‘Twas in the Moon of Wintertime

winter_moon“Twas in the moon of wintertime when all the birds had fled
That mighty Gitchi Manitou sent angel choirs instead.”

— from a French-Indian carol

The snow fell, swirling in the brisk wind.

The boy shivered and pulled his coat tighter.  He coughed and wiped his nose on the back of his mittens, wishing that Ezra would come out of the bakery soon.  He scrunched up his eyebrows, trying to look through the shop’s steamed-up windows, but he could only make out the words Miller’s Baked Goods and Pastries, painted in bright red and gold.

He tried to whistle, but it was too cold and his chapped lips wouldn’t pucker properly.  The boy wanted to go into the shop—he thought about running to the door and throwing it open—but Ezra had said, very firmly, “Now Dan’l, I don’t want you fol’wing me in, hear?  You stay put, boy, and I’ll be back.”

Daniel turned his face to the sky and smiled as the snowflakes fell onto him, sticking to his eyebrows and eyelashes, melting as they touched his skin.  It felt good, he thought, to stand and be imobile and let things just happen to you.  If Ma was still alive, she’d say, “Daniel, you stop that nonsense this instant and come out of the cold.  You haven’t got the sense God gave a dog.”  “But she ain’t,” he said to himself.  “She’s gone and now it’s just me and Ezra.” At the name, he thought once more about the bakery.  “Dang it, why don’t you come outside, Ezra?” he called, once again looking at the shop’s window.

A siren sounded somewhere down the street and Daniel jumped.  Instinctively, he looked for the sound and supressed an urge to hide.  “I ain’t done nothin’,” he said, calming himself.  “It’s okay.  Calm down.”  The police car sped past, tires swirling in the slush on the street.  The boy looked down, avoiding the car, avoiding the eyes of its drivers, not wanting to be noticed.  “Dang it, Ezra!” he said, and his breath steamed in the cold air.

He was a small boy—not young, but still a boy—but he had a look of oldness about him.  Maybe it was the felt hat, pulled rakishly over his left ear; or the scarf, twice the lenghth of his body, wrapped around his neck—the blue and gold stripes contrasting with his red cheeks.  Maybe it was the way he stood against the drug store wall, looking out of place and yet at home, here on the cold street.  If he could have seen through the window behind him, seen the druggist staring out at him, wondering why such a small boy was standing beside his door, in this weather, this late at night, Daniel might have felt that twinge in his stomach again—the twinge that only came when ladies, nice ladies, smiled at him or when Mr. Smith, the grocer, gave him errands to run.  It was a feeling he liked and yet hated, and if he had seen the druggist’s face, he might have wished himself somewhere warm again, like he had been before, with Ma.

Ezra was still in the bakery.  “What’s he doin’?” thought Daniel.  He stamped his feet and rubbed his mittened hands together, forcing the cold out of his body, forcing himself to stay awake.

The streetlight on the corner cast a yellowish glow on the snow as it lit, giving the drifts and hills a spookiness that looked out of character.  He was glad it was snowing.  Cold without snow doesn’t make sense, he thought.  Ma always said that snow gave cold a reason.  She always said it with a cup of hot chocolate in her hand, too—the cup overflowing with whipped cream.  Ma liked whipped cream.  Daniel shook his head.  She wouldn’t like this snow.  This snow is different somehow, even though it sticks to my eyebrows like it always does, he thought.  Ma, where are you now? he wondered.  Why’d you go and leave me with Ezra?

As the dark increased, the streetlight’s glow grew brighter and the falling snow took on the same spookiness as the slushy stuff that covered the street.  The boy noticed that down the street someone was walking — just far enough past the light to be in the shadows, but close enough to hear as the feet trudged through the melting, dirty snow.  The lights from the bakery shop glowed through the steamed windows, and he could now make out shadows within.  Someone with a hat — Ezra, thought Daniel — and a lady and someone behind the counter: all the boy could see was their silhouettes, frosted with the mist on the glass.  “He’s still in there,” said Daniel outloud, enjoying the cloud his words made in the cold air.  “Ezra, are you coming out?” he yelled suddenly, surprised at the break his voice made in the silence.

A shadow leaned out of the bakery door.  “Pipe down, Dan’l!  I’ll be out!  I hear ya!” barked the shadow, slamming the door behind it as it made its way back into the warm light of the shop.  Daniel brushed his hair out of his eyes.  Ma’d never let it get this long, he thought, looking at the few rebelious strands that went back to their place on his forehead.  He pulled the hat down farther on his head and his left ear was instantly warmer.  He reached a mittened hand up and rubbed gently on the other ear, massaging warmth into it again.

The snow fell, swirling in the yellow glow of the streetlight.  The moon, bright and full in the clear night sky, shone above it, casting its own cold, white light onto the snow drifts.  Daniel rubbed his hands together, slid his back tiredly down the wall, coming to a sitting position and pulling his legs closer to him by wrapping his arms around them.  “Dang it, Ezra.”  How long could it take? he wondered, wishing the moon wasn’t quite so bright, and hoping that Ezra would come out of the bakery soon.  “Before I freeze to death,” he said outloud.

