The Path in the Darkness
Each snowflake is different. That’s what they teach everyone at school – you can never find two snowflakes that would be identical. And yet, once its miraculous but desperate waltz in the air is over, once this little filigree piece of ice touches the ground, it can never be distinguished from thousands – even millions – of other snowflakes. This is why you have to catch it in the air while it is still dancing to the music the wind whispers softly while caressing each snowflake separately. While it still has its very own unique soul.
Jonathan stretched his hand out, letting the snow fall into his cold, dry gloveless hand. He knew it that a second later it would turn into bright and sparkling water drops, and yet he could not help hoping that it will choose to remain in the form of snowflakes. As if it had this choice. As if Jonathan had the same choice in his life.
The snow was slowly wrapping the park with the soft crackly and scintillating blanket, decorating the trees, among which the crows croaked scowlingly, and serpentine pathways, on which the white fuzzy carpet was not laid with footsteps yet, and the bench, on which Jonathan was sitting, his frowning face disrupting an idyll of the December morning. The park was submerged into stillness, the stillness which can only exist during the snowfall. The stillness so bright and colorful, that it seemed to complement the gentle beauty of the winter park.
The beauty Jonathan was destined not to see for the rest of his life.
He lifted a small amateur camera that lay beside his right leg and clicked the button, capturing the scenery in front of him. He smiled for a second, embraced by a soft feeling of a camera in his hands. The feeling that comforted him through the years by creating an impassable barrier between the real world and his perception. The feeling that made him rush thoughtlessly towards a burning house, in which a kitten was sitting on a flaming windowsill, or into the gory battle, where the blooded soldier was passing a crumpled envelope to his comrade-in-arms with shaking hands. The feeling that gave him an illusion of sight, only to take it away a second later.
Jonathan dropped the camera on the bench, sitting back and folding his arms. He was not going to develop the pictures. He did not do that anymore. Whenever the film ran out, he merely took it out and threw away, to the pile of similar lifeless and pointless objects.
He was used to viewing the world through the camera lens, and now the lens was broken, and so was his life.
He saw a lot of suffering, but his own tragedy caught him flatfooted.
Jonathan kneaded his hands, and started searching for the cellphone in one of the pockets of his huge untidy jacket. Having grasped the cold piece of plastic, he hesitated for a moment. He knew he had to dial the number, but he was not sure he got the date right. However, his fingers solved the dilemma, starting to press the firm buttons automatically, submitting to the habit he adopted years ago. This custom traced back to the times when he dialed this number several times a day, telling that despite the whizzing missiles, or the flu pandemic, or even the tornado frenzy, he was still fine. He was OK. He was unharmed.
Several seconds had passed before the person on the other end of the line responded, but Jonathan felt as if these seconds stretched for centuries.
‘I’m fine,’ he said, once he heard a tense greeting. ‘I’m OK. I’m still alive, and nothing happened.’
Jonathan heard the woman on the other end starting to cry.
‘I asked you not to say that anymore,’ she sobbed. ‘I asked you to stop calling. Why are you doing this to me? You died, Jonathan. Even Cathy thinks you are dead.’
‘I was hoping to talk to her. It’s her birthday after all.’
Jonathan’s teeth chattered, making his speech mumbled and hard to understand. Suddenly he realized he was sitting on the bench for hours, barely moving, and the cold of the morning used its chance to sneak under his clothes and stun him in its sturdy grip.
‘Cathy’s birthday is in four days,’ the woman replied testily. ‘Are you drunk again, Jonathan? I told you not to call me when you are drunk.’
‘I quit drinking seven months ago,’ the man muttered quietly, hanging up the phone.
Jonathan closed his eyes, and then laughed grievously. Sheer darkness awaited him on both sides of his eyelids for more than five years, but the habit has remained.
The voice of his wife still reverberated in his ears, bringing out memories Jonathan desperately wished to conceal. This voice was the first thing he remembered after the piercing rasp of metal and sound of a breaking glass, which accompanied the accident he got into. This voice tried so hard to fill in the emptiness that settled in his delirious mind, but it couldn’t. And when Jonathan started drinking, it was not long before the voice was gone, and so was the voice of Cathy, the sweetest little person, whose cherubic face now looked at Jonathan from hundreds of pictures.
‘What are you doing here?’ the stillness of the park was abruptly broken by the thin voice of a little girl, who now stood near the bench. Jonathan realized he was so deep in his thoughts he did not even notice the girl approaching, although snow crackle probably gave her away as she was walking towards a lonely man.
‘Why do you have sunglasses on?’ she rubbernecked, starting to jump merrily around Jonathan’s wooden seat. ‘I thought you only had to wear them in summer.’
‘I have to wear them all the time,’ Jonathan responded. ‘Although I don’t really need them. I cannot see.’
‘Oh,’ she stopped for a second, and looked carefully at the man. ‘Then why do you have a camera with you?’
Has it been anyone else, who asked him this question, Jonathan would be offended. But the ingeniousness with which she wondered about the camera made him smile as he replied:
‘This is the only way I know I am still alive. I only live while I take pictures.’
‘Why?’ the girl asked him, her silver voice full of surprise.
Jonathan sighed, suddenly realizing he has never told anyone his whole story. About his success, and how his photographs were still exhibited in numerous museums, and all the dangers he had to go through when he wanted to take a picture, and how he once went to the public enemy and saw a six-year-old boy defending his pregnant mother with what he thought was the best weapon he had – a wooden plank with a nail sticking from it. He was telling the little girl how painful it was to lose everything you live for, when she interrupted him, saying:
‘What about your daughter? Don’t you love her anymore?’
Jonathan was taken aback by the question, and said nothing in response. Then the little took him by the hand, saying: ‘Come. I know something you will like.’
To his own surprise, Jonathan obeyed, allowing the little girl to guide the way for him.
‘I will be your eyes for a little bit,’ she said, and Jonathan could swear she was beaming.
They walked for more than half an hour, and the man could hear the cars passing by and people chattering as they passed them. Finally, the little girl stopped, and Jonathan heard the sound of the door opening, accompanied by the tinkling of a little bell. As the man stepped into the room, a strange smell of plastic, wood and polish filled his nostrils. Various sounds resided in the room, and Jonathan could clearly distinguish muffled voices and plunks of strings.
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‘Oh, hi, Rosie! You are back early today,’ a woman addressed the little girl, who answered with a joyous chuckle.
‘I’m here with a friend, mom,’ she said. ‘I want him to hear something.’
And the little girl pulled on Jonathan’s sleeve and dragged him along.
‘Stand here,’ she uttered busily, moving away from Jonathan.
And then he heard it. The little girl was sitting at the piano, diligently playing a simple but charming melody. Jonathan recognized it at once, Cathy used to sing it all the time as she was playing with her favorite stuffed elephant. He hadn’t heard the song for years, and he was sure he forgot it, but the words emerged from the depth of his memory almost immediately, and he quietly began to sing along with his thick voice.
‘I knew you would like it,’ the little girl claimed once the song was over. ‘I think I know what you can do now.’
She ran away for a minute, returning with a large object she was carrying with panting.
‘Here,’ she said. ‘I will teach you to play this song.’
And she thrusted this object, which turned out to be a guitar, into Jonathan’s hands. The man took a minute to hold the instrument, feeling the fingerboard and inhaling the sweet smell of polished wood, when he suddenly remembered that he left the camera in the park.
‘I hope you are a good teacher, Rosie, because I am one lousy student,’ he replied jokingly.
The new feeling excited him, but he was sure he would get through. After all, he had as many as four days before his first performance.