I saw a bird fly above me. I paused to watch it as I wondered where it might be going. It was one of those crisp winter days when everything had a gray cast to it. The air was still and sharply cold. I had paused on the sidewalk in a familiar neighborhood, just before the walk up the drive. The street was clear of others. It was just me. School children and their parents were already inside their homes, warming up, hugging one another, preparing the evening meal and discussing the events of the day. I was on the sidewalk, standing still, allowing the solitude of that moment to envelope me … and gazing.

I was still looking into the grayish, late afternoon sky at the spot where the bird had flown. My eyes lingered there, viewing the miles of empty space that finally ended at a jagged horizon. The mountains were just beginning their lavender turn. My brain felt blank but was swirling with thoughts in that numb sort of way when you’ve got so much on your mind that you can’t organize it. The thoughts are bullets through my head, so fast that to catch them is impossible. While others meander like ghosts, nebulous, unclear and, at my mind’s grasp, wisp away like smoke, hopeless to reform.

It felt as though much time had passed when I suddenly became aware that I was still standing on the curb. The evening winter air stung my ears and cheeks as the tired gray gracefully gave way to a brilliant yellowish orange sky, its modesty put aside. I closed my eyes and poked my chin forward, hoping to feel that warm light on my face, even in the faintest, for one last moment and lock it away in my memory. I opened my eyes and the sunset sky had bowed to time, and began it’s decline into purple and the blues of the night. A biting breeze began swirling and scraping around me and my eyes began to well up in response. A shiver gripped me once and again as the low moon ushered in an aggressive chill.

My hands were stuffed deep in my trouser pockets, elbows locked. They were cold and sweaty, clasped around miscellaneous pocket items: keys, a few bills and coins, Chapstick … and a loose key, by itself at the bottom of my right pocket. My mother’s house key. And then my mind began to clear. The thought of the key brought with it clarity. It’s why I am here in this familiar neighborhood. It’s why I’m on the curb reluctant to walk up the drive. I will use this key one last time to collect the objects of her life. And move on into the winter of my own.

And what of that bird? I hope it’s home and safe.