat. "A lich is a powerful wizard that transfers his or her soul into a corpse so that he or she may live forever."
Holland started to swing her body back and forth, tapping the old man with her hands with each pass. "Like a zombie, Grampa?"
The old man stared down, surprised. He pretending her taps were knocking him back and took a step after each swing. "Zombies? Your dad read that book to you too!?" His back to the railings surround the stage, he took abuse from Holland's light slapping and the sting of the snow behind him. She nodded in between a pair of slaps.
"Kind of like a zombie but they use magic and are a lot harder to kill." He finally responded trying to block her slaps.
"A shotgun won't work, Grampa?" She made a shooting motion with both hands.
The old man couldn't believe what he was hearing, shotguns, liches, and zombies? Was this his son in front of him or his grand daughter? He let out a nervous laugh and pretended to be blown back against the railings. "No, you can't kill them like that. You need to find their phylactery and destroy it."
"Phyl... Dr. Phil? You need to destroy Dr. Phil, Grampa!?" She stumbled on every word and let out a fake gasp. Hands on her cheeks and mouth open she shook her head! "Not Dr. Phil, Grampa! Momma loves Dr. Phil!"
The old man stared at her and raised an eyebrow. He let out a hearty laugh. " No, Peanut! Phyl-act-ery." He made a box shape with his hand. " It is where a lich hides their soul."
"Oh... Phil actor eee. What is it though, Grampa?" She slanted her head as she asked.
The old man, rubbed the white stubbles on his chins. "I just told you!" He pretended to be angry.
Obviously confused and still head slanted, Holland stared at him. " No, I mean, is it a boxee, or a bally, or a rooster?" She made the shotgun motion with her hands again and pretended to shoot at roosters "Ker-pow!!"
"Oh!" The old man grumbled and cleared his throat through the grumble." Well, it can be anything, like a lamp or a box. Just as long as it has a soul in it."
"Grampa!" She interrupted his last few words. "If you was a lich where would you put your soul?" She ran around him, still shooting imaginary roosters with her imaginary shotgun.
The old man stared down at her, moving his head as she spun around. "I'd put mine in a quarter, Peanut, then spend it!"
Peanut dropped her shotgun and stopped the ghost rooster hunt. "Grampa, you've been thinking about this, huh?"
The old man smiled and stared into the desolate park. It had stopped snowing but it was still white as far as the eye could see. He saw himself playing with his son, using a swing in the distance. He saw his son fighting legions of zombies with his imaginary hand gun. He saw his son searching deep in the sandbox on a summer's day searching for a phylactery. The snow seemed to peel back time, opening the gray day to many blue. The ocean of white was a bright green and all those years were suddenly back, right in front of him. It was bitter cold outside but the old man felt a warmth rise within him. He stared down at Holland. "Let's go home and eat some chicken, Peanut." She nodded and they both started down the stage.
It began snowing again harder and harder as the two braved the five blocks from the park to their home. Michael's car was parked in front of the snow covered home. The three conversed about chicken and liches as the day turned to night and it was time for the two children to up and leave.
On the drive home, Holland was dwindling her fingers in the front seat. She turned to her father and asked, "Dad if you were a lich what you make your Dr. Phil out of?"
Michael, turned to her a bit and raised an eyebrow. He continued to look a head and keep his mind on driving. " What?"
"I mean, phylactery, Daddy. What would you make your phylactery?" She stared at the right side of his face.
"Ha ha!" His cheeks reddened. She could see a thousand memories flood his mind. "I'd put mine in a penny." The two laughed as their car sped along.
"Daddy." She used her provoking voice again. "Why does Grampa call you Jellybean?"
Her father shook with laughter. "Well, it started when I was 2 months old and in my mom's stomach..."



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