first flakes of the season fell two inches each hour as temperatures
plummeted across the northern plains and into Middle Tennessee.
Leaning back in the chair, head up, and trying not to blink, he
squeezed the small bottle of eye drops until they started falling.
The first few splashed on his forehead and right cheek, but a
couple landed in his eye. He cleaned the liquid off his face with
his right shirtsleeve and tossed the empty bottle in the wastepaper
Thats good, he thought, and he rubbed the back of
his neck with his left hand and continued to type on the keyboard
with the other. Ten in the morning, and Ive already got
a headache from staring at this computer.
He stood up in his bathroom stall-like office on the fourth floor
of the universitys library, looked away from the bright
monitor, and slipped a small pack of salted sunflower seeds into
his pants pocket.
I need a break, he said, and he opened the door, walked
out into the fiction rooms long corridor, and moved toward
the ceiling-to-floor windows. Where did all this come from?
Monster snowflakes fell like fat raindrops, and they must had
been doing so for some time since the parking lot and its many
cars were covered under a thick layer of the stuff. The once-naked
tree limbs were draped in white, and he felt that the maples and
oaks were inside an oil-based painting with colors of white and
silver and opal.
Excellent, he thoughtknowing what was waiting for
him at his home over a county away: a Rubbermaid snow sled. For
seasons, he had tormented the many adolescent boys in his hilly
subdivision. With each snow, he would drag his sled to the top
of the great hills and blast past kids who struggled along on
trash can lids and rusty metal sleighs. Im going to kick
some serious junior high butt.
Then he watched as mini-vans and cars, as well as trucks and SUVs,
filled the side streets that connected the universitys dorms,
classrooms, and administration buildings.
Crap! he yelled, and he ran back to his stall.
With the door swung open behind him, he banged on his keyboard
until his e-mail program opened, and he started typing a message
to his boss: Hi Dean: I live in a rural part of Wilson County.
Skinny blacktop roads. Slow tractors and speeding teenagers. That
sort of thing. If I have any hope of making it home to get tonights
party ready in time, Ive gotta go now. Ill record
today as a vacation day or something, but I gotta get out of here.
Ill be in touch via e-mail from home. Take care
He slipped his cell phone off his belt and punched his wifes
number in, receiving a loud tone with the message Warning:
Servicing Not Available! on its small display.
Figures, he thought as he jammed the phone back on his
belt and called his in-laws from his office phone.
the voice said.
Hey Jack, its me. Have you heard from your daughter
Not since she dropped off the boy this morning.
Have you looked outside over the past couple of hours?
No. As soon as Noah got here, he fell asleep, and we went
back to bed, too. I just got out of the shower.
Well, its snowing like a maniac, and Im coming
home early. Sort of glad. This will give me plenty of time to
get things ready for tonight.
What did you decide?
I had a huge cookie made up. I put it on the counter this morning.
She should see it first thing when she walks into the kitchen
after work. I love it that their birthdays are on the same day.
I called the pizza order in yesterday, and it should arrive about
six oclock. I got her the black pearl necklace, and on the
way home, Ill grab Noahs present. I found him this
huge bulldozer. Its over a foot long. Better go, Jack. I
need to get on the road.
Wait, her mom wants to talk to you.
Hey, he said, turning off his monitor.
Well be over between five and six, she said.
Listen, I reached her college roommate after all, and she
is planning on being there.
Great. I finished painting the spare room a couple days
ago. So, if she wants to spend the night and visit with Hadley
that will be perfect. See you soon.
As his computer was shutting off, he put down the phone and turned
on a small radio; and while he gathered his things, the forecaster
forecasted: An overnight low of 15. Morning clouds tomorrow.
Some sunshine could help road surfaces a little, but not gonna
see much improvement at all with high of 28. Temperatures plunge
tomorrow night. Most of you will see single digits maybe down
near zero at the Cumberland Plateau.
With each breath, the frosty air from his lungs traveled toward
the front of his 1996 Ford Thunderbird and swirled when it hit
the windshield. He shivered as he cranked the big V-8 and revved
the engine. While the motor warmed, the radio played the school
reports: We want to update you on some closings. About every
county is closed out there. Metro schools are closing early today,
and they will be closed tomorrow, as well as those in Robertson,
Cheatam, Williamson, Wilson, and Rutherford Counties.
