Short Dog barks February up 3.0
February 2015- No tears about showing this GD month the door. Been a brutal bastard meat locker. So to run this PITA down the icy drive way let’s re-meet Frosty. Wrote this short story about twenty years ago during the Winter of 1994. Originally published in Greetings from Gridville 2006 & reprinted in 21 Short Dog Stories 2011. So when’s the last time you did a Snowman ?
It was a gray Saturday afternoon just past the holidays. The year was about a week old, but it felt like that taste you’d get in your mouth if you were to lick a drop of dish detergent. He was driving the streets of a small lakeside city. It was the first time in two weeks that he had been able to do so. The initial cold wave had knocked out his car. Now three tow trucks, one new battery and two hundred and fifty dollars later, he had the privilege of driving to the beaten looking shopping center for a little under three pounds of ground beef.
There had been a bit of a thaw. All the slightly warmer air had succeeded in doing was to make the mounds of piled up ashy grayness on the roadside look like carbon dioxide flavored snow cones. The half-frozen blackened slop sure was cheery. He made a mental note of that as he drove home wondering what to do for the rest of the afternoon. It was, after all, a little too early to get drunk.
He did recall that his son had asked him to build a snowman with him the other day. He had brushed off the little pleading face with the explanation that “It’s the wrong kind of snow.” His son just waddled away in his snowsuit going, swish, swish, swish down the driveway.
“What a great dad you are,” he thought, pulling in front the house. Someday, he thought, that little face will be a full-grown man. Maybe you’ll still be alive. Maybe you won’t. In any event, will that be the sort of memory that the child will have of his father?
He went in the house and called, “Come on, kiddo, let’s build that snowman.” The kid was overjoyed.
So they put the snowman together. The snow that afternoon was perfect. Wet and easy to pack. It didn’t take too long. For eyes they used two clamshells taken from the ocean beach that last summer. The nose was a red plastic oil funnel. Its mouth was also red and plastic. The thing had been in the garage forever. He didn’t know where it came from. Didn’t know about what it was used for (however, it did look like a double-headed bent dildo). In any event, it made the snowman smile. They put ancient NY Mets baseball cap to top him off. On the paint stick arms, they stuck green and yellow garden gloves
God, how the kid loved the crooked lumpy mess. He took a few pictures for the grandparents. The little boy struck a pose, with his arm around the snowman’s shoulder.
They went in the house. Both boys felt pretty good.
A slight thaw continued the rest of the day. That night featured a chilly sleet.
Next morning they looked and the snowman had shrunk and lost his eyes and mouth. It looked like curtains for sure.
All day the lump shrunk and lost its shape. But, then, that night the real winter came back.
Winter is but a word to name a season. The weather channel on TV is fond of showing footage of somewhere else and remarking, “Well, this morning in Devil’s Lake, it’s 18 below zero with a wind chill of 87 below.” Followed on the heels of pictures from Key West, on the beach, with flags fluttering in an off shore breeze. Yup. Time for a swim.
Then the Weather Dude would mumble the latest in overstatement and Jingoism concerning common sense and personal health. Next he’d introduce a commercial for promises of fantasy for the lonely at $3.50 a minute. (like in Key West)
This winter went beyond a catch phrase. It got cold. Cold as a bastard. Meat locker persistent. By the end of January you stopped watching the reports on TV about another low temperature record being set. You lost the ability to feel. In relation to the drop of thermometer, you merely adjusted. You can get used to anything when your ass is high, warm and dry. Even in the most common of middle class home, the extreme weather can be ignored as merely inconvenient, but you have to go outside at some point for the benefit of the mundane routine.
The cold grew. It hissed night after night, till the windows of the house were aflame with ice flowers, etched in a deadly austere chilliness. It gave the window new life in blossom out of season. Beyond now all past the memory of summer. The still life displayed there was merely remembered. The recall was frigid reminder of life. Endless vibrant youth. The fingers of the skeletal frost adhered themselves to the translucency of the eyes of the house like a photographic polar negative of July. Outside, the frigid blackness sang. It howled. It sank deeper like the nestling of wide shoulders that were fighting off a chill. But this was a trite accounting. This winter meant business, no excuses or hopeful synopsis.
Your ass was cold. All the time. That winter’s clock face frozen in a grimace. It came back to you in the form of an icy stare.
February, the short dog, whispered to March in stage whisper aside, “How’s it look?” The “Ides of….” snapped back, “You asshole, you haven’t even got anywhere near me yet.”
