Finally Alone; O, Snow!

A silencing misery that arrives in the evenings. Maybe it is tiredness, which, since childhood, he had been accused of every time he fell into an inexplicably miserable mood. Five or six hours a night and the resumption of travelling into work, but, aside from that moment of waking and the walk to the shower, he never felt particularly tired. Frankly, he thought, I feel quite perky on only a few hours’ sleep. Maybe it is the season. December is a season all to itself; although autumn by name, it is winter in everything else, as though it were an immigrant from the other side of the solstice. It is a month chimed in gold, red and tinsel. Of all the months at this end of the calendar, it is the most promising, if only for its lengthening days, festival, and its half-arsed closure and countdown. Maybe it is the predicament. Now that he is bound here, he must submit to the eddies of family life, so that when the parents pick up and go away for a long weekend (Wednesday – Sunday), he is left alone in the house with his youngest brother. All the charm of family life removed, and only the worst elements of cohabitation remain.
    Back in the office again. Pulled from city to coast, back & forth, never within one routine long enough to feel settled. The last lockdown – a month – flew in no time at all. When will the next one be? By the end of it, I looked forward to seeing everyone again, my coworkers and the work dynamic. Yes, I was miserable, but the change might kickstart something within me. Of course, I slept poorly and found myself on an empty train again, heading south to the capital. I measured the scenery against my watch; what had previously bathed in sunrise was now completely submerged in night. I kept myself awake, hoping for some modicum of day’s beginning, but even when I awoke over the gravel lands of Stratford it was still dark. There must have been some star, some centre, up there, but it was behind such thick cloud that it amounted to nothing over the landscape, and rain fell in sheets.
    As I went down for a smoke, there were people setting up a Christmas tree in the entrance to our office building with the receptionist slouched back in his chair, not turning his neck, scrutinising over his ample cheeks through thick glasses and a permanently unimpressed face. A man and a woman tiptoed around, daintily fingering strings of lights around the tree’s branches. Through my music, I saw the receptionist gesturing at me, having come alive from the display in front of him. I removed a headphone—‘My boss is coming today, so today – just today – can you not smoke in the entrance?’ I laughed—‘Yeah, sure, I’ll smoke somewhere else for today.’ The wind was really cold and it blew down the street, channelled. I looked out for his boss.
    By the time lunch came around, it was still raining, although I did not mind it so much, and would go for a walk regardless. The sensation of cold rain on a face maskless at last is so wonderful that I looked to the heavens and welcomed it with a smile! Many employers had told their staff not to return until after Christmas. Many cafes and shops were still closed; even those that had opened briefly in the summer were now closed again. The alleyway was flanked with empty bars; puddles collected in the middle; in the doorway of a chain restaurant, a homeless man sat with legs outstretched, pouring vodka into a can of beer; the only café open down there was without customers, a solitary man behind the counter leaning over a green chopping board. The virus test centre erected outside the Guildhall was empty, its series of white tents and labyrinthian metal fences wobbled in the wind. Fluorescent security paced in circles, I stared at them and they stared back.
    I looked out of the window into the building opposite. There was no one there, but I stared into it all the same. It was dark out and every lit window drew the eye. Looking into the office I watched two men arrived carrying a tree, which they, under the instruction of a cross-armed woman, placed in the corner. They supported it, made sure it was upright, perfectly straight, and they decorated it, she pointed out the socket from which the fairies could flutter, and she observed the whole thing, not moving, but cross-armed smiling and the fine figure she cut through glass and smog towards my air-conditioned gaze. They, disaffected, finished their task, collected signed documents, and left the room. Alone, she remained for a moment, considering the decorated tree, then walked off. I sipped my coffee: what a job! All year, one was always likely to spot some encumbered soul traipsing down the pavements of the city with ornate flower arrangements pricked into glitzy vases. They brought in the colourful dying and took out the beautiful dead. It was a job – no, a profession – that appealed to me. At Christmas, they went from building to building, office to office, erecting and decorating Christmas trees, and they carried out these assignments with such indifference that I had to wonder about their home lives. I suppose one is likely to tire of things if they are repeated over & over. And then I remembered, from my youth, the florists who, as part of the congregation, would adorn the church with flowers every Sunday morning. With enthusiasm, and in a rush before the ten o’clock service, they ran between pews, carrying bouquets and making hurried hellos at the regulars, opulent curls and bright’s fragile tongues draped over their shoulders. I drank my coffee. I watched the men leave the office and the woman admire the tree. I thought of the florists from my childhood church.
    That evening I returned home. It was just me and him until, in a puff of perfume, he disappeared out the door to spend the night with some woman, who, after their night of passion, needed to self-isolate for two weeks before her grandmother visited over Christmas. Finally, for the first time in almost nine months, I was alone! I could not believe it. What I had taken for granted back in February was now permitted me after so much waiting, and I was overwhelmed with the possibilities! For a moment I sat before the television set, eating chocolate and an ice lolly, watching some zombie show, then I leapt up, searched through my bags of belongings and found a blank canvas. I rushed to the kitchen, which hitherto, every day, had been occupied and a hub of bustle and noise, but was now dead but for the flashing Christmas tree in the corner. On a tiny desk, as I had in my apartment, I sketched on cotton the line & shape of a woman reposed. Soon I became, as expected and quite predictably, aroused. My mind buzzed with opportunity and so I could not waste it. The quiet of everything reverberated within me! I poured myself a glass of wine, resumed my sketch and felt myself become excited. My showerfresh flesh under two layers of cloth twitched and I put my spare fingers to it as I continued to sketch and erase, brush, sketch and erase, sharpen, sketch and angrily erase. Finally I arose, locked all of the doors and went upstairs where, unusually, I was perfectly alone and able to indulge myself. I listened, naked and perked, to the sounds of house, sounds I was unused to, the creaks of pipe, the winter cold of ceiling’s cavity as it effected itself upon copper and shifted noisily overhead. I had seized the occasion, yes, but with such fervour that my hips hurt. Breathless and happy, I lay there and looked up, the clicks and springs, the silence of wind. To be alone.
    In the morning, I spread the blinds apart and looked out at the streetlights. Underneath them, in glittering diagonals, rain fell, thick and jagged—‘For fuck’s sake!’ I said. The house was in darkness so I could not see. My father, a terrible sleeper, was not in the kitchen doing last night’s washing up; it was just me. I struggled to remember all the things my brother had told me – how to lock up, which keys to use, what door I should leave from; there was an precise protocol of how things should be, but in my sleepy state I could not quite remember all of it. At the very last moment, I realised I had forgotten the key, yet, having opened the (correct) door, I saw that the rain did not fall as rain was meant to fall—‘Snow!’
    I went out and the snow clung to me. The walk to station caught upon my face and front every flake the cold had to throw at me so that, by the time I made it into the carriage, I was caked in shards of white. Dusting them off and inhaling the warmth, I sat down, plucked a book from my bag and read, looking up occasionally, as I was inclined to, hoping for sunrise yet nothing but darkness.