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The Unwritten Rule of Winter

Barry Garelick

Years ago in winter when there was still static on the ground, I guess. When walking across a room generated electricity in your body and shocked you when you touched a metal doorknob. We played a game outside in the cold without saying a word. It was at a time when kids were playing hockey on the icy tundra that the side streets became during winter. We were kids, boy and girl. I was eight and you were seven. We never played nor talked with each other in winter; it was our unwritten rule of winter.

It was years ago in winter, when someone might say “Look that way” and point somewhere and when you looked where they were pointing they would throw snow down your neck. It was when snow was still on the ground when we were tired of the snow. That’s when we met that day in winter. You were Patricia but you went by Patty.

We both wore heavy winter coats that day. I had a hat with flaps to keep my ears warm, and wool gloves that became waterlogged when I played with snow, so that my hands would be frozen. You didn’t have a hat on but you had gloves.

We walked down to the end of the block closest to my house. You lived at the other end of the block. It was a journey to walk from one end of the block to the other in winter, but easier in the spring when we could ride our bikes. Our bikes were parked at the end of our driveways, by the gate that led to our backyards. Not many houses came with garages then. The snow piled up on our bikes and we wondered if we would ever ride them again, thinking that the cold and the snow would destroy them. But they always survived.

We walked to the end of the street and turned the corner and came to the alley that was common to our street and the street behind us. It was a dirty, weed filled, muddy alley in the warm months, and an icy pathway in the winter. There was a storm drain where the alley intersected with the side street we were on. I saw a small rock which I kicked toward the storm drain. It went beyond the drain and you went on the other side and kicked it back. It was closer to the drain now, and the two of us took turns kicking the stone ever closer to the grates until it finally fell through. That’s when it happened. We both smiled as if we had crossed a barrier, but true to our rule we didn’t say a word. And then we went back to our houses.

Your mother was blind from multiple sclerosis and seemed grouchy whenever I saw her. Your father was a pharmacist who worked downtown and who you would greet effusively when he drove his car up the driveway to the gate of your backyard at the end of the day. Both our fathers fought in World War Two. We were the youngest in our families, and we played with the little kids on our block – the two and three year olds.

We played together until I was twelve and then we somehow went different ways. When I was sixteen I saw you walking to the high school on a winter day, bent over in the face of the snow coming down. You were too far ahead of me for me to catch up with you. I wondered how you were doing; whether your mother was still alive, whether you were happy or now burdened with the thoughts of whether you were pretty enough, or popular enough. You were hunched over and I wondered about all that. I wondered if we would have talked to each other had I caught up with you, and what we would have talked about. Or would the unwritten rule still be in effect?

I tried looking you up on Google but all I could find was your Facebook page. You still go by Patty, and your hair is now red, or maybe it always was and I didn’t notice. You have your maiden name in parentheses. There is nothing on your page, no way to “friend," no way to send a message.

If we met I wonder what we would talk about. Would you remember the two of us kicking the stone into the storm drain in the middle of winter, neither of us saying a word? Or the time you chased me with a fly swatter in front of your house, your older sister watching us from the porch, and your other older sister watching us from her upstairs bedroom window. Or the time I learned to ride a bike using your small twenty-inch Huffy. My feet reached the ground and I could keep myself from falling.

Would you remember standing next to the chimney at the side of your house one day in the summer? We looked up at the clouds moving across the sky while keeping the top of the chimney in view. It felt like the house and the ground we were standing on were moving and the clouds were standing still. We held on to the chimney for dear life as the house sped along on its journey.


Would we talk about what we’ve done, people we knew? The people who died, the people we loved, hated, and those we hardly knew but wondered about? It would be a conversation in which, in the end, none of what we said would matter much. What would matter was that we were part of each other’s childhoods – its rituals, mysteries and unwritten rules.

I was not in love with you but I loved you. In the warm months when we talked, and in the cold winter months when we did not.

Barry Garelick has fiction published in The Globe Review, Cafe Lit and Fiction on the Web. His non-fiction pieces have been published in Atlantic, and Education Next. He lives in Morro Bay, California with his wife.
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