A COLD WALK HOME • by Tripp Watson

He looked up at the third story window again. The light was still on. She was awake. The glass glowed orange through the peacefully falling snow. She was awake and ignoring his calls. This can’t wait until tomorrow: today is better. Right now is better. This has to be fixed tonight or “this” will cease being a “this” and return to “nothing” as rapidly as it had grown to “something”.

It’s freezing out here.

He thumped down onto a pile of snow, rubbing his palms to create enough warmth to pull out his phone and call again — no answer.

It’s okay. As long as that light stays on there is a chance.

It had been an ordinary night. The TV had been on, but he didn’t recall watching it. He remembered laughing. He remembered teasing and kissing. He couldn’t remember the origin of the fight: couldn’t recall the seed that had grown into the tears and the yelling. Maybe it was a tease taken poorly? Had he started it? It didn’t matter. She had stormed into her apartment complex and left him on the sidewalk, crippled by anxiety.

“I’m leaving tomorrow morning,” she had said before retreating. “As of now, I don’t plan on calling you when I get back.”

He remembered the throbbing pain in his gut as she spoke. They stood beneath the street lamp they had come to know so well. “Just like Narnia,” she had joked when a tuft of snow sat upon it stubbornly. They had had their first kiss beneath it, and often, lengthy conversations would turn to even longer goodbyes in its glimmer. The whole scene had become routine after months of walking her home nightly. Tonight, however, even the street lamp seemed foreign. These weren’t the feelings he should have in this setting. Everything was distorted. She hadn’t wanted a walk home tonight, but he had insisted. It was dark and cold and he’d be damned if he let her walk home alone, but the walk was silent beyond the crunch of new snow beneath their steps. And then she was gone.

This can still be fixed.

He hadn’t made it far on the walk home before turning around. He would ask her to talk about it. She would invite him in out of the cold, and they would talk it out. The plan was flawless, except it didn’t occur. She’d never responded to his pleas. He stood up from his pile of snow, brushed the snow off his jeans, and checked his watch. The light was still on. The snow had begun to fall harder, and he knew waiting any longer would be a lost cause. He glanced at the window again. Where once there was a square of warm, orange glow, there was now black and hateful nothingness. His gut wrenched.

So that’s that.

She would be in bed now. Curled up in a mound of blankets, like she’d preferred. She might be crying: letting the tears roll silently off her cheek and into her pillow as she muffled short, gentle sobs with it. The whole emotional outpour would be no louder than a whisper, out of respect for her sleeping roommates. Possibly, however, she had fallen asleep without any difficulty, without any distress: the evening’s complexities pushed to the back of her mind. This thought he couldn’t bear, and he began to feel nauseated again.

Just as he turned to leave, the streetlight flickered. It was only slightly, but it caught his eye. He glanced one more time at the apartment complex and swallowed his breath. His pulse began to race. She stood in the foyer (another of the places they had shared so many late nights), arms at her sides, and eyes focused. They were swollen red and her cheeks were flushed. Her gaze pierced the glass door and falling snow. She nodded, and with a single finger, gestured for him to come to her. He exhaled and walked to the door: stepping directly through his exhaled breath, which still hung in the air, ignited by the old street lamp.

Tripp Watson is an English Major at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, who enjoys reading anything and everything, but prefers mystery and suspense. Although writing is currently just a hobby, Tripp hopes to one day make a living in the realm of English.

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