[A little longish, but a Christmas Story]
Camille opened the door to her apartment, bracing against the cold air. It took her breath away. She looked across the field, the fresh snow smooth and unblemished. She took a minute to tighten the belt of her coat and pulled the collar tight around her neck before she began the short quarter-mile walk to work. She walked in the road, which had been cleared of last night’s snow.
A three-foot lane of snow covered the sidewalk and when she got to the school bus stop, she saw six-inch circles of snow—the memory of snow balls thrown on the road. She stopped and scooped up a handful of snow, compressing it into a ball, and it threw at the center line, adding another circle to the road. It hadn’t been that long since this had been a daily part of her life and she missed it. Playing in the snow seemed to be a pleasure reserved for children and she wondered when she had outgrown childish things.. The sun was bright in the sky and already the circles were melting. She wondered about the weather forecast, which called for a major storm. Looking around, she saw no clouds and laughed at the weatherman.
The Wild Fork was a nice enough place to work as a waitress. She had worked there going on two years now and was still the new kid. Everyone seemed to have been there forever, including some of the customers. She usually worked the morning shift and served the breakfast crowd. She knew most of the customers, more by order than name: “Cinnamon Bun” was a 50ish businessman; “Poached egg and toast” was a fitness trainer. She liked the familiarity and it made her job easier.
Today she was working the lunch crowd and worried about how she would keep up without the familiarity. The Fork was a busy place and she would have probably eight tables filled with folks she had typically not seen often, and lunch was harder to deal with anyway.
She was early and waved at Pearlthrough the big, plate-glass window as she shook the snow from her coat and hair. Pearl had been there since the Fork had opened and was Camille’s second mother. Pearl had three kids and seven grandkids whom she never saw. Pearl was a lonely woman whose real family was now the Fork.
Camille had taken her along to her parents’ house for Thanksgiving dinner the prior year. Her presence had helped the conversation more civil than normal, and the snipes from her mother were more subdued.. Camille had never been really close to her mother, but when she moved in with Harold two weeks before graduating high school, her mother’s disapproval was obvious and painful. And while she and Harold broke up three months later, the disapproval from her mother had not stopped and she was not welcome at home and had been forced to sleep on couches of friends until she got to her feet. Pearl’s presence at the dinner gave Camille’s mother someone with whom to make small talk.
After the dinner, Pearlhad shown her mother pictures of all the grandkids and they talked for a long time about them and her children while her father slept in front of the televised football games. Camille wandered the house, drinking wine from a tea glass, and for a time sat on her bed, wishing she could go back, but not knowing how to reweave that fabric. But sitting in her room and on her bed was good – she was once again her father’s daughter and her mother’s child. The room much as she had left it; cleaner, but essentially the same.
The trophy she got playing T-Ball in first grade was still on the dresser beside her senior picture and a Phantom of the Opera music box. She picked it up and opened it and he haunting melody came alive and she remembered going to New York with her best friend Cheryl on Christmas break her senior year, staying with Cheryl’s aunt, sleeping late and wandering the Village in the evenings. It was snowing when they left the theatre after seeing Phantom and they walked the ten blocks to the apartment. Snow did not impress her, living in Minnesota, she had seen plenty of it, but in New York, it had been different. Snow in New York at Christmas is magical, it changes people.They watched a wedding proposal in front of the tree at Rockefeller Center and drank hot chocolate in Bryant park and went to Santa Land in Macy’s. The music box’s song ended and she set it back on the dresser.
When it was time to leave, there was a brief disagreement about who would take Camille home. Pearl won, mostly because her mother was arguing only for appearances. Camille felt foolish having to be driven, but she simply could not do it anymore. She’d slid through a stop sign on her seventeenth birthday in a blinding snowstorm, and slammed into a minivan carrying a mother and three children. No one had been hurt, though her car was a complete loss. But the worst thing was the crying of the children. She couldn’t get that out of her head. It was her fault, without a doubt, but it could have been worse, she rationalized. It was the fear that it could have been much worse, might have been much worse, and in the future possibly could be much worse that prevented her from driving. Her father had come to pick her up from the accident and taken her home and every time she’d tried to drive again, she saw the tears streaming down the face of the beautiful five-year-old little girl and just couldn’t turn the key. It was too much.
