Searching for a White November

by Matthew Gorman (Univ. Mount Union)

Second Place

McKinley Avenue is lovely this time of year. It’s that transitional month of the year – November – when no one really knows whether it belongs to Fall or belongs to Winter. The overhangs of the roofs of the shops are topped with packable snow but the trees lining both sides of the sidewalk still have some brown dying leaves holding on to their last breath of carbon dioxide. November, where do you belong?

I continue walking down the street and look at all the shops and stores and buildings and delis all either preparing for Thanksgiving this week or prepreparing for Christmas next month. There is a garland and a bow hanging from the sign that reads, “Franky’s Meats,” but I can see Frank wearing an apron with a giant gobbling turkey emblem on the front with its feathers protruding off of it. His wife, Cloey, walks back behind the counter holding a freshly baked pumpkin pie in her oven-gloved hands. I kick a stupid snowball as I take another step down the road. The constantly changing weather patterns over the past week has made the snowball I just kicked into an ice ball because my toe-to-ball-force doesn’t break it apart; it rolls forward on the cement. Bits of it fall off with each bounce until it makes contact with the wall of Abigail’s Antiques. It cracks against the solid piece of brick rectangular and splits apart.

Inside her store the lights are dimmed in a way to make the wooden furniture appear older than they really are. Sometimes Abby wears wooden clogs or tap shoes to make that click sound you hear when wood meets wood. Maybe she just chips a piece off of one of the chairs in the back and tapes it to the bottom of her shoes. Clicking beneath her feet has never gotten me to buy anything from her store. I much prefer a crunch sound, like when the balls of your feet first stomp down in a path of snow on the sidewalk, or when your heel lifts off the leaves and falls back down on the cement. Tonight I have both, so I keep walking down the street in the direction of Washington Square and leave Abigail and her fake wooden shoes to her antiques.

Everyone else must be enjoying these sounds (almost) as much as me because the sidewalks are shoulder-to-shoulder with couples holding hands and groups of friends and family wandering around together. Leaves are crunching behind me, snow is munching in front of me, and I continue walking split in the middle.

This is too small of a town. The population is nowhere near large enough to be considered a city and I’m pretty sure if all the couples in our one retirement home were to die, this town would be a village. I know, and recognize at the very least, everyone who walks past me. Gary and Emily are holding hands and laughing together while looking into each other’s faces. Both of my hands go into my leather jacket and glance down into the snow-print tracks below me. We all keep moving forward and run into each other. My body keeps moving as it splits apart their handholding and they stumble sideways. I can’t see their faces but I’m pretty sure it has a look of disgust in them. I’m also sure they pull their hands together and continue on with their evening’s festivities.

As I approach Washington Square, the leaves are left behind and the wind begins to bring down a flurry of snowflakes. November, make up your mind where you belong and stop trying to be in both seasons. Find where you belong. The snow comes down. There’s a dark red glow coming from a carriage on the edge of the square and I go to it. A young girl is selling little red roses to passer-bys. Their red shimmers in the grey falling from the sky.

“How much for some roses, miss?” I ask as I come up from behind her. She says they are a ten a dozen with her back turned but then faces me and stares while my hands are still in the leather coat barely keeping me warm; it wasn’t supposed to snow today – or this month. I see her eyes moving their stare up to the top of my head where a hat does not sit and then down to my neck where there is no scarf.

“Here, mister. You can have these.” She extends her small hand holding half a dozen roses, offering them to me for free, but I move my hands out of their pockets and grab my wallet to hand her a five or something I can find. “No mister, you may have these.” I’m puzzled by her innocent generosity but still lower my empty wallet back into my back pocket and take the half dozen red roses partially outlined in white from the snow. “They bring the beauty this time of year” I think of the red leaves that are no more, died out from a lack of water flowing to them from the trunk of the trees. November brings Winter, little girl. “They bring the beauty, mister. Give them to your friend, mister. They bring the beauty.” The smile forming on my face fades to a straight line across my face and I take the flowers in my hand and walk out of Washington Square through a side alleyway.