Day after day the coldness persisted. It drove every action. The roads were black ribbons of asphalt packed solid with liability. You drove. The consequences were pure conjecture. Your actions were based upon dependent systems. Heat. Nourishment. Sanitation.
You had so little control over any of it. The season’s extremity seemed to augment that fact. There were forces beyond ego and delusive bravado.
The heart of the mercury was the barometer of the external and it hid itself frozen to a hard crystal veneer. The wind called every strange name you had ever heard. And then it reared back and spoke your name.
Beyond all this, physical reality was taking more and more hits everyday. Pipes froze solid and burst. Electrical wires coated with ice snapped and fell and came alive on the snow packed streets in spark snakes. Natural gas lines fouled with frost exploded in houses in the middle of the night.
So far, he and his little family had been spared. Night after night, they watched the news reports of catastrophes in the local communities. It was like the casualty reports in a recently revived sitcom war. It always happened to someone else on television. Was it part of the modern American logic system to believe that this country’s citizens were always safe in their houses? The evil of the world would never dare defile the sanctity of the suburbs
It had been a solid ten days of sub-zero temperatures, heavy snarling snow, and high winds. The family went about their daily business. She drove thirty miles each way to work without a hitch. The little boy was dropped off and picked up at school like clockwork. The kid really liked school. He was learning to read at an amazing rate.
Dad struggled with his life. Things were not going well. He had been out of work for months now. Each day was a struggle with despair, inactivity and helplessness. Truth was, this brutal winter was starting to climb inside him
And every day the snowman in the front yard grew bigger. At first, he failed to notice. Then came the afternoon when he had just picked up his son at school. He parked the car and they started into the house. It seemed even colder that day. The wind drove the snow sideways. Half way to the front door, his son suddenly pointed from beneath the layers of protective winter clothing and exclaimed, “Hey, Dad, look at the snowman!”
With his face stinging in the wind, he turned his head to look. He stopped in his tracks.
Still holding his son’s hand, he felt a deep added chill grip a fist to his colon. The snowman was nearly six feet tall. What had been a shrunken mound of three misshapen semi-circles had been transformed. What stood in the front yard was a perfectly formed picture book symmetrical shape. The paint stick arms with the yellow and green garden gloves stood erect at 45-degree angles. The baseball hat was gone. The whole visage exuded strength, power and vitality. The only thing it lacked, he was aware of gratefully, was a face. All the features that he and his son had endowed it with had long ago vanished.
“Damn, will you look at that,” he thought. It was just a big pile of ice and snow, but it bothered him. The snowman looked so healthy. As featureless as the damn thing was, it suggested some kind of identity.
A little voice snapped him out of it. “Hey, Dad, I’m cold, can we go in the house?”
That night after supper he and his wife sat at the table. After the small talk about her day at work and his meager account of the household affairs, there was little else to say. Being out of work for so long was killing him….and them. They fell silent.
The wind roared outside and the house shuddered. She got up to start the dishes. He went into the bedroom, to get a sweater. He found his son standing on the ottoman that had been dragged in from the living room, positioned in front of the window the darkened room.
It struck him a little odd. You hadn’t been able to see out the windows for weeks. “Hey, what are you looking at?” he asked the child.
The boy turned around with a big smile, “At Frosty.”
“Who?” Dad stammered.
“Frosty, the snowman.”
“How can you even see anything?” he asked, as he joined the boy at the window.
In a four inch slit in the top area of the window there was a gap in the hoar frost. His eyes had to make the adjustment to the dim exterior moonscape. Looming in the pale gray light towered the snowman. It looked closer to the house. He wasn’t prepared for what he noticed next. He had been mistaken in thinking the thing didn’t have a face. It most certainly did now. Fact was, it appeared to have turned its head around to face into the direction of the bedroom. From somewhere, what looked like an autumn leaf had stuck in the middle of the head, suggesting a nose. Two sunken triangles had opened up as peering eyes. It reminded him vaguely of a jack-o-lantern. The worst feature by far was the mouth. It started in an exaggerated leer line that extended from up near the eyes on one side of the head and curving down to the other shoulder. There was no real definition of a chin. The ragged pointed icicle teeth defined the upper lip. He recoiled at the sight of it.
His son looked up at him and said, “Cool, huh Dad?”