When Pearlgot into the car, she laughed, and said, “Your mom is a real hoot,” and shook her head, removing the butterfly pin that had been holding her silver hair in a bun letting her hair fall around her shoulders. “What I need now is a drink, a real drink. You up for one?”
Camille laughed and said sure. She picked up the pin and looked at it. Blue, green, red, and yellow glass wings on a gold body. “Pearl, this is beautiful. Where did you get it?”
“My first husband. About the only thing he left me with. Everyone was going to California in the sixties and I hitchhiked out there. It was lots of music and drugs and sex.” She laughed, and backed out of the driveway, leaving Camille parents’ house.
“Then I met Chuck and fell in love. He played guitar in a soft, looping way and had wild ideas about life. One day, while stoned, we decided to get married and did that afternoon in a park. I wore a simple, long white dress with flowers strung into a lei around my neck.” Pearl’s eyes drifted and she got quiet. Camille held the pin, rubbing her fingers on the glass.
* * * * *
She opened the door and Bob, the cook, called from the grill. “Morning, Little One. ’Bout time you got here. Breakfast just ain’t the same without your coffee.” She smiled and shouted back, “Needed my beauty sleep.” The restaurant was empty except for Cinnamon Bun, who, for some reason, was still there, three hours later than normal. She waved at him, hung up her coat, and went to wash her hands.
While she was putting her white apron over the peach dress that was the uniform for all waitresses, except for Pearl, who wore pretty much whatever she wanted, Pearlcame over to her and gave her a hug. “Man was in here today to see you,” she said in a heavy Norwegian accent.
“Man, what man?”
“Don’t know for sure, but he left you a present. Come on and I’ll show you.” She walked to the coatroom near the entrance. Camille watched her reach to the top shelf to find her purse. She opened it and took out a small package, crudely wrapped in gold paper with a blue, store-bought bow on it, and handed it to Camille.
“You don’t know who left this for me?”
“Nope. Wasn’t a regular, but he has been here before.”
“What did he order?” she asked, thinking she would know him that way.
“Tea and toast. White toast. English Breakfast with brown sugar. He paid with money out of an envelope. All coins. He wore a gray pinstripe suit that’s seen better days. It had shiny elbows and a shiny seat. Frayed cuffs. It was a nice suit, but worn out.”
Camille shook her head, without recollection, and opened the package. No card or note. It was filled with crumpled newspaper strips. She dropped them into the waste can and took out an origami bird, done in blue paper. It had “Camille” written on one side in block letters.
“Seems like you have an admirer, Little One,” Pearlsaid and walked off, leaving Camille to look at it alone. It was well done, with no extraneous creases. Obviously, he was adept at the art. She set it on the shelf above her coat, then thought better of it, worried that someone would crush it with a hat or purse. She placed it back in the little box and put it in the pocket of her coat so she wouldn’t lose it.
Bob from the back called, “Camille, get yourself back here and get to work. There’s pies to cut and butter to prepare.” Camille walked to the back and began to put whipped butter into the little paper cups. Pearl was sitting talking to Cinnamon Bun, who was still drinking coffee. She wondered how long he had been here, thinking how odd it was.
She finished cutting the pies just as the lunch crowd started wandering in. Carol, who had started working there about the same time as did Camille, who was efficient and friendly, plain and soft-spoken, fun-loving, and abjectly unreliable, had called in sick, again, so it was just her and Pearl. Each would take about twelve to fifteen tables. She was going to be busy.
The next two hours were hard, almost running from table to table and to the grill to post orders for Bob to fill. “Hamburger, mayo and lettuce, no tomato, fries and a coke; BLT and coffee; clam chowder and bread.” She wondered how she kept it all straight and hurried from table to table, forgetting about the origami bird and Cinnamon Bun.
Around 1:30, the crowd had thinned quite a bit; there were just a handful of customers seated, eating pie, drinking coffee, and talking. She noticed that sometime during the rush Cinnamon Bun had left.
