I was thirteen and the sleet stung my cheeks like tiny bees.
When Dad told us kids to get in the car, there was no arguing.
We weren’t stupid. Neither was Mom.
Never mind it was Christmas afternoon, and our toys and gifts
lay scattered about begging to be played with, worn
or at least looked at before the shiny newness lost its allure.
Never mind there were dishes left to wash from the holiday dinner,
a tablecloth crying out for soda water to rinse a cranberry sauce stain.
The turkey wishbone, too, lay intact, no time for make believe.
We grabbed our coats and piled into the Oldsmobile, us three in the back seat,
curious but quiet little mice. We knew how to make ourselves small,
a survival skill minus the badge for my Girl Scout sash.
Dad took the George Washington across the river, and my heart
did that flutter dance thing when I imagined we were going to skate
at Rockefeller Center under the glittering lights of the Christmas tree.
But we drove right past the rink, as Dad had other plans.
The streets were changelings now, no bright lights and fur-wrapped people,
no smiling neon signs welcoming us to eat or window-shop.
It was like the color drained from a fresh painting left out in the rain—
all that was left was a gray-black mess, a darkness that felt scary and dangerous.
I held the little hands of my brother and sister.
Dad slowed the car— we had arrived. We circled the block, following the line of men
that wrapped all the way around. In too-thin coats and ragged caps,
they shivered and stomped their feet, but the sleet stole all the warmth.
Dad said, “This is the Bowery. These men are waiting for their Christmas dinner.
I want you to remember what you see here.” We drove home in desolate silence,
except for Mom’s sniffling in the front seat. I knew she didn’t have a cold.
Ann Weil is a retired teacher and professor from Ann Arbor, Michigan. When not writing poetry, she can be found in the lotus position pretending to meditate. Her work can be read in The Ekphrastic Review, Poetry Quarterly, American Writer’s Review, The Voices Project, and many other publications. To learn more, visit www.annweilpoetry.com.
© 2020, Ann Weil