'Blizzards, Legs, and Apologies'

William Southern

When he got home she was sitting in the dark, staring out the window at the snowstorm, still in her robe from the morning. All around her, on the floor, were plates of half-eaten food, coffee cups, and a full ashtray; on the windowsill, between her feet, sat the green plastic tumbler that was her favorite when she drank. She'd pulled a chair up to the window to look through it, as if she were watching a TV.

He didn't know what to say to her other than, 'What are you looking at?'

Without turning away from the window she said, 'I guess I'm looking at the snow, Scott. If you pay attention, if you really focus on it, you can see the patterns. Sometimes it blows up, then in a minute it'll blow straight down. If it goes left or right, after that it'll blow the other way. Sometimes there's little tornadoes in the snow, you wonder if there's any creatures getting affected like we'd be affected by a real tornado. You wonder if their homes are getting torn apart, if their families are dying.'

He left the light off and went into the bathroom; from there he went to the kitchen and made a drink. When he came back he sat on the couch and lit a cigarette. He stuck out his hands and turned them over and back a few times, squinting at them in the dim light from the street. He was still shaking from the drive.

'You could have called,' she said.

She waited until he was about to reply, then she got up and went into the kitchen, coming back a minute later holding her tumbler with both hands. She sat down slowly, as if she were in pain, as if she was aiming her seat at the softest part of the chair. Her robe hitched up and her right leg showed, bare all the way up almost to the top. He looked at it for a minute; it was pale in the light from the street, an almost florescent pale, and the higher up it went the more pale it was. There were little puckers and folds from where the chair pushed up against it. He couldn't remember if he'd ever seen her leg like that before.

'The radio was all about how bad the driving was,' she said. 'They didn't come right out and say it, but if you read between the lines you could tell they were wondering if some people weren't going to make it home in one piece.'

He sighed and adjusted himself on the couch so he could see her better.

'You hungry?' he finally asked. He watched the snow outside the window for a minute, then he looked over at her leg and finished his drink.

'Your exact route,' she said, 'the exact freeway you drive home, was snowed over so bad they said that travel was impossible. They said trucks were jackknifed across the road, so don't even think about it. They said there was no way to tell if any cars were underneath them, but law enforcement was trying to get there to find out. If I closed my eyes I could see you trapped, your blood all over everything, maybe struggling to get out of the car before it caught on fire, maybe dead or about to be.'

She twisted in her chair to look at him.

'I ended up taking the back way,' he said quietly. 'You could tell how bad things were going to be as soon as you saw the freeway.'

'Right, the back way,' she said. 'I should have known you'd do that.'

When she turned back to the window he saw a little ripple go though her leg, like a shudder. He stared and wanted to see it again.

'Just before you got home they were advising people absolutely not to travel,' she said. 'That's what they said, no travel advised. They said that even if you had to spend the night at work or in a shopping mall or a gymnasium, that's what you should do.'

'Once I got going, I was afraid to stop,' he said. 'I knew if I stopped I might not get out of the city. So I just kept on.'

She picked her tumbler off the windowsill and said quietly, 'I was going to try to convince myself that you would lay over somewhere, if you didn't make it back tonight. That the phone lines there would be down, so that's why you didn't call. But I think that I would have fallen apart, because every minute you weren't here it was worse than before.'

He got up and went to the kitchen to freshen his drink. When he came back the first place he looked was at her leg, but it was covered up now.

'I had a drink when I saw how bad the snow was coming down,' she said. 'That was around 10 this morning. I had a couple more while I was waiting, but I don't feel drunk or anything.'

She stood up unsteadily and wiped the condensation off the window with the sleeve of her robe. When she sat back down she said, 'All day, I've been living with the end of everything. Just like that, everything's gone. The life you had is over.'

He watched closely as she sat in the chair, straight-backed now, sitting at attention, her legs crisscrossed and her hands holding on to her ankles. The one leg came out bare again, the skin tight now and unnaturally shiny.

He leaned forward a little on the pretext of seeing out the window better.

'That was the worst drive home I ever had,' he said. 'You wouldn't have believed it. I've never seen so many cars off the road. In some places the medians looked like parking lots. I bet it's the storm of the century.'

'I was starting to wonder where to have the funeral,' she said. 'And how was I going to deal with your family... Everything goes through your mind, like what kind of service to have and what to dress your body in. We've never talked about organs, what to do with yours in case something happens - do you want them donated? It doesn't matter to me one way or another.'

He stood up so he could see over her chair. 'I know I should have called,' he said to the back her head, 'but I didn't. I thought about it a few times during the day, but ... I didn't.'

He went to the window to look out, stuck his hands in his pockets, then turned around and pretended to look into the other room. After a minute he sighed loudly and said,

'You know what I wish?'

'I don't know,' she said. 'But I wish you had called.'

'I wish that people were good. I wish that all people everywhere were good all the time and that everyone always did the right thing. I wish that nobody ever had to worry about what anybody else might do.'

He went to her chair and looked down. From this angle her leg looked totally different, like somebody else's. It wasn't even the same color. If he squinted it could have been a stranger's leg.

            He turned back to the window and said, 'Just before I left work I was going to call, then the janitor shooed us out. They were shutting the place down, he wanted to get home, too. So I didn't get the chance.'

            He remembered pulling out of the covered parking lot and getting hit with a wave of snow that disoriented him. It was so thick he had trouble seeing anything. All he could think about was to not get careless, to drive slow, but not to be too skittish, either.

'My future is in the balance by what a janitor says,' she said.

He tried not to look at her leg. The more he tried not to, the more he wanted to. He moved towards her a little and looked off, trying to be casual. He didn't want to be obvious.

'As soon as I got on the freeway I knew it was a mistake,' he said. 'Even though you could see the cars ahead going sideways and off the road, they still wouldn't slow down. They were like lemmings. So I took the very next exit. And I almost didn't make that one, that's how slippery it was.'

She shifted a little in her chair, rippling again, and he glanced down.

'There was one guy in a brand new truck,' he said, 'he passed me like it was a nice summer day and he was just out for a drive. I had trouble keeping on the road after he went by, he was throwing up so much snow. About a mile later I saw him nose down in the ditch and crawling out his window. He looked right at me, and I looked at him. I could see his eyes, he looked like nothing had happened. It was weird.'

He lit a cigarette, then sat down on the carpet beside her. He rested his elbow on the arm of her chair and began running his fingers lightly up and down her leg as if he were doing it absentmindedly.

'I didn't know if I was going to make it home,' he said. 'So I just drove from one place to the next. If I can make it to that gas station, if it's really bad then I'll stop there. When I'd pass it I'd aim for the next place. That's how I got back.'

He used the palm of his hand on her leg now, as if he were spreading something over it.

'The worst part was when I got out of the city,' he said. 'I had to plow through drifts. Some of the turns, I didn't know if I was on someone's lawn or not. I had to guess at where the road was.'

She cleared her throat and said, 'Can you imagine how I'd feel right now if you hadn't made it home, if I hadn't heard from you? Can you imagine what shape I'd be in by now? And later on tonight, and tomorrow?'

'I can't imagine that,' he said. 'I can't imagine how you'd feel.'

She shifted a little so he could get at more of her leg.

'That's why I say that I wish all people were good,' he said. 'I wish you never had to worry about what other people might do. I wish that everyone always did the right thing.'