Footprints of the Past

I gaze out my bedroom window so very often. I sit upon my windowsill, watching the world quietly go by. I do this more so when I cry. Somehow, motionlessly sitting there like a statue staring out over everything makes me feel better. A while back I did this: I viewed the sleek, barren trees and the grey sky, with the dull light glistening upon the frost covering distant rooftops; and then I saw an old couple slowly walk by, arm in arm, wrapped up in their winter coats with scarves around their necks and hats upon their heads. There’s something about seeing old couples holding hands or linking arms – something so heart-warming, yet so bitter-sweet. Because that’s what we all want, deep down, isn’t it? To grow old with the one we love. Love is like a flower, so delicate and precious, but true love will never wither, no matter how old.

And then, for whatever reason, watching this old couple walk in the cold reminded me of something. In that moment, I relived one of the most beautifully simple moments of my life. Winter is by far my favourite season. I love it so, so much. Many beautiful memories of mine are from this time of year, and I am going to share one of them with you, in the form of creative writing. It’s only very simple, but I hope you enjoy it.

 Is anything ever truly lost if it lives on in our hearts? 

Footprints of the Past

© Jennifer K. Marsh 2013

They were the last to leave that night. As everyone else said their goodbyes, they lingered behind in the warmth of the main hall, putting away objects that belonged in the storage room. They did so slowly, idly chatting all the while – the definition of dallying – so that by the time they got around to dragging themselves into the entrance hall, there was no one else to be found. Everyone had gone. It was strange to hear such silence within those walls, for in the early evening that building was a bustling hive of action and enjoyment, but now it felt as though the walls themselves watched their every move, wondering when they were going to leave so it could finally rest its eyes for the night.

He reached for the coatrack, pulling off his scarf with one hand and passing Jenny her thin, black jacket with the other.

As Jenny put her jacket on, she gazed through the windows, though saw naught but her own reflection staring back, surrounded by a void of darkness. She turned her head back to see that he had wrapped his scarf around his neck, looking eager to leave. “Ready?” she asked him.

He nodded and turned the door handle, pushing with force to shift open its cumbersome weight, and held it open for Jenny to walk through.

She stepped out into the cold, winter’s night, instantly seeing the condensation of her breath puff in vast quantities before her. As she looked around through the deep shadows, she observed just how quiet it really was. Not a sound. No traffic, no people. Not even the soft whisper of a night-time breeze. That was, until, he released his grip on the door, for it brusquely slammed behind the both of them – as it always did; however, even that slight interruption of noise did not disturb the peaceful ambience of everything around them. How the winter always seemed to make the world stand still, as though the chill had frozen all around so as to be viewed like a picturesque picture.

“Corr, it’s cold,” he said, coming up beside her and rubbing his hands together.

She smiled. Every week this happened. Before they left to head for the building, they asked each other whether or not they would need a coat. ‘Nah,’ they always agreed, ‘We only live round the corner. It won’t be that cold.’ But, when it came to heading home hours later, it was that cold. Yet, they never seemed to learn. “We don’t have far to go,” she replied. As she made her way up the steps in between the grassy knolls, she soaked up the orange glow of a nearby streetlamp as if its illumination were a tender fire warming any who passed by it. When she reached the top of the steps, she turned back to face he who was still before the door, gesturing with both her arms up and down the hill. “Which way are we walking?” she asked.

He pointed up the hill as he quickly threw himself up the steps.

Jenny lowered her arms, frowning ever so discreetly as he stood but inches from her. “But it takes longer to get home that way.”

“Exactly,” he bluntly replied while walking away from her, heading up the hill.

Jenny’s frown was now fully established on her features, riddled with misunderstanding. “But I thought you were cold,” she said as she took a few brisk strides to catch up with him.

He shrugged, saying nothing.

“Surely, if you’re cold, you’d want to get home quicker.”

“I’ll survive,” he said.

Jenny spoke nothing more of the matter. As they walked side by side, she folded her arms and hunched her shoulders, trying to keep out the cold as best she could. They were horribly underdressed for such a temperature, yet even so, it was not unbearable. She glanced at him in his grey jumper and dark striped scarf, walking with his arms freely by his side. Considering he was the one who mentioned the cold in the first place, he did not seem to be affected by it. He never seemed to be bothered by the cold. Sometimes she thought he could walk around bare-chested and still not feel winter’s nippy bite.

As they continued to walk up the hill, chattering away about nothing in particular, something so delicate, so simple, interrupted their speech and movement. A lone, little snowflake floated down to the ground before them, and they watched it gently sway down until it landed upon the pavement they trod, and a tiny pinprick of white lay still. They both looked at each other, soundless, before simultaneously looking up into the deep sky. And, just like that, the clouds burst and white flakes flurried down, like dusting icing sugar over the sweetest of cakes. The snow softly landed on the skin of their faces like little frozen kisses, and their touch could be felt long after they had melted away. They looked back at each other with smiles bright and mirth beaming from their eyes.

