Winter Roses

by Paul Sullivan

“Winter is for memories,” Miss Beth reflected.

Miss Millie looked up at her sister’s old face. “That’s melancholy. Did you just make it up?”

“No. I read it. A very long time ago. I don’t remember where. But I remember reading it. Even if it wasn’t exactly like that.”

“Who wrote it?”

“No one wrote it. I think they said it was anonymous.”

“If you read it, someone must have wrote it,” said Millie.

Beth moved the cat from her lap and got up from the chair. “It’s anonymous,” she insisted. “I remember that clearly.”

“Nothing is truly anonymous,” Millie informed her.

Beth went to the window. The winter light crossed the room and lay across the chair to hurt her eyes when she was reading. She closed the curtain so the bright sun wouldn’t reflect off the snow.

As she was turning back, Millie insisted, “Not all the way. I like to see the snow on the trees and bushes.”

Beth opened the curtains back to where they were, then closed them just a little. She looked at her sister and waited. “That’s fine,” Millie said.

Beth returned to her chair near the fireplace. The large cat jumped back on her lap and curled into a ball. She stroked him, almost from habit, running the thin fingers of her hand the length of his body, picking the book up with her free hand. Enough light still came through the window to bother her eyes, but she said nothing about it. She just looked away from it as she read, the lines deepening on her face as she started to concentrate again, the sun turning her thinning hair a soft silver. She adjusted the book in her hand with the cat curling tighter below. She looked up once, as the wind rattled the window glass.

As Beth read Millie studied the day outside. A bright, sunny day. Windy and cold. The earth covered with a hard snow from days before. The bare limbs of the trees icy silver and gray, dancing with the wind. Millie watched them moving. Gentle spirits. Restless souls. She turned to Beth and asked, “Why did you say that?”

“Say what?”

About memories, and winter, and such?”

“I was remembering,” Beth said, as if Millie should have realized. She was quiet then. Reading again. Waiting almost a full minute for Millie to ask what it was she was remembering. But Millie asked nothing. It was annoying. Beth was trying to read but her mind was waiting for the question. Finally, Beth said, “I was remembering that winter day when John brought home that big car. The big Lincoln with the four doors and the spare tire on the trunk.”

Millie thought about it. “Yes. I remember,” she said. “But it was a Packard. A cream colored Packard.”

“It was ivory. And I’m certain it was a Lincoln,” Beth insisted.

“They don’t make Packards anymore,” Millie reflected. “I think that was the last one. Our brother sure loved that car. I remember it well.” Then she added, thoughtfully, “He got stuck in the snow that day. Down at the bottom of the hill. And the man from the garage had to pull him out. He had that young soldier with him. What was his name?”

“Daniel.”

“Donald, I think.”

“Daniel.”

“John had picked him up on the highway. He was hitching home on leave and got caught in the storm.”

“His name was Daniel. He was a sailor, and he was returning to his ship.”

“He stayed the night with us,” Millie recalled.

“Yes. He did,” said Beth. She stroked the cat. “I remember that well.” And she added, “I remember he played chess with father. And mother made a big meal. Mother went all out because the boy was in the service and she thought it was the proper thing to do.”

“John was in the service, too,” Millie said. “That was part of mother’s reasoning.”

“No. John hadn’t enlisted yet. That was at the beginning of the war.”

“John was home on leave,” said Millie.

“Not when he bought the car. I was seventeen the year

he bought the car,” Beth informed her.

“And I was nineteen when he came home from the Pacific. You don’t forget what happened when you were nineteen.”

“You don’t even remember what color the car was.”

“I remember.”

“Your memory is going,” Beth said. “A withering rose.”

She picked up the book. Picking it up so quickly the cat leaped off her lap. She started to read again, or pretended to read. The cat moved across the floor to curl up in the strip of sun falling through the window. The warmest spot on the carpet. “I remember a lot more than you do,” Millie whispered, but not quite loud enough to be heard.

Beth had decided to ignore her.

Millie said, “I remember what color Donald’s eyes were.”

Beth pretended not to hear. She turned a page.

