He knew that weapons still ruled the world but thinking made him feel safe.

Today's Story


The Thinker in a Cabin in Winter

By Cary Tennis

He took off his shoes and put on his slippers and padded across the deep carpet to the fireplace. There was an armchair there where he could sit and look out at the wintery waves and think about how the blue of winter was different from the blue of summer — thinner, more pale, like cold eyes upon him, like the eyes that paralyze, except he was inside in the cabin where no one could pierce him with a questioning gaze or question his reasoning or put on that subtle mask of disapproval that haunted his childhood.

He put his cup of coffee on the stone coaster that always made a satisfying, solid sound, and the picture on the coaster, of a house in New England where his grandmother had been born, comforted him. The fire had been burning for six hours so there were deep coals and he could feel the warmth on his pant legs as he sat in the chair watching the seabirds out the window wheeling in the wind. The waves were throwing off white spume that was tossed into nothingness by the wind. Beyond the breakers a fishing boat was heading into port, gulls swooping about it, its bow dipping and rising in the swells. The chess set was as he’d left it the night before.

The problem that vexed him was still upon him but he felt now, after the day of gift-buying in the city and visiting relatives, after the bracing winds ripping down canyoned streets of Manhattan, after brittle shopkeepers wheedling him into one more purchase, after the gleaming fakery of second cousins’ smiles and the battle-worn jewelry of officious, overpowering aunts, the necklaces meant to stun and disarm, the polished silver place settings and the polished palaver of their constant ranking, after the  greed of the cab drivers meter and the extra tipping of Christmas, his shallow-cheer reflex already worn down, his shoes too tight, his knuckles reddened with cold, after all that, he could sit for a while and review the problem of statecraft before him.

Thinking made him safe. He knew this was an illusion. He knew that weapons still ruled the world but thinking made him feel safe. The music of the chessboard still played in his head, each piece like a plucked string that continued to sing.  Outside the wind howled. On the other side of the planet his counterparts were plotting what they would say in the morning about the armies marching toward them. His wife would call and ask if he needed anything before she drove up with the kids, and he would say no, things were fine, he was getting things done up at the cabin. He would finish the coffee and read a chapter of a novel and then walk out into the snow before bed, walk out and feel the sting of it, the icy surprise of winter, just to remind himself, just to clarify his position, just to make the fire feel brighter when he walked back inside.


Cary Tennis is the advice columnist for

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