A tall man with chapped lips didn’t turn on the lights when he searched the closet for his coat. He groped for fabric and pushed the rubber raincoats back deeper. Then he crouched down to find a pair of boots without laces. They had used the laces for something else a long time ago. It was difficult to remember for what, at this moment.
They don’t usually go up north in the winter and it would be nice to have a fire going when Gina woke up. Last year, Monty chopped down two trees behind the cabin and left the pieces stacked in a small shed. There’s a chance the wood would be too wet. The snow had melted twice this week before freezing again.
In this season, between deep winter and early spring, his father used to say the weather happens beneath your feet. The ground turns from ice to water, and then back again. If it was a good shed, the wood would be dry and he could build a fire for Gina.
He didn’t remember building the shed. That was a story he told often, in a cracked leather booth at Magpie’s. He said they found him wandering in the forest, in the dark, with splinters in his hands. Behind flashlights they brought him back to the cabin and the first thing he noticed was a brand new shed.
Rubbing his blistered palms together, he looked back at the other men and said, It looks like I built a goddamn shed.
It was a joke and some of the people would laugh. As proof, he raised his hands up to show the scars that, at this point, only looked like extra creases. I can still confuse the right hell out of a palm reader, he says, sliding into a folksy voice he only uses when speaking about himself.
He felt more comfortable speaking at Magpie’s which became a problem when he couldn’t go there anymore. You watch sitcoms your entire life and then you build your own. The man who always sits at the end of the bar. The woman who chews on ice. It’s the flatness that lets his tongue roll into a loose accent. A way of speaking he picked up from another person. He’s not sure who it was.
I was in a right state when the flashes caught me.
You can’t imagine the beaut I gave up for another turn.
It will be a hell-bent chip in the pants before I do that again.
Later, he would remember their laughter. How it started from their bellies and ended with eyes down, a small nod. Lying next to Gina, or not Gina, he would stare up at the ceiling and try to pull apart the days. He felt so young, like a new teenager, but he couldn’t remember how he got here. When he twisted towards her, he pulled her ass into his lap and fumbled his fingers below like he was searching for loose change. She would be soft and warm. She would moan but never open her eyes as he pushed himself into her and chewed on strands of her hair.
This morning he wanted to build Gina a fire, to spare her feet from the freezing cabin floor. It was a long drive last night and this morning would be easier between them, he hoped. It would be easier than a goddamn shake of a leg. From the front room, he watched the sun catch shadows in the snow on the lake. A line of cabins surrounded the shoreline but no one was outside. No one comes up this time of year, that’s why he told Gina to drive north. A place where they can think and he can focus on making things better.
He was careful of his footsteps as he walked to the back door, cranked the doorknob and used his shoulder to push it from the frame. A small tuft of snow fell inside and he shuffled it back out with the edge of his boot before stepping into a deeper snow drift on the porch.
It’s a nip and a shiver between my eyeballs. Pissing zip in the crook of my step, if I ever.
The old alarm clock said six fifty-two. In the dark wood-paneled room, Gina shut her eyes again. He was missing from the bed. That felt fine and expected. She couldn’t imagine what they would speak about. She did what he said, she picked him up and now they were here. It was as simple as that.
When he went missing a month ago, she made a few calls to his friends. Have you seen Monty? No, me neither. Well let me know if he turns up, and then she hung up the phone. There was Dan from work and Dave from the bar. To be honest, she never thought about him during those weeks. If he lost his job, that wouldn’t be the first time. She went to work and pretended to care about company targets.
The goal of increased acquisition to performance conversion attributions.
The cost per lead-time executed with minimal return of investment.
Gina cut off her hair one night. It made her look older than she was, so she cried a bit. The next day she let his dog off the leash in the yard. It saw another dog, ran uphill and she shut the front door. Over wine at her sister’s apartment, she complained about the new filing system at work that no one could figure out except for Gina. It’s enough to make you want to poison the coffeepot, they laughed.
Because of his height, it’s easy to skim a crowd and find Monty. His pocked face and high cheekbones a head above the other heads. He looked like an omen by the side of the highway when she picked him up. Something bad news in a ripped parka she had never seen before. She made him wash his hands in slush in the ditch and leave his shoes behind.
It was too early and too cold but she got out of bed, walked to the kitchen and looked at the lake through the window over the sink. Each minute, the sky became a darker shade of blue as if there was a dial being turned up. Thick shadows spread across tufts of snow on the bay giving thickness to the white nothing.
Underneath, the water and seaweed and smallmouth bass. In the summer they sit on an inflatable mattress in the middle of the lake with a rope tethered to a floating cooler.
Gina stuck her hand in the plastic bag of groceries on the counter. A loaf of sliced bread, tinned fruit salad and butter packets she found in her fridge, leftover from a takeout order. Small packets of ketchup, salt and pepper, another tin but this one was beef stew.
The toaster was hidden away in a cupboard. A pamphlet from the county said to hide all electronics over the winter in case of robbers. She opened the cupboard and it smelled sour so she wasn’t surprised when a little mouse fell out when she shook the toaster over the sink.
Where did he go?
She left the mouse lying in the drain and walked to the back door. Opening it, she let the cold further into the cabin. Snow was pressed into neat footprints leading back around. Gina dipped a toe, let it get red for a second and pulled it back out. She shut the door and went back over to the mouse. Using a spoon, she scooped up its body and let the tail dangle. She opened up the window over the sink and catapulted the mouse into the front yard. The cold, again, slapping her in the face.
Then she saw Monty in the distance. There was nothing she could yell at him that he didn’t know already. You’re walking across a lake, maybe she would yell. Why are you walking across a lake?
He looked strong, in the way that he walked. It was nice to see him look strong. He trudged across the lake and then a loud crack and he was gone.
Gina looked through the open window and watched the snow sparkle in the sun. A gust of wind blew through the trees to break up the stillness. She closed the window and turned back to the toaster. At the far end of the kitchen counter, she plugged it in and squished two pieces of bread down. She imagines a bubble of air floating through water and making a popping sound when it hits the surface. Gina holds the little packets of butter over the toaster to warm them up.
Jessica Bloom lives in Toronto. Her previous publishing credits include Vice, Toronto Life, Canadian Art Magazine and the Phnom Penh Post. She has an MA from Ryerson University and BFA from University of Victoria. You can find her on Twitter @jess__bloom.