“What’s with Cinnamon Bun?” she askedPearl. “Not like him to be here like that.”
“Poor guy, he lost his job and is afraid to tell his wife. He had a meeting with a headhunter this afternoon, so he came in here to wait. I hope it goes well; he has two kids in college and needs the money.”
“Yeah.” She thought about college and the big fight with her dad. He had wanted her to go, she had wanted to become a fight attendant with Northeastern Airlines. The fight had started the day after Spring Break when he realized she hadn’t applied to any college anywhere and was one of the primary reasons she had moved in with Harold. Not one of my more brilliant decisions, she thought. But it was not a bad life. The crew at the Fork was like family and waitressing could be a good career. She’d heard the waiters at Murry’s, the high-dollar steakhouse downtown, made good money and hardly ever had more than a handful of tables. And it was close to the clubs. Maybe one day she’d be able to get a job there. The thought both excited and frightened her. The money might be good, but she doubted Murry’s would feel like home.
* * * * *
The restaurant usually slowed down after lunch until about 4:00, when the early-bird dinner crowd began to wander in and Camille was working split shift, which meant she had two hours to kill before she had to be back to work.
Sometimes she would sit and talk in the kitchen.
Sometimes, when Harold was still in the picture, she and Carol would take a trip up to Little Canada and try to track him down. Harold the mechanic, who moved to Minneapolis for the drug treatment center and never stopped smoking pot, who had broken her heart when he had vanished one morning, worked on cars at a garage next to a bar in Little Canada. Or that was his story, anyway. She never found him under a car or with grease on his hands. He was usually positioned at any of a number of bars or pizza joints, watching TV, drinking beer, and telling tales. She didn’t know why she bothered really; usually by the time she found him, all she had time for was maybe a beer, a slice of pizza, and a few quick kisses. But the rides in the old convertible Thunderbird Carol drove were fun anyway, especially in the summer: the top down, her hair whipped around by the wind and the sun warming her face.
And sometimes she’d walk back to her apartment and vegetate in front of a soap opera or listen to old songs on her stereo. Occasionally, if she’d been up late the night before or had a big night planned, she’d slip under the covers and take a nap. The downside of living close was she could see her place of work every time she opened her apartment door; the upside was she could be home in ten minutes.
She saw Bob outside, sitting on the hood of his car, leaning back, looking at the sky. And as she always did with him, thought of that old Dr. Hook song, Cookie and Lila, where both were casualties of someone else’s dreams and wondered where his had gone or if he’d ever had them “It’s going to snow, Little One. Any time now.” He was wearing faded Levi’s, a black shirt, and cowboy boots.
He looked a little bit like Harold, she thought, about five-ten, maybe 170 pounds, with short, wavy brown hair and icy blue eyes. She wondered if his back pocket had the outline of a Skoal can like Harold’s. He had stubble on his face, as if he had forgotten to shave for a couple of days. Like Harold, but older. Bob’s hair had tracks of gray in it. On a businessman, she thought this was distinguished. She was not sure about a cook in a diner. “Yeah,” she said, “it’ll probably start up good about three-thirty, just in time to kill the dinner settings and make me walk home in a blizzard.”
“Cut that out,” she interrupted, just realizing she’d never liked him calling her that even though he’d been doing it since she’d started at the Fork, amazed she’d never said anything before and equally amazed she’d said anything now.
“What? Don’t like that?”
She shook her head, thinking, remembering. It had been Harold who had started that. One more reason not to like him. “Camille, or Cammy, please.”
“Okay, Cammy. I really didn’t know. Gees, I wish you’d said something a long time ago. I feel foolish.”
She lowered her head and smiled, looking into his blue eyes. “It’s okay. I never said anything. It was something Harold started and, well, I just went with it.”
She stood there while he sat on the car, one of those awkward silences grew until a car drove by behind him and they both turned to watch it.
Then she watched him until he turned and caught her eyes. She blushed. He laughed and said, “Well, I’m done here for the day. You working dinner?”
“Yep. Split shift. Two hours to kill now.”
“Want to go get something to eat with me? We could go to the drive-in or something. You up for a burger and soda?”
