A Fanciful Nod to Fourth-line

A Fanciful Nod to Fourth-line

Icicles clanged in the ends of our hair like cymbals competing with the heavy thump of the Friday evening newspaper we deposited on the shovelled front steps of each neighbourhood home. The swish of our snow pants added to the symphony of winter.

It was only five, but the sky had darkened enough to blend in with the smoke that made its way out of every other chimney, the smell of charred wood teasing us with remembered warmth. The smoke rose, a laminar flow, into the evening sky. A sure sign the temperature had dropped with the setting sun. Although the day itself had been so cold, not even the crows came out.

We’d followed the narrow path through the snow drifted field as soon as school let out so Ronda could get her papers together, and we could get a snack before commencing on the two-mile delivery route. But no matter how quick we organized, we couldn’t fight Mother Nature. She’d shortened the days to what felt like mere seconds of daylight; most of what was spent under the dull fluorescent lights of academia.

By six thirty we’d neared the last homes on the route. The streetlights petered out leaving us in the solitary stillness of the dead of winter. Here, the evergreens hadn’t yet been forced to yield to the populace. The narrow road dead-ended into the remaining frontier of two miles of bush, the inner core of entwined twigs, and shadowy branches a field day for the imagination of the average ten-year-old.

Sometimes, when I felt exceptionally brave, or maybe overly melodramatic, I would climb the pile of snow the plow had left, and stare defiantly into the darkness. Daring whatever was in there to come out and get me. But not tonight. My mittens were wet, and my toes were frozen.

The houses out here were farther apart and we could cover more ground separate. My boots crunched up the last driveway, ascending half a mile of nothingness. One light illumined a tiny, wooden one story, its windows dark.

Instead of placing the paper nicely, I tossed it and ran, keeping my eyes open for bears even though I knew they should all be sleeping soundly, preferably not too close.

Ronda was a welcome sight, waiting at the foot of the driveway, smiling under her red bangs and blue toque. The cloth sack slung over her shoulder hung limply at her side.

“Did you hear about the cougar sighting?” she asked as we walked the train tracks home.

I nodded. “I saw it’s tracks before it snowed.”

I’d stumbled across the prints in the massive sand pit, next door to the shack my friend called home. Large paws prints marched right through, taking liberty where we favoured to play like he hadn’t a care in the world.

My friend and I hadn’t stayed in the pit long that day. Instead, we’d picked raspberries in the acreage of property beside the abandoned farmhouse. We ate them with cream, then played barbies on the braided rug, in the two feet of space between the beds in the tiny room she’d shared with two sisters.

A large branch laid beside the creosoted railway ties and I stooped to pick it up. Make noise when you’re walking through the bush, my dad would say. The animals are more scared of you than you are of them.

I banged the stick on the steel rail. The noise reverberated through the evergreens, it’s branches bent with snow. I tossed the stick aside when Ronda and I passed the guardrail and entered the safety of the icy sidewalk.

I glanced behind me half expecting to see a shadowy figure, it’s bony fingers grasping, retreat empty-handed back into the confines of the branches.

The headlights of the odd passing car offered comfort in the last stretch of our journey, easing the sticky suffocation of fear. We bade a nodding farewell between the massive snow banks at the foot of her driveway and I crossed the street to walk the last fifty yards on my own.

Light blinked through the slit in the orange curtains hanging in the picture window of my house. Smoke rose from our chimney. My dad would be in the basement in front of the fire, watching hockey. My mom, on the upstairs sofa, watching Vana flip letters on the Wheel of Fortune.

I choose to stay outside. The hurried walk home had warmed me enough to see the snow as charming, and not life-threatening. It stretched across our backyard, a white blanket erasing all imperfections. It covered the tops of most of the gravestones in the cemetery next door, hiding death, making all things equal. My entire world bathed in shining lucidity, glistening softly under the stars.

Standing at the end of my porch I imagined I stood on the bow of the Titanic at moonlight as it made its maiden voyage, creeping silently across the Atlantic. The world around me expansive, yet unknown, full of wonder and fear. There was so much to know, so much learn. But not tonight. The chilly bitterness had regained a foothold. Skin tingling, I itched to get out of the damp clothing and into soft flannel pyjamas.

Tomorrow, I could take on the world.

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