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Short Story: "Snow Emergency"

By Micaela Myers


                    Carl worked for the city. In the summer he worked road crew, a job that was hot and boring. But in the winter he drove a snowplow. He loved winters, long snowy winters. Carl liked working alone at night. He didn’t see the snow as his enemy; they both did their jobs, the snow turning the land white, and Carl turning the roads black. Things seemed tidy like that—late at night, the clean lines he drew with his snowplow, the world quiet and peaceful, everyone sleeping while he shaped the morning for them. He enjoyed watching the snow fall in front of his lights and swirl toward the large wipers, nature and man getting along just fine together.

    Carl usually was assigned morning detail, but when he did get a night shift, he’d head straight to Sam’s Highpoint after. When he told people he drove a snowplow, they’d say, “Oh yeah!” and sometimes they’d buy him a beer or two. The regulars always did. Women he’d dated begged him to let them drive, which of course he couldn’t do, but if they lived on one of his assigned streets, he’d plow their driveway for them. But these were bar women. Women he’d see over and over again, different winters with different men. Even if he didn’t see them again, he’d see women like them.

    Then, he met Miranda. She sat at the bar without scanning the room, letting her deep natural red hair fall forward, mouthing the words to the Trisha Yearwood song and tapping her fingers against her beer. Her jeans weren’t tight new Wrangler’s, but old soft denim that her body had worn itself into. Carl sat down at the bar, a stool away, and struck up a conversation with the bartender.

    “Winter’s giving you enough business this year, isn’t she?” the bartender said.

    “Sure is,” Carl replied, turning to Miranda, who wasn’t quite paying attention. But he spoke anyway. “I drive a snowplow for the city…just about every night now it seems.” He had to speak loudly, as the bar had switched on the dancing music. “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places” was blaring all around them. People were moving to the dance floor.

    “Know how to dance?” she asked.

       Carl could dance, and they danced all night. She invited him home. Her house was impressive with glass tables and leather couches. Miranda had a framed diploma above her desk and dry-cleaned dress suits tossed over a chair. Someone who actually dressed down to go out. He stood still, afraid to touch anything. “What do you do?” he asked.

        “A paralegal,” she said, “just a job.”

        Then she led him to the bedroom, wiggled out of her jeans and stood before him wearing a G-string just a few shades darker than her red hair. Carl forgot about the couch, the diploma, and everything else.

        The next night they went dancing and again the following weekend. He couldn’t believe how lucky he’d been to meet her, how amazing it all was. Carl loved to walk into Sam’s Highpoint every Friday night with her on his arm. They talked little but danced and made love a lot.

 

        Winter was a killer that year. He started to hate the snow always calling him away from her. Sometimes when he had to work on a Friday night, she went out without him. One Friday he hurried into Sam’s late, glad the snow had stopped. He found her with a light band of sweat on her forehead, proof she’d been dancing.

        “You wouldn’t believe the ice up on Lone Pine,” he said, ready to tell her how the plow had slid a bit and how he’d helped a minivan make it home. Miranda just flicked her cigarette and ordered another Miller Light from the bartender. “The night guard’s sick tonight,” Carl said, not knowing why he was saying it, “If you want to head over, we could take the snowplow out for a drive around the lot. It’s all salted and safe. Bet you’ve always wanted to try and drive something like that!”

              “No,” she said, “I dated a guy who drove a bulldozer, same thing.”

    “It’s not the same thing at all,” he said.

              “What’s so different about it?” she asked.

              For a moment he couldn’t think of anything. Her wavy red-lava hair made him mad for some reason, along with the lipstick marks on her mug and cigarette.    

              “They’re completely different machines for one thing,” he said. “And where would you be without a snowplow, babe? Huh, where would you be? Stuck in your house painting your toenails, that’s where.”

