The Winter That Never Ended
Martin had planned to do lots of things in May when the evenings were longer and the atmosphere was warmer. He was going to hit the beach, wear his new t-shirts, go to rooftop parties and drink cider in beer gardens.
Only, May wasn’t coming this time. The winter was still here. It had been here for eighteen months so far, and Martin was going out of his mind.
“It will soon be over, stop getting hysterical,” his mother told him. “What’s the matter with you?”
“It’s been eighteen months so far, ma. Can’t you see that? Can’t anybody see it?” he shouted.
He wanted to hit her over the head with a mallet. She had become alarmingly pragmatic and mentally blind.
He asked his surly dad if he didn’t think it was strange that he was still wearing hat and gloves after eighteen months.
“What are you talking about?” replied his dad, his breath vaporising in the air.
“You’re still wearing hat and gloves after eighteen months, dad. Don’t you think you should be wearing t-shirt and shorts by now? Don’t you miss summer? Don’t you remember it?”
“Stop bothering me,” grunted the grizzled man as he hammered another nail.
Some evenings, Martin drove up to Witches Hill to watch the sunset. The yellow ball set at the same time each evening. He was desperate to watch it set just a minute or so later than usual, but it never did. It sunk into the horizon on time each and every day. Its colours often changed; sometimes it had a pinkish glow, other times it was a searing orange. But it always said goodnight at precisely 16:27.
Some days, when he was at his wits’ end, Martin threatened to commit suicide.
“I can’t take these long dark nights anymore,” he said to his family. His girlfriend had shown some concern at first, but his mother and father had convinced her that Martin was just clamouring for attention. After six months of suicide threats, his girlfriend wanted him to see a doctor.
“A doctor isn’t going to make winter stop,” he said.
“Well, what do you want me to do, Martin?” asked his girlfriend in desperation, tears welling up in her eyes. “Do you want me to fly up to God and tell him to end winter already? Do you want me to put my wings on and fly up to the sun or something? Do you want me to invent the world’s biggest hammock that I tie to two telegraph poles, one in the east and one in the west, so that it catches all the snow? Tell me what you want me do to!”
“I don’t know!”
When Martin was finally convinced to go and see Doctor Mortimer, the news wasn’t good.
“You’re suffering from SAD, my boy,” said the doctor. “It’s a seasonal affective disorder that often afflicts people during the winter. What has happened is that your brain’s production of serotonin has been inhibited, which is why you’re walking around with a frown all the time.”
“Of course I’m suffering from SAD,” replied Martin through gritted teeth. “This winter has been going on for over a year. Everyone should be suffering with it!”
Martin rose from his chair, extended his arm and pointed aggressively at the doctor. “Why aren’t you suffering from it? Why aren’t we all suffering from it?” he snarled.
“Serotonin, my boy,” explained the doctor, shakily.
“Fuck serotonin! Fuck your excuses!”
Martin dugs his hands into the windowsill and looked out of the frosted glass.
“Look out of your window, doc. Don’t you see it? Don’t you see that this winter is never going to end?”
Doctor Mortimer was on the phone to the nurse. “Get this boy out of here. He’s flipped.”
As he was escorted out, Martin was told by the two male nurses that he should try and get some more serotonin.
“Try dopamine, too. My wife swears by it,” shouted one of the nurses as Martin crossed the parking lot.
“Never tried dopamine. Is it really good?” asked the other nurse as they walked back into the clinic.
“Oh, yeah. It’s real smooth, buddy.”
Things got to such a point that Martin went on a strike that he termed “winter strike.” He wanted to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that winter had lasted for almost a year and a half and that the country was being starved of summer.
“It is our right that we wake up, people!” he shouted at the top of his voice in Manchester city centre. He had one placard that read “WHERE IS OUR SUMMER?” and another that read “OPEN YOUR EYES PEOPLE. FUCK WINTER!”
He was also completely naked.
“I just don’t get why you have to do it naked,” said his girlfriend the night before. “I totally support your right to strike, and I really am behind you. But why do you have to do it naked?”
“I have to freeze my balls off,” he said. “Otherwise, the message won’t get through, Celine. If people see a naked man freezing his balls off, they’ll think ‘oh shit, yeah. I’m actually really cold myself and I’ve been really cold for eighteen months now. What the fuck?’”
Martin’s message failed to communicate to people. A few wrapped-up passers by offered him some clothing, while others threw loose change at him.
