Henry rested his chin on his hands and gazed down the long, wooden table. This way he could see clear down his miniature replica of Main Street, circa 1949. He searched his memory for anything he may have over looked. For the thousandth time he referenced the old black and white photos pinned on the wall. He studied the fences and trees, the mail box and fire hydrant. He took care to see that the Christmas lights and decorations were exactly right. Everything was in perfect placement and scale.
The one thing that bothered him was Buddy the black lab frozen on his back legs as if caught in the middle of a playful leap. This miniature version of Buddy was far too frisky. The real Buddy, as Henry could not forget, was tempered and mellow, but he could not find a model in the proper scale and look that mimicked Buddy’s actual demeanor. The man at the hobby shop brought out some catalogs and offered to special order a more appropriate Buddy, but Henry confessed he hadn’t the time to wait. Besides, Henry thought, this problem could be fixed with a little imagination: Buddy was merely leaping for a low flying bird and once time started moving again he would quickly regain his low-key disposition.
Once time started moving again other things would correct themselves as well. Henry had always had an odd opinion about the workings of time. He couldn’t explain it in words so he seldom talked about it. But he knew time was in no way fixed. He saw in the way minutes ticked by slowly during the week and flew by during the weekend, how one minute his daughter was in diapers and the next she was graduating college. To Henry time could be worked with, it was malleable.
Yes, once time started moving again little errors in his model would correct themselves. There was, for instance, no felt hat on Mr. Philips head as he sat on the bench outside the barber shop smoking his pipe. The reason for this was the hobby shop didn’t have a miniature Mr. Philips with a felt hat. Henry had to settle for the model which was the spitting image of Mr. Philips: a pipe, paunch belly, a blue shirt and suspenders. It was only the felt hat that was missing. Henry was ok with these minor inconsistencies, they would correct themselves. It would soon be revealed that Mr. Philips’ hat was at the haberdashery getting its silk band replaced. Overall the accuracy was stunning. This was Main Street, 1949. No mistaking it.
Henry could even hear the whistle blowing from the textile mill. He checked his watch: 1:37 pm. No, he thought, that’s not right. Then he realized it wasn’t the whistle from the textile mill at all. It was the kettle from the kitchen. He had forgotten he had put it on. Henry went to make himself a pot of tea.
On the counter next to the stove the message machine flashed - 17 messages. There was also now a note taped to the outside of the back door facing in through the window. The message written with a red felt pen said: Lois call your daughter, she’s been trying to get a hold of you and Henry. You guys alright in there? - Sandy. Sandy had been Henry’s and Lois’ neighbor for forty years. Henry knew his daughter would be worried and she had called Sandy to come by and peak through the windows and check up on him and Lois.
But, sticking the note on the kitchen door had been Sandy’s idea; Henry was certain of this. He had heard Sandy’s knocks and calls at the front door and then the back door and then the front door again. Henry had always known Sandy to be a determined and patient woman so the relentlessness of her knocking was no surprise. He had ignored her rapping and shouting, while he installed the last of the wires to the miniature street lights. He was grateful that Sandy had either forgotten she had a key or she’d misplaced it. Lois had given her a key to the house twenty six years ago so she could water their plants and generally keep an eye on the place while she and Henry and their daughter were off on a holiday in Europe.
Presently, in the kitchen, the phone rang again. Henry ignored it and poured the hot water into the teapot and placed it along with two cups and two saucers onto a carrying tray.
“It won’t be long now Lo,” Henry hollered down the hall towards their bed room.
The answering machine took the call.
Henry carried the tray past the spare room where the model of Main Street awaited its final touches, and stood outside the closed bedroom door.
“It won’t be long now my dear,” Henry said again, softly. “It’s all looking as beautiful as it did back then. I’m just waiting for a delivery from Lupton’s hobby shop. Snow! Lo can you believe it, model snow. I didn’t know there was such a thing. This stuff is from Germany and of the highest quality. It’s supposed to sparkle like the real stuff. Do you remember how it snowed Lois, on this day back in 49’, the day we met? Boy how it snowed that day. Now you rest dear and don’t mind the phone or the knocking.” Henry didn’t seem to notice the rank odor coming from the bedroom or that it had permeated the house.
