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Winter Houses

from warm to cold, from cold to warm

Mike Paulus, illustrated by Shannon Sorenson

Winter houses. Lonely walls standing up squarely against the snow and the gasping cold. Our walls. Our houses. And us inside them.

What are we doing in here? Watching the screens or reading the books. Talking to our kids or washing our heavy clothes. Taking showers. Making lists of food to go buy. Laughter and worry. Boredom and love. Inside our houses in the wintertime.

In these cold months, usually there is time to be quiet. Time to wonder about what comes next. Or just think about now. Think about breathing. Think about your heart pumping and pumping. Think about how much sleep you got the night before.

Think about how bright the moon shines on the snowy yard outside your ice cold windows.

Outside the wind is moving around our houses, filling up the streets and the spaces between the trees. It’s quiet. It’s all on its own in this world.

We have bright kitchens and dim rooms for the family to gather. We have bedrooms and blankets. We have a furnace for warmth.

I think my neighbor leaves his TV on all hours of the night. Blue light shimmering in the dark rooms across the frozen yards. Maybe he’s forgetful. Maybe that’s the comfort he needs to live in that house. To fall asleep each night.

Maybe some nights I wake up with a dry throat, and so I lumber out to the kitchen sink and see stuff like my neighbor’s TV. Halfway back to bed I remember a song I loved years and years ago. It was everything. I remember how I played it over and over until listening to it became a chore. Maybe it’s time to listen again, I think. Maybe it’ll sound good again.

By morning I forget any of this ever happened. Time for scraping the windshield. Time for dropping my daughter off at school. Today there are sun dogs on the horizon, standing silent over our houses, over the banks downtown, and over the highways beyond. I steal glances up at the sky, but I gotta keep my eyes on the slippery streets. I have places to be.

Down Vine Street I go past rows and rows of houses. I’ve driven past these houses forever. Since I was a kid, riding next to my mom in the wintertime. Layers of snow on the rooftops, ice in the gutters, smoke in the chimneys.

Today I wonder about the people inside and how they feel about winter. Are they thinking about their hearts and about moonshine on snow? Are they closing their eyes and breathing in deep so they can feel their lungs expand in their chests? Do they have more important things to do?

Do they hate the snow and how the air stings their skin?

I’ve read about how the cold, dry wintertime air makes for dazzling sunsets because there’s less dust and moisture floating around to dull the colors. And the angle of the sun this time of year causes longer lasting displays. More oranges and purples. More time to stand in the parking lot after work staring at the sky as your breath clouds out around you and your fingertips freeze. You think you’d like to mention today’s sunset to your family. How pretty it was.

You pull up in front of your house and scuffle up the driveway. You pop open the door to a bubble of warm air, and maybe you’ve got a dog or a cat that needs to be fed. Maybe you struggle out of your coat and step out of your boots into a chilly puddle of water someone left by the rug. And maybe by now you’ve forgotten that pretty sunset ever happened.

It’s all right. That’s how winter is.

Our walls. Our houses. And us inside them.