Picture - #3
The faint jingling from the sleigh bells attached to Argo’s bridle sounded festive earlier when the square was alive with last minute shoppers and children vocalizing their excitement or displeasure at being brought along. Now the silvery music just sounded lonesome, if that was possible, and even Argo seemed to shake her head and prick her ears forward, listening to the sound.
The small city park at the center of the square was empty, as it should be after dusk on Christmas Eve. The stores were all closed now, the window displays dark and the carols were finally silenced. For once the weatherman was right and a light slow had begun to fall. Big, fluffy flakes the size of a quarter were coming down in a synchronized dance and if you stood very still you could actually hear them fall. I turned my face up, letting the flakes burn for just an instant before melting on my cheeks. The horse’s dark bay coat began to look more like an appaloosa as the flakes blanketed her rump.
As Argo and I followed the quickly disappearing path that wound between the maze of evergreens in the park, I allowed a few minutes to feel sorry for myself. It was the first Christmas my girlfriend Holly and I would spend together and here I was out in the cold, in more ways than one. Because I had patrol tonight I was missing dinner with her family, and she was disappointed even if she didn’t say so.
The oral handbook on having a cop for a partner specifically stated in chapter one that working on holidays would gum up plans, but I don’t think Holly believed me until I started putting on my uniform late this afternoon. Without a word she walked out of the bedroom and my heart sank in a rapid free fall until she came back through the doorway and handed me a present from under the tree.
"Here, open it."
Knowing instinctively not to question or argue, I carefully unwrapped the green and gold paper, my slow progress making Holly impatient. The soft package revealed a fire engine red pair of long underwear sprinkled with what I hoped was mistletoe. I couldn’t keep the grin off my face and neither could she.
"Thank you," I grabbed her in a tight hug and loudly kissed the side of her neck, which always made her laugh.
"I thought they could keep you warm, since I can’t every night." Holly’s words were muffled against my uniform collar.
"They will, and I won’t be gone all night. Tell your folks I’ll see them tomorrow and have an extra helping of pie for me." I gave one last squeeze. "We’ll have a hundred Christmas Eve’s together." And I hoped I was right.
As Argo and I emerged from the trees onto the other side of the square, I shook off the snow, cold and melancholy thoughts. Even my horse seemed to perk up, and gave a little nicker and tossed her head before pricking her ears forward again and looking back down the path we just traveled. The street lights filtered through the branches, casting everything in a dim glow that was both muted by the trees and amplified by the snow. But there was enough light to see what had caught Argo’s attention.
Two figures, bundled from the cold, were walking through the park hand in hand. As they approached I could see they were women. Although I couldn’t truthfully say I knew everyone in town, after living here my entire life I knew most and there was definitely something familiar about the pair. In any case it was well past eleven and no one was supposed to in the park after ten at night. I would give them a few minutes and then remind them of the hours.
I urged Argo into the park again and the two women kept walking towards us, so intent on their conversation that they were oblivious to the fact they weren’t alone. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but could hear muffled voices. Since they still didn’t seem to notice me, I decided to stop my horse and call out before I startled them.
"Merry Christmas Eve," I said loud enough to be certain they heard me. But the two women either decided to ignore me or were too wrapped up in each other to care. I gave Argo a nudge to get closer, but reined her in again when the pair stopped and faced each other.
The shorter of the two pulled a wrinkled wrapped package from beneath her coat and handed it to her companion. The taller woman began to slowly unwrap the gift, carefully untying the curled ribbon and sliding the paper off without a tear. As I watched, I had a strange sensation wash over me and chalked up the sudden chill to a drop in air temperature. Even Argo must have felt something, because she shied away a little.
The paper fell to the snow covered ground and the taller women shook out a pair of red long underwear, her laughter mixed with that of her partner’s and carried away on a sudden gust of wind. Just then they turned towards me, their faces a mirror image of myself and Holly as I imagined ourselves to look thirty or forty years from now.
I sat frozen for several seconds and when I was able to react, another gust of wind whipped up the snow, creating a white curtain obscuring my view. When it calmed, the couple were gone. Argo moved forward without my urging, but there were no tracks to be found. All that was left was a piece of ribbon laying in the snow where they had stood.
The tall clock on the corner of the square struck midnight. My shift was over and I rode out of my past, into my future.
Story by: LC JORDAN
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