Gonna be some day, he thought as he joined the chain that
stretched along campus and across town.
On a sunny day with a cooperative crowd, the construction at the
Stones River Bridge was a twenty-minute experience, and he accepted
that hed be there longer this morning with the flakes tumbling
across the front of his vehicle. As his car crawled down the congested
stretch of Murfreesboro Road toward the bridge, his clutch foot
was thankful for the automatic transmission, and he scanned through
the radio stations, commercial after commercial.
They sure know when they have a captive audience, he thought.
A man standing at the entrance to the bridge pulled and tugged
a chain that extended four feet away and ended as a noose around
a brown and black German shepherds neck. The man wore a
military overcoat and navigated the crowd with a sign that identified
him as a Gulf War veteran.
Continuing with the radio buttons, he paused when he heard the
musical introduction used by the helicopter skycam traffic report:
Lots of volume and slow moving traffic. Interstate problems
everywhere. Northbound 65 at Metro Center Boulevard, we have a
crash there. Traffics backed up well past the 40 split at
that location. Eastbound 24 at Whites Creek Pike, we have an accident.
Southbound 65 at Harding Place, another crash. An injury collision
also 40 eastbound at Old Hickory due to several jack-knifed tractor-trailers.
Traffics at a standstill, and thats due to the icy
Poor bastards, he said. Glad Im not going
After clearing the bridge, he flowed with traffic out of town,
but instead of following the others west along Murfreesboro Road,
he merged with Interstate 840, by-passing Music City. The entrance
ramp appeared slick as he followed it. Out of habit, he looked
over his shoulder at the emptiness and blended with the falling
snow, and he let his car slip into the archeology of the grooves
made in the slow lane by his fellow travelers. He liked being
on the interstate, and he allowed his automobile to reach 40 mph
for the first time that morning. He rolled the window down halfway
and turned on the heater, enjoying the feeling of the cool air
on his face and the heat on his feet.
When we get the roads cleared, a voice said through
the radio, we will run our mega-plows. The five mega-plows
are larger than normal plows and cannot be used until the snarl
of traffic is relieved. In Middle Tennessee, the Department of
Transportation has 222 salt trucks and 144 saltwater trucks working
right now. They are equipped with 50,000 tons of salt and
over 500,000 gallons of saltwater. Were going to be fine.
Uh, huh, he said, and he turned down the radio and
looked at the vehicles all around him. Some were sitting alongside
the road: they idled, waited, and pushed exhaust fumes into the
air. Others were ditchedabandoned; and those vehicles appeared
to him now as huge humps of snow.
When the semi-truck approached from the rear, he knew it was too
late to do anything except look toward the passenger-side window.
The roar of a speeding truck filled his car, and it was not alone.
The vibration and hum entered through his window along with a
combination of snow and ice and slush and dirtall smacking
him up side his head, jamming into his left ear and spilling into
his lap, down his back, and onto the passenger seat. As the truck
zoomed past and leapt forward into the ever-reducing visibility,
it left a thick layer of sludge on the Fords windshield.
He rolled up his window and put his wipers on high, revealing
a Chevy, and he had to pump his breaks to prevent a collision.
Shit, he thought. Where did all these cars come from?
Wherever they came from, they were with him now: in front, passing
alongside, and coming from behind.
After two country songs and a promotion on how to prevent hair
loss, the announcer broke into the broadcast: Metro police
are telling us that if you have a non-injury accident, they will
not be able to respond. Exchange insurance information. Youre
on your own for the next few days, folks.
This persons killing me, he thought as he led his
car into the passing lane. Thirty miles an hour is too slow
for this highway. Alongside the Chevy, he saw a woman with
an out of style haircut screaming into a cell phone, and he felt
his back end wobble. He slowed and returned to the right lane,
to the comfort zone of the grooves, thinking maybe thirty miles
an hour is okay, after all.
Looking into his rear-view, he watched as others attempted to
maneuver the passing lane, but their slipping and sliding forced
them back into the right lane as well, and he heard a trucker
on the radio say, When its this bad and the tires
start spinning, you gotta pull off. Its gut instincts.
Sure, he said, and he removed his cell phone from
his belt, opened the top, and read the out-of-service message
on the display, saying whatever while tossing the
phone over his shoulder toward the back seat. Hadley, he
thought, honey I hope youre okay.
