Winter in Crystal Park
Snow was falling. It twisted and twirled following a pattern set by the biting wind. It blanketed everything, turning the park into a bright, blinding flash of white. It was slowly erasing away footprints dotted across the ground that created a straight path between benches, lampposts and dead trees. It crept and it crawled through the air and the leafless branches. Yet, despite the snow’s vain attempt to fill the space, there was an emptiness made by the dead of winter.
Inside the park a dark haired man shivered as he stood directly adjacent to the path. He wore a large hooded rain jacket over an ashen sweater with dark jeans and a pair of shabby red gloves. He slouched as he looked over his ruined shoes, noting the small hole that opened up on the heel of his right one.
“I need new shoes.” His socks were becoming soaked as he suppressed another shiver. He focused on his breathing, watching transparent clouds form and disappear in front of his face while he tried to ignore the rumbling. He couldn’t remember when he last ate; all he could remember was the taste of stale French fries. It would only be a matter of time before the uncomfortable hollow feeling in his stomach gave way to the stinging pain of hunger. He had decided that that would be his absolute limit, because afterwards the pain would go away and be replaced by a sickening weakness that would leave him shaking in the snow. No, that couldn’t happen. He needed money today - he needed to sell. He needed customers.
The wind picked up and he shuffled from side to side, fighting the creeping cold. He unconsciously checked his pockets as he scanned the park. In warmer times there would be a smattering of people around. Some lingered while others just passed through. If you waited long enough, you would see some interact. They would have a quick conversation, shake hands and one would stay while the other walked away. The park also attracted the police. They would sit in their cars and wait, or roam the grounds inspecting every face, looking for the dark sunken eyes and pallid skin of an addict, or the tattooed and shady façade of a dealer. Every now and then, a cop would get lucky and catch someone in the act, towing a meth-head, a seller or sometimes both back to the station. It wasn’t surprising when these things happened. The park may have once been a beautiful place for families, couples and lazy picnics. It may have even once had a proper name. Now, to both the authorities and to criminals alike, it was known as Crystal Park, and the man was a dealer.
The dealer froze as he spotted a figure walking down the path. He let out a long, staggering breath as he tried to relax and compose himself. His hands automatically went to his pockets again, making sure his product was still there. As the figure got closer he studied him. It was a man, wearing a large brown jacket with a fur lined hood, ski pants, leather gloves and rubber boots. His hood concealed his face, making it hard to determine whether or not he could be a potential client. The dealer took another breath and stopped caring. He needed the money. He could hear the crunching of the man’s boots in the snow as he got closer.
“Hey.” The man kept walking. It was as if he didn’t know there was someone else there. “Hey!” He stopped and looked at the dealer. He was old, with a silvery beard and large glasses that took up half his face.
“Hello.” He gave a quick smile and began to walk away again.
“Yes?” The dealer hesitated. He was sure the man wasn’t going to buy. Then his stomach rumbled through the silence.
“You looking to buy? I got some crystal”
“I’m sorry, what? Crystal?”
“Yeah, crystal. Meth. Crystal meth.” The man took a moment to comprehend what the dealer was saying. Then he lurched back, his mouth in anOas he realized what was really going on. The dealer smiled and put his hands up, half-heartedly trying to placate him. The man regained his composure and assumed an expression of stern disdain only acquired through years of practice.
“I’m sorry,” he said as he sized up the dealer, “I don’t do that sort of thing.” He whirled around with the air of aharrumphand began walking away, only to stop after two steps and turn around, slowly. “But if you want my advice, you should find another line of work.”
“I don’t want your advice.” The man gave a look somewhat akin to sadness. Then turned around and walked away. The dealer stood, rooted to the spot and staring at the man’s fading back. He had seen that look before - he knew what it meant and knew what it signified. “Shit!” He kicked at the snow. He hated it when people tried to offer him advice, but that was something he could take. He hated that look even more, the look that represented waste. It was a look only a parent could learn how to do, when looking at someone and wondering where exactly everything toppled down.
There was a gentle roar and soon all the dealer could hear was the cacophony of the wind in winter. The snow was beginning to fall in earnest and it climbed around his legs. But the man stayed at the same spot, not moving. He looked down at the snow and tried not to think of PB and J sandwiches. But that’s just how the mind works, and he couldn’t help it. He could see himself making it, his little hands toasting the bread, spreading the peanut butter first, then the jelly and bringing it up to his mouth to take that first magnificent bite. He could hear the crunch in his ears the same time he felt it in his jaw. His tongue savored the taste that can’t be explained but only experienced. He looked to his right, about to talk to someone but stopping abruptly. He didn’t know what he expected, but it was the old man with the silvery beard looking down at him, with the same look on his face.
The dealer shook his head, shaking himself out of his reverie.Not good. My mind’s starting to wander. He checked his pockets.
“Excuse me,” a woman’s voice said. The dealer snapped his head up. In front of him was a woman with her hands in the pockets of a long black coat with high collars and wearing a black beanie that splayed her dark hair behind her neck. She had a playful smile. “You really should get going home.” She looked around, gazing around the entire park and smiled. “I know it’s charming, but it’s only getting colder.” The dealer followed her example and looked around. She was right, the wind was stronger and his right heel was becoming uncomfortably numb.
“It’s not that bad. I’ll be fine.”
“If I were you I’d rather be home.”
“This is good enough for me.” He said rather hastily. She studied him.
“You know, Eskimos usually build igloos.”
“Do I look like I’m trying to be an Eskimo?”
“That’s why I’m telling you!” She flashed him a roguish smile before walking away. He wanted to stop her, and found himself taking a step towards her before he caught himself. He didn’t know what to say. It had been a long time since he felt that warm, and he didn’t want that feeling to leave. He was just about to call out to her when she asked. “You don’t have a home, do you?”
He stared at her defiantly while she turned around. He had expected pity to be written across her face, but what he saw was a level face. She walked back up to him, took her hand out of her pocket and held it out. He took it in both of his, the way you would receive a small chick, and she pressed something into his hands. He looked down, saw money and immediately began thinking about PB and J sandwiches again.
When he looked up she was gone. He didn’t know how long he was standing there and staring at the money for. He thought about the old man with the silver beard. He suddenly understood the look he gave and thought about it himself. So he stood there, and kept waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for a customer that would never come. He stood there, in Crystal Park during winter and wondered where everything toppled down.