Late Night Snowfall
by Edward Ahern
The surprise Nor’easter dumped two feet of snow between midnight and dawn. I drank coffee while staring at it, then bundled up, grabbed a shovel, and began to dig my way out. A town plow had made one pass through my street, mounding the snow on the far side. It would be hours before it would return to clear out the sides.
Directly across the street a compact sedan was buried to the windows. It didn’t belong there. Paul and Laura, married pilot and stewardess, drove SUVs. And Laura had told me the morning before that she was just leaving for a west-coast swing. I saw no one inside the sedan and decided it wasn’t my business.
The air temperature had crawled just above freezing, and the snow had the texture of soggy putty. I knew from the first shovelful that I needed to lighten the scoops.
I’d sweated through my T-shirt in clearing the first forty feet of sidewalk when the front door across the street opened, and a petite brunette stepped out and sank into the snow. She didn’t belong there, either.
She sink-walked her way out to the sedan, opened the trunk, and took out a plastic shovel half the width of mine. Her boots, glimpsed as she high-stepped, were built for fashion rather than function, and she wore a light jacket on top of a blouse. Her mittens were porous wool that would be soaked in minutes. She started shoveling right behind the trunk.
“Wrong end,” I called out.
“Just shovel out the front. I’ll push.”
She worked her way to the front of her car and resumed shoveling. I glanced at her a few times as I chucked. The thin plastic blade of her shovel bent with each scoop, spilling a third of its load. She would be at it for another hour or, more likely, just give up and go back into the house. I fought against my better nature but trudged over to her.
“I’m James, from across the street. I’ll give you a hand; it’ll go a little faster.”
She nodded her thanks, saying only “Susie. Pleased to meet you.”
Close up, I could see that her short-cut hair was still sleep-tousled, and her face had no makeup. I had to ask: “Paul home?”
She hesitated. There was only one probable situation that would have put her where she was, and even a suburban dullard like me would have surmised it. “He had to leave right after midnight for a charter flight.”
I nodded and stayed silent. If she’d been a friend of Laura’s she’d have told me.
We shoveled near each other for ten minutes, the words few and mundane. She was a hard worker with a bad tool, and I admired her increasingly hypothermic tenacity. I knew she should be getting rewarmed.
“Look, why don’t you go back into Paul’s house for a little while and get warm?”
Another hesitation. “I can’t. When I shut the door, it locked behind me.”
Inviting her into my empty house would probably just generate fear.
“Oh. Okay, let’s dig out the driver side door so you can get in, start the car and get warm.”
“I’m fine, really.”
I watched her tremble. “No, you’re not. Get in the car, please, or I’m going to quit shoveling.”
Her smile was pained, but she nodded yes. After a minute of shoveling, we were able to unbury the door so she could get in. Once the car started, I went back to bending and scooping and laughed out loud at my meandering thoughts. I was helping a woman I didn’t know get away from a one-night stand with a married neighbor. I was both envious of their sexual encounter and somehow protective of her.
After a few more minutes the muscles in my back and shoulders began to ache, and I had to slow down but, five minutes later, I’d cleared away enough snow that she could try to launch. I stepped over to her window, and she rolled it down.
“I think we’re close, Susie. I’ll get behind you and push. Just accelerate gently, and if the wheels spin, rock back and forth until you break loose.”
“Okay, thanks.” She had a faint smile that said she knew the absurdity of our situation.
It took three tries, but the car broke loose and pulled out onto the plowed portion of the road. She rolled down the window again and we shook hands. Hers was still snow-cold.
“I can’t thank you enough.” She stared at my sweaty face with concern.
“No problem,” I lied. “Safe trip wherever you’re going.” I paused. “If you have another problem, just knock on the door across the street.”
She gave me a crinkle-faced smile. “Once was more than enough.” Then she nodded to me and drove off.
I slogged back across to my side of the street and resumed shoveling. Susie probably wasn’t her real name, and I never saw her again, but I think of her after heavy snowfalls. I never mentioned her to Paul.
Copyright © 2019 by Edward Ahern