Devastation on New Year’s Eve in 1937 Pittsburgh…
The wind whistles through the minute cracks in the concrete wall against which he huddles, protecting himself from the plummeting temperatures as the sun dives from the sky somewhere behind the thick fabric of slate clouds. Flecks of snow and a light spritz of mist drift down, a lazy waltz around his body before becoming caught in the vagrant gusts charging down the sidewalk. The abrasive air assaults the man’s nerves. The sharpest pins of the coldest wind rake what skin is exposed, somehow numb and painful as his face toughens into petrified leather.
Passers-by chitter in anticipation to celebrate the death of the year with champagne and kisses, deigning to glance his way before becoming too uncomfortable. He is oblivious to whatever judgments fuel their facial features. The son of immigrants, he is the same ore he has mined since he was seven. He wasn't noted as having saved his group in the Great War when he was an eighteen-year-old driven by fear and anxiety; the desperate desire to survive. He was never lauded as a hero when he saved a widow and her two sons from the flood back in January, the moment the snapping of his wrist ensured he would never again wield a pickaxe.
Armed with that familiar drive, he rocks with a gentle cadence on the sidewalk, an edifice of a man even as he sits. He doesn't allow his teeth to chatter; he’s discovered he produces more heat when he fights against shivering. His stomach snarls, gnarls, days since he’s eaten, and it won’t be long before he needs to make shelter for the night. But for now, he snatches his coat.
Kitty, as the man calls the weeks-old ball of matted orange fur cradled within his jacket, pushes against the wool with one paw before alternating to the other paw and back to the other. Kneading. From within the man’s arms emanates a weak purr, a broken motor as Kitty labors with congestion.
The man directs his energy to keep from chattering. The result is painful, an extreme shiver up his spine, a trade he is happy to oblige, needing to keep his little friend warm enough. Kitty is a splatter of technicolor in a monochromatic and unforgiving life. The facade of his heart’s bastion has been invaded, and he quietly oozes rainbow emotions.
Kitty stops kneading, and the man assumes his buddy has fallen asleep, the purr silenced. Inside the veins of the feline, the blood has already started cooling, the heart stopped. The man who is, for now, steel, will crumple, a crumbling devastation to which he will sob and lament while those who catch him from their peripheral viewpoint feel pity for the homeless man, another case of unfortunate and pathetic choices. But for him, the rainbow will shred what’s left of his soul as the shards fall as light as the snow to welcome the potential of the year nineteen-thirty-eight without his friend.