By Melissa Marni
“Then why’d you say ‘uh oh.’”
“No reason? You said ‘uh oh’ just because?”
“Exactly. It’s a fun thing to say.”
“It is. Lighten up!”
“Not cool, Josephine. You know I’m sensitive about being so damn yellow.”
“I was joking!”
“You’re just a pile of laughs today.”
“Simon, don’t say pile.”
“And what I said before meant nothing.”
“It can’t have meant nothing. Just tell me,” said Simon, a peculiar urgency in his voice. He was more often than not the strong one of the bunch but today Simon was on edge, out on a limb with nowhere to go but down. “You can tell me, Jo. We’re close. I mean, I like to think of us as … friends.”
“So, what is it?”
“I told you, it’s nothing,” replied Josephine in her typical Josephine kind of way, ever-hushed but trimmed with poise. She was like a well-cut topiary: beautiful, unmoving and faintly irrelevant. If you needed an adjective to describe her stoic variety of elegance, Josephinish might work just fine. And if you needed a color to describe her skin, bright red would be the most accurate one to pick.
“Are you sure?” Simon asked.
“Yes, I’m positive. Seriously, it’s nothing,” she said, even if the quiver that finally broke her last word into two sent fear crackling through Simon’s veins. These were the lies she told—the lies they all told—as dear December drew to a close like a wintry curtain descending on the finale of their life.
Josephine felt desiccated today, her breath rattling unsteadily with the loud-mouthed wind. She wouldn’t tell Simon, though. For him, she had to hold on.
Too bad, she thought, by nightfall it’ll be over. And why on a day so … so as this? There was nothing spectacular about the morning; sure the wind blustered loudly against the sidewalk and the air was glacially cold but other than the strong breeze and the chill, it wasn’t a particularly interesting day, no sense of newness or exhilaration or curiosity to help her feel vibrant again. It just was, another stretch of early-morning time when black coffee would percolate and car windows would frost over enough so drivers couldn’t see on their way to yet another day of work.
For all purposes she could think of, this day just was. And yet, it wasn’t.
“Take the Ford Explorer because the radio is talking about roads being icy,” she heard the woman who lived in the house next door squeak to her grumbly pudge of a husband. Josephine thought his name was something like Burt.
Seven o’clock, right on time.
“Good thing I filled it up with gas.” Burt (or something) chuckled and Josephine listened to his brackish laugh from the open window, swirling into the gusty air. He would leave for his job any minute, just as he did every day of the week, and the wife—maybe her name was Carol—would run the noisy dishwasher and sigh her Carol the Wife sighs and life in December would tick, tick on while her dishes washed themselves of their pasta sauce and Burt or Something drove his Ford Explorer to work because the radio said there was ice.
“Josephine, let’s keep talking,” Simon commanded, as if they’d been speaking for hours and silence hadn’t settled between them as it did. “Don’t go quiet on me,” he begged. “Please, Josephine. Please.”
Simon sounded terribly desperate—he never sounded desperate—but even this rare desperation she’d miss, maybe almost as much as the shape of him, strong lines and sharp edges with his bottom-right half torn off months ago.
He was a heavy drinker, always chided for how much he could take in, like that night when they were all hanging out during a blubbering October rainstorm. He drank and drank until he was green in the face and their friends laughed at what a dark shade of emerald his skin had become. Nobody would laugh at Simon today; he was still here, tough as ever, and along with Josephine, one of the only two left.
“I’m sad about Thomas,” she blurted out. “He was nice to have around, even if it was just for a short while.”
“Yeah he was,” said Simon. “A solid guy with all his bits intact. Those are hard to come by. There’s always some side of them missing.”
“Like you!” Josephine laughed and it came out surprisingly easy.
“Yeah, yeah. We get it. I’m lopsided and half the man I used to be,” he replied, puffing out whatever remained of his veined chest.
“I just didn’t think Thomas would go when he did.”
“Really? I pretty much thought he’d be one of the first.”
“No, I never thought he’d drop in September. I always pegged him as a November or early December but then again, I didn’t think we’d be the last.”
As if on cue, the wind hollered, an angry bellow in the awakening day.
Simon twisted to Josephine, his blushing, little nymph of a crimson lady, whose soft words and perpetual company was, he imagined, the closest he’d get to that thing they called love.
“Josephine, it’s not today or even tomorrow if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“I’m not,” she said. “I’ve given up the guessing game.”
But the wind only heard her say “given up” and took this to mean defeat. With a cackle, it blew that much harder, yelling in cold squalls as Josephine and Simon tried frantically to hold on.
“Keep your grip firm!” Simon screamed. “Josephine, remember to clutch the thickest part to get yourself stable!”
She could hardly hear his instructions over the whooshing and the whirring, though it mattered not. Josephine was too frail and too crisp; they both understood this to be her end. Except when she fell to the ground he fell with her—Simon wouldn’t cling to a limb so bare—and the last leaves of December finally surrendered to the winds of a winter day.
[This tiny tale was inspired by an image by Noah Greer, an incredible Vermont-based nature photographer. View more of his photos on Instagram, @Vaderbreath.]