Suddenly he was aware of another presence at his shoulder. Startled, he turned to face his wife. She looked puzzled. “Hey, what are you boys looking a?”
“Frosty,” he answered, “I guess.”
“Let me see.” She elbowed for position. Her reaction was to crinkle up her forehead and exclaim, “Yuck, that’s pretty ugly!”
The boy said, “Yeah, I know, Mom and his name is “Frosty”.
“What do you think, Dad?”
Dad continued to stare out the window. Without taking his eyes off it, he said, “I think it’s O.K., if he stays outside.” They all laughed.
Later that night, as his son was being tucked into bed, after he had exchanged reading books with his mom, he asked, “Do you know where the bad things come from?”
She smiled and replied, “From the outside world”
From his warm little bed, he shook his head.
“No, what I mean is, will I have to know bad things?”
“Maybe, someday. But right now all you have to worry about is school and remember that we love you.”
He grinned in all seven years of assurance and glowed, “I love you.”
They embraced spontaneously. After a few seconds, he broke the cinch. Then his face clouded again. He asked, “Can Dad keep the bad things outside?”
“He’ll do his best, bud; he loves us too, you know.”
They looked at each other. What passed between them was the secret trust that some mothers and sons knew. It was a fleeting moment. The product of a lot of time spent together. It was the sound of the truth being spoken, by one who loved you. It was the best they could do. To reassure you that they would always be there to shield you. And with the security of that earnestness, you were comforted, your fears banished and sleep came easily. The little boy rolled over.
She kissed him moistly on the cheek. The room was softly illuminated by night-light, as they fell asleep to the diminishing rhythm of each other’s breathing. She had been falling asleep with the little guy more and more.
Outside the wind roared.
The days and nights had at each other in frigid copulation. The sun rarely shone. It went from breakfast to noon to dusk in a frozen weak arch of winter’s soup. You couldn’t get in so much as a spoon in to penetrate. You felt frustrated, reckless, almost driven mad by the persistent cold. Your mind produced strange strong impulses, like having an urge to lick an ice cube tray or aluminum flagpole.
In his car, one half-remembered afternoon, upon slamming the door in a sort of numb rage, he distinctly heard the sound of a sort of high-pitched whine. It almost sounded like something was singing. It was almost human. It startled him. He quickly looked around the meager interior of the driver’s seat. All seemed intact. Then his left ear picked it out. The sound was real. Evidently it had been so cold, for so long, that the metal in the latches of the doors squealed in a high-pitched modulation as they were forced together. Duration and frequency of the sound were so slight and fleeting. But he could hear it. What name would one give to this?
What of the soul who could hear the sound and was compelled to recognize the tone and acknowledge it? It was strange sound. Most ears didn’t hear it. Of those who did, even fewer could describe it.
There was madness in this vibration. Something unstable and dangerous.
It had been awhile since he had remembered talking with anyone who ever gave the slightest impression, in the least that they listened to anything he even said beyond the sound of his own voice.
Now, alone in the brittle chill of his beat little Sedan he sat there and listened.
Winter had found its’ voice.
He knew he could hear it.
Later that night he sat in the bar and tried to tell the bartender what he had been feeling earlier that day in the car. He wouldn’t try describing that sound. He knew that a lot of the staff where he spent many evenings, slugging cold ones, already thought he was a little strange. So he articulated his feelings in the accepted fashion. He bitched about the weather. “You know,” he started, “I’m beginning to think that this winter is endless. You freeze your ass off day after day. You stay inside. I can’t remember the last time the frigging sun shone two days in a row. The worst thing is though, you kind of get used to it. Maybe it’s a little like getting older. As time goes on, you simply forget what your youth or summer’s warmth is like. So you just accumulate a bit more numbness every night. You wonder if you can tell the difference between the coldness inside you and that outside.”
The bartender nodded. He wasn’t going to get into it, with this guy. Same old story, five beers and somebody always starts talking some line of crap only they understand. Best thing to do, the bartender had observed from past experience, was nod somewhat gravely and sympathetically, and keep polishing those glasses. You kept your distance, let them run with it, and above all stay out of it. It seldom failed. And it didn’t tonight.
After staring out the window blankly at the wind driven snow for a time, he left
a couple of bucks on the bar and didn’t say goodbye to anyone.
Reaching the parking lot, he discovered his car door frozen shut. He threw a little fit. As he was kicking the door for about the tenth time a bright light suddenly lit up his face. It was a cop.