Somewhere down the street there was the sound of yelling.  Daniel stood up, wiped the snow from his pants, and looked towards the noise.  It wasn’t loud, like a fight, but suddenly he could sense anger in the brisk air, and he wanted to go away.  He wanted to leave the street and leave Ezra and go back.  “The moon’s too bright,” he said, as much to hear his voice as anything.  Ma always said never to trust a bright moon.  There’s evil in them, she’d say.  “When it shines too brightly or is too white and full, stay out of its light, Daniel,” she said one night, long ago, when the moon was full like tonight and snow fell on their house.  “Evil moon, son.  Stay out of its light.”

Daniel shook from cold and fear.  The anger in the air was stronger now, and the yelling was coming closer.  Part of him wanted to stay — to wrap his scarf around him, pull the jacket closer, and hide in the doorway — and watch the noise, feel the anger as it came by.  But a stronger part of him, the part that his Ma had known, the part of him that was still little boy, wanted very much to be warm and away from this street and the streetlight and the bright, evil moon.  He ran across the street to the bakery and banged on the door.

Ezra stuck his head out.  “What is it, Dan’l?  Can’t you see I’m busy?  Now go on, boy, and leave me be!”  He was about to shut the door when Daniel grabbed his hand.

“Ezra, please!  Something’s not right out here.  Something wrong is on the street tonight.  I want to go.  I don’t want to stay here!”  His voice rose in volume as the fear gripped him in its brisk, cold, and snowy fist.  “I want to go!”

The older man pushed Daniel’s hand away.  “Shut up!  You hear?  Shut up and stay out there!  I oughta leave you — that’s what I oughta do.  You want to be left, boy?  You wanta be alone tonight?”  The boy shook his head, silent and afraid.  “Then you shut up and wait out there and let me finish my business!  Go on!”  And he pushed the boy roughly, slamming the door.  The cold air was not comfortable anymore.  The briskness that had made it so nice earlier now threatened to choke the life out of the boy and the moon, bright and white and full and powerful, bore down on him through the falling snow.  Daniel looked around — listened for the yelling.  There it was again.  Louder and stronger and more full of the evil in the air.

“Dang it Ezra!” he said again, to comfort himself and to curse the old man.

He sat on the steps, scrunched together for warmth, for protection.  All around him the night air, the blowing wind, the winter moon — everything pushed at him and pulled at him, and Daniel began to feel something stronger, something more than the moon and the air and the cold.  Ma!  It’s Ma, he thought.  He smiled and even laughed.  Ma in the winter, loud and brash, trying to scare the cold away.  “You can’t get me down, you fool wind,” she’d yell, walking down the street, snow covering her.  “I’ll beat you!”  And she would laugh — Daniel shuddered at the thought — loud and long, a glint in her eye.  “You can’t make me cold,” she said that last time.  That last time a few winters ago when the cold and the wind had gotten her down and had beaten her.  It sucked the warmth right out of her, and that last triumphant cry, “You can’t make me cold,” rang hollow and empty when Daniel saw death in her eyes.  The cold had won, and Ma had lost — lost it all as an old sick woman.

He jerked his head suddenly.  The noise was close now — very close — and he could do nothing but sit there and listen and watch, waiting for the noise, for the yelling, to grow louder and come closer.  “Ezra,” he said.  “I hate you.”

“What’s that?”

Daniel looked around and saw the shadow leaning against the railing.  “Nothing,” he said.  Ma said don’t talk to strangers, too, he thought.  Then why Ezra?  She didn’t know him from Adam.  Why Ezra?

“Indeed,” said the shadow.  “Why anything?”

Daniel just sat staring straight ahead, not answering and wanting not to listen.

“The yelling is growing louder, isn’t it, Daniel?”

The boy jumped up.  “Leave me alone,” he said, trying to sound brave but knowing he hadn’t succeeded.  “I’ve got a friend inside — and I don’t have any money.”

The shadow shrugged.  “I don’t want anything from you, Daniel.  I’m waiting for the yelling and the cold and the evil moon.  I’m waiting with you.”

“I don’t want you to wait.  I want to be alone.”

He could hear the shadow sniff.  “Then why Ezra?  Why run in there?”

Daniel sat down again, feeling smaller and helpless and wanting to be a little boy again, when he was warm most of the time and Ezra hadn’t been around and nothing had scared him.  “Just wait, Daniel,” said the shadow.  “Just wait.”  And the voice, as well as the shadow, disappeared.

The boy waited.  Was Ezra ever coming out?  He laughed and the brisk wind caught the sound and blew it into a snow flurry, where it danced in the light of the bright evil moon, growing louder and louder, mixing with the distant sound of the yelling and the noise, joining with the shadow’s vanishing voice, rising up in the wind, covering the street beneath an umbrella of weather and cold and snow and wind and sounds — laughter and pain and mysterious words — and leaving the boy, Daniel, sitting alone on the steps of the bakery shop, waiting for Ezra and the yelling and the evil to pass him by.

The moon, bright and full of white light, shone down through the snow as it fell, drowning out the yellow glow of the streetlight in its fierce whiteness, casting an  eerie, evil covering over the ground and over the boy.  The wind was cold, blowing around the boy as he sat alone, staring up at the winter moon, waiting.

Waiting.

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