This morning I slid the sled out through the attic window and climbed out after it. I lay down on the sled beneath the gray sky, so vast it felt like it could merge at any moment with the feet of fallen snow on the ground, creating one immense frozen blanket to lose myself inside of. This is how it feels now. The stillness is broken now and then by the flutter of wings or the shutting of a window. The low hum of someone playing music in a closed-up house. The voice of a radio reporter, wavering in and out of static. Cars no longer speed down the streets, and garbage trucks no longer clatter nor garage doors rumble open.
The snow began falling one day in January, after a morning of sunshine and cold wind. And then the snow simply kept falling. The snow didn’t stop all day, or all week, or all month. Now it is February, Day 38 of the snowstorm, and the snow has almost reached up to the attic.
As the clouds filed by overhead this morning, I wondered if you had gotten my last text, or if maybe you had gotten it and just chose not to respond. Maybe you’re getting tired of me sending you photos of the snow and your cat Jenkins (though really, you can’t be getting tired of Jenkins, can you?). You would understand the storm better than I do, being an environmental science major. My AP Chemistry teacher Mr. Fitz tried to explain weather patterns to us during one of our virtual classes after that first week, but even he couldn’t make it make much sense. Maybe you could do a better job of explaining how this much snow found its way to Indiana, instead of stopping somewhere farther north, anywhere that makes more sense than here.
By now, the snow has swallowed or almost swallowed up some of the other houses in town, but I guess this is one of the benefits of us living in an old three-story Victorian. Our house feels like a lighthouse in a row of lighthouses, facing another row of lighthouses, each one wearing chipped paint in its own shade of pastel blue, forest green, or faded lilac. But when I look down toward the end of the street, I can only just make out the rooftops of the two-story houses. I watch as the white snow covers up brown shingles. The houses’ chimneys stick out of the powder like the leaves of brick carrots waiting to be plucked from the ground.
People are mostly past panicking, at this point. Many of our neighbors evacuated a couple weeks ago. The Nakamuras were the last ones to leave; they just moved out last week, after the snow came halfway up their second-story windows. Mom and I watched them from my room in the attic, as they donned their cross-country skis and shoved sleds out the windows, trying to take as much with them as they could carry. Grandma asked Dad why he didn’t go and help them, and she badgered him until he gave in and put on the makeshift snowshoes he had fashioned out of tennis rackets and cardboard. He trudged out across the snow to the Nakamuras, and he came back with a spare key to their house, with a little surfboard keychain dangling from the keyring. Mrs. Nakamura said she would feel better knowing someone would be able to get in and feed the fish for them, if the snow started going down before they were able to get back home.
I’m sure you’re wondering if I’m glad now that you made me take the attic bedroom, while you got to stay on the second floor. Sorry, but the answer is still no. True, more sunlight gets into my room than any of the rooms on the first or second floors, but I’m still not over the fact that Dad had to set up his home office in one of the second-floor bedrooms, instead of just walking up the stairs and setting up shop in the attic himself. And I’m not over the fact that he did that, giving you the other second-floor room, when I was only eight and so terrified of the dark I couldn’t sleep without two nightlights and a lamp on. But I guess Dad’s never had much respect for our space; he still doesn’t, you know. I know when you came home for Christmas break, Mom and Dad told you they had only moved the treadmill into your old room a few weeks beforehand. But actually, they moved it into your room barely a week after you had flown off to college. Dad’s been using it almost every day.
I can’t help but wonder if somehow you caused the snowstorm. You always hated the snow, after all. Maybe you thought you could get away from it by going to school in Southern California. Maybe the weather felt you leave, felt your annoyance at Christmas when the first flakes came down, and then threw a tantrum when you fled from its grasp a second time.~
Grandma was only supposed to be here for a weekend. She came over on the third day of the storm, back when the snowplows and salt trucks were still fighting to keep the streets clear. She stomped into the kitchen and declared that “no little old snow shower” was going to stop her from visiting her son. She went to church with us the next morning, but by that evening, the roads were too icy for her to go back out. She almost did leave, though; she got halfway through scraping the snow off her car before Dad convinced her to stay another night, to wait until the roads were clearer. So she stayed another night, and she’s kept on staying another night ever since. She’s sleeping in your room, next to the treadmill. She likes to drape her sweaters over the console, so that Dad has to move them every time he wants to exercise. And she keeps complaining that Jenkins’ fur makes her sinuses puff up, even when I hardly let him come down from the attic.
In two more days, the snow will have been falling for forty days. You should hear what Grandma has to say about that. The other day, watching the news, she said, “Forty days and forty nights, just like in Noah’s day. It’s like a second Flood. Maybe the snow hasn’t covered the world yet, but just wait until it melts—you know how ice expands as it melts, right?” She’s been making these kinds of predictions ever since we got past Day 25.