His daily trip along I-840 that took fifteen minutes was now tripled,
and he put on his right turning signal a good mile before the
Highway 109 cloverleaf exit appeared.
The trick to getting up hills, the voice on the radio
said, is to keep going, keep the momentum going.
Im so glad you told me that, he thought.
Even though he was in the turning lane for the exit, he left his
blinker on in case someone behind wasnt paying attention,
and he determined that while the exit ramp speed was forty miles
an hour, he should do a little extrarealizing that there
was a lot of clover on this leaf, and his rear-wheel drive had
no drive on this ice. He goosed the gas pedal and as he was to
go into the turn, the woman who had been in front of him merged
without looking and tapped her brakes: her four-wheel-drive vehicle
crawled and scratched up and around the circle.
Swearing, he followed best he could, traveling too close to her
out of fear of slowing down, and as they reached the tip top of
the ramp, just before level ground, still on the incline, he watched
as the lady came to a full stop, looked over her shoulder at the
long stretch of snowy nothingness, punched her accelerator, entered
the highway, and continued forward.
He was forced to stop behind her, and so was the import pickup
behind him, the mini-van behind the pickup, the Corvette behind
the mini-van, and so on and so forth, all the way to the bottom.
Then, he felt his Thunderbird slither back.
In reaction to his turning the steering wheel all the way from
the left to the right and flooring the gas the entire time, the
Ford promised momentum before continuing in the wrong direction,
and as he was preparing to sign his snowy surrender papers, he
remembered one last thing. With his right thumb, he pushed a small
button on the gearshift between the two front bucket seats, and
once more he jerked the wheel left and right and floored the gas
pedal. This time, the overdrive was no longer enabled, and the
cars lower gears spun the back tires with a greater jerk.
All of the gauges on the dashboard redlined, the car vibrated
and shimmied forward, and he thought, I still have 12 more
payments on this car. I cant burn it up now.
He saw the drivers all standing outside their immobile vehicles,
and he thought, It wasnt my fault. I knew we shouldve
kept going at the top. I swear.
For many miles, he was alone.
He glided on the long, white, swooping curves through the countryside,
and he became an expert in the curvature of the land and of the
pain that ran throughout the deep muscles in the back of his neck.
Relax, he thought, breathe, and he rotated his shoulders, helping
the pain dissolve as it traveled the flat triangular muscles of
his shoulders and upper back. Eventually, he approached the traffic,
and each hill presented the same challenges: giving the car enough
gas to climb the hillpreventing it from sliding backwards,
and once at the top, slowing enough without putting the
car into an all-out slide into the car in front.
Up ahead, a few cars pulled off the highway, and there she was:
the lady from the interstate.
Hell no, he thought, and he punched the gas pedal. The
Ford spun, but it moved forward, and with him in the on-coming
traffics lane, he slipped and slid beyond her, savoring
her dwindling image in the rear-view.
Before him, the highways intersection with Interstate 40
forged a huge arching monster.
For a dozen years, commerce had used the highway as an unofficial
Nashville by-pass, pushing goods north and south even though the
exits truck stop had long since closed.
With a glance, he guessed that he was screwed. He knew he had
pushed the car and its bald tires far already, and this next stop
might be the last.
The incline branched into four lanes, two each way, and those
in front of him were packed, bumper-to-bumper all the way to the
top of the hill where the interstates exit spliced into
the highway. He shook his head and watched the scrambling motorists
make sudden, abrupt moves. Reaching the back of the pile in the
right lane, he pumped his breaks with quick stabs until his car
paused, and he felt the Ford slide backwards until it stopped
with the back tires on the edge of the road.
Frustrated faces squinted out of the frosty windows in the cars
next to him, fellow travelers with their out-of-service cell phones
clutched in their hands, and those same hands were white-knuckled
when the cars ahead of theirs began to fishtail. Their raised
eyebrows and constant shifting in their seats reminded him of
his numb behind and the random, painful twinges that tickled up
and down his right leg. He fiddled with the radio until he came
upon an interview with a snowplow driver: Hydraulics shut
down. It wont even crank, the man said. They
got more trucks on the way. Everyone needs to sit around and have
some fun. Im glad you boys showed up because these people
have been stopping and wanting to know why Im sitting here
and not pushing no snow. So, theyre getting upset. They
need to bear with us a little while, and well get em
took care of.
