One Last Storm

Ana’s Pick
Chris Yodice


The snow was relentless that year—and surprisingly consistent. The first storm came on a Friday. It lasted three days, leaving ten inches at the shallowest point and drifts that threatened to consume whole houses like ocean waves. It had been twenty-four hours since anyone in my family could see out the windows; we knew it had ended only because we were told by the woman on the radio.

She was the one we really listened to. The television weatherman appeared once every few hours; through a practiced smile, he spoke of satellites and radars and air masses. He was unaffected; he could have been talking to us from anywhere. His suits—he wore a different one for each appearance—were unwrinkled. His hair was perfect. This woman, though, seemed to stay with us the whole time. If she slept, I don’t know; she must have, I suppose. But I am sure she didn’t go home. And as the hours wore on, her tired voice only grew more intimate.

Finally, she said, “It’s all over now, but I’m glad that we could spend this time together.”

I spent Sunday night fighting my way out of the house, budging the door open inch by inch until I could extend a foot first, a leg, and, at last, enough of my body to force the rest of the way through. The wind was fierce. Trapped outside as snow blown from the roof re-covered the clearing I had made, I was now left to shovel a path to the street and then dig my way back in.

We awoke Monday to clear skies and early forecasts of another blizzard later in the week.

And so it went: weekends covering us in white, the following days offering reprieve enough only to carve temporary gaps in the continually compounding walls of ice and snow. Those gaps would be filled in again come each Friday, some weeks, Thursday.

Despite the wearying cycles of the weather, this was my busiest season. I was in school, in the midst of a program that took up much of my time both in class and for study. I had a job at the library; despite the hours required by school, this was a necessity. Without it, both education and recreation would go unfunded. The job was low paying but it was not easy—attendance was mandatory and there were no excuses accepted.

In this season, I had also found love. Or what I hoped were love’s beginnings. But while the quotidian routines of study and work remained mostly unaffected, it turned out that love was harder to nurture in the cold. She was older than I was. Not by much, just enough to convince a college sophomore that he was dating an older woman. She had dark hair, long and straight, green eyes, and a wide and frequent smile. She was smart. And funny. This should have been enough to battle the elements for. It should have been love quickly, but as the weeks passed, its potential was buried under the unending snow. I was unconcerned; I bided my time and held out for thaw.

In the meantime, I traveled when I had to—fighting the winds that whipped the ice and snow at me from all directions—to get to the places others told me I must be. But I let those same winds, winds that continued long after the storms ended, keep me from my love. Dates were made but each weekend they were pre-empted by the snow that inevitably came. And we grew apart before we were yet close. We grew apart as we watched the storms and I barely noticed.

It had started on a whim. There was a holiday gathering in the school’s common area on the last day of finals. She and I began within a circle of students, speaking all at once of tests passed and vacation plans and the possibility of a white Christmas. In ones and twos, our mutual friends excused themselves with wishes for a happy season, and then there was just the two of us, unintroduced but carrying on merrily.

When it was time to go, she said, “It was nice talking to you.” She had not stopped smiling since I first saw her and, with these words, she smiled still. But now her face was different; it might have been something in her eyes. Unexpectedly, she leaned in and kissed me, holding her lips against my cheek and pulling them away slowly.

I stopped. Stopped speaking, stopped thinking, stopped breathing. It was not until she was halfway to the door that my heart leapt. If it had beat at all in those few seconds prior, I don’t know. But now it was galloping, faster still with each step she took. And then—if only then—at the start of it all, I did the right thing. I followed her.

I called her often over the school break. And she called me. Our conversations were lively, both of us bursting with so much to say. We had our first date, and our second, and third. We spent the early winter nights staring at the clear, star-filled sky.

Classes reconvened in January. And with them, came the storms. While school gave me the opportunity to see her almost daily, the excitement of the first few weeks gave way to conversation more polite than passionate. Too often, we spoke of the snow.

“It’s hard to get out in this weather,” I said.

We would spend time sitting together after class, then part: her to her house, her family; me, to mine. Best to avoid too much driving on the icy roads, I thought. The phone calls continued, but, with so much else to do, they too became perfunctory. Through it all, I assumed this would be remedied when the weather warmed.

The year’s shortest day falls in December, but I have always felt that there is a darkness unique to February. In the midst of this dreary month, I asked to see her.

“This coming Friday,” I suggested.

Both of our schedules, mine of a lucky underclassman, hers expected of a senior, allowed us that day off. She accepted quietly, with barely a trace of the smile I knew. We didn’t plan anything specific, just time to be together.

When the day arrived, I awoke to snow. Snow outside my bedroom window, snow rising halfway up our screen door. I called her midday, the routine now familiar.

“It’s bad out there,” I said.

“Mm,” she responded.

“Maybe—” I began, intending to finish with the overused, “Tomorrow would be better,” although I should have known that in this season, the tomorrows were never different.

Before I could continue, however, she had begun as well. The same, “Maybe—”

We thought alike at least. I laughed. She didn’t. I let her speak.

“Maybe,” she said, “We should talk.”

And suddenly things changed. The realization that came upon me was harsher than the shock of a frigid wind upon leaving a warm house, a sensation I knew too well.

It was with those words that I knew I had let it slip too far, for too long. I thought of our recent interactions and knew now what that reserved smile had meant. It was about to end; we were about to end. I thought of the storms that had kept me from her. They were real and they were cruel, there was no doubt of that. But why had they not kept me from anything else? Suddenly I gathered the ambition that had lain dormant for these weeks.

“I’ll come to you,” I said.

