He came back to town in an old, beat-up bus. The cold outside seeped through the thin windows and chilled him to the bone. He watched the familiar scenery roll by with a feeling of utter dislocation, as if what he was seeing was something long dead.
“Hello George, been awhile.” Said a guy at the bus station. Jerry? The passenger on the bus hopped off and shrugged.
“Yeah, Jerry. It has.”
“You staying long?”
“I doubt it.” George said. He shrugged sadly at the man, who looked at him with a sombre understanding and then waved at him as he crossed the street with his bags.
George looked around at the snowy town. It had always seemed cold. Long ago, however, he remembered the warmth here.
“George!?” A girl’s voice cut through his brooding walk through the town. He looked up to see Annabelle smiling awkwardly at him.
“Oh.” He said. “Hey.”
Snow fell gently in the street, meeting tarmac to become slush churned by the infrequent trucks that drove through the town. In the dull light of winter daytime, Annabelle’s face looked just as lovely as ever.
“How is he?” She asked. He remembered the touch of her. The smell of her.
“I don’t know. I just got back.” He replied. She sighed then, a sad noise that reminded him of the sadness between them. It became a gulf that he couldn’t avoid. He felt like he could say nothing.
Mercifully, she broke the silence. “Tell him I said hello. I saw him down the store a week back and told him you’d be coming…but.” He could see the tears beginning to well up in her eyes.
“It’s okay Anna. Thanks.”
He turned and left the woman he’d loved. Still loved. He felt her eyes following him as he walked the same path he’d walked many times before.
“Merry Christmas, George.” he heard her say.
The house looked the same as ever, minus a few repairs he noted he’d have to perform this season. It was as if the crumbling architecture was imitating the life within.
He took out his key and headed inside. Recollection flooded him as the warmth from the central heating hit. He noticed that all the lights were turned on – despite it still being daytime. He walked past old coats and clothing hung up on rails – pieces from his late teens that hadn’t been touched in a decade.
George found the man from the past in the living room, staring out of the window at the cold. He sat in an armchair that looked as foul as the clothing on the old man’s thin frame. A pair of rimmed spectacles looked up at him – through him.
“Hello dad.” George said. He felt tears choking him up.
“Who are you?” His father asked. He looked afraid.
George had learned long ago that he was fighting a losing battle. He’d given up trying to remind his father that he was his son. He’d given up on staying in the town. He’d even given up on Annabelle. But he wasn’t cruel enough to stay away.
He sat down next to his father, the man who had raised him in what had once seemed to George a beautiful, small town. The old man smiled at him, as if remembering.
“Oh, Thomas! How are you? It’s been awhile!” Said his father. George sighed ever so slightly, steeling himself to perform the act he managed every Christmas. Pretending he was an old friend of his father’s, vaguely remembered despite the grip of Dementia. He put on the role of Thomas, a friend his dad had known in his teens. A man remembered better than his own son.
“Hello Michael.” George said, “I’ve come with a vision of the future.”
“The future?” His father asked.
“Your future. I’m going to tell you about the wife you’ll have. The son you’ll have…”
“A son?” His father laughed. The old lines on his face receded. “I’m not going to have a son!”
George could hardly talk as the weight of sadness crushed his chest. He reached out and took his father’s hand. Together they looked out into the cold.
“You will.” He said.