Winter Queen Speech: The City in Winter

Once, not so long ago – but longer ago now than it was then – it snowed in the city, and did not stop until everything changed. When we woke up, all the usual sounds were gone. No one was begging for loose change, or yelling for help from muggers, or telling her husband everything was all his fault. Some children were laughing and building snowmen in the courtyard of our building. There were no cars.

We put on our highest boots, our old boots from when we’d walked to school (not so very long ago then, either) and waded through loose-drifted white waves down to the corner store where the bums got their fifths, and we bought a big jug of cheap red wine. The jug was thick greenish glass, with a loop at the neck for carrying and for pouring. Back in our narrow kitchen we used the handle to upend the heavy bottle, gurgling the sharp dark red wine into a big cooking pot on top of the apartment’s grimy old white enamel stove.

We plundered the cabinets for crystallized old honey and rock solid brown sugar to sweeten it. We plundered the words to an old song for cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and clove, and reached back into the farthest reaches of what we had read once for a little rosemary, too. The wine was heated, the wine was scented, the wine was flavored . . . The wine was ladled like soup out of the pot into the oldest, earthiest mugs we could find.

It was sharp. The fumes went up our noses, the heat went into our bellies, and we were not where we had been.

We lay on our mattress on the floor, listening to the jingling of the buses headed across town, their massive tires sheathed in chains; and it sounded like the jingle of horses’ sleigh bells on the wide road outside. The light on the ceiling was silver with reflected snow.

We drank more wine, made love, and slept, and woke and drank again, and listened to the horses’ bells on the road outside. We spoke of dancing in velvet, of swordplay in alleys, of friends and enemies, and of a hearth gone cold. And we refilled the wine cups.

For two days it was like that.

Then the wine was gone; the snow was gone, and we were back where we had been before the snow. Our old clothes fit again, and we answered the phone when it rang.

Can such things still happen now?

You tell me.

That is the story I remember. It was not so very long ago.