the power of memory (a story)

It is mid-afternoon, but getting dark. The snow swirls around the empty streets. The skies are gray. The only light comes from a fire in a sheltered alley. The fire is in a metal trash can, fueled by broken dreams, kindled with tears. The old man blows the fire and an image appears in the smoke.

It is a dancing woman. She wears a long red skirt, a black blouse, and high heels. She has long, black hair and a pearl necklace. Her eyes are flames. She reaches out to the watchers, but a gust of wind comes. And blows her away.

The four sit around the fire, shivering. The youngest, a boy of 11 or 12 with sandy hair and red cheeks, is wearing a khaki coat and brown shoes much too big for him. He listens to the wind swirl the snow on the street. The wind dies down and he blows the fire. An image rises.

It is the same woman, with long white hair and warm brown eyes. She is not dancing. She sits in the rocking chair singing to herself. She is singing a lullaby. The boy begins to sing, too, when the wind blows through the alley again. She is gone.

The four take up the boy’s song for a while, and the wind sings with them. As the wind dies, the song falters. A tall man in a warm fur cap blows the fire, raises the woman.

She has black hair and brown eyes. A white apron covers her long red skirt. Her hair is streaked with silver. The smell of cinnamon wafts through the air. She turns toward them, inviting them in. The wind blows. Only the smell of cinnamon remains.

The fourth, a woman with the same hair and eyes, turns away from the fire and breaks the silence.. “I’m cold. Let’s go.” The four turn away without a backward glance and leave the fire behind. The dance, the lullaby, the cinnamon, the wind mingle and die away. The snow blows into the empty alley. Afternoon wears on to night. The fire dies.

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