“Hey, Buddy…having trouble there?” The cop in the warm, efficient, powerfully purring cruiser looked at him curiously.
“Door’s frozen, I’ll try one of the others.” The calmness and matter of fact tone of his voice seemed to satisfy the officer. Not that he was getting out of that snug cab unless he had to. He grunted “Well, take it easy,” and rolled up his window and drove off.
Feeling a little foolish, he went around the rear of the car and crawled in the back hatch to the driver’s seat. The engine barely caught and turned over. It sputtered to life. He wasn’t going anywhere, though, for a while. The windshield was frosted on the inside with a thick coating of ice. He sat there and watched his own breath hang in the frigid black air.
Then he reached to flip on the defroster. The fan hissed concentrated iciness. He snapped it off. Stupid, the damn engine wasn’t anywhere even near tepid. A shiver shook his shoulders and he started in the shadowy gray interior. He stifled a yawn. He felt dizzy. “Well,” he thought, “ I’ve only had about five or six beers.” He was accustomed to twice that amount on a normal night. Yet he felt as sleepy as he did cold. He shook his head. Yeah, that cop he had just had the chat with would love to come back later and discover him passed out behind the wheel. It didn’t take much to get a D.W.I. these days. With his moderate body weight and the current criteria for impairment, he would be easy pickings.
It reminded him of a joke an old friend had once told him about the guy who stumbles out of the bar to the parking lot and in full view of a cop on stake out, drops his keys five times and takes about ten minutes to put the right key in the lock. The guy finally gets in the car and lies right down across the front seat. The cop waits for him to start the car, so he can bust him. Ten minutes, twenty minutes go by. At last the cop drives over and gives him the chemical test. The guy blows 0.000 across the board; the cop looks at him and says, “Hey… what gives?”
“Oh…” the guy goes, “Sorry. It was my turn to be decoy.”
The joke made him chuckle to himself. His head slumped.
Then the car was warm, the windshield clear, and he was on the road driving home.
As he was tuning in the radio, the thought struck him that he just had another blackout back there. He slowed to a crawl to negotiate the corner of his street. A car that had been tailgating him roared by in a white blur. He thought, “I’m the most cautious drunk driver I know.” The wind backhanded the car and dealt out another white-out. He took his foot off the gas and coasted. He was very warm and near home. The interior dash instrument array glowed like Christmas lights. He felt great, very light-headed. It was the best he had felt… in well… he couldn’t remember the last time he felt so good.
Pulling into the driveway, humming to the radio, he paused to feel the elastic sensation that seemed to permeate his body. The wind and the blowing snow no longer bothered him. He cut the motor, lights and the heater fan. Pushing open the car door, he was aware of the pressure of the wind on his face, but he wasn’t feeling the cold. He seemed to float up the driveway to the house. He glanced over to the front yard in front of the part of the house where bedroom window was. Something wasn’t right. He stood there puzzling. What was missing?
A blast of wind, so forceful and vicious that it literally knocked him off his feet, deposited him on his ass. From the sitting position, a terrible realization dawned on him about that empty space in the yard.
The snowman was gone.
He felt himself gagging; a powerful spasm from his stomach flew up his throat. He fought off a series of rhythmic dry heaves. He couldn’t breathe. Where was the snowman?
He fought to get back to his feet. He hadn’t thrown up yet. In the struggle to make sense of what he wasn’t seeing, a thought came to him. It spread over him like a shot of methadone. Of course. The damn wind had knocked it over…what was the matter with him? He felt better instantly. He was in control now. He even felt like a beer. Shaking his head and brushing the snow from his coat and legs, he walked around to the back door. When he reached it the bad feeling returned in spades. This time it was worse. Much worse. Both the back doors had been ripped off their hinges. The full panel glass outside aluminum one was bent and shattered. The inside metal one was merely twisted into the interior wall like frozen crumbled cardboard.
Now a pure sort of instinctive drive governed his actions. He ran through the doorway and into the kitchen and stopped. He looked down. There was a trail of water leading further into the house. He followed the slush to the living room. It was freezing inside. Had the heater gone out? He rushed towards their bedroom. Something made him stop at the doorjamb. He recoiled. Something had just been in there. Its presence lingered. As his eyes adjusted to the shadows, he could make out a kind of smoky blue haze hanging in the air. There was a smell too. It wasn’t a smell you associated with a deep freeze. Something was dead. Had been. The rot of decay was sickening,
He was about to call out his wife’s name, when he heard a small, terrorized voice whimper from the other room, “You’re supposed to be outside!”
