Friday, 1 January 2010

Earth stood hard as iron

The dull swirling of Gordon’s frozen breath is the only sign of life in the tiny apartment; Choirboys’ voices lilt softly through the still air from the radio in the kitchen, cutting sweetly through the silence. Gordon sits still as a stone, wrapped in blankets whilst Cal, his small mongrel terrier, keeps his feet warm. The room is cold, barely above freezing, a single bar of the electric fire struggling against the bitter winter. It’s cheaper that way.

Gordon blinks as if waking from a dream, moves to stretch his frozen joints, and flexes his numb lips.

“Come on Cal,” he says quietly, “It’s time to go for a walk.”

They shuffle down the hall to the door, and Cal looks on as Gordon agonises over putting on his coat, scarf, gloves and boots. The laces are hard to do. Finally, Cal’s lead is clipped onto his collar.

“Let’s go.”

They tread gingerly from the doorway, the icy gravel cold on Cal’s paws. Normally it’s only a three minute walk to the shops, but this arctic trudge seems like an eternity; The thawed and refrozen snow is sharp and makes progress difficult. Gordon and Cal move slowly through the desolate streets, but finally they round the corner to the welcoming light of the Co-Op. The festive lighting and soft carols on the loudspeakers are comforting, as is the blast of hot air from the door heater. Cal realises he hasn’t felt this warm in days.

Let’s stay?

Cal trots round after Gordon, happy in the warmth – two carrots, a small bag of potatoes, a small bag of Brussel sprouts and a double pack of turkey breasts. Each item is placed carefully, painstakingly, into the basket. A pack of mince pies. The essentials for Christmas cheer. They are greeted at the till by Jan, the lady who manages the store and lives above it. On Christmas Eve, who else would you expect to find working here?

“Hi Gordon! This it?”

“As always, Jan.” Gordon looks to where Cal is waiting patiently, sitting at his feet. “The second one’s for the dog.”

“Lovely, Gordon.” Jan slowly packs the shopping into a flimsy plastic bag – even the heat of the shop doesn’t seem to loosen up her arthritic hands. “Just you and him this year, is it?”

“As always.”

“Yes.” Jan stops packing for a moment and looks straight at Gordon, the first time she has met his gaze since he arrived in the shop. “Stay safe, Gordon, and warm.”

Gordon nods silently and turns to go. He tugs on Cal’s lead and the small dog reluctantly rises to his feet.

Please, let’s stay? Just for a bit?

“Bye Gordon.”

The doors slide silently open and Gordon and Cal step from the comforting warmth into the frigid air of the outside world and onto the crisp snow. They slip and stumble back up the hill, the walk taking even longer on the way back. The world is silent, dead. There is no sound save Gordon’s breathing and the ice crunching underfoot. No one wants to be outside; they are at home, warm, celebrating the season with families, children, mulled-wine and chocolate. One or two cars drive gingerly past but quickly their lights disappear around the bend, and Gordon and Cal are left alone in the dark once more.

Gordon fumbles the key in the lock with his numb fingers, gloves painfully inadequate against the frosty air. Inside is little better. He dumps the bag of shopping in the kitchen and re-opens the half empty bottle of red wine, pouring a mug’s worth into a saucepan. Cal sits obediently by his master.

“Time to warm up, Cal,” Gordon says, gently placing a bowl of dried dog food in front of his companion as steam begins to rise from the saucepan.

Back in the living room again, hot wine in his hands, Gordon holds the mug to his face and allows the steam to thaw his nose, his cheeks. Finally he allows himself a sip, and then another. The warmth spreads through his mouth, his throat, and at last he can feel his fingers once more.

There is nothing of consequence on the TV; a carol service here, the dour weather reports on the other side. Gordon finishes his wine and huddles under the blanket. Cal hops up into his lap and together they warm one another, eventually falling into a restless sleep.

The television, however, remains on throughout the night, casting its silent snow over Gordon’s shivering body.


  1. sad, but good. keep writing. looking forward to seeing you in March. Happy New Year

  2. Hey Jonny, great story! Possibly lacking a little festive cheer for me, but very well written!

  3. Liked this a lot!

  4. Hi, great story! I enjoyed reading it and thought it was very well written. Looking forward to reading the rest.

  5. I really like it, it's very well written.