Saturday 25 September 2021

The Winter Thaw


by Dawn DeBraal

hot cocoa


Raylene stood looking out her window as the snow came down lazily. Normally she loved to see this kind of weather, likening it to snow globe magic, but not now. Tom was gone he was the one who went out and shoveled it, plowed it, conquered it with his snowblower. She only had use of the mighty snow shovel.

They predicted thirteen inches of the white stuff. Raylene had been going out and shoveling the driveway every few hours so she could keep up with it.

It was only January, and already she was sick of winter. There were months to go yet. She drank the rest of her coffee, grabbing her boots she pulled them on and went outside to start the process of removing the snow again, from her front steps and then down the driveway.

“Hi, Mrs. Clark,” her neighbor Cary Gorman stood before her with a snow shovel in hand.

“Hello, Cary!”

“I’ve come to help you with the driveway. You don’t have to pay me. I’m just being neighborly, is all.” His statement made her chuckle.

“Well, that sounds wonderful. How about you help me, and we have some hot cocoa?” Cary smiled, running down the driveway with the snow shovel. Youth is wasted on the young, she thought. Cary worked like he was possessed.  Raylene marveled at what a young child could do. Before she knew it, another few inches of the white stuff, was cleared from the drive.

“Come in for that cocoa.” Raylene held the door open.  Cary ducked inside where it was warm. Kermit, the old golden retriever, came up with his tail wagging and greeted Cary.

“Hello Kermit, good boy.” Cary took off his coat and boots and climbed up to Raylene’s island, waiting patiently while she warmed the cocoa.

“It must get pretty lonely here without Mr. Clark.” What a sweet boy.

“I am glad that I have Kermit.  You are right. It has been lonely without my Tom. But it is what it is.”

“What does that mean?” Cary looked at her inquisitively.

“That means there is nothing we can do about a situation, so you need to make the most of it.”

“Like shoveling together and making hot cocoa?”

“Exactly.” Cary made Raylene smile again. She was glad for his company.

“How come you don’t have kids, Mrs. Clark?”

“God never saw fit to bless us with any.” 

Cary thought about that for a moment. “Well, God has blessed my mom and dad way too much.” 

This made Raylene laugh out loud, for the Gorman family had four boys and two girls. Cary, being the youngest.

“Not too much, just the right amount.” Raylene put the cocoa down in front of him.

“Do you have any graham crackers?” 

Raylene went to the cupboard and pulled the waxed paper-wrapped crackers out and opened them. They each took one, dipping it into the hot chocolate. Cary sighed with contentment.

“This was worth all the work! You know, my grandma died last year. I don’t have one anymore.”

“I know. I was sorry to hear that. I knew Sophie; she was a friend of mine.”

“You knew my grandmother?” Cary’s eyes got big.

“Yes, I did, and your grandfather, too.”

“What were they like in the olden days?” Cary dunked his cracker into the hot chocolate, taking another bite.

“Your grandparents were quite the dancers. They took lessons from a school. They entered competitions all over the state. Your grandmother had the most beautiful dresses that she wore with flouncy skirts. They were quite good, as I recall.”

“Dancing is for sissies.”

“Oh no, you have to be in top shape. It takes a lot of strength and stamina. They won trophies. They had a case in the living room full of them.”

“I remember that! I thought they were bowling trophies like my dad’s.”

“Oh no, your grandparents were State Champions; they were so good.”

“I like that story! It’s so quiet here. At my house, it’s noisy, noisy, noisy, all the time. I can’t think.”

“Well, you can come over anytime you need quiet. My house is just too quiet sometimes. Kermit doesn’t make much noise.”

“Yes, he’s a quiet dog. Do you like having noise in your house?”

“Sometimes. Why do you ask?”

“My mom tells me I’m pretty noisy. I try not to be, but you have to be heard above the others.” 

That made Raylene laugh again. “Yes, I suppose you do.” The phone rang. “Hello, Cora. Yes, he’s here. He helped me shovel my drive. No, he’s no bother. I enjoy the company. Yes, I will tell him.”

“That was your mom, she said when you are done here, you should come straight home.”

“I’m surprised she noticed I was gone.”

“Oh, mothers notice. Why do you think a mother duck will notice when one of her ducklings are missing, and she’ll have a dozen of them?”

“I never thought about it. Ducks can count?”

“I don’t know if they can or not, but they know each one of their children, so they instinctively know when one is missing.”

“Mrs. Clark, you sure know a lot of things.”

“I do, that I do.” He’d made her smile again. He was such a wonderful boy. Raylene opened her purse and took out five dollars, handing it over to Cary.

“I don’t want any money, Mrs. Clark, but if it’s okay with you, I’d like to come and listen to your quiet sometimes and drink hot chocolate?”

“I’d like that very much, Cary. I tell you what. I will put your earnings on an account.”

“What does that mean?”

“Is there something you want, a toy or something?”

“Yes, it’s a video game, but it costs forty dollars.”

“Alright, we will keep tabs. Every time you shovel my driveway or do a chore, I will add some money into your account with me.” She pulled out a sheet of paper and wrote the date in one column, and shoveled snow, and in the other she wrote five dollars. She taped it on the inside cupboard door. “When you’ve earned forty dollars, and your mom and dad say it’s okay, we’ll get that game.” 

Cary’s smile was as big as his heart. “That’s a great idea. Can I come back tomorrow?”

“Yes, you may come anytime your parents say it’s okay.”

“Mrs. Clark, since you have no kids, and I don’t have a grandma anymore, would you like to be my grandma?  I could call you Grandma Clark.” 

Raylene’s heart broke open. She had been so closed off since Tom died. “I would like that very much.”

“Can I give you a hug?”

“I’d like that very much.” Raylene closed her eyes and let his affection sink in. He probably would lose interest in her in a short time, but for now, she was going to enjoy his company.

“Well, I better get home.” He pulled on his boots and coat. “Bye, Grandma Clark, see you tomorrow.” Raylene watched him run down the driveway with the shovel in his hand. Her heart was full. In the winter of her life, she’d found a bit of spring.


About the author

Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband, Red, two rescue dogs, and a stray cat. She has published over 400 stories, poems, and drabbles in several online magazines and anthologies. 


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