And the snow really isn’t covering the whole world. It’s not even covering the whole state. You remember those stories we used to hear when we were little, sometimes around New Year’s when we visited our cousins? About how sometimes snow like this would fall on one particular town, or one county, or one street. Sometimes snow like this would fall on one street where only one person lived in a little white farmhouse, and then no one would believe him when he tried to explain later why he’d been away from town or church for such a long time.
I didn’t used to believe in those stories. I guess I don’t have much of a choice now. The weather channel keeps telling us the storm is hitting our county the hardest. They say that once you get outside county lines, the snow gets less and less, lower and lower.
Maybe if we didn’t live right in the center of the county, we would have evacuated when we still had a chance. Or maybe if we didn’t have Grandma with us; you know how her knees are lately. Or maybe if Dad was less stubborn, or if he wasn’t so worried about how we would take the frog and gecko with us (never mind the cat, he never worries about Jenkins) or about what we would carry with us and what we would leave behind. You should hear Dad go on about what we’ll have to do when we run out of mealworms.
Jenkins really misses you, by the way. He’s been sleeping on my bed at night, curled up in a little black-and-white ball on the velvet pillow you left behind. He spends hours staring out the window, watching the flakes and the birds. The tops of some of the trees’ branches stick up through the snow, and the birds flit from one to the other, seeking refuge. A pair of cardinals has taken to nestling in the bare branches of the oak tree outside your window. Jenkins’ tail swishes back and forth as he watches the red male chase after the tawny female.
You had Mrs. Kepler for AP Literature when you were in high school, didn’t you? I know you said once, toward the beginning of the storm, that you wished we could switch places—that this would have happened when you were a junior in high school, and me a freshman in college. Mrs. Kepler alone makes me think you wouldn’t wish that if you were here.
Back in January, most of my teachers tried to keep us on a regular schedule of virtual classes. Now it’s really only the AP classes that still take attendance. I log on to AP Chemistry at least half the time, because I don’t want to fail the AP test in May, but I always try to make it to AP Literature. You remember how Mrs. Kepler always seems sad when students don’t show up to class, how she almost acts offended? It’s worse now. Maybe five or ten people log on for class, and she seems so heartbroken. One day last week, it was just me and Mrs. Kepler and one other girl. We talked about The Taming of the Shrew for a little while, about how we’re supposed to interpret all the sexism as a twenty-first century audience, and then Mrs. Kepler just sighed and said, “Well, this is better weather for hibernating and writing poetry than teaching class, anyway. Write me a poem if you want, put it up on the discussion board, and I’ll give you extra credit.” That was the end of class for the day.
I did write a poem, after staring out the window for what would have been the rest of our class time. I wrote a sonnet about turtles, though I still haven’t figured out iambic pentameter, or any other kind of meter. I didn’t want to write a poem about the snow, you know, or about the birds or Jenkins’ swishing tail or the way Grandma paces the hallway. It feels wrong to write a poem about the snow while it’s still coming down.
The storm was almost fun at the beginning. I even practiced my cello outside a few times, on the balcony off of Mom and Dad’s room, before the snow took that away too. I’m supposed to be practicing for my audition for the symphony orchestra next year. And I am practicing, but not as much as I should. I hate how loud my music sounds in the dead quiet, and I hate knowing it sounds that loud as I’m squeaking out wrong notes up here in the attic. I can’t help picturing Grandma down in the kitchen, scrunching her nose and putting in earplugs.
I’m supposed to be studying for the SAT, too, but the wifi keeps getting spottier and spottier, so I’ve only been able to download one practice test. The wifi going out is almost a relief, though; now Dad and Grandma can’t keep the TV on all evening, watching the news and hearing person after person give their storm theories and predictions.
I think this evening, I’ll go lie out on the sled again. I haven’t done it at night yet, and I want to see if I can see any stars through the breaks in the clouds overhead. I should be able to see the glow of the moon through the cloud cover, at least. We still have the two sleds, you know, the ones that you and I used to race down the big hill by the church when we were younger. I wish you were here, to pet Jenkins and tease me and laugh so I would feel a little more like we’re all going to be okay. It’s Day 39 tomorrow, and maybe it’s selfish of me to wish you were here for this disaster, but it doesn’t feel right without you.
Sometimes I think about lying out in the sled overnight, but then I think, No, it would be wrong without Rachel. She would know what to do if something went wrong. And then I think that maybe sleeping outside in the falling snow isn’t such a good idea after all.
I’m sure you would tell me to stay inside; you’d say Jenkins would get too lonely overnight anyway. I check my phone again, and I still don’t know if my last text has gotten through to you. Or if you saw it and you just decided you’re tired of me texting you. Either way, I hope you’re doing well. I hope you’re eating better food than we are and breathing brighter air, that you’re enjoying that magical Southern California sunshine and birdsong. And I hope that even if you’re tired of getting my texts, you’re still thinking of me and hoping that I’m doing okay too.
Emily Dexter is a writer from Carmel, Indiana. Her work has appeared in literary journals including The Oakland Arts Review, Litbreak Magazine, and Two Hawks Quarterly.
© 2022, Emily Dexter