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Winter

When the frustration grew too much – no line curved the way it should, no hue appeared correctly with the gentle motion of the brush, he simply gave up, discarding the palette to a side table where a brush rolled away leaving the dark coloured imprint of its passing.

“It's feeling like winter,” he said and rose abruptly from high stool where he had been perched, turned and paced nervously before the floor to ceiling windows looking onto the balcony and the street below. Krystena, folded languidly on the couch with a hefty book in her hands and a brightly coloured throw over her feet, looked up from the black printed voice which had been speaking to her and, with large, unnaturally expressive eyes, evaluated the man who now paced with the agitation of a caged beast.

“It's a beautiful, late summer day,” she noted noncommittally. He stopped and stared at her, looking ready to burst through his bars in an aggressive single pounce across the room.

“I meant in here,” he said and briefly touched his breast. As an afterthought, he poked the side of his head with a long, slender, index finger; “Too many things – and not many of them good.”

Krystena folded the heavy tome and placed it on the cushion beside her hip. She shifted to regard him. He looked out the window, nodded and smiled quickly – a rapid twitch of the facial musculature made even more evident in its lean angularity.

“You are right,” he consented. “It was quite warm when I was out shopping this morning.

“I know,” she said, underlining the obvious - “I was with you.” Her eyes reprimanded him for the oversight.

“I know that, too,” he said and smiled again. The rigidity of that expression on his face, however, showed how uncomfortable he had become with it. To Krystena, it seemed that a real smile had not shone forth there in far too long. She intuited and understood some off the reasoning but not all, nor the sense and integrity of it.

He walked across the room and, already understanding his intention, she curled her legs to make room at the opposite end of the couch. He collapsed there into the cushions and, after shifting and settling into a comfortable position, he drew her feet into his lap, re-covered them snuggly, and his hands began to drift over her lower legs.  Under the scrutiny of her watchfully intense eyes, he strayed into thought, his hands still slowly moving as though finding comfort in contact with her.

'I don't know how to explain 'winter' to you,' he monologued in his mind, his gaze fixed on the ceiling while his head lolled against a large, plump cushion.

It is like the season – a deep cold and damp – that settles in, threatening to never leave but this season of the spirit, when it comes, unlike its namesake that arrives across the prairies in a blast of wind against window panes and the grey of snow in the night, is as insidious as the sonic deadening of the immediate after-snowfall when, it would seem, the whole world has gone to sleep. There is no stirring it.

In this way, it only becomes a deeper winter and its silence is unfathomable. The cold creeps its way into every crevasse and slows even the beat of the heart until, where there is nothing left – no gradual pitch toward warmer, more direct rays on the endless journey around and around – and it becomes the interminable season and it becomes you.

Krystena nodded as though understanding the words that formed soundlessly in his mind.

'I have tried so hard in this,' he continued internally. 'I have been aware of it every single day and, every single day, I have fought it – not only for myself – but also for you because you don't go where I go and you shouldn't need to. This is mine and should not touch you.' His head turned away from her and he retracted one hand from her leg, placing it over his mouth where, at its sides, deep creases of displeasure had appeared.

So it becomes a daily battle against the 'winter' that has come to stay. It is true that positive change can be made to happen but, it is harder when it comes to one's own self. It seems that everyone is an expert when it comes to the lives and psyches of others but, try it on and the answers don't seem so pat.

The potential solutions for the interminable season are many: movement, distraction and new situations. The intent seems to be to jar the mind from its deep freeze, invigorate it with novelty and, thereby, cast off the chill. As a result, the new projects are added and attacked with vigour: everything becomes urgent  in a sense of 'do everything and do it now' and - hoping against hope – something will work.

He lifted his head from the cushion, shook it and looked at Krystena.

“I'm sorry, he intoned. “I haven't said a word.” He frowned and reached for her hand. Their palms pressed together tightly, the fingers curled and tightly embracing.

“Yes, you have,” she answered simply. His gaze fixed on those clasped hands.

Then your body throws something else into the mix.

It's funny how unaware we are of our bodies until something goes wrong. It stands to reason really, since, for the majority of us, the body remains relatively constant throughout life. The extent to which the psychological image of the body is so deeply fixed is exemplified by the phantom pain of the amputee – the excruciating discomfort in the limb which no longer exists.

Similarly, the internal perception of the body's conformation differs so greatly from its outward appearance. In the mind's eye, the body is all head, hands and feet – the centres of the senses are prominent while, in that perception, the thorax and abdomen fade to insignificance. It is, on reflection, strange, the fact that, while it is common to us all, we are not aware of our hearts beating, nor of the fact that the lungs – distended by the diaphragm and costal muscles – refill and replenish the blood with oxygen without even a thought being given to the process. When something is out of place, the mind becomes acutely aware – almost obsessed of it - as a result of the altered body image.

The internal aspects of our bodies are largely senseless and there is no accurate spacial cognition of them. It just arises as an odd sensation – a weight, a dull ache or slight discomfort – which signals the presence, internally, of something which was not there a week ago or last month.

He had not told her.

His mind switched from analytical to his favourite fall-back – the absurd.

'Gather 'round, children,' he sang enthusiastically to the smiling faces which, connected to their small, innocent bodies, collected vari-coloured cushions and seated themselves in front of him.

'Today we're going to play 'Question and Answer'!'

'Yay!' shouted the children.

'You are such good girls and boys,' he said, smiling delightedly at their good behaviour. 'Today's question is 'When is a lump not just a lump?'

'When it's on a log?' shouted Timmy, who was always first to answer.

'That's a 'bump', Timmy, but an excellent answer. 'Anyone else?'

'When it's in your bed?' suggested Chloe, timidly.

'Good for you, Chloe! But I think you just haven't made your bed right if you have lumps there.' He smiled and the shy, little girl smiled back.

'OK,' he said, losing patience with the game that he was imagining. 'A lump is not just a lump when it is associated with a sign of the Zodiac. Go back to your happy games...'

Krystena cleared her throat, launching him into whatever reality he chose to find with her.

“Sorry to change the topic but, didn't you go to the doctor on Friday? What did he say?”

“Nothing. I'm all good.” He looked away and shifted uncomfortably.

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