She smiled, liking worrying over the idea at the same time. He was cute, but he was a lot older and she had to work with him, too. But there was nothing wrong with co-workers eating together. It wasn’t like a date or anything, was it? And what if it were a date? It had been more than a year since Harold had left and she’d been out only twice with men. She could indulge herself.
She looked at her dress. Peach. Plain. She could see her light-blond hair blowing softly beside her eyes. She touched her hair, twirling a stand of it in her fingers. It needed to be washed, she thought, it did not feel silky or soft. But he was cute.
She shook her head slowly. “Not today, Bob. Maybe another time?” She smiled, meaning what she said, hoping he would know she meant for him to ask again, for a time when she felt pretty. She promised herself to keep her hair cleaner, too.
“Sure, no problem,” he replied.
“I mean it, Bob. Today just isn’t real good for me, okay?”
He smiled then and said, “Sure, Cammy, I promise. So you staying between shifts or what?”
“I thought I’d walk to the apartment and rest a bit, really.”
“You live just at the top of the hill, right?”
“Need a ride?”
“Sure, thanks. Let me tellPearl I’m leaving.”
* * * * *
She watched through her window as he left the parking lot. It was starting to snow. The snow made her wish she had gone with him; at least she wouldn’t have had to walk back to work in the snow, but her apartment was warm and she liked sitting in front of the window, watching the snow fall.
She took the little blue origami bird out of the box and placed it on the window for a moment. She wondered who had left it and why. Unsigned and no note, an enigma. Maybe the note is written on the inside of the bird, she thought, just unfold it and see who sent it. And she almost did. She held it in her hand and started to unfold the paper. Seeing her name on the side of it, she stopped, realizing what a mistake it would be to unfold it. Sometimes, in finding the answer to the puzzle, the beauty is destroyed. Often the puzzle is much more appealing than its answer. Besides, there was no guarantee he’d written a note and it would be a tragedy to destroy it without cause.
The snow continued to fall, harder now. She ate some hot Grape Nuts with brown sugar and sipped herbal tea, listening to Allanis Morisette, wondering about the bird until it was time to bundle up and walk back through the now driving snow, back to the Fork.
* * * * *
As soon as she opened the door to the Fork, she heard Pearl’s voice loud, clear, and worried, “Camille, that you?” Then Pearl came out from the kitchen, rushed to her and hugged her. “I was so worried, Little One. Oh, sorry, I know you don’t like that, but I got so used to hearing Bob say it.”
“It’s okay, Pearl,” she replied, smiling, letting Pearlhold her close. As much as she did not like it from Bob, she loved forPearl to call her that, especially when being hugged.
“We’ve been calling your apartment for ten minutes; I was just getting ready to drive over there. But listen to me, a scared, foolish woman. Here you are, safe. A little wet, but safe.” Pearl leaned back, still hugging her and looked at Camille’s damp hair.
“Yeah, all the curl will fall out of my hair before twenty minutes is gone. I’ll be a pretty sight for dinner, won’t I?”
“Honey, you have no idea just how pretty you are,”Pearlsaid and released Camille from the hug.
The snow started falling heavily and the few diners in the Fork were aware of it, worried about how the roads would be going home, some of them finishing their meals quickly and leaving to try to get home or to work or wherever before it got too bad while others stayed and ate pie and drank coffee, talking to Camille andPearl and the other waitresses, avoiding going out into the blowing snow.
By 5:00, there was a good solid foot of snow on the parking lot and no one had come in for half an hour. There were two customers left in the place, both of whom had long before finished eating and were drinking coffee, watching the snow, talking to the waitresses about not wanting to leave, but knowing they needed to.
At 6:00, Camille was sitting at the counter, drinking hot chocolate, wishing it had rum in it, and watching it continue to snow. She had turned on the radio to listen to music, since she and Pearl and Steve, the evening cook, were the only ones left in the restaurant. The weather report said that almost two feet had fallen downtown and most of the freeways were a mess. The snow started falling so close to rush hour that there had not been time to clear them. Steve told Pearl she could go home, that he and Camille would stay until about 7:00, then call it a night.
