It’s quiet, the kind of quiet that comes after a battle in war, or when a new baby finally goes to sleep.

It’s cold, very cold, the kind of cold that hurts old fingers.

It’s been 6 degrees all day and is about to drop. It’s about to become New Year’s Eve, but there isn’t a sound out there, and no cars are passing by.

It’s the time of day when the snow turns blue, and the moon is getting ready to float up in the sky and then throw mystical and haunting shadows across the lawn. I’m a romanticist, so I’ve always liked things mystical and haunting, wherever I can get them.

We’re alone now, just the two of us. The daughters and their husbands have gone and we’re alone. Jack is no longer with us, so the house is absent the sound of his padding from room to room, the sound of his breathing as he lay beside us just before bed.

I know very well that you know what I feel, that this silence, this quiet is being felt by most of you from across the street, down the block and across America.

Children, grown taller and older, have gone home to California, Texas, even Europe, leaving the two of you alone in the blue twilight quiet.

She, whose sinus cough is improving, is reading by her reading lamp. The crying part is over for the time being.

This happens two or more times a year, if we’re lucky. But Christmas is the hardest, don’t you think? There was all that fuss, all of those Christmas sounds: the banging of pots, clatter of dishes and silverware, the shouts from other rooms, down the hall, up the stairs, much as it was when they were young and unmarried.

There were four of us then. There had been four of us for almost 50 years. Then this Christmas comes, and there are suddenly, in our case, six of us, with all the noise and shuffling, banging and smells that come with six happy people in the house. Now there is just us, just the two of us.

There are pictures in silver frames on the table just to the left of She who is reading. It reminds us that there were just two of us a long time ago.

We were two in New York, laughing in cars and trains crossing America. We were two in California, sleeping on an air mattress in our first apartment, where we slept with the bay windows open to see the Hollywood sign up on the hill, glowing like a castle in the sky. Just the two of us.

Just the two of us. And then one day in a hospital we were three and then four, and we were four for a very long, very happy, very exciting and sometimes scary time.

Now we’re two again, and there is a sweetness about that, don’t you think? Two forks, two spoons, two dishes, two cups and glasses and towels, two elderly actors still in love, two dancers who still remember the same steps, two singers who remember the words. Two. The universal number of love.

She reminds me that it was in the tiny kitchen of her New York apartment in the long ago and far away, where we were two washing our dinner dishes. There were two forks stained with spaghetti sauce, two spoons with bits of creme brulee, two glasses half full of wine on the night I proposed marriage. A sweetness yes, a bit of what my Francophile daughter calls tristesse. Yes, tristesse.

The phone calls come tonight just before bed, telling us they have arrived safely in the City of Angels, where they were born. That pulled a few more tears and one more glass of wine.

She put the book away, and I remembered an old ’80s tune and I hummed some. She smiled. “I remember that.” And softly sang the words.

“Just the two of us

We can make it if we try

Just the two of us

Just the two of us

Building castles in the sky

Just the two of us

You and I.”

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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