He let the automobile in front of him go an extra car length toward
the top before he hit the gas. The back of the Ford slid to the
right, and he compensated with the steering wheel, taking the
car out of overdrive at the same exact moment the lower gears
inching the auto forward and up.
Put it in second, he heard a woman in a black limousine
next to him yell at her driver. Put the car in second gear.
Do you hear me?
He was relieved not to be traveling with that woman, and he looked
in his rear-view to see the lady from the interstate about ten
Yeah, he said. Thats a good place for
you. Keep your butt back there.
At the top of the hill, he looked to his right at the interstate
entrance ramp that was now a semi-circle of steel as one eighteen-wheeler
after another filled the ramp that swung and plunged. The drivers
were standing around, drinking coffee and chatting, and he felt
that they seemed to be in good spirits, realizing that no one
was going to meet any deadlines today. The Dell computer factory
was to his left, and all of the restaurants, gas stations, and
liquor stores that sprung from the fields to prey on its shift
workers were full to capacity. Amid the snow and the gridlock
around him were many miserable people: cold, tired, frustrated,
hungry. Some of the restaurants sent employees with hamburgers
and cheeseburgers to those idling, and he screamed some sort of
loud squall as he waved his hands out the window, his belly growling.
All I have left are two hamburgers, a kid said.
He told the boy he would take one, and he squirmed around the
front seat, trying to pull some change out of his pocket.
thought they salted the roads this morning, he heard one
of the kids say to another.
Doesnt look like they salted much, the other
He handed three one-dollar bills out his window, the two exchanged
what was in their hands, and he spent the next twenty minutes
listening to bad radio and eating cold beef.
Eventually, the highway intersected with Lebanon Road, the secondary
route that flowed from the countryside, through suburbia, and
into Nashville. While not as packed as Highway 109, this narrow
roads low shoulders demanded respect, too, and it was littered
with abandoned vehicles in both directions. And so, he moved along
toward home, wondering how best to reach his rural community:
from the Mount Juliet side along Nonaville Road or from the other
side, through Hermitage.
Definitely the Hermitage side, he thought. Longer trip,
but less hills.
With time, he passed through Mount Juliet and drove beyond Nonaville
Road. The first thing he noticed about The Peanut Jar toy store
to his left was the large pink and blue electric words DOLLS,
TOYS, GAMES, PUZZLES, INFANTS, and CRAFTS. They ran across the
front of the stores roof, and their lights reflected off
the icy crust that entombed the stores slogan located just
under the block letters: a warm & friendly place 2 play.
The snow flowed from the roof and covered the wooden bench in
front of the store, the newspaper stand next to the bench, the
cobblestone sidewalk under it all, and the parking lot that extended
to the road and to his car. His comfort speed of three miles per
hour allowed him to gaze at the store. While the OPEN sign was
turned off, he could see through the large windows at the people
inside. Knowing that Noahs yellow bulldozer was there forced
him to stomp his breaks, and the back of his Ford swiveled until
the car was sideways in the middle of the street. He let go of
the pedal, and he felt his eyes open wide until he returned to
a natural position. With the car bumping along in the snow, he
thought, Im sorry son. Ill get you a birthday gift
Shit, he said as he saw the long string of domestics
and imports that were stacked up in front of him. A wreck.
And, I forgot about this hill.
He stopped his car behind the last in line and waited, wondering.
As the cars moved, his wheels spun in place, and no combination
of taking the car in and out of overdrive and turning the wheels
would push it up the slick grade. Instead, he slipped the car
in neutral and let it roll backwards and into a gas station.
Ive lived in Nashville eighteen years, and I ain't
ever seen it like this, a voice said through the radio.
Shut up, he said as he turned it off and backtrack
his path in slow-moving inches.
Well, its not as if I have a choice, he thought.
I dont have enough money for a hotel room. Hadleys
at the hospital working, and Noahs at his grandparents
house. Wherever Im headed this evening, Im gonna be
He tried with little success not to think of Nonaville Road with
its inclines and arches, curves and culverts. He remembered the
first time he saw that road a decade earlier during the days when
he courted his wife, riding in her 1968 metallic black Mustang
and gripping the side of the seatwondering which breath-holding
curve they would miss. And as his own Ford now approached that
same road, he thought about the day they bought their home in
the Horseshoe Cove subdivision, smack dab in the middle of it
Im doomed, he said aloud as he felt the back
of the Thunderbird slide during the turn onto that slim, slick
road. I know it.
