Winter [4/4]

by Leo Gillard

Content warning: implied/referenced emotional abuse

The sky was dark, and as Zach sat on the chair next to the radiator, he could watch snow falling. The street they lived on was always pretty poorly lit at night, but the light from the single streetlamp he could spot illuminated the flakes as they fell towards the ground. When he woke up in the morning, he’d have to take Willow out in the snow. He’d have to find another glove, one of his had holes in half of the fingers.

But he was barely thinking about the snow, or about the next day, or about Willow, or about the faint sounds of activity downstairs (just Sasha and Arthur? Maybe one of Arthur’s friends? He hadn’t remembered to check if they had any guests today).

He was thinking about…home. The other one. The one that came before. The last time he’d seen snow was December last year. The twenty-seventh. He’d remembered being dimly disappointed that it was too late for a white Christmas. He’d stayed in his room all morning and watched the snow fall. His p – they didn’t call for him, which wasn’t unusual.

It was odd, because in a way, he sort of missed it. He didn’t know why. He felt bad for missing it, for sure. It was just a jumble of thoughts that he sometimes unwillingly bumped into, and then he had to think about all of that again until his thoughts kept spiralling down the same route – what if he went back?

He wouldn’t. He didn’t think he would. He couldn’t be sure, of course, because things always did. It had happened with them, after all, so there was no reason why it wouldn’t happen here, even if he believed so deeply in Arthur’s goodness, Sasha’s kindness. But he didn’t think he would go back.

That didn’t mean that he couldn’t stop himself from wondering. What would they do? They’d said to him, in that intervening scary period where he wasn’t sure what was going to happen, that they’d welcome him back. That they didn’t blame him for what had happened. That they understood if he ‘realised’ that he was ‘wrong’.

The phrasing had been about coming to his senses, maybe. Actually, he couldn’t remember now, but it was enough to make him think, in moments like this. Had he made the wrong choice? Was it really as bad as he’d felt it was, when he was there? Was it really unbearable? Did it make any sense to have drawn Sasha and Arthur away from a place they loved just for his sake?

There was a quiet scratching noise at his door. Willow, probably, asking to come in for some attention. She’d… she’d probably help, when he was feeling like this, but Zach didn’t – he wasn’t sure if he had the energy to get up right now. When had he started feeling so drained?

She scratched at the door once more, and then silence returned. Zach jumped when a car passed by on the road outside his window. Cars brought back bad associations too. It felt like everything did right now, with fears creeping up inside him that he could barely name, let alone understand.

He’d left for good reason. He wouldn’t still be away from them if he hadn’t. Everyone with any power to decide that had firmly ruled that he’d left for good reason. And yet…

‘Zach?’ Sasha’s voice came from outside the room, followed by a short knock. ‘I’m gonna come in, shout if I really shouldn’t?’ He said nothing, and a few moments later Willow was practically in his lap.

‘Hey, what do you want?’ he asked, running his fingers through the fluff on top of her head.

‘Attention from you,’ Sasha said with a chuckle. She flicked the lightswitch and came to sit down on the box at the foot of his bed. ‘How are you doing?’

‘Fine,’ he lied.

‘You sure?’

‘… no, not really.’

Sasha nodded. ‘What’s up? If you’re feeling up to talking about it.’

Zach hummed after a few seconds of silence. ‘Yeah.’ He stared at Willow, trying to avoid looking over at Sasha. It was silly. And he almost didn’t want to say, because he didn’t want her to feel bad. She was great, Arthur was great. It seemed silly to say it out loud, even if it was all he could think about right now.

He traced a pattern into Willow’s fur with his finger. He did want to say. It was just hard to find all the words. ‘I sort of… miss my parents.’

Sasha sat in silence for a moment. ‘We… we could probably arrange a way to contact them, if that’s what you want’

‘No,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to.’ He could never…he didn’t want them to know anything about him anymore. All of this was new. And they weren’t a part of it anymore. They weren’t a part of who he was talking to or who was talking to him, how people referred to him, where he was going to school…and he didn’t want them to know. It was none of their business. ‘I just miss when they were nice. And things were okay.’

‘I get what you mean,’ she said. He opened his mouth to object – he knew she tried to understand, sure, but that didn’t mean she did understand. She didn’t need to understand to empathise. ‘No, I really do get it. I always think of home at this time of year.’

‘Does anything…help?’ he asked, still tracing the same pattern into Willow’s fur. She must be so tired of him at this point, but she was a patient dog. He was blessed to have her, really. ‘I don’t want to want to go back.’

‘I don’t know if this will work for you,’ she said, ‘but it always helps me to remember that it’s not the way it actually was. The good times I imagine were always tinged with something bad. And sure, that’s how life is sometimes, but that doesn’t mean life has to be that kind of bad. If the bad outweighs the good, there’s no point in feeling any nostalgia.’

He nodded. It was a whole lot more complex than just telling himself that it wasn’t actually a good time, but that was a start. ‘Nostalgia is a really tricky thing,’ she continued, ‘because you trick yourself into believing that there was something better about those times than what you have now, even if that wasn’t the case. Is there anything you had then that you don’t have now?’

‘Working central heating,’ he muttered, and Sasha laughed loudly so suddenly that Willow jumped. ‘Shh, it’s okay, just Sasha being silly.’

‘Excuse you, young man,’ she said. ‘You were the one being all clever with my question. Does thinking about the answer to it help at all?’

Zach paused for a moment. ‘I guess. I mean, the thing I don’t have is them…’

‘But was there anything good for you, for your happiness, that came with them that you can’t have now?’

‘… yeah, it helps,’ he said. ‘Thanks, Sasha.’ Sasha didn’t tend to be one for acting all soppy, but the smile she shot him then lightened his mood almost instantly.

‘Glad to help,’ she said, moving to stand up. ‘A lot’s changed in the last year, I know. And sometimes it’s comforting to look back. But I think your future’s looking a hell of a lot better than the past.’ Zach let out a breath he barely knew he’d been holding in, and nodded. She was right, after all. There was no point in nostalgia when there were so many good things yet to come.

The Poor Print

Established in 2013, The Poor Print is the student-run newspaper of Oriel College, Oxford. Written by members of the JCR, MCR, SCR and staff, new issues are published fortnightly during term. Our current Executive Editors are Siddiq Islam and Jerric Chong.

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