Quiet. Peace. Joy.
Heat radiated through the coffee mug as steam wafted through the air like tiny smoke signals. She blew on the mug, seemingly signaling distress to those below. On her balcony, everything was monochromed in white. The grey, sterile building where they had built their lives blended in with the grey sky around her. She looked out at the scenery like a widow looking for her husband returning from sea. The wind gently blew her hair and tugged at her robe, further making the scene. Every snow fall felt like a new beginning, fresh and new, especially when viewed from 37 stories up. All the stress from the previous week melted away as the accumulation grew. From this spot on her balcony, she could almost see the lake, frozen water frozen in time. She loved when it snowed. Chicago was never this quiet; only when it snowed. The lighting was perfect, and the smell triggered many memories. Her first snowman, which felt 15 feet tall, was in reality barely 5 feet. Its red hat sat just over her mother’s head. She, her mother, and her twin sister had spent hours on that thing. It had lasted in the yard for weeks, even after all the rest of the snow had melted. A white pillar among the greening grass. Nothing moved in the park below, the snow had put everything to rest. Children and their snowmen would be popping up soon enough. It was too early for them to be out with their snowball fights and sleds. For now, this moment belonged to her. Soon her husband would be awake, and her boys would be trampling boot prints across the pristine crust of snow on her outlook. She pulled her robe tighter and took another sip of coffee. She thought back to the brown haired, green eyed girl whose face mirrored her own. Cleo and Claire, once they had been inseparable, now it had been years since she had even seen her. That snowman symbolized their relationship. Built strong and proud, only to melt away with the heat of life. Many turns in life had led to them leading very different lives. Cleo had always been the one to sacrifice everything to help just one person. But a life like that isn’t sustainable. Cleo never thought to look out for herself and would often sacrifice the needs of the many for the needs of the few. Claire looked back at the street. No cars were moving yet. No glaring lights to ruin her scene. Her feet were beginning to go numb, but she didn’t want to end the peace and go back inside just yet. She was putting off figuring out all the logistics that came along with the snow. John would most likely stay home with the kids, since it was easier for him to work from home. Maybe she should call in and they could have a family snow day. It was the first snow, after all, and she had enough sick time built up. That’s what she would do. A family snow day sounded nice. She reluctantly headed back inside to start her day, prepping breakfast before the family woke up.
Fear. Pain. Loneliness.
Shit. She knew it was coming, but thought maybe if she ignored it, it wouldn’t actually happen. She knew the abnormally warm weather couldn’t last forever. She rummaged around for another pair of gloves. She found one black glove, one purple mitten. These would have to do. She sighed and slowly lifted the blue tarp that functioned as her door. Large, ominous flakes slowly fell around her. She had known it had started when the sounds of commotion had begun. The rest of the city slowed while these communities bustled in the snow. Anything to stay warm. Around her, the community tried to salvage anything they could. Shoving newspapers and clothing, shoes and food into boxes and tents alike. Anything that spoiled when it got wet and cold. If only they could do that with people, too. The temperature had dropped significantly last night, and she wondered how many of her neighbors would be coming home today. Coming back. Not home. They had no homes. For various reasons, because of various circumstances, this is where they lived. And where many died. She glanced down the alleyway to see the Hancock building looming in the fog. The top half of the tall buildings were severed by the dense clouds dumping snow all over the place. Suddenly, a dirty hand, bare beneath its sleeve, reached for some newspaper laying in front of her door. “You ain’t got gloves, Charlene?”
Charlene tucked her hand back into a pocket. “Last ones finally wore so thin; they were more trouble than they were worth. Burnt them in the last fire to keep warm.” Patty pulled on the purple mitten, extracting a gloved hand from it. “I have the mate somewhere, hold on.” Patty ducked back in, spotting the worn purple mitten in the corner. “They aren’t much, but they will ward off the bite.” She extended the gloves to Charlene with a grin. Charlene hesitated for a beat, about to protest. Patty saw her hands clench in her pockets and then she grabbed the gloves. “Thank you, Pat, I don’t deserve this.”
“You’re cold just like the rest on us, of course you deserve it.”
“There’s a new girl livin’ at the end of the alley. She came in with Ryan. She’s young, and the rest of them seem to keep getting younger. Or maybe I’m just getting older.” Charlene chuckled, shaking her head. “You should swing by and say hi.”
“I’ll do just that. Thanks for the tip, Char.”
Patty closed her tarp and headed down the alley. She greeted familiar faces along the way. Charlene was right though, so many young faces seemed to materialize amongst the tents. She wouldn’t be seeing these faces or people for very much longer. The snow drove everyone as far inside as they could get. The community and solidarity of the place dwindled in the winter. Since being outside could hurt the body more than it mended the soul. She saw a scared and fragile looking young woman chatting with Ryan. She was hugging herself through her thin sweater. Patty herself had probably looked much like that herself when she had first arrived. That last fight with her sister after having given away her rent money, again, still looming in her mind. This girl’s boots were making quick little stomps in an attempt to keep her warm. Ryan turned to see her approach. “Patty.” He greeted her guardedly.
“Ryan.” She and Ryan hadn’t always seen eye to eye in the past. Squabbles had turned into a sort of mutual respect. He stayed out of her way, and she made sure he kept his shady business out of her community. She turned to the young woman. “Hi, name’s Cleopatra, but you can call me Patty.”