by Jim Bates
hot chocolateOn Christmas Eve the two brothers got together to go ice skating. Once young and full of pep, they were now old and just this side of decrepit, not to mention both widowers and grey bearded for longer than they cared to remember. That was okay. Skating was something they'd enjoyed all their lives though this was the first Christmas Eve they'd thought to do it together. It was soon apparent it had been a good idea, for they reveled in the moment, enjoying the crisp winter air and the late afternoon sun casting long shadows on the frozen pond as they glided over its smooth surface.
After a while, Tim took a break and bent down close to the surface, "Hey, these bubbles in the ice are kind of cool. I'm going to take some pictures."
"All right," Joe called to him. "Go for it. I'll just skate."
"Don't fall," Tim cautioned.
Joe laughed as he skated past backward, showing off, "Don't worry." He turned and took about six glides before he stumbled and fell and landed hard on his butt. "Damn!"
Tim looked up, concerned, "You okay?"
Joe lay on his back looking into the clear blue sky. It felt good to be outdoors. It felt good to be skating with his younger brother, too, though he'd probably be stiff in the morning - the fall certainly wouldn't help. "Yeah, I'm fine," he said, struggling to his feet and brushing some snow off as he skated over to see what Tim was doing.
His brother was on knees, his camera inches away from a bubble in the ice shaped like a heart and framed by the blade marks of ice skates that had cut through a thin dusting of snow. "What do you think? Think this'll make a nice picture?"
Joe had long ago given up trying to offer suggestions to his artistic brother. Tim had a unique gift, especially when it came to seeing the beauty found in nature. He used to be an accomplished landscape artist. Used to be, that was, until his eyesight began to fail him. Now he could barely see to drive, let alone paint. But he could see well enough to take pictures, like he was doing now.
"Looks good," Joe said, meaning it. "It's kind of surreal."
"Yeah. I like it. I'm going to take some more."
And he did, all the while Joe skated around the small pond located in a wooded park a hundred yards behind Tim's small home. They were out on the ice for nearly an hour, until the sun dropped low behind the trees. Even though he fell a couple more times, Joe couldn't remember when he'd had a better time skating.
Finally, Tim said, "We should probably get back home." He struggled to stand. He'd taken at least a hundred pictures. "It's getting cold. Maybe I could make us some hot cocoa when we get back. Do you have time for that?"
Joe lived in an efficiency apartment in a small town twenty miles to the west. He had nowhere he had to be. "Sounds good," he said, skating over and plopping down on the shore in the snow next to Tim to take off his skates.
Then they walked through the cold winter afternoon to Tim's home. Later they'd have their cocoa, maybe build a fire, listen to Christmas music and enjoy the evening together. They might even reminisce, remembering Christmases long ago when they were young boys, and their family and grandparents and aunts and uncles had all gathered together around a festive tree decorated with colorful lights and handmade ornaments, sharing laughter and the goodwill that comes from being together this time of year.
Times long ago, but not like now. Joe and Tim's children and grandchildren were scattered across the country and preferred to stay put, while their young brother Will happily did the same in the warm sunshine of his home in Arizona. Now it was just the two of them, these two brothers, older, quieter, but not any less appreciative of the season and the chance to be together on this Christmas Eve.
As they walked the path leading to Tim's home, Joe suddenly had an idea. "Hey, how about if we do this again next year? You know, go skating on Christmas Eve. It's been fun."
Tim smiled, patted his brother on the shoulder and said, "I was just thinking the same thing, and you know what? I'd love to."
Joe thought for a moment. "You know, maybe we could invite Will next year. We could call him up and talk him into leaving warm and sunny Arizona for a couple of days. If he could stand the Minnesota cold, that is."
"We could buy him some long underwear to entice him," Tim added
Both brothers laughed good-naturedly. Will had a thing about cold weather, and it wasn't a good thing, either.
"All we can do is ask," Tim said. "Let's do it."
"I'm all for it," Joe said.
So, they called Will that night and he immediately said yes, he'd be happy to join them. And he'd be happily accepted their offer of long underwear, too.
Just like that, a new tradition was born, and in a season of traditions, a new one for these two old brothers was the best thing that could have happened. It gave them something to look forward to, something to count on, something hopeful to live another year for. Next year it’d be the three brothers together. For the first time in who knew how long. It was all they could ever have hoped for.
"We'll have to get him some skates," Tim said, after they'd hung up. He was enjoying his hot cocoa, savoring every sip.
"Not a problem," Joe said, moving closer to the fire crackling in the fireplace. He thought for a minute. "How about the day after tomorrow? After Christmas? We could buy them then,"
"That'd be perfect, Tim said, rubbing his eyes. "Okay if you drive? You know these old eyes of mine aren't getting any better."
"Not a problem. Be happy to."
They sat back, sipped their cocoa, listened to quiet Christmas music and watched the fireplace fire crackling merrily away. It had been a pretty good Christmas Eve as far as the brothers were concerned. In fact, it was the best one each of them had had in a long, long time.
The next one just might be even better.
About the author
Jim lives in a small town twenty miles west of Minneapolis, Minnesota. His stories and poems have appeared in nearly three hundred online and print publications. “Resilience,” a collection of short stories, was published in early 2021 by Bridge House Publishing. Additional stories can be found on his blog: www.theviewfromlonglake.wordpress.com
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