He carried his tray into the spare room, sat down and studied his creation. He had worked on it for 16 months. The only thing taking priority over his model Main Street was his doting over Lois. In the beginning he didn’t know why he had such a drive to build an exact model of Main Street in December, 1949. The idea just popped in his head on the drive back from Lois’s doctor. Lois was talking about not worrying, saying everything was going to be fine, that the newer treatments were effective. All the while he was imagining a miniature Main Street. As soon as they got back to the house he started sketching and planning, gathering up old photos and calling hobby shops.
Model railroad products proved to be a blessing. Their catalogs had all the necessary sizes and types of buildings and scenery. Cars, people, street lights and landscapes. You name it and it could be ordered. Even trees and bushes of differing types and shapes could be obtained with relative ease. Best of all everything was scaled and worked accordant with each other.
Now, he paid particular attention to the miniature hardware store at the end of the street. After all this time it was a pleasure to focus this much attention on such a fine memory as Ray’s Hardware, which held a paramount place in Henry’s life as a boy. It was his first real job and he found it himself, much to his father’s surprise. It was the first time Henry had felt truly proud. He threw his heart and soul into Ray’s Hardware store. Getting paid to be there was merely a bonus.
Years prior his father had got him on as an Altar Boy at St. Mary’s Holy Church and he considered it a chore or to be more accurate, torture. Henry couldn’t wait until the evening service was over on Sunday so he could go to Ray’s and sweep the floor again. The store was closed on Sundays, but old man Ray had given young Henry the key. He turned the radio on loud. The Jazz station came in crystal clear at night and he listened to Duke Ellington and Ray Mercer as he dusted and straightened the shelves until every corner of every box was plumb, level and every shelf dust free. He remembered walking home those winter evenings, his feet making the crunching noise in the snow, with only the moon and Buddy the Lab keeping him company. Back then he had the feeling he was king of the world and having the key to Ray’s Hardware store in his pocket was proof he was.
It was there at Ray’s store on this very date back in 49’ that he first laid eyes on Lois. Back than Henry and his young pals had many times talked over plans of seeing the world and in the process enjoying a plethora of exotic girlfriends. One look at Lois and for Henry that plan had gone directly into his dust bin along with the afternoon sweepings. The first thing he noticed about the young woman as she entered the store was the chroma of blue in her eyes; he had never seen a crystal sea in a girl’s eyes before. As he watched her stroll up and down the aisles of hardware goods he could have sworn he knew her from somewhere. The feeling of recognition was so intense he had to fight his first instinct, which was to hug her and say he’d missed her. Finally he gathered courage enough to ask if he could help her find something. She explained, all without looking up from the shelves, her family had just moved to the area and her father had sent her for a door hinge. Henry inquired what type, that there were many. Lois looked up and when she saw Henry’s face her mouth stopped in mid- word. ‘I guess… I’m not certain’, she said falteringly when finally she spoke again. Then she said: ‘Do I know you? Have we met before somewhere?’
Henry got permission from old man Ray to walk Lois back to her home to inquire about the door hinge. There and back they walked through the swirling snow. As often as possible, but disguised as an accident, Henry made the back of his hand touch the back of Lois’s hand. Unbeknownst to him she was feeling the jolts of warm electricity from the contact as much as he was. They laughed when they simultaneously told each other they were glad it was snowing. And then Lois put her arm in Henrys and told him he was a gentleman for making sure her father got the proper hinge. From then on they were inseparable, spending every day together for the next 66 years.
They got married, bought a home and had a child. They settled into a splendid, contented life. Together they watched all the changes to the world. These last six months when Lois’s hair began to fall out Henry kissed her as much as he had done when she was a young and ravishing and beautiful. When her treatments made her so sick she lay bed- ridden for days, Henry laid with her for hours upon hours, rubbing her back or stomach. When she finally slept he worked on his model of Main Street.
Now Henry sipped his tea and tried the street lights and Christmas lights. They all came to life in a flawless array of scaled-down grandeur. He rested his chin on his hands again and took another long gaze down his past. By the memories leaping up from his mind and the feeling of nostalgia pulling at his stomach he knew he had captured the essence of the original.
