Walter tosses himself awake at 4:30am. It’s rubbish day anyway, so he gets up.

There is enough light, although more night than day. His steps to the shed crunch the new half inch of frozen snow, leaving footprints across tracks of a rabbit up earlier than he. Cold air cuts his face, sliding deep into his lungs before escaping, clouding his face as he walks, making him aware of his breath. He stands at driveway’s end, savoring, appreciating the moment, the air, when being still is enough.

Complete quiet until the screech of a chickadee complains about the seeds. His ears begin to sting, and he is reminded of his mortality. After all, people of all ages are dropping: “stricken at work,” or “after an illness, surrounded by family.”

What if he learned it was his time? Would he be angry at the unfairness, disappointed with so much undone, wrapped in regret, begging for time? Who doesn’t? With how would he spend one more day? In the morning, what would he do? What would anyone do?

He’ll surely wait in a good spot for the sky’s gentle pink before the spectacular first rays of sun break the horizon. He’ll walk in the woods with his dog. Stop at the store and say hello to strangers, listening, interested in what they might have to say. He’ll tell someone, several some ones, he loves them, in case they didn’t know. He might cry, but probably not.

With cold hands, he moves inside for the last slice of Valentine’s Day banana cream pie, a warm room, a comfortable chair, a cup of hot tea. The dog curled on the couch. Time to sit and read and write stretches ahead until the house and the world stir and obligations begin their march.

He’ll hang the feeder on an apple tree and watch the birds come, some bold with fluttering wings and chirps announcing their arrival. Others hang back, each one different, with personalities, like people, but all delighted, as if being alive is enough. Walter had watched before, jealous admiring their joy.

With one more, he’ll find the best place to watch the sun disappear, with the soft and subtle return of night, living it the same as a chickadee.

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