Side by side, they shoveled the snow. The driveway was short, but the snow was high and heavy. George took two scoops to clear each patch of ground, dividing the depth by half to lighten the load. Sid dashed his shovel in here and there, just a little wild, sending his snow the farthest, a broadcast that showered them with sparkling powder. The icy bits needled their necks but melted quickly along the edges of their collars and hats.
The clouds were still hanging low and now and again the snow began again, but they kept at their work steadily. “It’s good we’re doing this,” George said. “Even if we get a couple more inches before dark, it’ll be so much less to move tomorrow.”
Sid paused and took his glasses off, tucking them into his coat pocket.
“They’re so beaded over, they’re really not helping,” he said.
George glanced back at the house now and again as they worked. The low slung roof was lofted with almost two feet of snow, but it didn’t make the house look any prouder on the hill. Rather, it gave him the impression of an old soul, huddled beneath the burden of too many blankets. The chimney puffed a thin trail of smoke, a nostalgic perfume that made the afternoon seem cheery despite the storm.
Along the edge of the drive, where the plow had pushed by earlier on, the snow was dense and crusty. They saved that for last and were finished in another twenty minutes. Leaning against the shovel handles and breathing, they said nothing, two men glancing back over the results of their work.
“We’ll sleep good tonight,” George said. “That’s for sure.”
Sid smiled at the thought as he started back to the house. They took their boots off at the threshold. They beat their gloves and scarves and hats against the stone before stepping inside. The warm front room was silent and shadowy, with an air about it which suggested it would always wait for them to come home. The house, George thought again, was an old soul.
The storm had started the night before, the thirteenth of February; they had no conceit that they would make it out for a Valentine’s dinner in a restaurant the next evening. Eighteen years into a love affair that had begun with shy glances over a sandwich counter, they were not stuck on the idea that the romantic holiday needed roses and chocolates for decoration.
Long before the weather came, Sid had set himself the task of making a new dish for supper and last night had risked coming home late in the snow to procure all the ingredients. George had roamed the house, worried until Sid’s headlights broached the drive. Then he was so thankful that he’d made it in without trouble, he decided to simply relax into their snowbound holiday and let go of wanting to hold every cherished thing above calamity. It was a goal he set for himself often, though it seldom stuck. In the back of his mind, it nagged him that he cared too much.
Those were the fears and thoughts of the thirteenth, gone on the breeze today like the snow Sid’s shovel had sent flying. As the afternoon waned, George built up the fire and Sid began making dinner. The recipe was more than he had reckoned on and soon there were heavy sighs coming from the kitchen and the percussion of bowls and measuring cups became somewhat frantic. More than once, Sid popped his head through the door to ask for help converting measurements. His hair was askew and his cheeks were just a little red. A moment later, George heard the kitchen window opening.
“You hot in there?” he called.
George found himself tightening up, absorbing his husband’s tension. It seemed that goulash or sandwiches would have been much easier to pull off. But he bit his lip and held his silence, not that they were above disagreement. The house had witnessed many arguments and would witness more. It seemed inevitable. Today George was mindful of being a pest; it would be hellish to spend the holiday sulking.
Finally Sid seemed to get ahead of himself in the kitchen. George came in and helped stir things in pots. He caught up some of the dishes. When he saw that Sid had pulled out special china, the plates with the gold edging and the turquoise band all around, he glanced down at his pajamas and thought maybe he ought to look a little more dressed for dinner. He found a red sweater lying over the ironing board in the laundry room and put it on. At least he’d look respectable sitting at the table.
Sid always told him he looked beautiful in red, though he felt a little more like himself in grey or blue. When he returned to the kitchen, Sid glanced up from the stove.
“No, just wanted to look nice for supper.”
He wished they had flowers. When they were younger – when they had so much less – he always made an effort to keep fresh flowers in the house. Now they came and went according to whim. He eased around Sid, their kitchen being so small it made working side by side into something of a choreographed dance, and took the scissors out of the dish on the counter. When he got to the front room, he couldn’t remember where he’d left his shoes, so he stepped out onto the front stoop bare footed. Leaning far out over the stoop, he snipped some of the withered hydrangea blooms they had not deadheaded back in the fall. Careful to cradle them so they’d shed none of their snowy beards, he held them close to his chest as he eased back into the house.
Three bowls held the blooms nicely. He put tea candles all around them, hoping the snow would sparkle in the light. Sid seemed delighted with them as he put their plates down. The dinner was wonderful, worth the late drive through the snow and the hour of high tension in the kitchen. George was mindful to give thanks, lest his earlier hesitations had registered.
He watched the white beards melting off the hydrangea as they ate, knowing that their sweet union, their years together were not unlike the snow. No hour could be seized and held forever, just as warmth pulls water from ice. His life would melt away, like the sparkles on the winsome bouquets of their Valentine dinner.
He glanced up at Sid, who was studying him softly.
“Just think,” Sid said. “In a few months, they’ll come back again. Remember how bright they were last summer?”
George smiled back, reminded happily of the blooms that follow the melts, months chasing months, each with a lesson blessedly forgotten from season to season.