I carve two dots above a slight curve into the polluted snow. Numbing my index finger which I hastily shove back into my coat pocket. I flick the corner of the photo still tucked inside. My nose red, cheeks burn. The sharp wind cuts into me.
The corner rounds and I clomp my way up to the first house on the left. The rustling of metal as I jiggle the key into the lock for some reason sends a shiver through me. The barrier now between me and the wind warms my skin even as my hands continue to slightly shake. I hang my coat up and grasp the photo between my fingertips as I head towards the kitchen table.
A hot bowl of oatmeal later and I still stare at the photograph, emotionless, sipping coffee. Black. Stomach filled and warm but still I find myself empty. The knock on the door shakes me of my gaze and I set my mug down alongside the captured memory. In it his cherry cheeks bulge above his grinning lips. Head tilted askew and in a deep hearty laugh. At the bottom I scribbled 1861-1895 in the right corner. The ink somewhat faded after 3 years of wear on the portrait. He gave me the picture of him as a joke. He said incase I ever forgot what he looked like in actual moments of happiness. Little did I know that would be 2 weeks before his apartment went up in flames. A fire the police dismissed as an accidental flame that caught on the curtains of a vacant room. Surrounding commoners were not too convinced, but everyone found themselves too involved in their own world to care about the handful of people that died that night.
All his works went up in flames along the side of him. Each scripted verse on each delicate page, quickly vanished. As if neither the man nor the work he produced existed in the first place. He nested them all in bookshelves along the walls of his writing room. The only door of his that possessed a lock. The only place he claimed he truly felt safe.
The only piece of poetry that didn’t disintegrate that late night was the one he scribbled on the back of that same photograph. Two odd birds, we were. Neither too big on social events and preferred preying on books and their meanings instead of women on nights off from work. We met in the street. Both hesitant of each other at first. A coincidental meeting of two young men with the souls of our grandfathers. We understood one another.
After returning from the disturbance outside, panic sets in for the mug that previously sat upright now found itself tipped on the side, leaking hot liquids across the table. I slip the last physical memory that remains off the table. Slicking the remaining layer off, i examine the damage. The photograph itself was soiled to the point of ruin. I flip over to the back and watch as the black ink blends across the page. A blurred montage of everything that used to bring calm and welcome to an otherwise useless and empty life. I drop back in the chair and stare blankly at the ink wash before me.
I had never quite reached the point of understanding. I never felt he was truly gone. It seemed a part of him was still there, alive, with me. Now, as I look at the erased memory before me, eyes glossy and wide, the only word I can find myself to utter is,