The Last Winter

by James Heaton

The winter chill tore through the house like a ghost seeking attention. Outside the snow covered the ground, falling softly. Would this storm ever stop? How I longed for the warmth of the sun, how I longed for the first days of spring.
In my chair I sit beside the warm fire that dances like a gypsy on a beach as her family plays the music of their people. There are no violins or cellos to fill my ears with song, the quiet haunts this darkened room. The candles illuminate this old house, walls of stone become the canvas of the light that flickers as it paints my story. Outside in the icy chill of night, an owl calls out to moon, but there is no answer.
I sip the last of my tea and look at the pictures of the ghost that haunts me, but that is cruel to say. She loved me, she would never haunt me, only her memory. Those days were shorter, or so it seemed. The nights were but a faded memory, her warm body in our bed. These last years have not been kind to me and yet they have been the longest of my life. I bide the time I have left, alone in this house with only the memories to keep me sane.
I am but an old man clinging to my final days, days that I longed to spend with her. But time is an enemy to the aged and broken. She was the light of my days and the stars of my nights. As the fire dies I make my way to the bedroom. That empty bed that I lay my head and tired bones upon. It seems too large for my old heart, to vast without her to keep me warm. Another night without her, another night of the terrible dreams. I would stay awake if only I had the strength but with this grey hair comes the need for slumber.
Over and over in my dreams she fills my mind, her smile, her eyes of hazel. Her soft skin glows in the sun of summer. But the same thing happens every night, she disappears into the darkness as the light fills my room. I awake alone in this bed we made, in this house we filled with our dreams. I spend my days reading the words of the poets, the words of great minds who knew better than I. Their stories keep me company, the only sounds are their words in my mind.
The winter slowly fades and the spring creeps in with the warm sun that fills these empty rooms. I hold onto the warmth as if it will be my last. Slowly spring becomes summer and I venture outside of this house we built with the years of love that kept me young. I make my yearly trek to her grave and leave the lilies that she loved so dearly. I say my words, I tell her of my pain. I stay longer than I should, lost in the memories that I hold dear. She is not there, for she lives in my mind.
I spend the last day of summer on the porch where she would sit and feed the birds. But the birds no longer come, they wont nothing from me nor do I care for them. I exhale from my cigar remembering how she disliked the smell but would never tell me to stop. I watch the smoke fill the air and in the shadows I can see her once again. Winter is slowly creeping back to haunt me once more. The cooler nights turn into cold darkness. The winter moon becomes my companion once more.
Again, in my chair, covered with the blanket she wrapped herself in. The fire dances as I read the last page of my most cherished book. I have read it every year since she left, if only to see her inscription on the first page. Words from her heart, telling me that she loved me. But did I truly love her? The battle ensues, the doubt fills my mind. If I had truly loved her like I claim, I would have given more of myself. I would have filled our days with my words of passion instead of my absence. She deserved more than I gave and for that I can never forgive myself.
The snow falls outside of the window, drifting down slowly until it reaches it final destination. I close my book and sit it on the table with my empty cup of tea. I watch the fire, lost in its magic. Slowly it dies down with only the embers glowing a brilliant red. But that too dies until there is only the charred remains of the logs. It is my call; it is my time to retire once again to the empty bed that we once shared.
As I lay on the soft mattress, my head comforted by the pillow, I stare outside through the frozen window. The snow has stopped, and my eyes grow heavy. Once again I slip into the slumber on a cold winter night of unforgiving sorrow. But she is waiting for me on a blanket in the side yard by the trees. She has been feeding the birds once more with crumbs of bread. But I turn away, ashamed that I never gave her what she gave me. Her love was unrelenting and constant, while mine was at my convenience. But tonight, I needed to atone, to make this right. I turned to see her warm smile and her long dark hair as it falls below her shoulders. I held onto that moment and as she motioned for me to sit beside her, I did not deny her that which she longed for. I should have given her my time; I should have loved her as much as she loved me. But tonight, would be the last page of the book. The last words time I would ever whisper, I love you. She pulls me in and in a deep embrace covered in the warmth of the summer sun we drift into the unknown. I no longer deny that which I have always known, that she was my anchor. She is my anchor still and as I cling onto those final memories; I no longer need to remain in this dreadful winter. I let go of the breath that holds me and I give myself completely to her. Together we drift into the warmth of the sun, and I am no more.
They will find me alone in the bed we made, with content that I finally spoke the truest words. That I truly loved her.

Copyright 2022 James Heaton

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