As the girl snored into the boy’s back, the bellies of clouds swelled, then slopped snow onto the region in angry bucketfuls, tearing limbs from trees and heads from telephone poles. In an electric flash and pop, everything went dark.
In the morning the sky’s face was perfect blue, wearing no trace of the black maw that had raged the night before. The streets, however, had collapsed like lungs. Trees, poles, and wires leaned, slumped, or dangled on either side of every thoroughfare. From behind the windshield of his green Taurus, the boy and the girl watched Subarus and Explorers prod walls of broken boughs, backlights aflutter as nervous feet vibrated between gas and brake.
The boy pounded the steering wheel, shouting for gawkers to gawk less and for the precarious archways of uprooted, snow-laden trees to collapse—once they had slipped beneath. At the time she still hadn’t told him about the peanut in her belly.
And as the car jerked forward it made the girl wish she had told him. Actually, it made her wish she didn’t have to tell him, that he’d just know. Mostly, it made her wish that he liked goat cheese as much as she did. And it wasn’t much to ask, really, that he just slow down for a second to realize a couple of things, one that she was awesome (which she suspected he knew), and two that goat cheese was goddamn delicious. Simple. But the boy wasn’t so good at simple.
They had places to go and loved ones to check up on. His mother was waiting for them, or so he wanted to believe—without live telephone lines or cell towers, communication with people more than a few hundred yards away was reduced to speculation.
The boy looked at the girl who was looking at the broken, snow-covered landscape. Her brown hair was pulled back into a short ponytail. He thought, I like you, girl. Then his attention flitted past her. The landscape was beautiful in its tragedy. The way many of the trees bowed made them look like slingshots.
The girl groaned, feeling a tiny ocean swirl in her tummy, feeling his gaze slip so quickly from the side of her face.
Earlier, as the boy shoveled the driveway, the old women on the first floor watched him work. They bobbed from window to window like gangly puppets with pink and white hair. The boy, stooped and grunting, noticed them. He wondered about their apartment, whether it was the same layout as theirs. If it was the same, then the window they watched from was at the kitchen sink. He’d heard that people like to hang out in their kitchens when shit gets crazy. When shit gets crazy, living rooms are nothing more than way stations—places to crash your face into your hands before moving on. Kitchens, though, are safe havens. Things are made in kitchens.
The faces of the old women were long and tired as they watched the boy work. They wrung their bony hands or filled them with mugs. Sometimes they hugged themselves, sometimes each other. The boy looked up and caught their smiles—it made his work not feel like work at all.
What the boy didn’t catch was the girl’s smile from the second floor as she, too, watched. She thought, I like you, boy—you loyal, shoveling dope.
A sleeve of snow slipped from the gutter, plopping onto the dope’s head like the biggest bird turd ever. He didn’t hear the three women chirp their way out of sight.
The green Taurus fishtailed around a tight corner. The rear end brushed the top of a small elm tree that was lying on the road. There was a scraping sound that lasted a second. The girl squeezed her seatbelt. She looked to see if the boy was scared. He could feel her looking at him so he grinned and said, “We’re almost there.”
And it was true. They were almost to his parents’ house where the wood racks needed to be stocked with dry oak, and snow and ice needed to be scraped from the steps and raked from the roof. And of course there was the warm face of a cat named Otis that needed to be nuzzled.
And this wasn’t even winter, mind you. This was future winter reaching backward. This was barely autumn; the weathermen had lied again.
They lost power for three days. Others for nearly a week. The governor declared a state of emergency. Thousands of people were fumbling in the darkness when the sun went down each day. Power-line crews came from as far away as Texas.
The boy and the girl were fortunate. They had gas heat, a stove like a glowing fireplace in the kitchen. The heat vented from long slits in the side of the stove; the waves of heat made their hair dance when they stood close. They cooked by the flicker of candle and gaslight.
Halloween was close. The trick-or-treaters would never arrive, though. The candy that the boy and the girl kept in the pantry would never be in danger of spoiling. The Peanut Butter Cups. The Hershey bars and Butterfingers. The meat, however, would be an issue—the boy would suggest they cook everything. The local chicken. The grass-fed beef. The tilapia. It would be a shame to let it go to waste.