              “They need it, too,” she said. She looked down at her toes, touching the tips of her boots together. “And why do you guys have to plow the stinking roads at 3 a.m. anyway? They’re just gonna get messed up by morning. Those damn plows are louder than hell and beep like they gotta warn the snow they’re coming.” She crushed out her cigarette and said, “Let’s dance.”

              “Achy Breaky Heart” was playing. Carl detested the song but followed her to the dance floor. He would’ve stayed mad if he hadn’t seen the other men looking at her as she danced with him. Pulling her close and sliding a hand down her back, he squeezed what they were looking at. Up till then he’d taken his luck with Miranda for granted—well not quite for granted. For the weeks he’d known her he’d admired her but hadn’t questioned what she saw in him. Now, dancing with her, and seeing the way the other men looked at her, he wondered. A slow song, “The Dance,” came on, a song they both liked. She laid her cheek against his pressed checkered shirt.

       “Why me?” he asked.

              “What?” she said. Her eyes drifted to the thin row of windows along the wall.

              “Why me? Why do you like me? Why do you go out with me every weekend and not other guys?” He heard her chuckle.

              “I don’t know, why do you ask?”

              “I’m just curious,” he said.

              “I don’t know. You’re stout and strong. I like your big arms and the way you can hold me up against a wall and make love to me.” She kept her head against his shoulder, her eyes still looking away from him. He had to strain to hear what she said above the music, but he didn’t want to interrupt her. He was afraid she’d stop and that he wouldn’t be able to make her say anything more about it because he couldn’t make her do anything once she decided not to. She went on.

              “I like that you don’t pretend to have an opinion about everything, like most guys do—you’re just you, you’re happy being you. You aren’t trying to kiss ass to get to the next rung on the ass-kissing ladder.” She paused for a moment. He had almost stopped dancing; he just swayed from side to side. The slow song ended and a new, fast one he didn’t know came on. She picked her head up and swung away from him. “And I like the way you dance!” she said with a smile.

              And he knew that was that. He tried dancing but couldn’t, so he caught her and led her toward the bar. “I need to get a drink,” he said, with a quick smile. Carl wasn’t at all sure he liked what she’d said. Sam’s was full of people, smoke, and noise—crowded like the words in his mind. He tried to sift through everything she’d mentioned. Carl knew stout meant short, and he didn’t like it. He’d never thought of himself as short; at 5’ 8” he may not be tall, but he wasn’t short. Flexing his muscles under his cowboy shirt, he realized he hadn’t worked out since high school. Were his arms even muscular?

             The next day he drove to his parents’ house and dug out his old set of barbells. He worked out in front of the television, watching CNN. Carl figured it wouldn’t hurt to know a little about what was going on in the world.

             The snow kept coming, and Carl dreaded the early morning and late nights of plowing. When he drove by people’s houses, he imagined them turning over in their beds, pulling their pillows over their ears and groaning. As he reversed, he heard how loud and futile the warning beep sounded. He winced and looked around for lights turning on in the slumbering houses. A bulldozer, he thought, worse than a bulldozer, pushing around frozen water, not even moving the earth or reshaping the land.

              In March, they got the worst blizzard of the season, and he worked for twelve hours straight. All major roads were the priority, and he knew Miranda’s street hadn’t been cleared. At the end of his shift, he drove the plow to her neighborhood and cleared the street, even her driveway. Carl thought he’d see her in the window, but she didn’t appear. He knew he had to get the plow back to the garage, but when he got home he called her.

              “Oh, I didn’t know that was you,” she said. “I heard the plows. I was actually disappointed. I was hoping for another day off work. I love being snowed in.”

              He was silent. Every bone in his body ached. He had driven halfway across town, disobeyed the rules, and added two hours to his shift for her.

              She didn’t notice his silence. “Are all the streets going to be cleared by morning?” she asked.

        It was the first time she ever asked about his work. “No, no,” Carl said, “it will be another full day of plowing before they’re all clear.”

    “Good,” she said. “I’ll just pretend my road wasn’t done and call work tomorrow saying I’m snowed in.” She waited through the silence, then said, “Well, I’m tired. Talk to you tomorrow. Okay?”