For some reason it made him remember the day old man Ray had him help Mrs. Wilkinson look for her missing cat instead of working in the store. Ray was like that, paying him a whole day’s wages to look for a neighbor’s cat. It was well past quitting time when Henry climbed the treehouse behind the Flanagan’s house to find nine year old Wendy Flanagan stroking Mrs. Wilkinson’s cat who was sleeping next to a child’s tea set and a large and empty bottle of cream. ‘You’re not going to tell are you Henry?’ asked a tearful Wendy. Later, when Lois asked Henry how his day was, and he told her about Wendy Flanagan kidnapping Mrs. Wilkinson’s cat and admitted he’d kept Wendy’s secret he was rewarded with a marvelous kiss from Lois. It was these simple memories that had the power to stand un-eroded by time.
That was more than sixty years ago. Yet, it was as present in Henry’s mind as if it were only yesterday. Even smells were coming back. His nose filled with the faint, familiar scent of spent kerosene from the textile mill’s large engines. It mixed with the cool crisp scent of freshly falling snow. Sounds too, he could hear a train blowing its whistle as it approached the Main Street crossing and the roar of Nash 600’s and Buick Roadmasters racing to beat it. The tones met his ear as fresh as if it were all happening right outside his window. That’s how Main Street smelled and sounded back then. It was exactly what Henry wished for from his model: the ambience, the feeling of physically being there, a conduit. He wanted to be spellbound, detached from the present moment, adrift in that place, in that time. People say you can never go back, but Henry had his own ideas about time.
He was still afloat in his reflections when a pounding at the front door snapped him back to the present. He knew it wasn’t Sandy this time because the knocking was different; it had a serious, business cadence.
“Ah, the snow my dearest, the snow has arrived!” Henry shouted to the next room.
Ernest opened the front door. He was pleased to find that snow had come in two ways: a delivery truck had come to deliver the facsimile and the real stuff had come via the gray, December sky. He had been expecting both. A new white blanket had accumulated on roads and sidewalks that had been plowed and shoveled only days before.
“Sorry to be so late sir, the roads are a bit treacherous,” said the delivery man. “Yours is the last delivery. After this I’m calling it quits. Snows too heavy and the roads are too slick and they don’t pay me enough…”
“Beautiful,” said Henry, dreamily, indicating the fresh falling snow.
“Ahh, ya,” said the delivery man. “A bit treacherous,” he repeated, somewhat dismayed at the lack of sensitivity to his complaints.
“You’re not late, you’re just in time,” Henry said.
The delivery man stepped forward to hand Henry the parcel. His nose at once perceived a faint yet rancid odor. His face wrinkled into a grimace. Henry took the parcel. The delivery man retreated a few steps. He held out a clipboard for Henry to sign and tried to remove his attention from the odd smell.
“Everything alright in there, sir?” the delivery man asked.
“Why my good man, everything is as right as freshly falling snow.”
To this the delivery man only shrugged. Henry signed his name and handed back the clip board.
“Here you are my good man,” Henry said, slipping the man something. The Delivery man took it without looking to see what it was.
“Sir it’s not necessary, really,” said the delivery man, trying to hand whatever it was back.
“No, no you can’t begin to imagine what this parcel means to me,” Henry said. Looking only at the package in his hands, he said, absently, “Please Drive safely, now,” and closed the door.
The delivery man walked almost to his truck before he reluctantly looked at what was in his hand. He preferred not to be tipped, especially by the elderly, who he knew to be stuck in a golden era where a quarter held much more dominion then it did presently. Usually his tip never added up to much more than an insult. Looking down now he was shocked. Abraham Lincoln’s face peered up at him. It was a 1949 silver dollar, worth a tidy sum.
The house was dark inside except for one sparse light in the room down the hall to the right, where Henry’s replica awaited him.
“Snow my dear, the snow has arrived,” Henry pronounced from the hallway. “Snow outside and snow inside, snow like the day we met. Soon Main Street will be glistening the way it did all those years ago. You’ll see Lois. It won’t be long now.”