At 6:40, the door opened, and a man shuffled in with the snow. He stood at the door, stamping his feet and took off his coat, hat, and scarf, and hung them in the closet. His glasses steamed up, and he took them off, rubbing them lightly with the bottom of his jacket to dry them. He put them back on and smiled at Camille. “Too late for a bowl of soup?” he asked before sitting down.
His voice jolted Camille—she had watched him enter, watched the snow swirl around him, and watched him clean his glasses.. He was a nice-looking man, maybe fifty, his suit well tailored, cinching nicely at his waist, but not too tight. She noticed the cuffs on the white shirt extended the proper half-inch beyond the coat sleeves and that they were frayed. His jacket was frayed a little, too. His pant legs were wet from the snow. “No,” she said walking over to him, “it’s fine. We have some vegetable beef and some potato.”
“Potato sounds wonderful. Is it hot? I got very cold out there.”
She smiled. “Should warm you right up. Want some coffee, too?”
“No, just some water and crackers, please. Do you mind if I stay in here for a little bit before I start out again? I have been walking home from a job interview and just want to get a little warm before I head out again.”
“Walking – in this?”
“All the time. No car anymore.”
“Yeah, me neither,” she said. “We’re going to close up early tonight, about seven, but you can hang out while we clean up, if you want.” She noticed his hair was wet. “You must be cold. Want a towel to dry your hair?”
“Yes, please, if it’s not too much trouble.”
Camille walked back to get the soup. Steve was already cleaning up and told her to hang the CLOSED sign on the door. She picked up a towel and poured some coffee in a cup.
She walked over to her customer, carrying the soup and coffee. “Here you go, nice hot soup and a towel. Coffee’s on the house. We were going to have to pour it out, anyway. You might as well drink it.”
He smiled and thanked her. Camille went back to help Steve clean up.
* * * * *
At 7:00, Camille saw the mansitting quietly, watching the snow pile up. She looked out the window at the thick layer of snow. It was beautiful, unmarked, pristine. She knew it would not last, nothing pure did. Soon, by noon the next day, she knew, it would be crisscrossed with evidence of dogs and people, littered with footprints and sled tracks, all watched-over by a snowman. Maybe someone would make snow angels. If there were only a way for them to be made without the required tracks of the maker leading to and from them, they would be the perfect addition to the landscape, the only thing she did not think spoiled the natural beauty of fresh snow.
She walked over to him and asked how he was doing.
“The soup was good; be sure to tell the cook.”
“I will, glad you liked it. Anything else you want? We have some pie left. Actually a lot of pie left. The snow kept almost everyone away this afternoon.”
“I would like that, but really, I cannot afford it. I have just enough to pay for the soup.” He looked out the window and sighed. “But thank you for asking.”
“No problem. We’ve got about fifteen minutes left here. Then we can close up shop and go home.”
“That sounds nice. Do you mind very much if I wait here while you finish up? I really do not want to go outside just yet. I was hoping it was going to let up some, but now I see it’s not going to.”
“Sure, I’ll bring you some more of the coffee while you wait.” When she went behind the counter and picked up the coffee pot, she looked and saw he was sitting upright. His hands were folding paper. She watched for a minute before she realized he was doing origami. She set the coffee down and ladled out another bowl of soup and cut two pieces out of the lemon meringue pie.
She walked over to him, smiled and said, “Mind if I join you? I am hungry and really do not want to cook when I get home. I brought you a piece of pie, too.”
He looked up from the origami and smiled. “You like origami? Please, sit down.”
She sat down and arranged the food on the table, careful to avoid the paper. “Well, someone left me a little bird with my name on it. Has driven me crazy wondering who made it. I guess I know now, huh?”
He blushed and looked down. “Yes, I made it for you. I hope you don’t mind.”
“I’m not sure if I mind or not. It is very pretty and it’s sitting in my living room window right now, waiting for me to come home. Why did you do it?”
