From out of the alleyway—amidst some hour long gone to the slumbering fools of the world—she appeared. It was the clicking of her I heard, the click, click, click of those heels on the concrete. And then it stopped. And then she was standing there, at that split-door where we’d been coming and going most of the day, the old broken down thing like a turnstile for the parched, a revolving doorway for those of us nettled by the unvaried nights in the place.
She stood there. Her coat tucked under her.
And instead of saying hello, greeting her: we observed. We smoked. Our vantage point hidden from her.
We watched as she checked her phone and tousled her hair and smoothed at her silver, shimmered dress. The color of it like cleaned coins. And then she went on in, leaving us out there for the belly of the bar. Leaving us to ponder what she might’ve become. Who she might very well be now that she was back with us.
We turned back to one another.
And it was the first lad who said, “We’ve been waiting for over an hour.”
And it was the other lad who said, “If we’re counting time, it’s been close to two.”
“But we aren’t counting, are we?” The first replied to me.
And then we tossed the ends into the gutter.
I said, “If it’s luck that’s upon us, she might be in there, already buying us the next round.”
And the lads laughed. They coughed into their balled hands.
It was the first lad who said, “If that’s a miracle, I’ve surely never seen it.”
And it was the other lad who said, “I’ve been witness to one miracle in this lifetime, and even then, after he was struck from the sky, after he survived it, after they congratulated him on his godly luck, it only took two days before the old fella died.”
It was the first lad that held the door for us.
And then it was the other lad who said, “If I’m true about it, it wasn’t such a miracle after all. My ma and I getting a few more days with my father among the living. Him complaining like always, yelling at us that his hair had turned white as snow.”
It was the first lad that slammed the door shut for us.
And the other lad said: “Miracle or no, I think the good lord should’ve let him keep his hair the way it always was.”
And as we walked, we all agreed. His father should’ve been able to keep his hair the way it always was. We all agreed that they really should’ve dyed the bastard back before they buried him. We all agreed that it was the decent thing to do.
My sister leaned on the bar and the lads went to their drinks on the other side of her. She was pleasant. Unbothered by how they looked at her. She pointed out the drinks she’d added to our night. The lads grinned their grins. And then she raised her glass of wine and we our shots of whiskey and soon we were settled there. Her and I allowed the time to talk. The lads cavorting with what was in their glasses.
“How have you been here?” She asked.
“At home. Here. You know what I mean.”
“I do. I do.”
“I’ve been looking West. There’s a program there. Maybe better work. It looks good.”
“You’d be great there,” she said. She squeezed my fingers.
And I said, “My big sister in the big city. I like the dress you’ve found. It’s got that style that you like.”
“I found it in a thrift store,” she said. “It cost me next to nothing really. Next to nothing there.”
“Have you thought about it? Taking a break?”
“I have, but I’d forfeit what I’ve earned. What I’ve worked for there.”
“So you’ll fight on then.”
“I don’t see it as a fight.”
“And the one who did it. They let him stay on there then?”
“He’s been removed for a semester.”
“And you agree with their decision? Their judgment of it?”
“It was mine to decide. There’s a process. A path I followed.”
“So you’ll keep fighting then.”
“I don’t think of it like that.”
The first lad caught my attention with his nodding along. Like he knew about it. Like he understood what’d transpired with her. How she’d been changed in the world. How what I wanted wasn’t what was possible. How I should stop before it turned worse for her. And then he stopped when I looked into him. When I squinted, bore down on him. Used my place to turn his expression back to where it belonged. What had they to say? She wasn’t that same girl who’d danced and laughed and stood on stage for our families to delight in. She wasn’t that darling girl from those days, whose arresting image I knew they liked to take with them to bed. But, as I fought it out, I knew what he thought, that other than violence, I had no real answer for her. And I was suddenly sad with the feeling that he might be right.
And then it was the other lad who raised his hand. Raised it to bring us another round of what we drank. And her, my big sister, she raised her eyes to the mantle, to the shifting lights, to the decorations that meant there was another long stretching season of warmth that would need to be generated, need to be paid for.
Later, we asked her to Chinatown. We wrapped ourselves as best we could. Took our bicycles despite the drop in the temperature. Despite the smells in the wind with all those signs of what was imminent, what was preparing to head on down to us.
We rode there in a line. Without a light between us. With her leading the way.
We took her to a newer place where they served noodles and steamed soup, a place that helped to restore our stomachs. A place where we could be together and stretch across our chairs. Where we were able to sip silently along and break our cookies at the end of it. And then we went out into the narrow pedestrian streets.
Out there we watched as she walked ahead of us lads. We watched as she guided her bicycle along. We watched as she peered into all of the refashioned store windows. I noticed that the lads were glancing here and there; that they were looking for the sake of looking, that they were left with nothing to do but inventory those places we knew so well.
And then the snowflakes started to fall. Those dots, those frozen flecks of white landing on her grey wool jacket. The stuff on her shoulders, on her hair.
And then she stopped as if someone had touched her.
She turned back to us as if we weren’t who we were and then she shook out of it and said: “Don’t let me forget to pay you back for the dinner.”
She looked upward. Her eyes blinking and closing with all that was falling.
She said, “I’ve got to go very early in the morning if I want to make it back there on time.”
And it was the first lad who said, “We’ll be slipping on the road if we don’t start soon.”
And it was the other lad who said, “It might be the last night we can ride for longer than I’d like to admit.”
And I said, “If it’s luck we’ve got, we might get a day here and there.”
And the first lad said, “But once it starts, it’s not the same is it?”
My sister shook the snow off. She wiped at her sleeves. She clapped with her gloves.
She reached down and grabbed in it. She shoveled the stuff. She giggled.
Her sound was notorious to us. And then we watched as she threw it up over our heads.
We felt it on our ears and our necks.
And then she said, “We should get to ride as much as we want.”
And we all agreed. Our chins lifted to the clouded sky. The snow falling down. We all agreed that we should get to ride as much as we wanted.
We stood there and watched together as the heavier stuff started in on us. Unbothered by it. Stubborn towards it.
We watched as it caught and collected.
We watched as it heaped onto the iron balconies above.
We stomped our boots, our shoes, our heels. We found ourselves securing our clothing and our gloves. And then we watched and we watched and we watched, until we were forced to admit that we should ride back before we wouldn’t be able to ride at all.
Calder Lorenz lives and writes in both the US and Canada. His fiction has appeared in sPARKLE & bLINK 2.4, Switchback, FictionDaily, Curly Red Stories, Two Dollar Radio’s Noise, Literary Orphans, gravel., and Crack the Spine. Twitter: @calderlorenz