    “Yeah,” Carl said, and hung up. He lay in bed exhausted, his eyes slowly scanning the room. He still had old posters of country singers pinned to the wall, from concerts he’d been to and a couple monster truck rallies. Kids’ stuff, no paintings, no pictures.

    His body hurt. Carl looked at his arm, but it didn’t bulge with muscle. He turned on the radio, changed it from the weather station to classic rock, and let it bang in his head till he fell asleep.

    The next week was the city workers’ St. Patrick’s Day party. Except for the yearly Christmas party, it was the biggest event of the year—good food, an open bar, and a live band. He bought a new suit, blue and pinstriped, like a businessman’s. Miranda wore a tight red dress. Seeing her in it, he felt proud once again and forgot about his anger from the week before. They sat with the other snowplowers. Everyone was dressed up and in good spirits. After a few drinks they all began telling stories about snow emergencies —the time Jarrett’s snowplow had turned over, the time the Governor was stuck on the highway in his Mercedes, and they’d had to dig him out and plow a track all the way to his home.

    Carl was having a good time with his friends and assumed Miranda was, too. But before the main course had even been served, he noticed her twirling the thin gold bracelet on her wrist and staring about the room. Other than “Hello” and “Nice to meet you,” Miranda had only spoken once. Toward the end of the Governor story, she leaned over to Jarrett’s wife, Alice, and said, “I bet you have to listen to this all the time.” She said it quiet, but Carl could hear. Alice looked surprised, gave a quick smile, and turned away. Carl was simultaneously ashamed of Miranda and of his job.

    Miranda sat quietly awhile longer, curling her hair over her finger, then she told Carl she had a headache and needed to go home.

    When she slid into the middle of his truck, she said, “Let’s go dancing.”

           “I thought you had a headache,” Carl said.

 As he drove fast around the corners, she moved back to the far side of the seat and buckled herself in. “You best just take me home,” she said.

            And that was that—from then on she wouldn’t talk to him on the phone, and she wouldn’t open the door if he came over. She said they needed to take a break. He wanted to know how long? What did he have to do? When could he see her again?

            “We’re on a break, so go take one,” was all she’d say.

            He’d wait a day or two and try again. Weeks went by, and finally she said it was over; she couldn’t take him anymore. It was April, and it hadn’t snowed in weeks. He stopped calling, but he parked down her street and watched her come and go, watched her friends, watched for men. She went out with groups of friends, men included. He looked carefully as they left the house to see if any put their arm around her or stayed afterward.

            One night he arrived at her house after work. A car had just pulled into her driveway, and a man went inside. Drinking a beer and tapping the steering wheel of his old Ford truck, Carl waited, watching the car clock count up with its little digital lines. As the minutes passed a light snow began to fall. First, tiny grains that no one would notice, but gradually they grew larger. He stuck a hand out the window and caught a few for a closer look. They were perfect little stars and crystals. After that, they grew into puffs, and he watched the snow build on his hood until it covered his windshield.

            Then he started up his Ford and headed to the city garages. He checked out a snowplow and drove it, plow up, toward Miranda’s house.

    Carl drove it up her street, and then reversed slowly back, passing her house. Going up her street and backing down. Going up and backing down. He kept it in a low gear and made the engine roar, then beep beep beep in reverse. The tires made muddy grid marks and after several trips up and down, he lowered the plow and eased it into gear. Carl cut a straight smooth path along the neighbor’s curb.

    He opened the side window and let the cool air and snow blow in. Completing one side of the street, he turned around to clear the other. Carl didn’t care about the lights going on in every house, people pulling back curtains to see, one man opening his front door and yelling. The lights never went on in Miranda’s house.

    Things became clear as the snow fell, the windows square and yellow, the air fresh and cold, the black of the street and the white of lawns, trees and houses.


“Snow Emergency” was originally published in the spring 2003 issue of Short Story


 

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