It was cold the day before, and not so cold the day before that, but the day he went to his car it was colder than cold. He woke early, not so early that it was still dark out in late December, but not so late that the day would seem to pass by rapidly without him ever getting a grip on what was going to happen next. The apartment was warm and the cozy bedroom — cozy because it was filled with bookcases rather than it being small. Stepping out of bed he was careful not to step on any of the dirty clothing littering the floor which would invariably cause him to slip a little and in his post slumber haze he would probably fall and wang his head on the night stand. In the kitchen, making coffee didn’t seem like a chore and he spent a few moments looking out the window. It was snowing last night. That was a good sign. Snow usually meant warmth and an overcast blanket that sealed in heat from the city.
Drips started to plop into the coffee mug.
He waited, then paced, then became stuck to the floor where his roommate recently sprayed leather sealant on her boots inside. It was sticky, or tacky, just unpleasant. Removing his foot and mentally designating a hazard area in the center of the kitchen he leaned against the counter mentally preparing for the day. There was really only one thing that needed to be done, two really, but cleaning the bathroom didn’t count. He pulled his phone from his robe and checked the time while the drip drip drip continued in the background. An hour and a half remained before he would have to leave. He did the mental calculation for when he would have to leave the house and do whatever had to be done to get into his car and get it started. It was a morning of minor things which was how he liked it.
The drips stopped.
He grabbed his oversized mug and started to drink.
It was warm, comforting, familiar.
The coffee was gone as soon as it had finished brewing. Though it could have been savored he didn’t like lukewarm coffee and always drank quickly and would then start the drips plopping again into another mug. There was nothing more eventful than coffee, nothing more terrific, nothing but a slow morning designed to ease the mind before plunging into winter and then off to work. The second brew finished and that went down quickly as well. He disrobed his robe and picked through his clean laundry still in baskets and then scoured the floor for some jeans that were still passable. His boss demanded that he tuck in his shirt, whatever shirt that might be, and that was all that was needed for wardrobe. But he put in some effort.
Out of the window, the soft snow from the night before formed wisps against the ground, too light to be shoveled, but heavy enough to cover the sidewalks. He lingered for a little bit. Snowfall after snowfall had consumed lawns and streets which were then plowed into the curbs forming militaristic embankments peppered with brown from the onslaught of sand and oil sprayed by passing cars. It was nothing new in Wisconsin — the pure white of lawns contrasted with the black asphalt and browning snow. To an outside observer it would look like a horror show, but the native the eye passed over the ravages and took in the white peppered trees and downy lawns.
It would be a good day he thought.
He was doubled up in layers and put on his new wool coat that would remain warm even if it was wet, a useful thing when freezing rain comes to Wisconsin. In the stairwell to go out he could see his breath and his salt encrusted and cracked leather shoes were ice cold. Down the stair the temperature of the air grew colder as layer after layer of hot and cold and seemed to move in discrete steps rather than remaining continuous. Down by the door he could feel winter seeping through the door and through the mail slot, it was colder outside than he anticipated. For a moment he thought of returning upstairs to put on more clothing, but the thought was lost in the determination to go outside.
It was bitter fucking cold.
The frosted air seemed to contain minuscule shards of ice that when he breathed in cut the inside of his nose while freezing his snot in place. He involuntarily sneezed from the shock of the experience and then started to breath heavily through his mouth where the air burned the back of his throat. It was a cold that only happened in certain areas of the globe. While in San Francisco they bundle up in February in scarves and winter jackets to avoid the deathly freeze of 40 degrees, here, in subzero, with windchill that drank what soul was left in nature, cold meant something different. He regained his posture and headed out to his car, it was only a ten minute walk away.
With the cold what it was, he didn’t gawk at the newly fallen snow, not take in the stillness of winter in Wisconsin that is zen like when one contemplates it from a morning window with coffee in hand and more importantly in warmth. He just squeezed his shoulders together involuntarily to shelter him from the wind, but such acts rarely do anything but produce a psychological warmth. Though he didn’t shiver from the cold, he mentally huddled against the breeze that still seemed to cut through the coat and froze his toes into his shoes. The sidewalks were shoveled and he dodged small patches of ice on his route to the car.
It was slow, tedious, and unbearable. The car offered refuge. Once the engine was running it would heat the cabin and soon the outside would would be shut out. He turned the corner and saw it. It had been a few days since he last saw it, not since Friday when he returned from work. Snow had been falling then and it was within a minute that on Friday the car turned to white. But the cabin was warm and melted the snow. Water froze against the windshield and trickled down the doors and in the night froze the car in a translucent carapace.
He screamed and banged on the door with his fists.
Banging on the door was utilitarian as well. Pummeling the frame could break the ice and free the frozen door. He tried opening it, hoping it would open, but it didn’t. He continued to pummel the door and this led him to throwing his body against it to break the ice. Minutes passed as he assaulted the frame. To the outside observer he would appear to be mad, which he was, but that is beside the point. He was in fact doing it with a purpose in mind. And that purpose freed the door after shattering the possessive ice. The key slid in and the door cracked its way open. Out of breath, out of shape, he sat down in the driver seat and tried to calm himself lest he continue to burn his throat with the cold air. The door swung shut and he slid the key in. He was not religious, but he prayed openly that his 14 year old Dodge Neon would turnover. The starter churned and whined but nothing caught fire in the engine. He continued to try hoping the battery wouldn’t run out or go with the cold. Nothing.
He beat his fists against the steering wheel and then connected with the horn causing him to jump a little. The car was dead for the time being. Winter held it hostage and he felt the powerlessness of technology failing him. He took his keys and locked the door, slamming it shut behind him. Frustrated and cold he took a different path home hoping that it would seem shorter if he tried something new. Two blocks later he discovered that he had made a mistake.
Stretching out in front of him was white. No one had shoveled the light snow from the night before. Ice lurked beneath it and he couldn’t see where it crouched. It was too cold to turn back and take the previous path — it would take too much time in the cold he had already endured for too long. So he stood there for a moment, contemplating what to do and then his body, knowing what had to be done, started walking forward. A couple of steps forward and he connected with ice. His right leg slid out to the side and he strained a muscle to keep it from going too far. Several steps more and he waggled on top of an ice patch with snow collecting in the treads of his shoes making ice all the more slippery. The block passed without him finding any more lurkers beneath the snow. Block after block passed with small slips and a few close calls, but there was nothing more than shallow comedy. Until he passed the grocery store, just a few blocks from home. He connected with an ice patch that sent him flying onto the ground with the back of his head connecting with ice covered cement. The blow was stronger than he imagined and as he steadied himself while upright he felt the dizzy wooziness of the blow. Walking forward was impossible to do without slipping more often. He no longer possessed the steadiness he once had and each ice slick sent him to the ground. Slipping and sliding and crawling for portions of the walk, he finally breached salted ground.
Sore, bruised, concussed, he staggered his way back to his apartment. Up the stairs he gripped the railing to keep him from falling backwards tumbling down the stairs. Shoes slipped off and one fell on the edge of a step sending it on a downward trajectory. He didn’t care. He undressed and left garments littering the floor as a trail back to his bedroom. There, he collapsed and rested. Tomorrow he would have to do the same thing.