Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Long Winter

The ice nearly caught us, soaked as we were from the gentle rain. We had thought to get out of the city, find some place safer, maybe a cabin in the woods upstate somewhere. Just someplace to hole up where we could cut enough firewood to stay warm until the food ran out.

The temperature had dropped suddenly the way it does nowadays, a hundred degrees or more in a couple minutes. With everything being wet it was ice everywhere. When the temperature falls that fast all the moisture doesn’t have time to turn into pretty snowflakes. The air seems to freeze and shatter. The noise is incredible. Of course you can’t see either. We ran, holding hands so we wouldn’t lose each other, clumsy in all the layers of wool and cordura and nylon and spandex. We were lucky- we found an unlocked door and tumbled in. Someone slammed the door shut behind us. There was a pretty little patch of frost on the carpet by the door. And it was warm, at least enough to strip down to two sweaters and just one pair of pants- real luxury.

Seven of us stayed in that abandoned restaurant while the cold outside got worse and worse. It seemed like this was really it. We had a generator and plenty of fuel to run the electric space heater. We huddled around it in the dark and told stories like cavemen.

Theresa, who was fifty-one and had been a children’s book illustrator, went out once to see if she could find some more food and fuel. When she came back the door had iced over and we couldn’t get it open. We could just barely hear her crying if we pressed our ears to the door. Even though the cold burned our ears we took turns listening until she stopped. It was all we could do.
A week later the fuel for the generator started to gel from the cold, even with the space heater turned up all the way. Elliot stripped down and curled his body around the last two cans of gas. Elliot  was seventeen and had wanted to go to medical school to be an oncologist ever since his cousin survived breast cancer a few years ago. We covered Elliot and the gas cans with every tablecloth in the restaurant. We all took turns giving our body heat to the gas cans. After two days they froze solid in the thirty seconds it took to switch. There was nothing we could do.

We bundled up with every bit of fabric we could find and huddled tight together, like penguins. We had all said everything we could think of to say days ago, so we lay in a pile and watched the frost creep over our clothes until there was nothing to see but white.

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