The summer you gave me has frozen over inside an empty flat. Black on blue like the bruises insomnia leaves below my eyes. The flat is the barren plain where scraps of scrub grow resilient to the weather which beckons their death. The shabby forms of five writers sit on the shelf above the television set which is fuzzy and speaking only in tongues. Icicles form stalactites below the broad shelf, the scuffed shoes of the writers dangling as they look to each other for an answer to the question my eyebrows pose.
Jack scrapes grit from his boot with a dirty finger.
“I know the most about this winter. This icesheet. But why should I help someone who has condemned me as tired cliches your young self believed in?”
He looks at Gabriel.
“No pedestal for me when sat next to him. But I make you write don’t I? Because you think you can do better. With him you tremble with love and forget the plot.”
Gabriel said nothing. He grinned at me warmly. His face was weatherbeaten and tanned. But a tan in the light of winter looks a strange and suspicious thing. His teeth were crumbling, the more he smiled the more they slipped from his mouth like sand. His dark eyes held a love and sadness that made my heart break. That simultaneously brought value to what I felt and devalued it as trivial nonsense.
Margaret is reading. A shabby old leather-bound book, the title so faded that I can’t make it out.
“Margaret,” Jack says. “Surely you have an opinion? Like me you always do.”
Margaret lowers her reading spectacles with a long finger and peers at me and then over at Jack. They look like the construction workers hanging over New York City in that famous photo. Smiles and lunch boxes, legs dangling into the metropolitan abyss. But Margaret is the tallest and the only one who doesn’t wear a hat.
“Are you making this political, Jack? You’re not always subtle.”
Jack pointed to a spider shivering in is cobwebbed lair. “I don’t make it. It’s just the shape it comes. The pieces just fit together what the picture says is up to you.”
Margaret chuckled wisely and turned to me. “Make of that what you will!”
Her voice is clipped. American English. Two Americans and one Latin American. And what of the others? Who are the mystery pair in shadow on the end of the shelf? The whites of their eyes faintly visible in the gloom as they study the cold room with puzzlement.
“Why is it winter in here and summer outside?” I ask aloud this time. My voice shakes as though my vocal chords are wired up to a distortion pedal. as though the frog in my throat is a snake’s rattle.
The distortion moves around the room, latching onto other sounds which gather like a storm until the writers’ voices are lost. The creaks of the house become shrieks. The slight hiss of electricity becomes a mass. The spider scuttles to safety. Time folds up on itself like origami crushed under foot. And inside the folded pages I hold my ears and cower, waiting for the end.