The Last Snowfall, by Thaís Frasca Bueno Alvesh
It is the last snowfall Horace will ever see, even though he thinks that every year. He sits in his rickety chair, looking out the window with eyes too tired to see past the dim light of the candle he insists on lighting at Christmas.
Another holiday alone in his small smelly room. Everybody related to him, apart from his dear old mother, God rest her soul, is gathered in his son’s living room, laughing and singing drunken Christmas carols. The grandchildren are all grown up with their partners, and to be honest, two of them would be better off dead. People tell Horace times have changed and it is not ok to be racist. Horace is not racist, not at all. He just doesn’t want that kind of behaviour going round his family.
Across the room, his bed has been unmade since last month, when his son changed his sheets. Horace longs to stretch his legs and his poor old skeleton, but it is hard to get up from that chair — his knees almost gave out last time. So he sits in his rickety chair for a little bit more.
Piano notes invade the room. Must be Charles. You can’t even tell it is his granddaughter’s fiancé playing with his quick fingers getting every note right. Not that Horace knows how to play himself, or understands anything about music, but songs just sound right whenever Charles plays. As if it isn’t him. Julia, that’s his youngest granddaughter, met him on the streets, of all places! He was busking, so he had heard, and she fell in love right then and there. He should have been at church, like him, and his father before him.
Horace gives the old knees another try, and is able to stand up. Without his cane, a mere prop for sympathy, he walks towards his bed and lays down with his feet up. He contemplates the ceiling and the bit of paint that is falling off from around the lamp. The room could do with a once over, but he can’t afford it. All of his pension money goes to his son, to pay for his insurance, medicine and house expenses. That was the agreement; if Horace wants to live there, he needs to contribute. So, dutifully, Horace pays for the electricity, water, heating and telephone — it doesn’t matter that he hasn’t made a phone call in fifteen years. Who is he going to telephone anyway?
Growing old makes you tired, sick and depressed. Horace is basically just waiting to die. Little by little, his life trickles out of his body and he can feel it. Nothing to complain about, though, that’s how things are supposed to be. When you’re young, you enjoy your youth and you work hard. Nobody wants you when you’re old and messing yourself. Nobody wants you when you need them. You can see your relatives fighting around you, as if you can’t hear or understand. Horace knows it is because of him. He knows his daughter-in-law can’t take any more of him living there; she wants him out. Frances doesn’t even look at him; it is as if he didn’t exist. Not that he misses her.
The carolling goes on and Horace remembers the tasty dinners his other daughter-in-law, Joanne, used to make. He couldn’t stand the woman but man, can she cook! Whenever Horace used to visit Peter, Joanne would cook delicious meals; things that Frances or his son Theodore would never dream of doing at home. They were clearly jealous of Joanne’s talents; Frances was jealous of how successful life seemed to be for Joanne and Peter, and Theodore was jealous of his brother for marrying such a wonderful woman.
Theodore didn’t care about his father; Horace knew that pretty well. The relationship was slightly better before Horace turned into a smelly invalid, when he could go out for his walks without fear of falling and breaking his shoulder (as he did two years ago). Horace hasn’t gone for a walk in eighteen months and seven days. He hasn’t left the house in eight months and twenty-seven days. The outside world is one dangerous and scary place.
Peter would sometimes ask his father about his health and that sort of thing, but they were not close after Peter moved away to University and never came back. Now Horace couldn’t care less if Peter was concerned or genuinely interested; all Horace wants is some money to help cover extra expenses, like food. Frances never cooks and is always on a diet. Because Theodore works long hours, the two row every night, hungrily, about how Frances has to cook his dinners for him after he slaves away all day at the factory. Horace can hear everything; their bedroom is next to his. Frances is small, with the most annoying ant-sounding voice; she squeaks about her diet and not wanting to cook for Theodore’s sick father, as it is, after all, his responsibility.
Staring at his battered wardrobe, Horace remembers all the bumps it got from moving from house to house through the years. He giggles quietly, thinking about how he played hide and seek with his sister, and the time he hid in it for two hours, making his mother cry desperately because she couldn’t find him. There was never a dull time at the farm. So much to do; like feed the chickens and pigs, milk the cows and help his father look after the crops.
Life on the farm was humble, simple, and yet, so fulfilling. Butter needed churning, meat needed curing and everywhere invited you to run and play. All seven siblings got along well and each had their job at the farm, contributing to the household as best they could. They didn’t go to school; life was the teacher of all things until it was time to join the military. That’s what you did in times of war, only hoping that you didn’t get called up for duty.
Horace’s television is on all the time and it flickers shadows on his face. Every night he takes pictures out of his wallet and looks through them in the dull light of the TV. Baby pictures of his grandchildren, pictures of his two sons and the only picture he has left of his late wife, Gerry. With a dry thumb, he caresses the picture and replays in his head the first time they met.
It was a sunny, blistering hot Sunday. Horace woke up early, gave himself a clean-cut shave and went to church as he always did. He sat at the back, as usual, because he liked to be able to see the church and everybody there as best he could. It was supposed to be another ordinary Sunday, except it wasn’t. The choir, he noticed, had a new singer, a young, plump girl, with dark curls and a big smile. It was all he could see for the rest of not, only that service, but every service after that.
The following Sunday, Horace sat on the first bench, directly in front of Gerry. She was even prettier up close. He arranged with the choir leader to be introduced. She seemed a shy and gentle girl with a light handshake.
Their courtship was brief and followed the formalities of the time. Within a year they were married and soon after, Gerry was pregnant with Peter. The birth nearly killed baby and mother. After five years Theodore came along but that birth was perfectly safe.
His eyes are focusing on the actors on the television – some generic old western film. The snow is falling heavily outside and now there are no noises coming from the other rooms. But Horace isn’t aware of the things around him as his thoughts are engulfed by everything he has ever experienced in life: all the births and deaths, friendships and fights. Another Christmas comes and goes without really making any difference.
This year is no different than the year before or the year before that. Life is this room, his old tattered books and the lives on the TV. It doesn’t matter if it is Christmas or New Year’s Eve or his birthday. Everyday is the same day. Is it worth it?
The candle goes out.