One curve after another, he felt as if he were inside the metric
system: not sure of the distance, but knowing that he was making
Maybe, he thought. I still have to make two bad curves
and one big-ass hill.
He crept into the on-coming lane to pass a car that had stopped
in front of him a few feet before the first curve. The first one
navigated and the trees out of his line of sight, he saw the red
glow from the many taillights, all the way to, around, and up
the second turn and the hill.
Its dark, he thought. When did it get dark?
To his right a group of boys stood in the front yard of an old
house with white siding, and they threw snowballs at one another
while two small children built a man of snow in their image. At
his left, the parking lot of the Church of Christ, a small humble
structure, was empty and glazed over with snow and ice. In front,
the red taillights blinked on and off like a knot of tangled Christmas
tree lights on the living room floor, and a few of the travelers
were out of their carsriding their charley horses around
in no particular direction. And he watched as, one by one, the
wanderers returned to their automobiles, spun around in the middle
of the street, and drove toward and beyond him in a direction
that they did not want to go, toward nowhere. As the last in the
caravan approached, he rolled his window down, motioned, and leaned
his head out the window.
A mini-van coasted to a stop, and he thought that he could almost
see the passengers through its fogged windows. The figures moved
about like ghostly specters, and the muffled music that escaped
the metal was familiar, vaguely.
He watched the driver crank down the window, and then he asked,
The smell of tomato paste and hot cheese whooshed out and scratched
at his nose, and his stomach rumbled; and he watched the images
transform into earthly forms, the lyrics blend with guitar strings
and piano keys.
Nope, a tired-looking woman said. The hills
too big. Theyre telling everyone who doesnt have four-wheel
drive to turn around. Cant make it.
Good luck, she said.
Sitting alone in the darkness, he turned up the heat and flipped
on the radio: My lunchroom custodian went over to Gallatin
Road to a store and got bread. Our lunch was late, but we had
ham-and-cheese sandwiches, fruit, and milk. My teachers helped
prepare that. A second later, another voice spoke: In
all, sixty Metro school buses are either stranded or stuck with
students on board. We have sixty-nine thousand students in our
* * *
5:51 p.m. 22°F
Standing in the dark at the entrance of the Church of Christ driveway
and holding his driver-side floor mat, he watched his breath float
away, and he looked at the children across the street in time
to see one of the larger boys hit one of the smaller ones in the
back of the head with a hard snowball. The painful screams whistled
through the trees, forcing the snow and ice to break away from
the fragile limbs, and a violent wind blew through the darkness,
rocking his car, pushing over one of the kids, and hurling snow
dust into his face, which he was able to partially cover with
the mat. While thanking the warmth of his scarf, a 4,220-pound
Bobcat roared behind him, forcing him to swing around in one continuous
Hey pal, the face from the cab said. What are
The face was aglow with lights radiating from the engine temp
and fuel gauges, as well as from the voltmeter and warning indicators,
and his huge white teeth grinned in the night with the Kubota
As he was about to pull away his scarf and string together his
best collection of swear words, the face in the cab asked, Do
you need help?
I live up there, he said, and he pointed to the curve.
My subdivisions at the top. Im gonna ditch my
car in the church parking lot and walk home, but I need to get
deep enough in the drive so the back end wont stick out.
The snows so high that I thought I better clear some of
it away before I plowed into it. I was going to use this to scoop
He held up the mat.
Well, hell, the face said, teeth still showing. Ill
clear a path.
Id appreciate it.
He stood, shivered, and watched as the face maneuvered the Bobcat
and its huge black scoop up and down the church parking lot, clearing
out a path all the way to the building. Searching for his keys,
he found the sunflower seeds crammed in a pocket, and the taste
of the salt forced his stomach to make a rumbling, throaty, menacing
sound, like an angry hungry dog. And he remembered his sons
dog Luke, and his son, and his wife, and their birthdays, and
his empty home. On the way out of the lot, the face asked, Hows
Fantastic, he said. Hey, somebody told me the
hill up there is too slippery to attempt. Before I ditch, do you
mind taking a look?