The space in this alley can almost fit two people walking side by side next to each other. It’s also a lot longer than I remember. About midway through there is a person sitting up against the brick wall with his or her knees raised to their face and a hat covering their head. Some snow from the sky has accumulated onto their person and they appear to be cold, but I have nothing to give them so I keep on my way, slowing down as I scurry past the faceless body on the wall. My legs cross over each other and there’s a slight brush up on my right leg. It’s a man for sure, his hand is extended and the black cloth glove on his hand doesn’t cover his old, wrinkly and calloused knuckles. I pause for just a moment from the shock of the sudden movement by this man I thought to be asleep and probably dying alone in this alley. One of the red roses in my hand falls out of my hands and lands in a pile of snow.

I bend my knees and put it back in my hands. They bring the beauty. Her sweet voice is haunting. As I rise back into a shaking stance, I place the rose in this man’s extended hand. His head slowly lifts and looks into my face. Light, very light grey are in his eyes centered by the darkest of blacks I’ve ever seen. He has a burly beard that is rugged, unclean, and unkept. Even his nose is offputting, it projects off of his face pointing in my direction and up at the same time. He lowers his head and stares at the red rose that lay in his hand and snaps the stem in half. The peddles of the head crumble and fall to the ground; the rest of the stem is clutched in this man’s hand. I slowly back away and try not to anger him anymore.

We both simultaneously move. I think to myself maybe if I stand still, he won’t see me, maybe he’s blind and can just hear really well, maybe I should just move slowly and avoid the crunch of the snow, maybe this crazy man will sit back down. My feet shuffle in the snow and begin to sprint down the alleyway, but the man is surprisingly fit and pulls out a gold square as he hurries in my direction almost right on me. He’s moving fast, faster than me. He’s going to catch me before I reach the end of the alley; he’s going to wrap that gold square around my neck and strangle me. He’s going to kill me. I make a quick turn before the end of the alley into an opened door. Quickly, I enter the room and turn to close the door, but the old man throws the gold square at me. It flies past my eyes into the room and shatters against the wall. I shut the door and lock it so he can’t get in. He bangs on the door several times and shouts some drunken language impossible to make out or understand what he’s really saying.

The gold square is broken in two L-shaped pieces and is surrounded by shards of glass; there’s a thick piece of paper in the middle. It’s a turned over photograph. The picture is lovely. There is a young man and a young woman. They must have been married recently; they look happy and well dressed but not in anything extraordinary. They are holding a single rose together between them by their hips. She looks pregnant.

I fold the photo and put it in my left inside jacket pocket and tuck it tight. I’ll come back to this alley and bring the picture back to the man when he isn’t as hostile, maybe. It’s a nice picture. This places is empty and some of the wooden furniture has a light layer of snow on it from the open door and cracked boarded windows. There’s a set of stairs in the corner of the room so I had over and truck my way up. I wonder why he still has that photo; the man is quite old now and the people in it are pretty young. Are they his kids? The second floor is just as empty – so I drop one of the red roses – now it won’t be as cold as the street level floor. Maybe they are his grandkids; he seemed to be old enough. The third floor has no furniture in at all, so I leave another rose and ascend the stairs. It could have been a picture of him and his wife? From years ago? The stairs dead end at a warped wooden door that’s closed but has light coming in from outside.

I open the door and the cold from the outside world rushes my face and shivers the tiny hairs on my skin. It carries into my hands and knocks a rose out of my hand that falls to the ground. The wind pushes it down the stairs and it descends until I can no longer see where it is. They bring the beauty. That little girl gave me six red roses and I have but one left.

There’s a layer of snow now covering the roof of this building; it’s a soft snow though, my feet are making no sound as I strut across the rooftop and make my way to the edge. “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol comes into my head. They bring the beauty. November, where are you? I climb atop the edge of the half-wall and lie down on my back. I pull out the photograph and hold it and the rose on the center of my chest with my arms crossed. Franky and Cloey should be closing up show to head home and have dinner soon. Abby will be doing the same. What about that couple? Where are they going tonight? Did the snow cancel their plans? November, find your home in Fall and let them have some fun tonight. November, where do you belong?

They bring the beauty. I want to see that photo and my last rose again. Leaning forward shifts my body and I fall off the roof. The long way down I keep my eyes on the last red rose in my hand I’ll ever see. They bring the beauty. Tomorrow someone will hopefully find me in the ally holding this rose with the picture somewhere around me next to the broken rose. Maybe it will be that crazed old man, and he will have his picture back; maybe he will know where I was, but for tonight, I am in fall with November.