After midnight, the snow began to fall more heavily—puffs of white wonder, glistening in the bright, night sky.
Lying awake in the bed beside him, she couldn’t see the snow, but she could imagine it clinging fast to the roof, burrowing into the shingles’ cracks, weighing down the tender branches of the sapling just off the front steps, smothering the yard. The weatherman on the news had promised six to nine inches by morning, nine to twelve by early afternoon, and the drifts, she knew, would be even deeper in the woods surrounding the house. No, she couldn’t see the snow, but from the cold air straining through the caulking around the windowsills, she felt certain it was falling faster and that the wind had grown more brisk. Their home was no longer tight.
“This means we can get new windows soon,” he whispered, as if reading her mind. She wasn’t certain whether to be comforted or not by the fact that he too was still awake.
The news had talked about the mounting layoffs as well, the shrinking economy. Construction had already slowed down; carpenters were hardly in high demand; and she knew he was sometimes careless, never the best worker on the site. Who knew how long it would be before he was hired on again?
The cold air blew accusingly around the windowsill by the bed. He had patched it up, but new windows were needed. Sills and sashes didn’t come cheap. And turning up the heat didn’t help; the old boiler was far from efficient and they couldn’t afford to raise the temperature. Putting food on the table came first. The only way to afford the sashes and sills and higher energy bills was to put less food on the table, and there was barely enough bread to go around now.
Tomorrow would be a busy day. At seven, they planned to pull back the bedcovers in the next room, pile them into some crumpled semblance of anguish and loss. Her husband would rush into the snow while she called the neighbors, the nearest of them a mile down the road. The house would soon be filled with people from this remote corner of the county, while police led others in a search of the woods. And what would she say when it was over? They must have seen the snow from their window, run out to play in it. That’s why they were dressed so meagerly, wasn’t it? No, the door wouldn’t lock. The key had broken off in it last week. No one ever comes out here. We didn’t see any rush to fix it. We never heard them leave.
She remembered watching her husband breaking the key in the door when the forecast called for snow. He’d used pliers to arrange the alibi, control where the key broke so that he could fix it himself later. No use buying new parts. Every penny counts, he’d told her. He’d assumed as well that the neighbors would chip in for the funerals.
The wind stalked once more around the fissured sill, searching out her hair and her neck, crowding against the blanket she was suddenly embarrassed to have wrapped around her.
Had it been only an hour since they’d awakened the twins to see the blizzard? Sleepy eyes had grown wide at the sight of it. Outside after dark? Hide-and-seek in the snow? A special night! Their faces were aglow with wonder.
And they were still out there now, hiding behind some fallen tree or huddled in some shallow ditch amongst a flurry of silly giggles as the air thickened with falling flakes and the snow overwhelmed the land. No breadcrusts to cover here, only her husband’s purposeful, hurrying strides and her own only faintly faltering footprints. But what frigid blasts could muffle the radiant mirth of her children calling after her, perhaps still calling merrily into the emptiness: “We’re ready! Come find us! Come find us now!”
Originally published in the anthology One Paycheck Away (Main Street Rag Press, 2003)