The fresh snow was perfect. Full of magic and beauty, it’s flakes fell to the ground in muted blankets, a feeling of innocence accompanying its arrival. Like children, they gathered at the window, holding drinks, taking pictures with phones. A few of them shouted out in excitement, raising their glasses before a hushed giddiness fell over them. After the initial uproar the snowfall seemed to have a calming effect, a brief hypnotic attribute that left them gazing out the window with wonderment.
The scene reminded John of his pupils watching the snow fall from the windows of the classroom, the empty branches of the trees in the schoolyard collecting the snowfall as it quietly fell from the sky. Even in the dark bar, he was still in the classroom.
He took a sip from his glass, feeling the warm bourbon trickle down his chest as he set down the glass on the warped coaster, continuing his thoughts of the kids, in a frenzy as they watched the snow cover the streets and sidewalks leading to up to the entrance of the school. As the sky grew darker and the overhead lights brighter, he knew that lessons were over for the day. The buoyancy in the room made trivial matters such as reading or writing unbearable as they awaited the principal’s announcement stating that–due to the weather–school was closing early.
At the window, the assembly slowly broke apart to both sides, like a curtain parting, allowing the street light to enter once again as the patrons went for their drinks with wide grins and agreeable faces and John wondered if he had in fact, taught any of them. It was hard to tell from their faces, worn and haggard behind the façade of inebriated their merriment. The innocence of childhood had long since vanished and he wondered what they had been like before the first and second divorces, the layoffs, the bills, and the disappointments of life had changed them.
Just like the snow, as children they had once been pristine and angelic before being had been tainted by their environment, mixed with the dirt and grime until they were shoved to the side like the gray slush on the streets.
John ordered another bourbon and laughed at his thoughts, depressing and gloomy; sitting in a bar alone was not how he had envisioned retirement. But life’s disappointments had found him as well, wearing him down as it had chipped and chisseled each wrinkle as the years passed, marking his face like the rings of a tree. The deep grooves and scars each carried its own significance. A son lost in the war, a wife who couldn’t live with the pain, the lines were carved deep and without regard to vanity or appearance.
Another sip, outside the snow continued to fall, the door opened, a man wiped the wet flakes from his coat and hat, a puddle forming at his feet. He looked around as he is welcomed by the partakers, having another round for the snow. Spotting John, he walked towards the bar, sliding into the stool beside him, right on time.
John offered no response but the younger man was unfazed, nodding at the bartender while rubbing his hands together for warmth. John stared ahead, his face unchanged in the presence of company.
“So uh, Amy and I were hoping you would join us for dinner tonight.”
John took a long pull of his bourbon, finding strength in its familiar burn. The bartender set a beer on the bar and Eric took an obligatory sip, waiting patiently for the man to acknowledge him.
“Eric, why do you teach?”
Eric took a moment as if to put together the short complex question, he smacked his lips and looked down at the beer, as if he wasn’t quite sure what he was drinking.
“I uh, I’ve always wanted to teach, since I was a child.”
“Not the question. Why?” Still staring straight ahead, his silver and white whiskers intertwined with the wrinkles in his face, lending him an unrefined yet well versed look of distinction.
Eric finally shrugged. “I don’t know, I guess I relate to kids better than adults.”
The old man nodded his head in agreement, savoring the last sip of bourbon that tangled with the cubes of ice in his glass.
“Today’s his birthday you know.”
“I know, Amy would really like to see you.”
“She said that?”
Eric nodded, studying his beer. The windows had gone black as the storm revelers were staring up at the tv, watching the weather forecast on the news.
“I spent too many years in the classroom to be taken for a sucker kid. She doesn’t want to see me, she probably still blames me for her mother’s—“
“She’s pregnant John. We’re having a baby, and I would like for the two of you to put this thing to rest.”
He turned towards Eric, slowly, the wrinkles softening, branching out at the corners of the eyes as the astonishment spread across his face.
“Yes, a boy.”
A fresh start, just like the snow, free of all the pain and disappointment. A baby! John felt awake, as if he had just woke from a long hibernation. He thought back to bringing Amy home from the hospital, the joy he felt as he became a father. And now…a grandfather. He motioned for the bartender, this round was on him.
“You know what son, you’re right. I should see her, if she’ll let me. She’s just so stubborn you know?”
Eric smiled. “I have no idea where she gets it from.”