Her nose is red from the cold, and her cheeks and her lips are red, but I mostly notice her nose because it’s red enough to remind me of, you know, that one song.
“Oh, oh, I know that one,” she says. “Rudolph!”
No, I groan. Oh, please don’t start singing again. We are standing on the steps outside a Tim Hortons—well, she’s standing, leaning against the railing with her Rudolph-red nose, and I’m sitting, elbows on knees and hands clasped over my mouth—and I swear she’s been singing for the past hour. People enter and exit the restaurant and give us funny looks, but neither of us see them, or, well, I don’t see them right now but those looks they give us will bob up to the surface of my memory later when I am warm and alone again.
She doesn’t sing Rudolph.
“Come they told me, duh la la la la,” she sings, trailing her fingers across the icy metal railing. “A newborn king to see, duh la la la loo. Our bloodied hands we bring, ah ho ho ho ho. Because the king needs legs, duh la la la la la, rum bum bum bum bum. Ha-ah-ah-a.”
She stops, frowns. She’s never gotten around to finishing a song.
“Doesn’t sound right somehow, does it?” She sighs. “I could’ve sworn it was right, though, you know.”
Oh, I don’t know. Seems all right to me. Seems fine.
Her face unclouds.
Oh jeez. She’s unstuck her fingers from the railing, raking them through her hair which the frosty, coffee-shop-fragrant wind keeps whipping across her face, and her mouth’s opening again, so, so ready. Ah jeez.
“Deck the halls with boils of jolly, painted blue, painted blue, painted blue.”
Her eyes cross as she watches a snowflake that swirls around in the air in front of her face and lands on her nose, and I reach up a mittened hand to brush it away, but my arms really aren’t that long—that’d be freak-ish, I suppose, wouldn’t it?—and so she laughs and flicks it off herself.
“Let’s go buy another song book later,” she says, straightening, bouncing on the balls of her feet, words floating away from her voice and up into the sky. “For carols and stuff.”
Put your hands into your pockets or something, I say. Your fingers are gonna fall off and freeze.
She does so. “A seasonal one,” she insists.
Sure. We’ll go, yeah, sure. If she wants to so bad, I mean. But then, she always wants to.
Her smile shines, lips red and snow-dusted.
“I have a little dreidel, I carved it from white doors. And when you are back and ready, I’ll lay you on the grass. Dreidel, dreidel, dreidel, dreidel.”
I tell her, she’s added an extra ‘dreidel’ there, I think, probably.
She sticks her tongue out, withdraws it immediately ’cause she hates tasting snow. “Don’t be pedantic.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Fine.
An old man with a stooped posture and a not-old lady with a chihuahua tucked into the crook of her elbow exit the restaurant, glass door swinging open and closed. They don’t spare us a glance, but I stare at them because he’s lost his keys and she’s getting a divorce, or maybe it’s the other way around because life is messy and confusing, you know.
“Les anges dans nos champagne,” she’s singing again, “ont entonné l’hymne des seals.”
“French was never my language,” she says, thoughtfully.
Yeah? I ask. What is your language, then?
All right. Go on and sing Cantonese.
Why not? Her hands are balled into loose fists inside her coat pockets—I know this, I know, I can read the shape of her shoulders about as well as she reads those damn lyrics—and the snow sprinkled into her hair looks like salt. She shakes her head, shakes out some salt. Her mouth is set in a slanting, stubborn frown, and it’s puckered like she’s swallowed something hard or sour. Why not?
Okay. Okay, okay, okay, I say. You can’t. She can’t. I get it, I do.
It’s fine, I say. Sing something else.
She does, salt and snow falling from her hair and brushing against her red, red cheeks. God, I hate winter, when things die and everything is cold and life freezes and hides and sleeps, but hey, what can I do? I can’t do anything except listen, sort of, because what can she do except sing, sort of? At least her hands are warmer now, probably, while mine are almost sweating.
“On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, just one thing I need for Christmas, underneath the bearded tree.” She meets my eyes for the first time, although I hadn’t noticed until now that she’d been avoiding them. Her smile shines. “Make my wish come true, all I want for Christmas…”
Is? I want to know, I realize. I want to know how this one ends.
“…is a Timbit,” she decides, with finality. She grabs my hand. “The jelly kind. Let’s go.”
A Timbit. Yeah. Why not?