Warning: Foul Language and Adult Themes
He looked out of the window at the falling snow and saw little but the glitter of flakes lit by the street lamp and framed by the dull night of the city sky. It was late December in Cleveland, Ohio. They'd had some flurries up until then, but this was the first real snow of the season. Lake effect. A good one. The frost-edged pane only left a hand's width of clear glass. He shifted his focus to the flower-like tendrils of ice. They reminded him of the filigree on his brother's sleeve.
It was cold in his apartment. He hadn’t paid the gas bill. More accurately, he couldn’t pay the gas bill. But he wouldn't have if he could have, because the bastard of a slum lord was using his gas to heat the bar downstairs. He couldn't prove it, but it didn't matter much. All he knew was, that there was no way that heating the 150 square foot room that constituted his home, to a crisp 64 degrees, could cost 500 dollars a month. Either way, the old electric heater that his step dad gave him kept the pipes from freezing and the cold air helped ease his head ache.
The heaters red glow cast a faint light on the plumbing under the sink. It was comforting to watch it, sometimes. Other times it seemed to give a sinister aspect to the room. He often pondered this paradox while he wasted the wee hours.
"Fire, the source of all life and the destroyer of everything it touches. Man I'm deep. I wouldn't mind lighting this fuckin' place on fire right about now. It'd be like a Florida vacation for a few hours. "
He looked toward the little heater. The v-shaped filament resembled the inside of a toaster. Some sections were black with small pieces of tobacco charred to them from lighting cigarettes. Two of the segments no longer got hot due to this practice. Yet, he still did it. He knew one day he would kill it outright, and hoped it would be warm by then. It was a kind of gambling. Small pleasures. And he could never find his lighter, when he had one.
He’d smoked his brain the night before with cigarettes… like the song says.
He reached to his kitchen table, or night stand, or desk, whichever you'd like to call it. It served as each, depending if he was standing at the sink or 5 feet away, sitting on his bed. There sat a crumpled pack of Marlboro Reds. This was his greatest luxury. There were 2 left.
The smoke helped him ignore the hunger. He could wait to eat. He was headed to his Grandma’s later.
He held the cigarette in his lips for a few minutes before he lit it. That soothed the urge and helped delay the inevitable emptiness that followed the last drag. He finally lit it on the top of the third V. He let the smoke roll out of his mouth and up his nose. He reflected how cool he looked in the glass. That would be a sweet picture. Like a 1940s detective movie.
“Yeah, I don’t have much, but I have fuckin’ cool.”
He was up late writing letters to his brother in Lucasville. Southern Ohio Correctional Facility, better known as Lucasville, is Ohio’s premier maximum security prison. Home of Ohio's most dangerous criminals, lethal injection, and his big brother, Micheal. He kept a sporadic correspondence with Micheal. He wrote about how good he was doing and told him about his neighbor, dreams of the future, and other bullshit. This always gave him a feeling of remorse and shame. Half because of the lies he told and half because he felt like he was bragging because of the lies he told. But Micheal's last letter shook him, like the fear of sub-zero temperatures with no heat. It told how you can tell when another prisoner was being executed. They kept everyone in their cell in the morning, gave an extra serving at chow, and played movies in the evening before lights out. He told him how when he got the news that Dad died the prison psychologist gave him a crossword puzzle to help deal with the grief.
“Kind of them.”
The howl of an unusually strong wind snapped his attention back to the window and the street below. He always loved the snow. It was the only thing that could cover the dirt and litter of the Cleveland streets, like a white sheet over a dirty mattress. His mind started back to a memory of better times. Times that were the exact same but when his mother’s lies could still comfort him.
As the smoke and fog from his breath clouded the window, he was swept back to his childhood home, looking out of another frost covered window.
Same chill. Same headache. This one not from smoking but from the fumes from the kerosene heater placed at the edge of the room. Same no gas. Same hunger. Same fear.
But then there was family. Six people in one room, sleeping under one blanket, walls draped with multi-colored sheets, window sills stuffed with towels or whatever best filled the cracks and kept the precious heat from escaping.
Then there were smiles. They cooed and cuddled around the baby, his youngest brother. His little head never leaving the shelter of the blanket until the sun warmed the air enough that their breath was no longer visible.
Then there was hope. Hope that when they were older and able to fend for themselves, that life would be better. Easier. They would never be cold again.
“Well…” He exhaled the smoke. “I guess 20 ain’t that old. One day this will be better.” He told himself with a laugh.
He realized at that moment, when that day would be. Not the day when he could afford the comforts of life, but the day when he didn’t mind the cold. He’d become harder than the winter, colder than the ice. Or he’d suffer as he searched for shelter and warmth wherever it came cheapest. That is until he rejoined the universe in the icy darkness of entropy. But as long as winter seems at 41 degrees North, the spring always came.
“You just have to last ‘till May. Just 5 more months. You were born in the snow, like a fuckin’ husky. This ain’t shit.”
He knew he would make it. It would just suck. There were a lot worse places to be. He could be in Sub-Saharan Africa. At least he was pretty sure that the last chick he was with had less than a 33 percent chance of having AIDS. He was first world poor. He wouldn't die. He might go to jail if got desperate enough to rob someone, but he wouldn't die. Not from hunger or exposure anyway.
"And could you imagine the sunburn on my pale ass. But, February…Fuck. February is fuckin' brutal.”
As these thoughts fluttered through his head like the falling snow, he started to cough violently. The cigarette butt dropped to the cold linoleum and he stomped it out, he realized from the all too familiar taste, that he was smoking filter.
“Well, the sun’s coming up and I have a long ride ahead of me.”
He went to the closet between the kitchen sink and the toilet. He moved his ten speed and shotgun into his bedroom, living room, dining room, kitchen. He pulled out the blue tote that he kept his clothes in. He dug to the bottom to get his "nice" shirt and the cleanest pair of jeans he owned. He moved the bike back and sat on the bed. Then he pulled the new clothes over the tee-shirt and sweatpants he slept in. He grabbed the dishrag from the shower and wiped the dirt from his shoes, as best he could. The ceremony seemed absurd, but he did it anyway. His Mom raised him with pride and he wanted to look his best.
He looked at his last cigarette and cracked a smile. Suddenly a wave of gratitude washed over him. He sent up a silent prayer for his brother, and those people that don’t have a Grandma’s House or a shitty apartment, and even for the fuckin’ Africans. And most of all, for those with an empty pack. He took one last look out the window. Through the frost and smoke, he saw the first rays of the December sun and said to himself.
“Chin up old boy. It could be worse. After all, it is Christmas.”