“I didn’t know we were due snow,” Jenny said.

His smile stayed strong, and they continued walking onwards.

They reached where the hill flattened out, and Jenny found herself casting her eyes downwards to her feet, watching the blobs of snow settle on the street. She looked back up, seeing the swirling white increase, tumbling down with more vigour. “It’s quite heavy,” she stated, looking at him. “Do you reckon it’ll settle properly?”

“Looks like it,” he replied, gazing around.

Jenny followed his gaze: the road, the bushes, the low walls, the parked cars – all did indeed have a good sprinkle of white upon them. “Snow often makes me think of our driveway,” she quietly spoke, as though speaking aloud a thought that was never meant to be heard.

He gave her a peculiar look. “Why?”

She chuckled slightly. “Because it’s always a nightmare when it’s snowy. You know how steep it is, and when the snow’s been trodden down and it’s slippery, it’s like trying to hike up a mountain! And then getting down it, you might as well just go down on your bum, ’cause you’ll only end up on it anyway. It’s a sheet of ice on a hill! How no one’s ever broken their leg, I don’t know. It’s a serious health and safety hazard, that driveway.”

He laughed for a while, and when this laughter had died down, he responded with a musing, “Yeah.” He smirked, with merriment shining in his eyes. “I should get you a sled for Christmas.” But before Jenny even had a chance to respond, he glanced behind him, over his shoulder, and made a sound of awe.

“What?” Jenny asked.

He stopped, turning his body around so he was facing the opposite way. “Look,” he softly spoke, his smile fading so as to be replaced by a face of quiet wonder and deep reflection.

Jenny too halted, turning around, and was so moved by the beauty of what her eyes beheld that she could find no words to say, as though the cold air had frozen her tongue and stolen her breath away.

They stood there, silent and motionless, for what felt like an everlasting age, revering this scene for all its understated and fragile beauty; it was as though they feared any movement or speech would shatter the glass of this perfect picture so that it would fall from both memory and time forever. They gazed down the street: the orange glow of the streetlamps only lit small areas, but the light was enough to make the fallen snow glimmer under the night, and the dark shadows hugged the outlines of all which was unilluminated so as to prove to the world that not all darkness is sinister. And as the snow fell swiftly in the spotlight, it continued to paint the world white, and they stared down the length of the pavement to see two pairs of dark footprints side by side. Their footprints. In that moment they appreciated how special – how truly magical – snow was, for nothing else so meek had the power to silence the noisy and hectic world. Perhaps, there really was magic in the little snowflakes, for how else could the cold spark a fire whereby the flames of enchantment, mystery, and immeasurable beauty merge to flare into one so as to make all burn with life?

Finally, he found it in himself to speak once more. “The first footprints in the snow,” he said quietly, though due to the silence of all around, it was quite loud enough. He looked to Jenny and smiled warmly. “Ours.”

Jenny returned a faint smile, yet soon turned her gaze away so as to view the footprints once more. Somehow, she felt detached from this moment, as though it were too precious for the likes of her to experience; to her, those footprints were not theirs, but rather like two ghosts had been following them. Or maybe they were the footprints of Old Man Winter and Jack Frost, walking together to delight them with a white night. She looked down to her feet, and out the corner of her eye saw the closest footprints gradually start to fill in with more settling snow. She watched this for a moment: these first footprints were such a fleeting thing, for soon the snow would cover them forever, hiding a story, a life, a time. Of how many secrets would winter never tell? Not knowing how to respond, she looked back to him, smiling stronger than before, as winter’s mystery and allure had charmed her greatly. And she saw his eyes sparkle, as merry as ever.

“How romantic,” said he.

“It is,” agreed Jenny. “It’s like a film.”

He chuckled. “You know,” he started, turning his body to face her, “if I proposed to you now, there’s no way you could refuse.”

She raised her brow, but mirth burst from her features. He was right, though – how could any girl refuse? The snow, the night, the peace, the footprints: if this were not a scene of love and beauty, what would be? “Couldn’t I?” she smirked.

“You couldn’t. No one could, unless they had a heart of stone.”

“I think you’re right,” she said.

He took hold of both her hands, clasping them in his. A cold touch seeping through her skin. “Jenny,” he said, with a sincere expression and tender eyes: “will you marry me?”

Jenny laughed, ricocheting through the silent night, so jolly and bright. And then he laughed, alike she, so that their laughter travelled like music on the wind. “You’re an idiot,” she spoke while freeing her hands from his grasp and playfully bashing his arm.

In his dying chuckles, he put his arm around her shoulder, and they continued on their way home.

And as they walked together, leaving the first marks on untouched snow, the flakes ever fell to conceal their steps so that they became nothing but a distant memory. The footprints of the past. Though, little did they know, they were treading these footprints directly on their hearts.

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14 responses to “Footprints of the Past

"What does your heart tell you?" - ToO, chpt. 32

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