The Printer

I remember that night like it was yesterday, it was a cold, snowy night, and the wind did not blow. The snow fell in big, soft flakes, straight to the ground, which was already covered in a soft blanket of the stuff. There was a half moon glowing so bright that you could see it behind the clouds , the kind that was so big that you thought it might collide with the earth, if it wasn’t careful.

I was sitting on the front porch – what an odd place to be on a cold night – and staring up at the flakes, and I remember it looked like they came from a black hole because they fell from so high up. I rocked in an old rocker, the very same that you would expect to find on a front porch in rural Maine, and thinking…thinking…thinking.

I had a family then, two children, Annie and Joseph, and my wife, my beautiful wife, Jacqlyn. I worked as a printer, and wrote in my spare time, although I was never really good enough to be famous like the authors who’s books I printed for a living. My shop consisted of myself, old man Arthur, who ran the place, and a young 20-something named Jim, who was new to the printing business, but a fast learner nonetheless.

I should have been happy, I paid my bills, I had a good family, and I had a warm house. but something was nagging at the back of my brain, it shouldn’t have been much, but it was, something I simply could not let go.

You see, I was a pretty particular fellow back then, the kind that would keep all his shoes in a row by the door, and do things in a particular order, and I had a pretty good memory as to what was where and what belonged where, if you know what I mean. Not much escaped my eye, and not much moved without me knowing, if you catch my drift.

I had come home late that night, for there was a large order of books to be filled for a New York publisher, and I was the main man at the shop, so naturally, I stayed. I’d say I stayed til about oh…11 o’clock, and when I went home the children were in bed, and my wife as well. When I walked into the door that night, I did my usual routine: I took off my hat and hung it on the coat rack by the door, shook off my coat and hung that, too, and stomped my boots lightly, to get the snow off on the front mat. I walked over to the kitchen table, and took a look at the mail. Bills, the day’s paper, and a letter from our church. I walked over to the sink to wash my hands, and froze.

You see, sometimes, my wife would leave the dishes in the sink, when she couldn’t get the children to bed until late, and would wash them in the morning. Now that’s all well and good, and I’m pretty used to that, but when I say that not much escapes me, and that I pretty much know what should go where, I mean it. And tonight, as I stared into that sink, I knew something was out of place, maybe more than just what was meeting my eye.

In the sink there were four glasses, four plates, and what’s more, two wine glasses, which is just a ridiculous thing because my wife only drinks wine when she’s with me, on special occasions. And on account of there being only four of us in the family, and account of me being at work so late, there was absolutely no reason for there to be four of anything in that sink. There should have been three.

I stepped back from the sink, and realizing that I wasn’t breathing, let loose the breath I held in my chest. I tried to collect my thoughts, much to my dismay. And here I found myself sitting on that chair on my front porch, rocking, and thinking.

My thinking did not last much longer than a quarter hour before it gave way to rage…the rage – the rage boiled as a pot of milk does: quickly, and out of control. And just as the pot of milk does, it crept up quickly, bubbling with suspicion.

I went back inside, and taking my boots off at the door, began creeping slowly towards the bedroom. There was a pounding in my chest like I’ve never felt, I could not control my own movement, and I passed through the dining room as if I was in a trance. I stopped and took up the poker from the fireplace, staring at it for a moment, and then continued to the bedroom, in a much more rushed state now.

My hands, my hands were numb. My face, too. My mind as well. Everything was numb, save the burning rage that had built in my chest. I passed by my children’s room, pace quickening, without so much as thinking about them. The rage had invaded every square inch of my thoughts, and finally I came to the end of the hallway, and burst through the bedroom door. My wife, my beautiful wife, sat up, alarmed. And as she stared at me with those bewildered, wide eyes, I swung the poker directly to the side of her head.

She sat there, never breaking her gaze, while I watched the life drain from her confused, horrified eyes. A single tear rolled down her soft, perfect face, and with her last breath she whispered the words, “Happy anniversary, darling”.

The Cold Within

On a cold Christmas Eve, in any cold town in any cold winter, sometime in the early 1900s, a young man sat on the steps of an old church. He fiddled with a shimmering gold chain, at the end of which dangled a small, oval-shaped locket, and due to the shabbiness of the young man’s appearance, did not seem to suit him as well as it might someone of more wealth. Though he wore naught but a torn and faded suit, the man did not shiver–he was used to the bitter wind biting at his limbs, and he gazed off at the towns-people, thinking…thinking…

The man had nothing else of value–no house, no horse, no bank account of any size, yet he was determined to save the golden locket, despite his burning hunger, which he refused to acknowledge, or his aching limbs, which I have already said he had gotten used to over the years. The day grew into night, and the man grew colder.

Now this night was by far the coldest night that the town had had in a long time, yet the man tried to bear it, until his very bones began to feel numb, and he got up, and began to walk. He walked and walked, and beginning to realize that if he did not find some sort of solitude, he would freeze. He walked some more, and coming upon a rich and fancy-looking house, he could take it no more–he strolled on up to the front door, took a deep breath, and knocked–three big resounding knocks. He waited. Finally, a big, older man answered the door, dressed in a fine suit, with a chicken-stained napkin stuffed in his collar. “What?” he grumbled.

The young pauper, shivering, said “I’m sorry to bother you sir, but it’s freezing and I’d like to stay somewhere warm, even a basement would–”

“No.” said the rich man. “What charity do you think this is? Work for your shelter, scoundrel! Like the rest of us!” And he slammed the door in the young man’s face.

The young man did not react or yell back, just turned around and went on his way, to try his luck with another house.

But he received the same response. For hours the man walked, trying desperately to find someone with a little kindness–he did not seek pity, just survival. And yet he was not obliged by anyone, for nobody cared – who gives a second thought to a beggar on the street? And as the hours went on, he wandered his way full circle, back to the church steps, and sat down in his usual spot. He took out the little golden locket, and continued to stare into space, as if he had never moved.

The next morning all the townspeople headed for church for the Christmas Day mass, including the big old rich man and all the others who the young man had sought help from the night before. And they all came to see a big crowd around the steps. Curious, they looked, peering over each other’s shoulders to see what the fuss was all about. And when they could see, they saw a young man, the same! Sitting on the steps just as he always was, with the golden locket in his hand–and they peered at the photograph inside it as it turned side to side in the light wind. It was a picture of a young woman, beautiful. It was the man’s wife, whom he had lost, barely a year ago. The man, so stricken with grief, his soul stripped of luster, had fallen, a beggar, poor and wandering the streets.
And as the townspeople craned their warm, scarf-wrapped necks to peer, they heard the other people saying things like “What a shame,” and “On Christmas Day!” and “He looks so young!” And as they listened each other’s pity for a young man, frozen to death, on a church’s steps, they came to recognize the man. Looks of guilt spread across the faces in the crowd, as they came to realize that he had not, in fact, died from the cold outside, but from their hardened hearts toward the poor pauper; that is, he had died from the cold within.