Snow and the Riverbydr_mabeuse©
The thick snow fell slowly on a vanished world, obliterating the joint between earth and sky, erasing the sharp edges of the apartment buildings bordering the park, and obscuring the leafless trees and dark pines in a blur of falling white. There seemed to be nothing left but the stone bridge over the slow gray river like a bridge in the clouds linking blankness to blankness, and that's where he stood. The sounds of the city were so muffled that he could hear the gentle hiss of the snowflakes kissing the water and dissolving away, a sound like an endless sigh.
He saw her coming through the snow. Her black coat and tights and the black scarf she wore made her look like a Chinese character drawn on rice paper. Even at this distance there was no mistaking the way she walked, arms folded over her chest and back straight, eyes on her feet as if they interested her. He knew though that she saw everything around her. She always did. He stuffed the envelope he'd been drawing on into his pocket and capped the black marker and put it away. The poor paper was already wet with snow and making the ink bleed.
As he pulled his hand from his pocket, he looked at his sleeve. He could see the snow there, each clump a tangle of perfect flakes and crystals that dissolved into the fabric as he watched, as if from the mere heat of being looked at. It was a fleeting world, even in winter.
The river wasn't really a river, more like a sluggish canal that linked the park's big lagoon to the harbor to the north. It was a summer place, and on this winter's day was deserted. The whole park was deserted, and possibly even the planet. There might not be another soul alive.
As she approached she cocked her head the way she did and smiled. "Only you," she said.
He smiled back. It was impossible not to smile when he saw her. "Meaning what?"
"Meaning only you would want to meet me out here on a day like this. How are you, Jack?"
"I'm fine, Peggy. How are you?"
She smiled rather than answer him and kissed him on the cheek. She kept her hands across her chest and leaned against the rail of the bridge, blew her breath out in a cloud and looked around, rubbing her arms.
"It is beautiful," she said. "I'm glad you called me out."
"You won't get in trouble?"
"No. I've been working ten-hour days. Marge had to let me off." She cocked her head again. "Your hair's covered in snow. You look like a cake."
He bent his head and brushed his hand through his hair. It wasn't cold out and he wasn't wearing gloves.
"How's Michael?" he asked.
"He's good, good."
"Does he know you're meeting me today?"
She stopped smiling. "He knows all about you. I told you, we have no secrets from each other."
He smiled for her. "That's not an answer."
"Jack— " She said his name like a warning. "You promised we wouldn't get into this again."
He knew she hadn't told him. He could always tell when she was lying: she always looked straight at him and opened her eyes wide and used complete sentences.
"Right. I did promise, didn't I? Sorry. You're going to be spending Christmas with him, though?"
"It's expected. Yes. Actually we're going to Vail."
He nodded thoughtfully. Well, he'd asked for it.
"What were you doing when I came?" she asked. "You were drawing, weren't you?"
"Nothing much. I didn't have any paper. I was using an envelope." He took the envelope out of his pocket, crumpled and damp. There were black marks on it where he'd tried to capture the trees across from the bridge.
"Jack, this is your phone bill. And it's still in here. You haven't even opened it."
She sighed and looked at what he'd drawn, and he saw her eyes harden and grow critical as they did whenever she assessed his work. She was always honest with him, and she was always right.
There wasn't much to see really. She couldn't see the different shades of white he'd drawn in with his mind, or the gray of the river, just stark, spiky lines. Still, she smiled.
As she looked he noticed her earrings. They were silver, like she always used to wear when she was with him. The necklaces around her neck were gold, though. Michael had bought them for her.
She must have felt his eyes, because she covered up the gold with her hand then closed her coat over the necklaces. He'd embarrassed her.
Before he could say anything, she said, "I brought you something. I you a Christmas present."
He was surprised. "Really? You shouldn't have, Peggy. That's not why I wanted to see you."
She smiled. "No? Then why?"
He sighed and turned to look at the water. It wasn't frozen, but the falling snow had formed a lacey skein over the surface of the water.
"I promised I wouldn't talk about it, so I won't. I just wanted to ask you if maybe you'd reconsider."
She got angry, but then her anger melted as quickly as the snow on her lashes. She looked at him with pain in her eyes.
"Jack," she said. "I'd might as well ask you to reconsider and change the way you are. Would you? Even if I'd let you? I just can't do it anymore, Jack. The car with only one door. The apartment with no heat. The bills, the phone calls, and then when you got sick. That was more than I could take, Jack. How are you going to pay them?"
He shrugged. "Lou's going to give me another show. He's going to let me have space in the gallery when Carlos has his show in February."
"And then you're going to make a scene whenever anyone tries to buy your stuff like last time? No, Jackie, I just can't take that anymore. You're so good. You're so fantastic, but you keep on shooting yourself in the foot, and I can't take that anymore. I can't make you change."
"And I can't make you change either, can I?"
She shook her head sadly.
Three crows flew by overhead, dodging their way through the heavy snow. They both watched them as the birds settled in the branches of a leafless oak, cawed at each other, and were still.
"Do you love him?"
