Marlin and the Teeth of Winter

Out of a quiet and hardly seen patter
of freezing rain, beating a pattern of poissonce,
there emerges guests for a wedding reception.
In clothing hardly fit for the weather,
they skitter and slide over stones coated in ice,
their jackets and coats soaking to freeze their
fingers and toes, wrapped in wet cotton.

Late November, a warm spot in the march of Winter.
Enough to stand outside and shirk one’s social duties,
drawing smoke from the cherry in my briar,
leant in the dark, with only the glow of my pipe.
I find it easy to keep from speaking, when
my lips are guarded by that aromatic witness.

There, like a mouse, a friend approaches.
The early grey of her hair, her invisible whiskers
twitching in consternation, worried by my absent presence.
But not a word is passed to press me;
she draws near to the smoke and brings
news of a journey that could be taken.
The wedding reception will run to a ceasing,
soon, when they lose the last of their libations.

A journey to take is better than birds in cages.
I find my car, the bluegrey Marlin,
and pilot her past the dark gates of the yard.
The night is full of illumination, a full moon and hints
of a spectre at the edges of my vision.
I could not tell it for certain, but as my wheels
spun on the sheets, reflecting the stars,
I could sense the breath of an ancient season,
the low hum, the hair on my nape, a glimpse of wet, refracting orbs.

Out in the back of the night on the highway eleven,
a truck was buried beside the road
with its tires hanging above its body.
The bed, but I couldn’t be sure, looked torn,
like the hands of Winter had broke it, but snow
was beginning to fall, and Marlin’s windows were fogged.
I passed in the night, and drifted gently onto the twenty-two.

In town, the cold had thickened; strange
stalagmites of ice, hung like claws from eavestroughs.
The shops were lit, and nearly outshining the moon.
I slipped inside to peruse their rows of
rye and corn, and barley and grapes, and all
the wild, enticing shapes and colours that awake desire.

Marlin was loaded down with wedding wine,
and I stowed a flask of amber fire, that made my temples
cold with sweat, beside my shifting hand.
As I sealed the door, the lights around the street
suddenly fell dark; the stores all shuttered to black.
I held in silence, Marlin’s low growl the only sound
that found me, but for a sudden falling of glass.

Into a pool of moonlight, a slender figure crawled,
dragging their legs, they slowly collapsed, leaving
trenches of red, soaking into the snow and
freezing to black. I held for another moment,
and Marlin’s door was opened with a crack of ice.
The figure was still as the air, their eyes still
wide, their skin was ice to the touch;
I took their open hand, and their small finger
snapped clean and was lost in the snow.

It was more than fear that I felt crawling
across my spine; the fingers of Winter, a chill.
I stumbled and fell into Marlin –
into reverse. I was nearing the road
by the time I slammed the frozen door,
splintering my window, leaving nothing between the night and I.
Marlin spun and twisted on the street, black
ice, and a lucky thing, a falling wire, frozen
cracked across my path. I came to rest in the bank.

No wind there was to howl, but I heard
a wolfish wail, angry and close.
What bent the darkness and frost, what
brood of Fenrir stalked this Fimbulwinter?
Marlin’s wheels spun in the bank, and I knew she would not move,
but I put her in park and my hand was crossed
by the glass of my whiskey bottle.

The driver’s door was stuck in the snow, so I stumbled
out through the broken glass – blood
freezing as it fell from my hands.
I shoved them in pockets and rummaged
for my abandoned pipe and matches.
Skin was stinging from freezing rain –
I struck a match and watched it gutter in the wind.
I struck another and watched two points of light
emerging from the shadows of those ancient trees.

I took the final matches, two, and struck.
Two points of light – my own – I filled my mouth
with eighty-proof, and raising the matches,
I loosed a violent stream of Grecian fire
that lit the shadow for half a spell.
I couldn’t be sure what I saw, but
fear at least, in Winter’s eyes.

The chill retreated with the beast,
and presently the street-lights flickered into life.
Binding my dripping hands in cloth,
I shovelled Marlin from the snow.
The wedding wine was still intact,
and I knew the guests would be running low,
so, with the wind in my eyes, I put her in drive
and turned her back to the road.

I didn’t get far before I saw
flashing lights in my rear view mirror.
With a sigh, I pulled her back to the shoulder
and waited for the officer to near.
“What seems to be the problem sir?”
“It’s a routine check, but I see that you have
a bottle of open alcohol,” he said.
“License and registration; we’ll see
how high above the limit you blow.”