Tuesday, February 1, 2011


Snow. With a vengeance. Howling winds. Darkness. "White-out conditions." "We are encouraging everyone to stay off the roads after 6 pm."

Four of the family are safely home, but not the fifth. It's 5:30 in the afternoon, it's 5:33, it's 6:00. There were rumors that the store would close early for the night. "Sixty percent of what you fear doesn't happen." Images: the long drive home through the woods. Fishtailing trucks, lonely roads, looming headlights, taillights; the flickering, pale orange sparkling lights of a plow far, far away. You cook a very plain meal and do the dishes because it seems better to do that than to look casually out the windows.

Images, states of mind: the eerie in-between feeling of anticipating what it will be like when everything is all right of course, when it's not all right yet. An hour from now perhaps, or an hour and a half. Or twenty minutes? You can anticipate the slam of a car door, the usual footsteps on the porch. But they haven't happened. It snows. The windows rattle, the snow against them sounding like whipping, rustling cloth. 

After dishes, then what? There's a difficult feeling in the stomach. You have no desire to do anything giving any pleasure or relaxation. That's like another country, which you haven't reached or even embarked for. It's 6:04, it's 6:17. Phone calls. "Just checking to see if everyone's home safe." 

The cat, from out of nowhere, spreads herself lazily on the floor at your feet, near the back door. That might be the sound of an engine outside, but looking won't make it so. And what if it isn't?

But there are stories of cats knowing when their people are home, or even on their way home. You part the blinds. There is the car, halfway in the driveway, but stuck, and the snow streaming wildly in its yellow headlights.

Well of course. Naturally nothing would have happened. A great breath of normalcy. "She's home, she just can't get in the driveway. I'll help shovel her out." Actions: throwing on boots and coat, hat and gloves. Stomping out to the wind and the darkness that isn't real darkness but a geometry of weird, orange-gray wedges. Stomping out into shadows and angles of light from the big streetlight and the shape of the house, stomping out into the fine lashing snow. It billows and rolls off the neighbors' roofs. The temperature really isn't that bad. It's even enjoyable, to be out in the elements like this.

We shovel. The wind pushes at our backs, tearing at the snow and throwing it from our shovels. She complains that her first serious problem on the drive home "had to happen right in front of the house!" I said, better here than in the woods.

We finish freeing the car and clearing out a parking space for it. She pulls in. Inside, there is much thudding of boots and tossing of wet clothes over the shower curtain bar to dry. There are phone calls returned -- "oh, good" -- pajamas, a late dinner, a movie. Pleasure and relaxation. Everyone has the day off tomorrow, while outside, the worst of the night blizzard is said to be only just beginning. Hours and hours of it. Safety.

Across the street the neighbor's dog bounds out, leashed to the silhouette of her owner in their yard's geometry -- in the glare of the porch light, the angle and shadows of their steps, the overhanging gutter, the roof and the vague square of the house behind. She relieves herself, bounds about as if wanting to chase squirrels or the snow, and hunches over again beneath the tall, bare, straight-swaying trees while billows of snow and wind pour around them. Then her leash tightens as she bounds back to safety, dragging Master. A mile away, the deer we'll see in spring must huddle in the black woods.

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