Eventually, Martin contracted hypothermia and was hospitalised.
It was when he was getting better in hospital that his mother, father and girlfriend told him that he’d probably been abducted by aliens.
“It’s the only explanation we can think of,” said his mother. “Your dad thinks they must have come when we had that power cut. Do you remember that?”
Martin, whose skin was still a pale blue, was largely unresponsive.
The doctor came in and explained to his family that they wanted to keep him for a few more days yet.
“A government official has been in today, too,” said the doctor. “Says he wants to speak with Martin when he’s got his mental capacities back together again.”
“Government official? What could they want?”
“I couldn’t possibly imagine. I think you need to get in touch with a psychologist, too. Apparently your boy Martin here almost froze to death because he was protesting naked in the middle of Manchester. Can you believe it? I’m all for a bit of protest, but protesting naked? In minus 3 degrees? That’s crazy.”
It was crazy, the family could all agree on that.
“I always knew he was an idiot, right from the moment he was born,” said his dad.
“I don’t think he likes winter very much,” said his girlfriend. “It makes him depressed.”
“Who does like winter?” asked the doctor with a warm smile. “I’m thinking of going to Australia next year and having a barbecue for Christmas lunch.”
The family all smiled with the doctor.
“That sounds grand,” said Martin’s dad.
It took Martin two months to properly recover from his nasty bout of hypothermia, and when he was strong enough to walk to the window in his hospital ward, he saw that heavy snow had covered everything in a white carpet.
“This winter is never going to end,” he murmured to a fat bloke in a bed next to him. The fat bloke was sat up, reading a childish book. “You know that?” asked Martin. “It’s never going to end.”
The silly-looking fat man turned a page with his stubby fingers. He was inhaling and exhaling loudly, like a beach whale.
“Doesn’t it bother you?” asked Martin.
The fat man didn’t respond.
The next day, Martin had a visitor. It was the government official that his doctor had told his family about.
The man was wearing a black suit. His mousey blonde hair was thinning, and he had a sly grin on his face that Martin found immediately disagreeable.
The nurses escorted the pair – Martin in a wheelchair – to a private room without windows where they could talk.
“You’re the naked man who was protesting in Manchester about winter, aren’t you?” asked the smiling government official, who never told Martin his name.
“Martin, does it bother you that no one but you seems to care about the fact that winter has been carrying on for over twenty months?”
Martin lifted his head up.
“Yes,” he said, his eyes widening. “Do you see it too?”
The government official nodded, smiling.
“Of course I see it.”
“This is crazy. No one else sees it but you and I.”
“Of course they don’t, Martin. You see, Martin, they’ve learned to deal with it like the jolly good souls that they are. They’ve learned to not let it bother them or let it get them down. They’ve learned how to just go with the flow. What good people they are!”
“No!” protested Martin, trying to get out of his chair. It was then that he first noticed that he had been strapped down.
“The difference between them and you, Martin, is that they know summer will come again, eventually. They don’t know when, but they don’t need to know when. They just know it will come again.”
“But it was supposed to be here over a year ago!” shouted Martin.
“Martin, Martin, Martin. We can’t have it all can we?” asked the government official who was still grinning. “Oh, Martin. A prolonged winter isn’t that bad. It gives us the chance to do things we never thought were possible. There are things you just can’t do in the summer, after all.”
“You’ve done something to everyone! You’ve made them silly and stupid! Normal people don’t forget all about summer!”
“Okay, perhaps they’ve got elevated serotonin levels. Maybe they’ve got more dopamine. But you can have all of that too, you know.”
“I don’t want no fucking serotonin!”
“Martin, Martin, Martin,” repeated the government official warmly, speaking as though he was a friend of Martin’s who understood him.
Then he injected him with serotonin.
A few months later, Martin and his girlfriend got married in the middle of a blizzard.
“I’m the happiest man alive,” enthused Martin.
Everyone continued life as normal. They all sleepwalked into even murkier depths of winter.
Blizzards got more ferocious.
Snowstorms covered the ground with 30 feet of snow.
Temperatures plummeted to minus fifty five degrees.
Lots of people died.
Martin lived, but his girlfriend’s body gave up just five months into their marriage.
“Extreme hypothermia,” concluded the postmortem.
Martin had forgotten that if only people had acted and listened to him, things could have been so different.
As it was, nobody had been prepared for the winter that never ended but just got worse.