A Cold Winter’s Night
She laid there, in quiet repose, as though I might wake her from her slumber. All the energies in the world could perform no such miracle.
The farmer’s almanac had called for an unseasonably cold and wet winter. They forecasted such a winter last year too, in 1983, but much to our chagrin, no significant storms came to pass. This year, however, started off with a much different tone. A blizzard in January buried our city in a blanket of snow that measured twelve inches in some places. Janice and I were stuck in our small apartment for over a week as the roads were impassable in our small Nissan. The anticipated cabin fever never set in though, and we passed our time with playful conversation, quiet moments in front of the fire, and passionate love whenever the mood struck. With Janice, the mood struck often.
Our neighbors suffered a different fate and we could hear the fever afflicting them. As the week wore on, their verbal spats became more and more audible. They began to stop by to ask for more and more provisions. Today was no exception.
“Hey, sorry to bug you, but I need to borrow some more milk,” said our neighbor Laura with an eye-roll when Janice opened the door to her yet again today. “Mark is too tired to walk all the way to the store and pick anything up.” I noticed the air-quotes accompanying “tired” and “all the way” and lifted my copy of the Washington Post up a bit higher to avoid being sucked into her rant about her on-again/off-again boyfriend. Janice obliged with a smile, always willing to help a person in need. I simply listened from the living room, continuing to hide my face behind the paper.
“Here you are Laura, if you need anything else, just ask.”
“Thank you Janice, you’re such a sweetheart. Better treat this one nice, Bob!” said Laura.
I could tell she had pushed onto her tiptoes in order to be sure her voice traveled past Janice and into my disinterested ears.
“You know it.” I replied from behind my paper.
Just three weeks later, the weatherman was on the television warning us of another big snow storm.
“Cold air from Canada is moving over the area,” he announced, gesturing to the moving icons projected onto the screen behind him. “Combine that with moisture coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, and we could see an even bigger storm than last month! I know, I know, the last thing you want to hear me talk about is more snow, but ladies and gentlemen, you may want to stock up some supplies because this could be a WHOPPER!” he concluded with a big toothy grin for the camera.
“Oh, these weathermen are just full of hot air,” Janice would always say.
“Well, since we have to make sure and be supplied for our neighbors as well as ourselves, maybe we should go pick up some essentials,” I said, flashing back to Laura asking for sugar, cream, milk, bread, and finally our kitchen sink. Janice spun around on her heels and fell back onto the couch, creating a wave of feathers from our worn goose down comforter.
“Do we have to?” she whined, the hint of a twinkle in her eye. “Why don’t we stay home and you can love me all night instead?” she said, with a coy smile.
I smiled, stood up, and slowly walked towards her, doing my best to appear suave and seductive, all the while knowing I most likely looked like a graceless fool. I ruined the illusion completely when I tripped on Janice’s slipper and fell down on top of her.
“Okay, you don’t have to kill me!” she said with a laugh.
“Oh, I suppose I can love you tonight,” I responded with the air of someone being made to perform an obligatory task. “But tomorrow I cannot, because we must venture into the madness that is winter storm grocery shopping! Oh! The horror!” I gasped with an exaggerated shudder.
Janice laughed her laugh that I love, her eyes crinkling in the corners and her head thrown back, perfect teeth sparkling in the firelight. Whether I was funny or not, she always laughed.
And she always loved.
“Just kiss me then, as the world goes mad,” she whispered, snuggling back into me with her face turned up.
As we drove to the grocery store, the powdery snow began to steadily and softly cover the trees and grass-covered lawns. [I like to think that snow is God using a paper shredder; I like to picture him scattering the paper confetti in our atmosphere. Perhaps Earth is nothing more than his personal dumping ground.]
The store was a madhouse of exaggerated anxiety, as one would expect when a snow storm is on its way. Everyone with a cart had filled it high with a ridiculous assortment of essentials and luxury items.
“Why on earth would you need that many rolls of toilet paper?” I asked with irritation, as yet another heavily-laden cart blocked my way. “Is their diet made completely of laxatives?”
“Hush, Bob! So embarrassing! I bet she heard you too!”
“And why do we still consider bread and milk essentials?” I continued. “When’s the last time we had a satisfying bread pie and washed it down with a tall glass of milk? The civil war!?” I was trying to be witty, but failing. Lucky for me, Janice humored my foul mood with a smile.
“My grouchy old comedian,” she said as she leaned in for a kiss.
We continued to shuffle our way through the crowds slowly, our progress interrupted by people who stopped to engage Janice in conversation. She was a magnet for small talk and chit-chat, with friends and strangers alike. About the weather, her long dark hair, or the items in her cart; Janice always responded with a smile and seemed to sincerely enjoy the interaction. I often tried to avoid eye contact; I’ve learned that that usually kept people from asking questions I didn’t care to answer. Unlike Janice, I always found these conversations exhausting and tedious.
We placed our items on the belt and began to check out.
“You guys ready for this storm?” asked the cashier. He was a young kid; his hair was long and stringy, to match his long beard and even longer apron.
“Hopefully we will be now!” said Janice, as though she hadn’t just discussed the same question a good fifty times as we forced our way through the store.
