When Daniel and I arrive at the edge of the Hürtgen Forest, on the threshold of Christmas Eve, the sleigh is waiting. An antique two-person Albany Cutter, painted poinsettia red, and hitched to a mare I know well-coal black from muzzle to hoof, stamping her impatience against the snow like a blot of spilled ink on white vellum. Greetings, Rosie! I hail, anticipating the softness of her nose.
For longer than I care to remember, Daniel has driven me here. A labor of love made possible by Daniel’s pre war Ford pickup. Relic from another era now, nearly expired and in need of last rites. Daniel exits the truck to help me into the sleigh. Leaves the motor running, not wishing to tempt fate. Arranging the beaver robe across my legs, he hands me the reins. I am touched by his chivalry-but saddened that he seems to be wearing away at the edges. From somewhere inside the bulk of my left-over-right buttoned brown wool topcoat, I produce a man’s gold Elgin pocket watch, press the latch to spring it open, and mark the time. Half past four. The sun has burned down to embers, leaving cold, dusky ashes.
See you in a couple hours.
Daniel nods. Slaps Rosie gently on the rump, jumping her into a trot. Within minutes I am lost from Daniel and his promise of upon your return hot chocolate. A lone traveler. Journeying among frosted pine sentries.
Silvered snow is falling, glittering the canvas of landscape like a child decorating a glue-covered cardboard star. A smattering at first, but then heavy-handed. I can barely see my surroundings, and Rosie, shaggy and white, appears abruptly ancient. The sleigh angles upward, the terrain gradually steepening to an area of artillery-wrought tree burst, runners grinding over splintered wood. I rein Rosie to a walk.
From within the swirl of snowflakes, you materialize beside me. Dressed for battle, the chin strap of your helmet hanging loose, insouciant as the wide grin on your face. Foolishly, I remove my mitten, reach out to touch you-my hand meeting nothing but a frigid void. Your voice is pastel, almost lost among the white noise of winter.
I love you, Margaret. Forever and ever and ever and ever and ever…
A flickering film projector image, you melt into moonlight.
Leaving ice on my cheeks.
And Daniel hanging on.