Not a problem, the face said as he sipped from a hot
steaming cup, positioned the machine toward the hill, and chewed
his way down the road, revealing bits and pieces of blacktop behind
He watched the face make the curve, and as the Bobcat swiveled
and pointed upward, the scoop kneaded into the packed ice and
snow, clearing a partial path.
What the hell, he said as he jumped into his car and
slammed the door. I can always slide down and ditch.
He buckled in tight, not sure where he might end up, and as his
car moved forward, he goosed the V-8 and glided around the second
curve. Looking up with his bright lights on, he saw a patch of
blacktop and when he reached that portion of the incline, he punched
the mighty motor once for a moment, and he felt the automobile
propel upward. Coasting once more, he crested the hill and saw
the thick white ice shining all around him in the glow from a
single light post, fueled by his homeowner association dues. The
Bobcat and the faces teeth were off to his left, and to
the right, there it was: his subdivision. Before he could enjoy
his victory, he realized that the entrance was filled with many
junior high kids who were throwing snowballs and flopping about
on thin circular sleds. Several older boys were on four-wheelers,
pulling still more kids on sturdier sleds, and everyone paused
and watched as the Ford turned toward them. Unwilling to give
up and unable to control the car with any accuracy, he blasted
his horn and hit the entrance.
Move or die sons of bitches, he yelled. The snowballers
jumped to the side, and the four-wheelers took off, dragging the
other kids behind. Slope after slope, deep into the subdivision,
he chased them down and up two huge hills and beyond three culs-de-sac.
And with that, he whipped his car into his cul-de-sacs entrance,
giving the car plenty of gas and being thankful that his was the
first house. The Ford moved toward his home with unsettling speed,
and a flip of the steering wheel sent the car into the ditch by
his brick mailbox.
Close enough, he thought as he turned the engine off, flatlining
the gauges and needles, silencing the radio.
He pushed his way across the driveway and through the front yard,
his feet crunching into the deep snow. Triangles of light from
the poles split the darkness every fifty yards or so through the
subdivision, and neighboring childrenmixed with the occasional
parentcast silhouettes. He balanced his weight and navigated
the four slippery steps to his front door by grabbing the flagpole
that extended from his porch, and he leaned his left shoulder
on the front door and wiggled his numb digits until the correct
The frozen moisture around the doors edges crackled and
broke as his hard tug opened it, and stale air pushed past him
in the entrance.
Inside, he shut the door and let his jacket fall to the floor.
Then his gloves and scarf. The room was dark, and he stood motionless
for a moment, inhaling and exhaling. Neither hot nor warm, the
temperature was at least more tolerable than the outside, and
he appreciated the lack of a wind chill factor. A red light emitted
from the front of the above-range microwave in the shape of 6:12
in blinks. He pushed his left shoe off first, and when the tip
of his left sock pushed against the back of his right shoe, it
slipped from the snow, leaving his toes wet and cold.
Perfect, he thought, and he yanked the shoe off, let it
fall, and fumbled through the dark for the hall light. So much
for the big shindig. One of the bulbs in the two light fixtures
hanging from the hall ceiling popped and went out, but the other
bulbs sixty watts radiated enough energy for him to navigate
to the kitchen and the phone.
Beep beep beep. Beep beep, beep beep.
Its me, he said into the cordless phone while
jacking up the heat via a small digital wall pad in the hallway
and walking into the kitchen. Have you heard from Hadley?
Yeah, I expected as much. Well have the party some other
time. The cardboard box on the counter reminded him of a
medium pizza, and his growling stomach yanked him across the kitchen
and forced him to lift the lid. The words Happy Birthday Hadley
& Noah formed a half-circle at the bottom, and the rest
of the cookie contained chocolate stars and moons. No, I
havent talked to her yet, but I am thinking of eating their
cookie. Its looking good. Im sure shes okay.
Heck, shes a nurse. After the war stories she tells me at
night, a blizzard doesnt worry me. Hows Little Bit?
Yeah, you have a lodger, for at least tonight. Give him a birthday
hug for me. Im in the ditch out by the front yard. All right.
He ate the biggest star on the cookie, closed the lid, and slid
the box into the refrigerator.
Beep beep beep. Beep beep, beep beep.