The green Taurus hummed along. The girl sat beside the boy, hands in her lap, face to the window, head swaying a slow no no no at severed power lines, blackened storefronts, and the occasional abandoned car. All of this could be practice, the boy thought with a kind of morbid excitement, for the end of the world. All of this could be a heavy load for a child, too. The future, that is.
And he thought this without knowing yet, without even sensing the peanut in the girl’s belly. She’d confess that second night without power. She’d tell him over beer can chicken. They’d make silly smiles at each other with flashlights shining under their chins. Everything would be perfect and whole. Everything would smell like chicken.
Mercifully, the boy’s parents lived only twenty miles away. The girl’s parents were farther—Mobile, Alabama—but in better health. The boy always considered the distance when packing boxes with photo albums. It was important to keep his parents close. It was important to keep them warm. His father’s right hand was without thumb, an accident two years gone involving a snow blower. The state of his mother’s hips was a growing concern, too, and the basement stairs weren’t getting any less steep. It was a son’s worry and it was a sometimes selfish worry.
His parents were fine when they arrived. They were in the kitchen. His mother shuffled alongside the counter, the orange cat Otis chasing the warmth of her feet. She was wearing her kitten sweater, too, just like he knew she would. His father slept in a chair at the table, his head tilted back and resting against the wall. His hair was cut recently—short on the top and shorter still on the sides—it made his ears look naked and big. The wood stove in the adjacent room crackled. Fresh wood smoke curled in the air. They were warm and safe.
After some soft scolding from his mother about them coming out here when the roads were such a mess, the boy shoveled a path out back to the wood piles. Inside, his mother boiled water on the stovetop.
His mother offered the girl a cup of instant coffee. They sipped their coffees by the stove. They spoke about what kinds of soup they liked.
“Potato leek,” the girl said, and his mother grinned approval at more than just her answer. She’d noticed a change in the girl recently, the way her cheeks glowed, the way she stood. She too was waiting for her son to notice.
Outside, thigh deep in the white slop, the boy shoveled. Later, he remembered the sweat, the feel of it on his neck, the coolness. He remembered the tightness in his lower back that came with each carved shovelful. He remembered the strong sensation that he was fighting for something.
After returning from his parents’ house, the boy and the girl sat at their kitchen table. The girl’s face winked in the candlelight, and she joked about how this was like taking a vacation to the 19th century. She welcomed the darkness. She talked about the importance of it, as if it had something to teach them. He grinned and then asked, unprompted, for the goat cheese. Later, they bent into each other beneath the comforter.
The boy remembered, months after it was all over, how he’d never seen anything like it. He’d never seen the world regress and simplify so abruptly. And everything and everyone had come together so easily. Like the snowstorm, and, later, like the hot summer night when she calmly said she wanted to lie down beneath the table. She said the tiles were cool. She said she only needed a few minutes. He took her hands in his. He smiled, holding them, a map of bone and skin and beauty.
And the girl remembered, too, but in a different way. She remembered how the boy smashed the back of his head on the underside of the kitchen table when her cries pooled in his ears. She remembered the fear of seeing him unconscious. She couldn’t fault the boy for being overexcited, though. She couldn’t fault him (much) for being a man. But he stirred—then gathered himself in time to catch their daughter as she bloomed into the world.
They both remembered the sticky warmth of that summer night, and how they’d wanted the storm to never end.About the author:
Mel Bosworth is the two-time Pushcart nominated author of the fiction chapbook When the Cats Razzed the Chickens (Folded Word Press, 2009) the novella Grease Stains, Kismet, and Maternal Wisdom (Brown Paper Publishing, 2010) and the novel Freight (Folded Word Press, 2011). His writing has appeared in elimae, PANK, Per Contra, Wigleaf, Blip Magazine, Annalemma, decomP, and Night Train, among others. Mel lives, breathes, writes, and works in western Massachusetts. Visit his blog at melbosworth.com