It was late and the main street was silent and empty except for a young man walking with his hands in his pockets. His breath was gray under the yellow streetlights. When the wind rushed down the cross-streets between the red brick buildings the young man’s eyes watered. Rather than wiping away the tears he let them roll down his numb cheeks and freeze as they thinned. The smell of Indian food came with the wind and he breathed deep until his lungs hurt with cold. Then he exhaled and forgot the smell before it made him hungry. The red neon blush of Vinnie’s Pizza was ahead.
Behind, up the hill, the young man could see only the soft glow of town compared to the darkness left and right of it. The moon hovered big and low and shone with a brightness by which he could read the fragile ticking hands on his watch. 3:40 a.m. There was no traffic on the narrow road. The people who drive this road go to Church at 9am or have families to put to bed and spouses to comfort.
Another hour of walking and town was no longer visible. The woods on either side of the young man faded from dark gray dirt to the white moon. The trees in the foreground silhouetted against the gradient looked like massive black stakes thrust into the ground. The young man drew his arms tighter around his core. He flexed every muscle he could still control to ward off the cold, but could not stop shivering. He held his breath then exhaled down the collar of his coat. The warm air comforted him momentarily, but was replaced with dampness. He shuddered.
The young man wanted to walk until he felt nothing, and now he felt nothing but the biting cold. The feeling was not as calming as he had wished it to be. Instead, with town more than an hour behind him he felt everything. The wind blew hard and didn’t let up for several minutes. His teeth were clattering together now. His cheeks felt firm and it hurt to open his eyes.
As dawn approached he crossed the faded double-yellow line on the narrow road and started walking back towards town. Into traffic. There was no traffic at this hour. The people who drive this road are finishing their dreams and snoring.
The low skyline of town came clear in front of the rising sun. Walking uphill was hard on the young man’s knees. He was stiff and tired and didn’t want to walk any longer. Vinnie’s Pizza was dark. The wind had died. The cross-streets were calm. The young man would go straight home now. He wanted to be warm and to sleep until it was dark again.