The Blizzard of ’78

Joe Kapitan

Hurricanes come in white, apparently, when they come in January, when they are so lost that they end up wandering the Midwest, raging at a useless map (rage in the form of isobars, says the weatherman, before the TV goes dark), and when the power dies, the heat dies too, and your family huddles by the fireplace in their winter coats, alone together, but you stay upstairs in your bed, buried under blankets, alone being your preferred version of together. One-hundred-mile-per-hour winds find cracks in the house where none should exist; the scream they make sounds like the ghost of a ghost, a hole where a spirit used to be within a body that used to be, and you wonder which is more painful—to starve to death, or to freeze to death? Do they stack on each other in a double-pain, or do they cancel each other out in a double-numbness? The phone is dead too, the empty clicking a sign that everything else is gone, the outside world stripped down to white canvas. You can’t call The Russian, your newspaper route manager, to tell him that you won’t deliver the afternoon paper today because the drifts are taller than you are, they’ve blocked your front door. That you don’t want to be the paper’s headline weeks from now when they find your body thawing, your blackened arms reaching from the melting snows. You won’t starve right away, you remind yourself—there’s still half a block of government cheese in the darkened refrigerator, but the phone is dead, so your mother can’t call the pediatrician to see if the babies are old enough to eat cheese. You wonder if you could eat your twin brothers, if you absolutely had to, if this was two centuries ago and you were crammed under a ledge of rock high on a mountain pass, but you decide you couldn’t—they are still too beautiful, they still smell of licorice. From the top of the stairs you hear your family reading stories by the fire, and now you finally understand the writers of old German fairy tales, how they loved their children enough to teach them that the world we live on is made of ice, and that all ice must be considered thin ice. You drift into a ragged daydream counting strangers huddled from raging winds: Arab traders clinging to tents ripped apart by the shamals; ancient mariners retching in the holds of wooden ships tossed about like corks on the tempests. Blizzards of water have sunk navies; hurricanes of sand have buried entire armies. All of them together, and still so tiny; yet when seen from above by the heartless eye of the storm, they rearrange into coded messages—civilization is an empty fortune cookie. Control is a clumsy card trick. Bodies are driftwood, nothing more. You rejoin your family by the fire because when they find you, they should find you all together.

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Joe Kapitan writes fiction and creative non-fiction from a glacial ridgeline south of Cleveland. Recent work has appeared or will appear in Atticus ReviewBoothPassages North, and DIAGRAM. He is the author of a short story collection, Caves of the Rust Belt (Tortoise Books).