After days of gray clouds and constant snow, the sun shone in a clear, pale sky. The temperature hovered just above freezing. In the sunlight, it seemed positively tropical after weeks of single digits plus wind chill. Towering heaps of smudged snow glistened on the corners and curbs. The streets shimmered springlike, and even the sidewalks no one shoveled were showing patches of concrete.
Jon walked by his window, looking for his measuring tape, and saw Scott taking off his hat and unzipping his coat across the street. His neighbor had been attacking his driveway with his steel shovel for the better part of an hour , breaking up the packed ice and snow and lugging it away. The cement beneath seemed newly poured, bright and wet in the sun.
Digging in the junk drawer, Jon found the tape measure and headed back to the bathroom, glancing again out into the sun-drenched world. Scott had moved to the corner where the water from the street’s melted snow collected. He wore rainboots and waded into the depths of icy water and plunged his shovel into the slush along the curb.
Scott was a good neighbor, meaning he kept his lawn presentable and kept to himself. Vaguely curious and ready for any excuse not to continue with his own project, Jon threw on his shoes and walked across the street.
“Hey!” he called. Scott, slaving away with sloppy shovefuls, did not hear him. Jon stepped into the deep, piled snow of the curb. “Hello, neighbor!”
Scott looked up, red-faced. He waved distractedly, out of breath.
“Enjoying the thaw?” Jon asked.
“It’ll freeze again by Saturday.” He returned to shoveling.
“What are you doing?”
Scott stopped once more. “Trying to find the drain grate. Do you remember where it is exactly?”
“No. I guess I never paid attention.”
“Me neither. I think it’s just about here.” He dug his shovel into the snow and pulled out a heavy, dripping pile.
Jon lingered, thinking of the pristine wall in the bathroom he was suppose to cut a hole in. Katie wanted it done before she returned from her trip tomorrow. “So, how’s the wife?”
“Sick.” Slush and ice landed at his feet.
“Got the flu, huh? I hear it’s nasty stuff.”
The shovel hit the curb. The water did not drain. “Worse.” Scott straightened himself and looked up at the sky, breathing hard.
“How do you mean?”
Scott shrugged. “Cancer. Chemo. She feels so bad some days she wants to die.”
Jon wished he had just returned home. “I’m sorry.”
Scott put his strength into shoveling again.
“Can I do anything to–”
“Nope,” Scott said.
“I can do this if you need to go.”
“I’ve got it.”
Jon stood there, watching his neighbor splash in cold water, shoveling with a frantic rhythm that would make John Henry proud. He didn’t know if he should say something or just walk away quietly.
Suddenly, he noticed the water draining. Scott stepped back and watched with satisfaction.
“You work with the Street Department or something?” Jon asked.
“Just needed done.” Scott continued watching the water, content. Eventually he looked up. “Your driveway need shoveled? I’m in the habit just now.”
“It’s good. Thanks.”
Scott nodded. The water was almost gone, with rivulets still joining from farther down the street.
Jon had an idea. “You any good with home construction?”
“Okay, I guess.”
“How about electrical?”
“Wife wants a space heater installed in the bathroom wall. I could use some help.”
Scott looked toward his home.
“Unless you’re busy,” Jon said.
“She’s sleeping just now. Nothing I can do.”
“Pretty sure I’ll electrocute myself without a bit of guidance.”
Scott stepped onto the sidewalk. “I’ll be over in a few minutes.”
Scott nodded. “Just glad to help.”