“I suppose that’s a fair question. About a month ago, I was in here for lunch and you waited on me. You remind me of my daughter, about the same age, I would guess.” His voiced trailed off and for a minute they were both quiet. Then he looked up at her, small wet places at the corners of his eyes. “But you reminding me of my daughter is not why I made it. Like today, I didn’t have much money, but I had more to eat than I could pay for. This is embarrassing for me. I’ve always been able to pay my way, but that day I was about a dollar short and when I got to the register, you were there and I told you my problem”
“I’m sorry, I don’t remember you. You don’t look familiar.”
“I had my coat and hat on, my hat pulled down over my forehead and I tried not to look in your eyes. I was embarrassed. I apologized and asked if I could bring the money the next day. What you did then was so kind. I will never forget it, but I doubt you remember.”
She leaned forward, looking into his eyes, waiting, trying to remember this man. Like Pearl had noticed, he wore a good suit with a lot of wear on it. His tie was knotted tightly at his neck, so tightly she could see his neck was pinched. She wondered how comfortable he could be.
“You reached into the pocket of your apron and brought out enough money to cover my shortage and told me ‘It’s okay. I’ve been there, too. Please come back.’ So I made you the bird; it was all I could do to thank you.”
“I love the bird. For a minute, I thought there might have been a message in it and almost unfolded it. I stopped myself when I realized that even if there was a message in it, the package was more important.” She smiled and looked down. “Silly, huh?”
“No, not silly. Listen, thank you for the coffee and pie. I appreciate it. More than you know.”
Steve came out of the back and said, “Well, I’m all ready to go, Camille. If you like, I can give you a lift home.”
She jumped at Steve’s voice and said, “It’s okay. I’ll walk home. I want to sit here for a bit while this man finishes his pie and coffee. Also, I want to eat before I go out.”
“You sure? I really don’t like leaving you alone like this.”
She laughed. “I’m a big girl now, Steve. I’m fine. Go on home, I’ll lock up and see you in the morning.”
* * * * *
Camille and the man talked for a long time. She told him about high school and her dream of being a fight attendant, of being able to fly to different cities, stay in nice hotels, and meet all the interesting people she imagined were on the planes.
He told her about his family and his work, about his wife who left him a few months after his daughter had been born because she realized she simply wanted to be single. He told her about living on the edges of his daughter’s life for three years, seeing her on alternate weekends, of ritually sending his child support payments and trying to stay involved. Then his ex-wife had married a golf-pro at the country club they had belonged to and when her new husband took a job south of Atlanta, Georgia, she left one night with his daughter. He didn’t see much of his daughter then and the new man became her true father. His ex-wife was sure that if he stayed around, his daughter would only become confused and troubled. Afraid of causing distress, he faded into the background, sending the checks and following her through reports from his ex-wife.
He told her about flying to Georgiato see his daughter’s class plays, and how, at the request of her mother, had sat quietly in the back of the auditorium at her graduation. He spoke to his wife that night and she thanked him for letting their little girl grow up in a “normal” family and for sending the checks. She said his absence had kept him from confusing his daughter and the checks had helped raise her.
He cried when he told her about his daughter’s full scholarship to Georgia Tech and how she planned to be a doctor. He was conflicted, he said, about staying away. He had lost so much that could never be recaptured. If he had to do it again, he would have followed them to Georgia and let his daughter know who he was and that he loved her. But, then, he was not sure about that. If it truly were best that she not know of him, if it truly made her more assured and successful and happy, then, well, the success of their children is a parent’s ultimate job.
He told her about losing his job, when after thirty-two years, he had been moved out of the way so a younger, better educated person would have a chance. At fifty-five, new work did not come easily. First, he exhausted his savings, then he lost his house and car. His retirement was minimal because he’d borrowed against it several times to pay for tuition at the private school his wife had insisted upon and for other needs of his daughter. He dived into alcohol and lost his self-respect. He had worked as a busboy at a Mexican restaurant and eventually quit drinking. Every morning, he would put on his only good suit and went about trying to find a management job. Every evening, he cleaned tables.
Three months ago, he lost even that job and his hope and began living in shelters and holding onto the dream of finding work, but not as tightly as before. Now he lived for lost dreams and dreams to come, cursing himself for not handling the relationship with his daughter differently so at least he could look forward to holding grandchildren.