There was a sticker slapped haphazardly across the front of the package of imitation snow with instructions translated from German into English. It advised: to achieve an authentic look apply by sprinkling from a distance of approximately eighteen inches above project. It was more pleasurable then Henry could have imagined, playing the hand of God, making it snow over Buddy and Mr. Philips, the sidewalks and the trees, the Christmas decorations and the cars, the houses and factories. The most pleasure came from sprinkling snow on and around Ray’s Hardware store, as if he was sprinkling joy back on the days of his youth.
He stood back and looked at his handy work. It was more stunning than he ever thought possible. The fine silicate of the model snow twinkled and shone with as much richness and splendor as the real snow outside. He turned the room’s small light off and when he turned the switch to activate all the lights interspersed throughout his replica of Main Street, he had to sit down. His heart filled with heavy nostalgia and sorrow. He thought about all those years with Lois. He began to weep, his jaw quivered with inconsolable heartbreak. It didn’t make any sense that he and Lois should ever have to say goodbye to each other. It was impossible for Henry to be without Lois. He simply would not accept that she was gone, irretrievably gone. Such emptiness shouldn’t have any place among the order of things. Such a void puts a tear in nature, a rift in the fabric of the universe itself, a crack in time.
“Lo, oh Lo, wait ’til you see the Christmas lights, it’s a miracle, it truly is,” Henry whispered, his voice broken with grief.
There was heaviness in his chest. A pain shot up through his jaw. A wave of fatigue far more intense than he had ever felt before engulfed him. It forced his head back down on his hands. It took all the effort he had to keep his eye lids open so he could stare down Main Street. He concentrated on the lights and the twinkling snow as the pressure in his chest turned into terrorizing pain.
Old memories surged up from the snowy street:
He was watching Lois march past the Christmas carolers outside of the department store. She was ten paces in front of him, boiling with anger. He couldn’t remember why she was angry, but he knew it was something he’d done or hadn’t done. ‘Alright Lo,’ he remembered saying, ‘go on then I’m not about to chase after you.’ He’d turned his back to her. There came a hard impact of a snow ball in the back of his head and Lois’s laughter. He turned and Lo was smiling, forming in her mitted hands another cold, hard projectile. He spread himself out like a crucifix. ‘Ok Lois,’ he remembered saying, ‘I’ll give you one more free one, just don’t hit me in the…’ The snow ball walloped him square in the face. He remembered seeing stars and tasting blood from his split upper lip. He was momentarily blinded and stunned. Henry remembered Lois’s warm hands, mittens removed, placed on either side of his face. And her kiss on his bloody lips. ‘Let’s get you home,’ she said, ‘I’ll make you some warm soup and we’ll talk this through. There is nothing we can’t grow through Henry.’ He remembered she’d said grow…grow through.
“Grow through,” whispered Henry, remembering. The words Lois spoke with such poise so long ago, could barely leave Henry’s lips now.
There was a loud bang at the back door and the sound of breaking glass; it all sounded very far away. He thought he heard the voice of his daughter and that of a man.
“Oh my god,” his daughter’s voice was frantic, “something is wrong.”
Henry heard rushed footsteps down the hall towards the bedroom and a hysterical scream.
“Mother, oh lord Mom.”
Henry heard his daughter’s cries from the next room. Behind him the door opened. And then a policeman was standing beside him with a handkerchief over his mouth and nose saying, “Sir, are you in need of medical assistance?” Then his daughter vaulted into the room.
“Dad, dad?” she cried.
There was no more pain in Henry’s chest.
Time had started moving again. Henry was walking down Main Street. Buddy had just finished leaping after a swooping Blue Jay and was now content to walk placidly, as he always did with Henry, all the way to Ray’s Hardware Store. It had snowed during the night and it looked as if it would snow again. As Henry passed the barber shop he said good morning to Mr. Philips.
Henry opened Ray’s Hardware and began his day like so many Saturdays before, happy there was no school or church. The day was all his.
The first thing he noticed about the young woman who had just then entered the store was the chroma of blue in her eyes. He had never seen a crystal sea in a girl’s eyes before.