The tone was so frightened and little that it snapped his head away from the horror of the bedroom. He suddenly realized that he was standing in a puddle of water. He ran to the boy’s room, sloshing across the soaked carpet, following the sodden trail, till he stood upon the threshold.
At first, his eyes either couldn’t or wouldn’t register what he was seeing. The best he could do at first was make out that his small child cowering in a corner at the furthest end of the bed. The boy was almost trying to climb up the point where the walls intersected, backwards.
As petrified as the look on his son’s face was, he appeared unhurt. It was what was between father and son, in the immediate foreground that at last came into focus.
Its back was turned to him. The huge shape was side-lit from the dim yellow Donald Duck nightlight. It was a form of smoky whiteness. The air about it was the coldness of death. It stank. It seemed to weave back and forth. The movement didn’t suggest breathing, but… it… was alive in some awful fashion.
He stood frozen in his tracks till he found his voice and yelled at the snowman, “Hey Frosty….. get the hell away from my kid!”
Instantly it turned around. And he thought how ironic his choice of words in the challenge. The snowman’s face was a picture window into hell. The features faded in and out like flames licking the air. The eyes of the face had black and red vertical slits in cordite blue sockets. The horrible thing was grinning razor ice fangs from ear to ear. The smell choked his throat closed.
It spoke. “Hi, Daddy…just get home?”
He recognized the thing’s voice. It was the sound that had spoken to him in the car earlier that afternoon.
He threw his body at the center of it. The solid concussion of the impact was unreal. He was vaguely aware of some screaming, but he couldn’t tell whose voice it was. The touch of the thing was burning his skin. He could sense that much. There was a searing pain that shot through his nervous system. They seemed to pass through walls. The struggle took place in a limbo realm of non-reality. He was aware of something more… no matter how much the snowman’s touch burned, the contact of his skin was melting his adversary.
Suddenly he was sure that he was back in the front yard. He was slamming a huge icy shape to the ground. He released and backed off. He had done it. A bloody mound of snow sat steaming back where it once stood. Then he realized the blood was his own.
Now Frosty was just a reddish clump of icy slush. It steamed. But it was no more. When he was sure of that, he collapsed.
There was the crackle of the police radio in the air. Ghastly red and blue beacons danced in a slow circle.
A loud burst of static shot again and the voice, after pausing, continued… “No hurry, he’s gone, been gone. You know, I saw the subject earlier in the evening. He didn’t seem right then. But I didn’t think anything of it”
There was another pause.
…. “Yeah, carbon monoxide, I would think. That’s what it appears like. Tri-county will be here any sec. I’m sure the autopsy will turn up that he suffocated. The fumes in the car were something. Looks like a hole in the tail pipe too. I’ll bet you coffee later we’ll find a B.A.C. level over the limit. So I guess you could say it was a combination of things….but one thing I couldn’t figure out … the subject has these red burn marks all over his neck and hands. Now what do you make of that?”
You on Ice
So I’m sitting out in the garage again
having another nervous breakdown
in black and white February Sunday
afternoon and it’s all pretty boring
and there is sound of dripping icicles
from the roof that having dagger like
razor teeth grinning at your emotional
illness and sweating drop after drop
of Crocodile tears that nobody is buying.
So I’m sitting out in the garage again
having the same nervous break down
using the snow banks outside the side door
as beer refrigerators. Each tall neck bottle
loaded in a snow cone slot like a 12 ounce
ordinance on ice.
So I’m stilling out in the garage again
trying to out run another nervous breakdown
by retrieving and detonating the barley grenade
while the snow clings like white wire filings
of cotton to the neck on the bottle.
That’s the good thing about
having another nervous breakdown
while sitting out in the garage on
a black and white February Sunday afternoon.
No need to buy ice to keep the beer cold.
And you too.
You on Ice.
-Sometime Grief 2012
Heart Attack Snow
Shovel by shovel
load after load
that heavy white
and then one morning
you take another scoop
to drop at the curb
and the weight just
tips the scales
between what you thought you could still do
and just what that thought is going to cost you.
So like a switch with a short
or light bulb whose time
has come to black out.
Your current over-amps
that runs your engine
and down you go into the snow
then somebody shovels you up
and drops you at the curb.
-Sometimes Grief 2012