“I tell ya, they say this is the worst winter we’re going to have in a hundred years!” he exclaimed. “Can you believe that? My mother says this is surely a sign of the end of times,” he said, with an intensity that belied his lackadaisical presence.
“It sure is strange,” Janice said as she shot me a glance that plainly said, “please, for once in your life help me out here”.
“Hey buddy, you see the Caps game last night?” I asked.
“You kidding?! It was amazing!” he continued on, muting out the sound of his register with the overenthusiastic parlance of a very average hockey game.
I felt a sense of accomplishment in doing something so simple for Janice. I suppose it came from the fact I knew Janice always appreciated the small things I did for her.
The snow had begun to fall quite heavily while we were shopping. There were perhaps three to four inches already piling up upon the cold earth. Our little Nissan was going to have her wheels full with this one, but I prided myself on being quite the expert when it came to driving in wintry conditions. I had a formula – fast windshield wipers plus a light foot on the gas equals an uncanny ability to drive in snow. For some reason, a surprising number of people had not figured out this intensely complicated equation.
“Now be careful hun, we want to get home in one piece!” Janice muttered, chewing on her bottom lip in concern.
“We are all made up of several pieces as it is,” I said with a lopsided grin. “If we arrive home in a few extra pieces that would be fine, we might need some assembly, but then we’d be good as new!”
“I have no comment for that nonsense,” she replied, rolling her eyes in mock derision.
I flashed Janice a smile as we continued on our terribly slow ride home. The white snow was a subtle contrast against the heavy grey of the sky. Snow plows worked in vain to keep the roads clean by keeping the snow filthy and piling it along the side of the road. The trees were perhaps the most beautiful in these conditions. The thin branches had become fat and swollen, as though they ran around obsessed with catching every flake before it had the chance to land.
By the time we reached our apartment, the roads had been deserted. Our parking lot may as well have been the field beyond our buildings; it had not been plowed in the least, and the snow was quite deep. As I made my way between the buildings, my tires finally lost traction. I hit the gas only to hear the hissing spinning sound of rubber against a quickly transforming snow that was now a thin layer of ice.
“Babe! We were so close!” a playful Janice groaned, with a smile. “Now we have to WALK all the way through the garage and into the building! What kind of a man makes his true love do these things in such a terrible storm?!”
“This kind of a man!” I said proudly pointing a finger at my layered chest. I released the brake and slowly pressed and released the gas, creating a gentle rocking that moved the car forward, and out of our moment of despair. Janice immediately slipped my car back into neutral.
“Hey, what the hell! Why’d you do that?” I cried out in shock and surprise.
“Well…,” Janice said thoughtfully, “I was wondering, what if we just hung out here for a little while and enjoyed the snow? I mean, if we go upstairs, you know Laura and Mark are just going to bother us. At least we know no one is going to come out here for a while.” As she gazed at me, her cheeks began to redden, as did the tip of her nose. Her eyes had that mixture of mischief and love that had driven me to change my mind on many an occasion.
“You sure it’s not too cold for you?” I asked, looking around us. We were stuck in between two buildings, away from prying eyes and the inquisitive passers-by.
“That’s why you’re going to keep me warm, aren’t you?” she snorted. “Let’s go to the backseat so you can wrap your skinny little arms around me,” she continued, with a smirk.
“What the hell,” I thought. This wasn’t the first time I had given in to one of her crazy ideas.
She laughed and quickly opened her door. I followed suit and we stumbled into the backseat. I closed the door behind me and leaned back against it. Janice slowly backed up into my chest as I wrapped my arms around her.
“See, now isn’t this nice?” she whispered.
As the snow fell, it muted the world around us. I listened to Janice’s breathing and held her hands in mine. Life itself slowed down. The trees, grass and flowers put into a state of suspended animation. We sat there for several hours, talking about things we had talked about before, debating ideas we had debated before, with the same zeal and zest as always. Every now and then, Janice would turn and give me a soft kiss when I said something she enjoyed, her cold nose pressed against my cheek or nose. She laughed and loved with me as we watched Mother Nature bury everything around us. Then, as the cold became too unbearable, Janice simply looked up into my eyes and asked, “Think you’re ready to go home?”
“I’m always ready to go home with you,” I replied, and watched as her eyes became big and watery, which only brought out their beauty that much more. I got into the driver’s seat and began my rocking motion again, only this time the car went nowhere. We laughed as we realized we would have to abandon ship. We grabbed up our bags and trudged through the now knee-high snow, towards our home.
The sun was falling warm on my face through the window; the chair I was sitting in dug into my back uncomfortably. There was always sadness when I thought of my Janice, just as there was always joy. And love. I haven’t seen her for many winters now; couldn’t hear her laugh, or feel her love. Yet, I visited her in my memory so often that I sometimes forgot she was gone. In my memories, she was alive, as vivid there as she was in life; and, so I liked to dream her dreams. A tear slipped from my eye and down my cheek, the breeze cooling my face where it fell, just as it had on that winter night when her kisses had left cold spots on my cheek. I closed my eyes again and slipped back into my memories, where Janice stood at our front door, waiting for me to bring in the last of our groceries. I stopped for a moment, wanting to take in the view. I smiled as I felt the soft warmth of the sun on my face. I was finally ready to go home to my Janice.