It Brought the Snow
by E. H. Young
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Alexander Pines stamped into Louie’s Bar and Grill, shaking unseasonable snow from his Timberland boots, and exchanged a few quiet words with the bartender.
“Thanks,” he said, gratefully wrapping his burning fingers around the steaming mug Louie had set before him. He sat for a few minutes huddled into himself, waiting for the chill to wear off, peering at neon beer ads and decorative singing bass, long since familiar to him.
“Cold winter,” said Louie, eyes glued to the massive paperback he was reading.
“The coldest,” Alex sniffed, taking a tentative sip from his mug, and leaned forward over the bar a little. “What’s that, Dostoevsky?”
Alex nodded and waited for Louie to go on. He didn’t. It being a Tuesday evening, the place was nearly empty, save for a white guy sitting a few stools down. Alex stole a glance. The stranger was barrel-chested and bullet-headed. He swiveled his head in Alex’s direction and Alex flicked his eyes away.
“Buy you a beer?” the man asked Alex. He held his glass up and Louie refilled it, his eyes roving calmly between Alex and the stranger.
“I don’t drink,” said Alex, keeping his face neutral and his eyes on his mug.
“Everybody drinks. What’s that?”
“Tea.” Alex wondered if he could move to another seat without starting any trouble. This guy looked strong, probably six feet tall. His hand wrapped all the way around his glass. Alex considered leaving, but he had half a mug of tea left, and his feet were still pretty numb.
“You an Eskimo?”
The question, though not unexpected, caught Alex wholly off-guard. Rather than ignore it he responded on instinct, without meaning to,
“An Eskimo. Like an Indian.” It was a statement, not a question.
Alex closed his eyes in resignation. “I’m Tlingit,” he said in the American way: “tuh-ling-it.”
“All right.” That seemed to satisfy the stranger. He stayed quiet.
Gradually the tension that had caught Alex’s chest into a tight knot began to relax. He still wanted to be gone. He took a generous sip of his tea, burned his tongue and had to put the cup down. He hesitated before leaving it on the counter, and Louie took it from him,
“You want to borrow a thermos?”
“I’m fine. Thanks, Louie.” Alex zipped his parka and cinched up the hood, sidling past the stranger, who didn’t look up.
* * *
Half an hour later found him still on the road home. Ketchikan was a small town; the total distance from the docks to his house was about a mile and a half, and took him thirty minutes on a bad day. Today was worse than bad. The wind bit through his clothes and the snow, which had been falling for hours, made the journey slow going.
It almost never snowed in Ketchikan, it was too far south. The area around the city was closer to a rainforest than to the taiga of farther north, but a cold front had arrived unexpectedly and caught everyone unprepared.
For the time being, the news had said, everyone would have to start shovelling or the roads would become impassable. Luckily the city had its own plow, and the road Alex was on had already been cleared, but if the snow kept up like this until morning, travelling would be difficult.
Alex was just out of sight of the lights of the town. There were trees to either side, and it was almost pitch dark. He had to pick up his feet to keep from tripping, and every once in a while he would slide a little in the dirty slush that lined the edge of the road.
Alex walked most days, because rain and old roads made biking dangerous, but at this moment he would have risked it to make the trip a little faster. His feet were going to be soaked by the time he got home. He wished to God he owned a car.
He was considering going back to Louie’s and asking for an extra pair of socks or a thermos or a ride home when a pair of headlights lit up the road in front of him. Alex turned and stopped, momentarily blinded, as the truck pulled to a halt beside him.
The driver’s seat was occupied, of course, by the stranger from Louie’s. The window slid down. “You wanna ride?”
Alex hesitated. In terms of physical and emotional discomfort, he was between a rock and a hard place. He swallowed his pride and jogged around the other side of the truck. He passed through the headlights, turned up too bright for the weather. A GMC logo glinted dully on the front bumper.
He climbed into the passenger’s side and found himself in a furnace. The heating was turned up full blast, and within minutes he was sweating.
He took off his scarf and stuck his hat in his pocket, while the stranger played with the radio: static — country music — static — weather. Alex heard the report in a rough staccato: “-inds reported throughout the southeast, residents of Gateway Borough and surrounding area advised to stay in” — football scores. The stranger left it there and it droned in the background as the truck rattled over bumps in the road and crunched through icy gravel.
“You at school?”
Alex had to keep himself from rolling his eyes, “No. Yeah. I applied last fall.” Please don’t start a conversation.
“I’m here for the hunting. Big game.”
“Uh-huh.” Alex looked out the window. He could see lights up ahead. “This is me,” he said quietly, almost under his breath, and started to repeat himself, but the truck was already rolling to a stop.
“Here’s fine,” he hopped out and sucked in a breath as cold air hit him in the face. He started up the walkway and didn’t look back until the sound of the truck died away, the glow of the taillights just visible down the road until it faded into black. He remembered he’d left his scarf on the seat of the truck. Goddammit. He would have to let it go.
There were a few inches of snow on the concrete, but it had been shovelled recently. His mother was in the kitchen, washing dishes. “Dinner was at six.”
“Hi, Mom.” He took off his parka and pullover and left them with his boots in the entryway. “I know. I’m sorry.”
“Yours is in the oven.”
“Thanks.” He kissed her on the cheek and took his dinner — salmon fillet and potatoes — out of the oven. “You shouldn’t have shovelled the walkway, Mom. You should’ve waited till I got home.”
“I had to take out the garbage.”
“You shoulda left it until I got home. You don’t need to do that stuff, Mom; that’s what I’m here for.”
Alex felt a twinge of guilt at the words that hung unsaid in the air between them; he wouldn’t be at home forever. In fact he hoped he wouldn’t.
His mother sighed and went back to washing dishes.
Alex started eating, realizing with even more guilt that he was very hungry. “Are these the frozen steaks? From Safeway?”
“Not as good as fresh ones, but pretty good. Boris is back.”
Alex noticed the extra place setting for the first time. “When?”
“Since one. If you’d have been at dinner, you’d have seen him.”
“Where’d he go?”
“I don’t know, but he left his stuff in the spare room.”
Alex felt a familiar resentment surfacing for the first time in years. Boris had moved to Juneau when he was seventeen. Alex had been twelve. He’d told their mother it was for school but they both knew him better than that.
“He says he’s got a new job.”
“Uh-huh.” Alex stared at his plate, having lost all desire to talk.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by E. H. Young