Shards of Memory

The light steps of John O’Malley sank into the thick, muting cushion of snow without the faintest snatch of sound. The flakes settled softly in his wake, swirling flurries of a gentle blindness, slowly, sweetly tucking away all slips of sound in the deep caress of forgotten dreams. The late hours of evening had yet to pass over the day, and O’Malley’s worn leather soles, peeling and brown-black from the snow, halted their steady procession, paused, and settled their weight firmly to both feet, as their owner craned his head, one hand subconsciously clutching an old tweedy hat to his head, as he stared, squinty eyed through the snow at the large, red “Condemned” letters spelled out across the cracked and dusty windows of the old building. Marked out against the expansive white banks, the fresh new sign peered out from the midst of swirling snow flurries as a trace of unwanted color, in a world comfortably black and white.

A stray, still form in the midst of bustling bodies, collars up to the chin, cheeks flushed with cold, eyes beady and black, O’Malley painted a queer picture in the middle of the shabby street, an oddly clear figure frozen in time, surrounded by the grey-blurred outlines of rushing passerby. Stepping closer to the building, the sound of his own footsteps crunching in the snow seemed suddenly more solid, and, as he pressed a weathered hand to the frozen bricks of the towering old Grand Hotel before him, a shiver ran down his spine, an empty echo sounded down the street.

Hours, or perhaps minutes later he still sat, hunched against the rough stone wall, his patched, wet coat drawn up to his ears, his once fine face paled with the cold, tinged blue around the eyes and lips, pale blue eyes sunken deep into their sockets, fine wrinkles the only outline of what had once been. He had placed his hat before him, weighted with rocks to keep it from being blown away, and as he sat half in, half out of the world, a man who had once opened doors to him dropped a coin in his hat without looking at him. O’Malley remembered that man, the superb quality of his tailored suit, the look of respect in his eyes, the way his eyebrows lifted in barely concealed surprise, the quirk of his mouth as though unsure whether he was permitted to smile. But perhaps it had only been a dream after all…the days of golden arches , of strings of pearls wrapped around swanlike necks, of glittering jewels presented for his, the largest, grandest parties, the awed whispers of his hotel, present under even the most insincere and same-standard cordialities. Black Thursday as it was called had shattered those dreams…or begun them, for reality now faded into sublime, and sublime faded away with the snow.

The next morning an irritated demolition worker leapt angrily from his crane to see what had caused the delay, cursing as he pushed through the small crowd of workers around the condemned building. He stopped as he saw a man curled and small at the base of the old hotel, and paused. Soon however, the crowd dispersed, grew disinterested, resumed their tasks, and with the aid of a couple fellow workers, the body was hosted unceremoniously down an alley way, and buried in a makeshift grave of snow. As the building fell in crumbling ruin, and the carefully crafted might of the hotel crashed to the ground, empty echoes streamed down the snow-muted streets, lost on the ears of the deaf-toned passerby.

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