"Yes," she said. She stared straight at him and opened her eyes wide. "Of course I love him. I love him very much, Jack."
He stared back at her this time and she finally tore her eyes away, knowing she'd been found out.
"Do you want your present or not?" she asked, looking off into the distance.
He was sorry he'd angered her. "Of course."
She smiled as she reached into her purse. He was one of the best people in the world to buy gifts for, his enjoyment was honest and almost childlike and there was nothing that didn't delight him.
She watched as he unwrapped the narrow box, glanced at the paper and then folded it and carefully out it into his pocket. She knew he'd examine the paper later, studying the patterns and colors and drawing conclusions about the artist, his intention, and who the paper was supposed to appeal to. He'd always been that way, finding interest and meaning in the most trivial things. It was one of the things she'd always loved best about him. He'd brought the whole world to life.
And now the whole world came to life again as he opened the gift, and in spite of herself, Peg smiled to watch him.
It was a Japanese calligraphy brush, a good one, hand made, the kind he'd never been able to afford before. He stared at the brush as the snow fell on it, and not even the knowledge of where she'd gotten the money could dampen his joy. If Michael had paid for it, so much the better. There was justice in that.
His joy made him reckless, and he said, "Peggy, what are you doing with that guy? Don't you know what you're getting into? He can buy you stuff but he can't give all this to you."
He gestured at the world beyond the bridge, growing dimmer now as the light faded and evening set in.
"What? The snow?"
He drew back. "Don't get smart, Peggy. You know damned well what I'm talking about."
She felt bad for teasing him and she said nothing. They leaned on the bridge, staring at the snow.
"It is beautiful," she said. "It's enough to make me cry."
"That's what I mean," he said. "With you and me, we own all of it. We feel it, and so it's ours. Is having stuff so important to you? Do you really want to throw all this away for some damned industrial oven?"
"Ranges," she said. "Industrial ranges." It had been something she'd always wanted, her idea of the good life.
Peg lowered her eyes. Seeing his pleasure had taken her back to what things had been like, but now here were the attacks again.
"You promised," she said.
He sighed. He closed the box and dropped it into the voluminous pocket of his coat. The things he carried around in his pockets had always been a constant source of amazement to her, and the memory pulled at her heart.
They stood together, staring down into the river, watching the snow fall. They had met on this bridge, or near by. She'd been with some friends and he'd been riding by on a bike, bare foot, having lost his shoes at the beach. He'd lost his shirt to and was wearing only a windbreaker and shorts. She should have known then what she was getting into, for as he rode by, dollar bills were blowing out of his pocket, He braked so hard when he saw her that he fell off his bike.
"I want to give you something too," he said suddenly. "I have a present for you."
He straightened his coat and stood up tall, as if he were going to do something and Peg watched him, knowing he was improvising. Thoughtfulness had never been his strong suit, and she knew he had nothing to give her.
"All this," he said, gesturing again to the scene before them. "The whole thing: the park, the snow, the bridge and the river, the streetlights going on, us together in the middle of it. I want to give it to you, to be yours forever." He spoke as if he were talking to the world, not to her.
"You don't think I can, do you?" he asked. "But why not?"
She sighed and was about to speak, but he held up his hand.
"No," he said. "I know what you're thinking. You're going to tell me that you'll always have this. You'll remember it, you'll remember us, you'll remember me. But I want to give you more than that. I want to give you this so that you'll have it forever—this scene before us, all this beauty, and us together. It's something he can't give you, but I can. I don't have anything, so everything belongs to me.
"I want to give you this so that from now on whenever you see snow like this—when someday years from now when you're in your fabulous house on the North Shore and you look out the French doors and see the snow falling like this, and Michael's coming home with people for dinner and all you're thinking about is whether the roast will be ready— you'll remember me. You'll remember me, and this bridge, and everything that went with it."
He turned to her. "That's my gift to you. Do you want it?"
"Jack, you've already given me that."
"No. Not like this. I'm serious this time. He can give you things I can't, but he can't give you this. He can't give you beauty, and he can't give you feelings, and he can't give you all that this is. For that you need crazy Jack the artist."
She knew he was serious. If there was any way he could give these things to her, he would, and she was touched. It was so like him.
She moved to him and put her head against his shoulder and took his hand. He put his arm around her and drew her close, and she felt his warmth against her. For a moment she just closed her eyes and forgot everything, everything but the feel of him against her body as it used to be, when it used to be enough.
"You've already given me so much," she said softly. "I don't want anything else. Just for both of us to be happy. That's all."
He laughed. "It's my gift."
She felt him move against her and heard the sound of a zipper. Her eyes flew open.
"Give me your hand," he said. "Hurry. It's cold!"
"Jack? What are you doing?"
He took her hand and pushed it down against his crotch, and she felt his member hanging out of his pants.
"Oh my God! Are you insane?"
"No, Peggy. I'm giving this to you. I'm rolling all this up into a memory and stabbing you with it right in the heart. I'm making sure you never forget this day, this evening. Beat me off, darling. Right here, just like this."