The fridge hummed and the bright light released from its innards
forced him to squint as he listened to his wifes cell phone
ring and ring and ring. The rings continued as he evaluated the
uncooked and cold food.
Screw it, he said. He clicked the phone off, pushed
the door closed, and rummaged through the cabinets for his bottle
of Jack Daniels.
The ringing of the phone forced him to abandon his search.
Hi, he heard her say with the clanking of glasses
and forks to plates in the background, and he thought he could
hear, no, he knew he heard, laugher and the faint sound of a sports
program on a television. Was that you who called? Where
you been? Why didnt you call today? Ive been worried.
As soon as I saw snow this morning, I hauled my butt home,
he said. I tried calling, but the cell phone has been out
all day. Where are you, birthday girl?
I cant believe Im not with my little boy on
our birthdays. I feel so bad. Hey, I guess were lucky that
we didnt plan a big to-do, huh? Oh, Im at Ruby Tuesdays.
A bunch of us decided to grab some dinner. Theyre only serving
appetizers, but were struggling through them.
More giggles, and he heard her take a gulp of something.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, he said while entering the bedroom.
Youre not gonna try to drive home, are you?
Not sure. I might carpool with a girl who works in the front
office. You know, strength in numbers, and all that.
Dont, he said on his way to the living room,
holding his pillow and dragging their blanket behind him to the
couch. The whole world is iced over. Stay there. You have
to work tomorrow anyway. Sleep anywhere. Youre better off
at the hospital, trust me. Hey, hold on a second.
He slipped his trousers off and dropped them to the floor, and
after unbuttoning the top two shirt buttons and the ones at his
wrists, he pulled his dress shirt over the top of his head and
threw it across the room.
You there? he asked as he walked down the hallway
and into the bathroom.
Yeah, she said. Whats that sound?
Huh? he asked as he aimed for the toilet. I
dont hear anything. Must be something wrong with your cell
phone. Hey, I spoke with your parents a few minutes ago.
Hows our little boy?
Hes fine. Hes not coming home tonight, thats
I think that theyre having fun with him.
Well see how they feel about that after tonight.
Im sure theyll be fine. I spoke with Mom about
a hour ago. She sounded like she was okay.
Its a good thing, he said as he flushed and
walked back to the couch. Hey, wheres that bottle
that I had in the cabinet?
The baby bottles arent in the cabinet.
No, not the babys bottle. My bottle of Jack.
Oh, I was cleaning the other day, and it was almost empty,
so, I threw it out. What are you doing tonight?
Not much, he said, and he pulled off his socks and
collapsed on the couch. Well, finish your dinner and be
Okay, and you have fun, too.
What do you mean? he asked.
Arent you going sledding? I would.
Hell no. Ive slid enough today.
Goodnight, she said, laughing and adding an, I
Love you, too.
He moaned as he stretched out along the couch and jammed his toes
between the leather cushions. After a couple of turns of his head,
the feathers inside the pillow shifted into an acceptable shape,
and he raised the left side of his body, then the right until
he was swaddled inside the blanket. The glow from the television
brightened the room a little, but it left flashes of darkness
as he flicked from channel to channel. The satellite service could
not penetrate the clouds, and after a few clicks of the remote,
he shifted the television to his local channels, faded with snow.
Thats right, a newscaster said. It was
hard to tell who was moving and who never would move.
Real funny, jerkweed, he said, switching to another
station, turning the volume down low, and dropping the remote.
With glassy eyes, he stopped trying to watch television, shivering
one last time before sinking deeper into the feathers and leather
with a weatherman providing the background noise: Colder
temps are going to be moving in and affecting us, so get ready
for that. Take a look at Channel Sevens Magic Eye Radar.
Youll see that the precipitation is over. We still could
have a few flurries, but the dryer and colder air continues to
move in. Dont look for any more accumulation for now. A
couple other locations to look at: seven inches Antioch; six inches
Red Boiling Springs. Seven in White Bluff. Six in Franklin. Six
in Mount Juliet. The big story now turns from the snow to the
cold air that continues to push into Middle Tennessee.
Burkhead is a writer and editor in Nashville, Tennessee. After
earning an MFA in Writing from Spalding University, he created
the Writer's Loft at Middle Tennessee State University. Roy spends
his days writing for the corporate world while trying to stay
awake long enough at night to write fiction.