Camille cried. The story of lost dreams and pride, the thought of a life with no apparent future was all too familiar to her.
* * * * *
“Well, I’ve bothered you too much tonight and you need to be getting home. Thanks for listening to an old man talk about lost futures.”
“Gees, mister,” she said, “I’m so sorry. I wish there was something I could do. You’ve told me so much about you and I don’t even know your name.”
He told her his name was Bill Nance and asked if he could use the phone to get a ride to the shelter. She showed him the phone. She was exhausted and tired, over-wrought. She didn’t notice the snow or the wind. She watched him make call after call after call.
Finally he came out and said, “Well, no luck with the rides. Guess I’ll just have to walk it.”
She looked at the snow, now three feet thick on the drive and wondered how long it would take her to walk the short distance to her apartment and could not imagine walking several miles to the nearest shelter. Not wanting him to have to walk just yet in the blowing snow, she asked him to show her how to make the origami bird and they went back inside, sitting across from each other while he folded the paper and taught her how to do it. After a time, she got it and was able to make the bird on her own. It wasn’t as good as his, and the corners were not as sharp, but she had made it.
“I hope I can remember how to do this,” she said. “I think they’re cool.”
“Just practice. I can show you more another time. But here it is nine o’clock already. You should be getting home and I need to get walking.”
She looked outside. It was still snowing. Teach me for doubting the weatherman, she thought. “I can’t let you walk. You’d freeze.”
“No, Camille. It will be just fine. I have walked a lot in the snow in my life. When I was a kid, I had to walk two miles to school and back. I lived outside Bemidji, so you know I am used to the snow.”
“Uphill both ways?” she asked and laughed.
He laughed and shook his head.
Let me call a friend and get us both a ride. I don’t want to walk, either.”
He complained and refused and she insisted and finally she won and calledPearl, who agreed to come pick them up, muttering loudly enough under her breath for Camille to hear about dog sleds and Eskimos.
“Come on,” she said to Nance,. “Get your coat on.”
“What? Now?” His eyes danced between her and the window.
“Yeah. Now. Before it’s too late. We don’t have that much time.” She slipped into her coat and put on her mittens, grabbed his hand and led him outside.
“Okay, so now what?”
Still holding his hand, she led him into the snow under the streetlight and, without a word or warning, slipped backward, and they were lying on their backs, looking up at the snow falling.
“The sky with the swirling snow looks almost like that instant milk my mom used to make us drink,” she said.
“Yeah, it does. I had to drink that stuff, too. Figured someone your age would have been spared that delight.”
“You kidding? Every day for years. Now concentrate: It’s time to make the angels.” Laughing, the moved their arms and legs back and forth, creating the outline of her most prized snow creation.
“Camille, thank you for the pie and the time. It meant a lot to this old man. And for this. The snow angels. I feel like a kid again.”
“Me too, thought I was too big for this now.”
“It’s been a long time for me too. Just so you know, I am going to go toGeorgiaand find my daughter. Maybe it’s not too late for me to know her. I don’t know if it’s right, but it’s what I have to do. Please find your way and be happy in it. Life should be enjoyed every day. I see I should have, but I promise you I will enjoy every day from now on. Maybe we will cross paths again?”
“Yeah, I hope so..”
She thought about the little bird—the work of a master, who had lost so much trying to do the right thing as he saw it with his daughter, instead of following his heart. She thought about her attempts to make one, the eventual and crumpled bird she had finally fashioned and how he laughed with her. She wished she could do anything as well as he had made the bird. Then she knew she could, she would.
And she knew her life was not going to be about Harold walking out on her anymore, or about not driving because of an accident she suddenly knew she could have done little to avoid, or about trying to keep her hair clean so she could go out with Bob. It was going to be about enjoying each day for what it was. It was going to be about making little differences in people’s lives.
It was going to be about snow angels without tracks and origami birds.
They stayed on their backs, sometimes moving their legs and arms and sometimes just letting the snow fall on them. She had her tongue out, searching for a snow flake whenPearlpulled up, rolled down her window, and said, “Uffda. You guys lost you senses?”
“No,” Camille said, “we just found them.”