Despite her shock, she almost laughed at the absurdity. He'd always been like this—outrageous, impulsive, and terribly exciting. He always knew what she wanted and how far he could push her.
There was no one around, and even if there was, it was too snowy and dark now for anyone to see. Who else would make her do something like this? She felt his little tool begin to swell against her glove.
"Do it, Peggy, please. I'm serious. For me. For us."
She had always been his inspiration. He'd said so. She'd made him want to do things, create things, and in return he'd always pushed her into places she'd never been, places she would never have imagined existed without him.
His arm was around her, holding her close.
"Let me take my glove off."
He didn't kiss her, so she could hardly call this cheating. She was providing a service, helping him do something he probably could have done on his own. She closed her hand on his cock and felt him grow warm in her hand.
"You're insane, you know that?" she said softly. "Absolutely insane."
She wouldn't let him see, but she was smiling to herself when she said it, and she began to move her hand, stroking him, feeling him come alive.
She'd always had a special bond with his cock, a bond that she sometimes felt almost went beyond what she had with him. It was as if they shared a special understanding, and in a very private way she had felt like she understood his cock better than he did. She knew what it needed, she knew what it liked, and she'd always been madly in love with it, and it with her.
And now it came back to her, that wonderful feeling of pleasing him. He'd never asked for much, always something simple and excitingly perverse. His cock was hard, and it steamed in the cold air like it was hot. It felt so wonderfully alive and virile here in the snow and chill.
"Wait," he said. "Wait." He moved them over to the rail of the bridge, so that his cock emerged through the stone balusters. She was standing to his right with his right arm around her shoulders, and they might have been lovers standing together on the bridge silently admiring the view, except for her right hand crossing over in front of him, pulling steadily on his cock, not too fast, not to slow, with the rhythm she knew he liked. Jack groaned and leaned on her, his legs getting weak. It was gloriously silly to be doing this to him, and somehow moving at the same time.
The snow was falling, hissing softly in the water, and behind them the lights in the park were coming on, making pinkish halos in the falling snow. Peg leaned her head against his chest and heard his heart beating, and suddenly it didn't seem so silly. His prick was moving in her hand as he gently rocked his hips back and forth, and the thought that this was the last time that she'd ever hold him was suddenly devastating. She felt the tears come again and she put her left arm around his waist and held him close, hiding her face in his chest.
"Oh God, that's good!" he whispered. "Your hand is so warm. Look at the lights, Peg, and the snow on the pines. It's like a painting, isn't it? Pointillism? Impressionism? No one else would ever make you beat them off like this, would they? —Ugh! Christ, baby, I'm close!— No one else would ever give you all this, use you like this so you'll remember. Your hand will never forget me either, will she? Your hand will never forget me, even when you do. Not the trees and the snow and the river..."
"Oh God, Jack!" she cried. "I won't! I won't ever forget you. Don't even say that!"
She turned her face up to him and the tears came flooding. She beat him off and his mouth came down on hers and now she was cheating but she didn't care. His left hand came up and found her breast through her sweater and she remembered his touch, the way he'd loved her inadequate breasts and awkward body and had always found her so beautiful and worthy of love and she sobbed into his mouth as his arm crushed the breath from her body. She felt it all just like he said. She felt the quiet and the loneliness and the beauty pierce her like a knife plunged into her heart
"Fuck!" he moaned. "I'm coming! Watch me! Watch it, Peggy! Watch!"
She couldn't stand to look, she didn't want to see him waste himself like this, not in the river, that cold, freezing river. She felt his prick jerk in her hand and felt him shudder. His hips punched forward reflexively and she took his weight, holding him up with one hand while she continued to milk him. She had to look down and see him spit, had to see the semen spurt from his cock between the balusters and fall in squiggling lines and streamers into the darkness below; one burst then another, and another, pearlescent yet darker than the falling snow, mysterious hieroglyphs and brush strokes painted on the air, pulled from his own body and written in his own seed. She'd never seen anything so tragic.
"God," he said, shaking against her. "Oh Peg."
He finished ejaculating and got terribly hypersensitive the way he did, and she stopped, then removed her hand, though she still felt him in her palm. She knew he was right, that she'd never forget this, never forget what he'd made her do. He took her in his arms and pulled her close, and Peg cried quietly against his chest, crying out the months of sadness and aching indecision and love, crying until she was as blank as the world around her, and he just stood holding her as his deflating cock found its way shyly back into his trousers. He held her in the falling snow and let her cry.
He didn't kiss her again, except for a kiss on the top of her head, the most heartbreaking kiss of all.
He let go of her and took a step back. He pulled her coat closed and buttoned it up like a mother hen, then straightened her scarf around her neck and wiped the tears from her cheeks with his thumbs. He smiled at her, and then he turned and walked away towards the lights of the city.
"Remember me," he said. "Remember me."
She watched him go. Through the falling snow he looked like a black character written on gray paper, then he faded into the blankness and she was left alone, the world vanished as if it had never been, leaving her alone with the snow falling in the river.