By Chuck Stead
OK, so it’s cold, its nasty cold. It’s the kind of cold that catches you, face to the wind, and sinks under your forehead to ache your brain. It’s cold. It penetrates every layer by slipping into that one open crack between the glove and the sleeve. It’s nasty cold. A small bird stands too long on an outer branch and becomes a fixed ornament. OK, it’s nasty cold.
There was a night when after a supper of soluble leftovers, my dad Walt got a call from his brother, my Uncle Mal, and his voice went quiet on the phone. Ricky Cramshaw and I had just dismembered a broken Kodak camera on the dining room table. We turned screws out of their little black threads and listened to Walt say, “Hello Mal. Yup, I know who Rufus Bumguard is. What?” That was when the quiet came, Uncle Mal’s distant voice whispering through the telephone pressed to Walt’s ear.
When he got off the phone, he said, “You boys get bundled up. We’re going out.”
He said, “And gloves and hats, too. It’s nasty cold.”
The old truck whined and kicked and coughed and then settled into a cranky purr. We snuggled against each other while Walt repacked his pipe and lit it. The blue smoke poured across our faces and twisted with the ventilator heating fan blowing back at us. We rode out through the village and down beneath a heavy winter sky. Everything was frozen hard and crumbly, the roadside snow crust ashen and the color of cocoa. We came to a small tumbled-down cottage with no lights on. Uncle Mal’s pick-up truck was waiting for us. As we pulled in behind it, Mal climbed out of the cab and walked back to Walt’s side. When he saw us kids he shook his head and said, “What are they doing here?”
Walt said nothing. Mal told us to stay put and then he and Walt took a flashlight and went into the cottage. Mal was carrying some old blankets. A moment later the house lights went on. Even though we were in the truck, with the heat ventilator blowing in our faces, when we spoke our breath released in little frosty clouds.
“You think they’re bringing blankets to a poor guy?”
Ricky shook his head. He said, “This is the house of a ghost. They are bringing blankets to a ghost.”
“Ghosts don’t need blankets. They don’t feel cold.”
“Sure they do. It’s no different than being in a dream. Weren’t you ever cold in a dream?”
“No, but I was thirsty once, in a dream.”
He looked at me and said, “Did you drink something?”
“No. I was just thirsty and then I woke up.”
He looked back at the little cold cottage and said, “Do you figure ghosts dream?”
Then we saw Walt come back out. He walked up to the truck, around to his side and climbed in. He knocked out his pipe in the ash tray which was a little metal draw that stuck out of the metal dashboard like a robot tongue coated with tobacco ash. I asked him where Uncle Mal was.
He said, “He’s inside with old man Rufus.”
Ricky said, “You give that ghost the blankets?”
Walt smiled and said, “If Rufus were a ghost he wouldn’t need blankets.”
I said to Ricky, “See!”
Walt said, “We come up here to see if Rufus was alright.”
Ricky said, “Is he?”
Walt said, “Yup, he ain’t even half way to being a ghost yet.”
Then we saw Uncle Mal come out of the house and go to his truck. We rambled along behind him, all the way back with the ventilator kicking warm dusty air, the whole time our breath was still forming frost clouds. Yes, it was cold, nasty cold.