Silence. Then, “Okay.”

My intention was not to argue or plead. The instant clarity of the situation stunned me—how could I not have seen this? The guilt over the complacency I had shown fell upon me fast; the weight of it pinned down any urge I might have had to convince her it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t deserve that opportunity; she didn’t deserve that excuse.

Now, I only wanted to see her once more while she was still mine.

I fought through the door and shoveled, digging deep and hurling the snow with back-wrenching motions. This snow. It came; it stayed, unknowing of its effects. It had been so easy to blame for my own lapses. I looked toward the street; the plows had been through.

My car sputtered and whined, reluctant, but it moved. The roads were lined by the icy walls that had become fixtures this winter. Riding through them was like being trapped in a tunnel. These walls were white, but dirty. They were thick and solid, swirled throughout with asphalt and branches and oil. And they were endless.

I arrived at her house nearly ninety minutes later. I had not been there often, certainly not often enough in these past weeks. On less treacherous days, the trip would have taken one-third the time. But I had driven slowly and, even so, ended up spun out and backwards more than once. Fortunately, most others had stayed off the roads.

I parked as best I could—the side of my car scraping the boulders of ice that lined her street—and walked toward the house, following a thin path that had been cleared from the sidewalk to the front step. I looked up to see her silhouette in the doorway, her details lost in the glare of the setting sun off the snow.

She let me in with a quick word of hello, nothing more. Her family was sitting down to dinner as I entered. I was self-conscious, wondering where she would bring me for this final talk, wondering if they all knew—of my foolishness, my fate, or both. I was surprised to be invited to stay by her mother, who repeatedly expressed amazement that I was out on such a day.

“Young love comes with such devotion,” she said.

And with that I knew. This woman was unaware that my devotion came too late, that my arrival was a final act, and one of redemption.

The meal was lovely, and though I knew I was a condemned man at his last, I enjoyed it. Her family was amusing and gracious. I could see them in her. And they seemed to like me. I made them laugh and I was glad. This was how it should have been. I remembered her inviting me to dinner once before: “Come meet my family. You’ve never come inside, you know.” She had needled me when I was still graced with the lightness of her full smile. “Don’t be scared.” I dismissed the offer; the weather reports had been threatening. But sitting here now, I did not want to be anywhere else.

She did not say much throughout; she ate and watched and listened. Afterward, her father went outside, happy and hearty, to finish clearing the driveway of snow, ignoring his wife’s telling of more to come later in the night. I offered to help, an automatic gesture, declined by this man who seemed to relish the challenge of the elements.

So she and I remained at the table while her mother retired upstairs. We began to talk. My heart, lulled since my arrival, quickened. Now she would finish it. But while the long conversation touched on many things, we did not speak of us.

But that is not altogether true. I should say that she did not bring up this inevitable end. We spoke instead of those first, clear nights. This afternoon, in the moments after waking from my snow-blind stupor, those nights had seemed so long ago. Here, watching her mouth as she spoke, I realized how little time had passed since then. I could tell by her glinting eyes and only half-suppressed laughter that she had enjoyed them as much as I had. She seemed happy. I did all I could to not think about the chasm of my neglect that lay between those nights and this.

Our conversation branched into topics formerly untouched. As it did, I realized how much I had missed, how the focus of the early days of attraction is so often on the immediate and the simple. Now she spoke with no boundaries; sitting face-to-face, away from all of our responsibilities, and sheltered at last from the threatening skies, she told me about her family, her loves, and her life. Her openness affected me; I offered more to her than I had to anyone that I could remember. And in a gesture that was probably more than I deserved, she listened sincerely.

I could not forget, however, why I was there.

In one moment of silence, I said, unprompted, “I’m sorry.”

She shook her head. “Not yet,” she said.

Shortly after, her father came through and bade us good night. She stood up. I followed her to the living room where we sat before the front window.

This would be it.

The dark had come long ago. The hours since had passed under a blanket of clouds that moved constantly but never parted. It was only now that they opened, pouring light onto the frozen landscape in front of us. The moon was no more than a mirror, I knew, but on this night, it seemed to contain a luminescence all its own. And in the moments that followed, the snow started again, as if cued by this unveiling. The flakes fell gently and I was content watching them, just sitting by her side. They blew back and forth and, at times, drifted and circled in the air, carried by the unseen breeze. It would, at least, be a beautiful end.

She took my hand in hers, not finger laced in finger, but whole. I looked at her, saw her profile bathed in the new brightness coming through the window. I was ready now. This day had made it all worthwhile, provided one memory to treasure among the squandered potential of all the other moments. There was romance here. And in the years to come, when I would think back of this as love lost, I would be justified.

We sat in silence. I looked out the window and felt her turn toward me, then back. Together, we watched this one last storm.

Outside there was no way to gauge the falling snow. Each flake was like a drop of water falling into an endless ocean. But this ocean would soon rise and I had a long ride ahead. It was time for her to have her closure.

And so I would leave her, giving her the opportunity to tell me what I had already come to accept. She would do it now. Or, if she were tired, she would do it later: over the phone, or on the brown couches in the school’s common area, quietly, but in the company of her friends. It didn’t matter when.

I took a long breath. “Maybe I should go,” I said.

She moved toward me and slipped her fingers between mine.

“Maybe” she said, “You should stay.”
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Chris Yodice lives and writes in New York. His work can be found in recent (and upcoming) issues of Bewildering Stories, MicroHorror, Conceit, and Rosebud magazine. He, himself, can usually be seen through his front window spinning in circles with his children. Chris can be reached at yodicec[at]gmail.com