“As you get older it is harder to have heroes, but it is sort of necessary.”

— Ernest Hemingway

The wind rose in the night and the old man stirred in his bed and tried to see the clock on the wall but it was too dark. He thought if he waited a few minutes the full moon that was in the sky over the woods when he went to bed would soon fill his room with light and he would be able to tell the time.

But he was too tired and he had too much wine before bed and he fell asleep and dreamt of the coming storm they had spoken of earlier in the day. It would be a big storm this time, they said, big and strong with strong winds from the north.

As always she was in the dream alongside of him and they were walking along the Boulevard St-Michel in the rain.

In all the years after that day she would stand at the window when he fought the great bull that was the snow. He liked it when she stayed awake with him and even when she pulled him away from the window.

“It’s not coming tonight,” she would whisper.

“I know it is,” he said, “I can smell it when I go out there.”

“Then don’t go out there.”

“I have to. I have to take the shovels from the shed and make sure they are clean and sharp.” She sighed and he hated that sigh, not one of love but of dismissal.

“I hate that sigh,” he said, without looking at her.

“I know you do,” she said, walking away and sighing once more to annoy him.

The next day was a fine day. The sun came up and it was strong for this time of year and it was good to see.

Even so he could smell the breath of the great white bull that was the snow even though no one else could smell it.

When night fell he sat with her with the candlelight on her face and listened to old records of guitar music from Spain where they had gone when they were young and she had broken a strap on her Birkenstock and she did not care because she was in love so she threw it into the Manzanares River.

That night they had a fine dinner of tartare of salmon with olives and capers and they drank the last of the good wine and watched the candle burn down too close to the good glass so she blew it out and then he heard it.

“There it is,” he whispered, as if speaking of a ghost.

“It’s just the wind,” she whispered back and touched his hand.

“No,” he said. “It is the bull, and it is coming now.”

She closed her eyes and sighed because she knew what was coming now and what he would do. He would pull on his biggest jacket and heavy gloves and go to the shed and take out the shovel and go out there and wait. She knew they would come, the friends who made fun of him, and they would pass by and laugh and that would hurt her because she knew it hurt him but still he was defiant.

And then it came and he went out into the middle of it ready to do battle as he had done in years past and he would write about it and those who read him would stop him in the market each year and ask him, “Will you write of the Great White Bull that is the snow this year?”

He promised he would.

She watched from the window as she always did with the glow of the electric Christmas candle lighting her face so he would see her when he looked back for her praise.

But when it came this time it came not as the Great White Bull of past years with whipping winds that sent the big cold flakes into his eyes, but it came softly like a lover’s sigh, a good sigh that came at the end of love making and it was good and simple and clean and pure.

And when he saw that there was no battle to be fought this year and no victory to be won, he dropped the shovel and turned to the house and took a bow. It was then that she remembered that he had told her there were no heroes anymore but she knew he would always be her hero and a simple tear of joy flowed down her cheek and it was a good thing, good and clean and pure.

In memory of Papa.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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