“Gray.”

Beth turned another page, much quicker than she could possibly have read the last.

“A very sensitive gray. A very feeling gray.”

Beth sighed. She shook her head. “Blue,” she corrected.

“Blue-gray.”

“Blue. A very warm, blue.” She fixed the book in her lap and tried to concentrate.

For a long time Millie was quiet and Beth got back to her reading. She allowed her eyes to shift a few times, just to make certain Millie hadn’t fallen off to sleep. Millie had recently acquired the habit of drifting away in the afternoon and Beth had come to expect it. But to her surprise her sister’s eyes were wide open. Millie was gazing at the snow on the trees. And though her head would drop slightly on occasion, she appeared to be a long way from sleep. She was deep in thought. Beth read on.

Finally, Millie said, “Whatever did happen to that Packard? It was such a nice car.”

Miss Beth lowered her book. “Lincoln,” she corrected. “Mother sold it after our father died.”

“That was a long time to keep a car,” Millie reflected.

“The day the telegram came, telling us about John, Father went out and locked the garage. No one ever drove that car after that. Not for twenty years. Don’t you remember?”

“Yes. Of course. I just forgot. Anyway, I was really thinking about John. How old he would be had he lived.”

Beth didn’t reply. Lowering the book, she was adding the years. 1944, age twenty-four, plus sixty. “Eighty-four this winter.”

Millie said nothing.

“Yes. Eighty-four.” Beth had run the math a second time to be certain.

Millie was quiet, then she said, “A man shouldn’t die at twenty-four.”

“No.” Beth slipped a marker into the book and closed it thoughtfully. She gazed out the window at the snow and the trees. The sun had moved and the light no longer bothered her eyes. “No,” she said. “That’s much too young.”

Millie nodded her head a little. “You remember how Father always said our lives are written in a book?”

“Yes,” Beth said. “Father always claimed our lives were written in a great book long before we were born.”

“I think Father truly believed that,” Millie said. “But I never did.”

“Well, it’s okay not to believe it,” said Beth. Beth was getting uncomfortable with the conversation. She didn’t like thinking back about things like her brother’s death, or that horrible war long ago. It was okay to think about the Lincoln and even the young sailor after such a long time. But not all that other stuff that went with it. Beth wanted to take the book up and read again, but she knew her sister wouldn’t be quiet long enough to allow it. She thought of going into the other room, but she really didn’t want to be alone either. Being alone bothered her lately.

The sun had drifted leaving the cat in shadows. So now the cat moved, crossing the room to lay by Millie’s feet. Millie took a shawl from the arm of the chair and covered her legs. The cat licked its paws and wiped its face.

“That must be from a poem,” Millie said thoughtfully, turning to Beth.

“What?” Beth asked.

“About winter and memories.”

“I don’t know. It was anonymous.”

“I’m sure it’s from a poem.” Millie said firmly. “It just sounds like something from a poem.”

Beth gave up on the thought of reading. She sat for a long time quietly. Then she sighed heavily and looked directly at her sister. “Did you ever get a letter?”

“Letter? From whom?”

“The sailor.”

“No. Of course not.”

Beth said nothing. She was certain Millie was lying.

“What a silly question,” Millie said after a moment. “Why should I get a letter?” She pulled the shawl up a little more, up to her lap. After that she was quiet until she could take the quiet no more. Then she sighed and looked directly at Beth. “Did you get a letter?”

Beth took a long time in answering. She could feel Millie waiting, moving forward in her chair. Finally Beth replied, “No. Of course not. And why would I expect one?”

Millie leaned back. She was certain Beth was lying.

The cat rolled on its side and stretched out. The wind rattled the window glass. Beth opened her book and started to read again. After a long time Millie’s eyes closed.


Paul Sullivan was born in Trenton, NJ. Raised in Tennessee he enjoyed a boyhood of camping, fishing and hunting with his father who encouraged in him a love for books and education. A published author of 10 novels and a collection of short stories, he has traveled around the world, gathering a wealth of stories to tell and now resides in Bristol, PA.

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