“I want my money back!”
The sentence haunted the customer’s memory, making his stomach twist with embarrassment. He had made the poor waitress suffer for his own problems. He wished he could find her and apologize. He probably would tomorrow morning – well, later on today, he supposed. Despite that the clock beside his bed read 2:47 A.M., the customer had a strong desire to find the waitress right now and explain. He needed her to forgive him. He needed someone to forgive him.
The horrifying memory of his recent outburst stopped replaying in his mind, replaced by pictures of his wife. Ex-wife, he reminded himself. No, he countered, the divorce isn’t official yet.
The customer wanted to cry. The darkness was somehow compelling him to. But tears wouldn’t come. They never did.
The pillow remained warm and dry under his face, and he watched the snow falling softly through the blackness outside his window. The house was quiet. It always was, now that the wife was gone. But the sight of gently falling snow somehow muffled the roar of silence in his ears. The customer’s eyes closed, and he slept peacefully for the first time in weeks.
The wife was able to cry, though. It felt like the tears would never stop. She wasn’t sure that she wanted them to. The tears left frigid trails on her cheeks as she walked, aimlessly, through the night. The plastic black fabric of the coat she wore rustled too loudly with each step. Her toes were numb, her socks wet with melted snow that had worked its way into her runners. She didn’t know how long she had been walking. It didn’t seem to make a difference. She thought about what she was doing and, automatically, fear consumed her. She was alone, she was in a part of the city that was probably riddled with gangs and homeless people, and she was about to die of hypothermia. The wife let her fear eat at the guilt, the sadness. She was surprised by the relief that replaced it, falling softly over her. Somehow, the spontaneity of walking through this part of the city in the middle of the night had released her, or perhaps it was the soothing effect of the little white flakes that collected on her hair and eyelashes.
Far from where she had begun – her friend’s house on Worthington – the wife passed an old pawn shop, a closed bank, and a boarded up Chinese restaurant. The wife noticed footprints that were not hers marking the snow around and ahead of her. Further ahead, a man walked in the same direction she did. His footprints were evenly spaced in a straight line that stretched in front of the wife. The man must have heard the swish of her jacket, because he stopped and turned, then began walking back towards her. The wife halted, undecided on what she should do. He looked big enough to hurt her, and if he was drunk…
The man strode quickly and purposefully. Closer, now, the wife could see his torn jacket and stained red toque. A homeless man. Her breath quickened. The wife stood, frozen in place, waiting for him to reach her.
Once he was close enough to be heard without raising his voice, the homeless man spoke. “You have a home?” he asked, his face expressionless. Snow gathered on his shoulders and hat, glittering under the light cast by the street lamp above him.
The wife nodded, suspiciously. Her lips trembled.
“Go home,” said the homeless man; and he left the glow of the street light, disappearing into shadow.