Norah

United States

18 | she/they | hypothetical astronaut | ekphrastic poet | haunted house

Message to Readers

an expanded version of my novel excerpt, where hopefully things make more sense! again, this is in the same world of "the wind, of course"

Too Dark, Too Cold

November 29, 2019

    For most of its life, the weather station had been a house, a home. It was built for a team of five or so people, and it was expected that they would live there. The people who designed it were perhaps old fashioned, weary of all the modern applications—including but not limited to a distaste for hairdryers and pop-up toasters.
    The beds were comfortably set into walls, the stairs: well worn and prone to the pops and cracks of all old things used for a very long time. It had been home to a number of teams. The old ones left to be replaced by people who brought hair dryers and pop-up toasters. 
    In short, it housed a job, but a job that had to be done with the whole body, and often created a sense of belonging to the cold and the house and the dark. About five years in they painted the walls yellow, green, and blue. It was too dark, too cold not to.

    Shauna wakes up early with a headache and an itching suspicion that someone futzed around with the climate control on the Saturday she was supposed to be having off. She groans and rolls over, her breath fogging in the air as she fishes around for her glasses before realizing that she doesn’t have to get up. And well, that’s definitely some one’s fault.
    “Mel?” she grumbles, her voice still scratchy from sleep, but there’s no sign of her roommate. 
She hears a grunt from the hallway, and rolls over to see Mel, standing in a towel with her coffee, peeking into Shauna’s room. That’s Mel: coffee right after a shower, not even bothering with clothes yet. 
    “Please tell me Jake didn’t mess with the temperature controls again.”
Mel pauses for a moment then says, “Oh, Jesus, that makes sense, I’ve been cold all morning,” She clutches her mug and starts marching down the hallway, leaving slightly damp footsteps down the already warped wooden floors.
    “Jake! Jake! Wake up you bastard you’ve done it again!”
    Shauna groans and presses her face back into the pillow. 
    “Shauna where are the reports from yesterday?” Tiff yells from who-knows-where.
    “They’re under my computer!” she yells back, grimacing, her own voice too loud. “And can someone please get Jake to fix the temperature? I’m turning 30, for God’s sake!” 
    Silence. 
    “Happy birthday, Shauna!” Jake yells sleepily.
    “Sorry for forgetting, babe, I’ll make it up to you I promise!” That’s Tiff.
    The sound of heavy boots on the stairs down from the observatory deck silences everyone’s somewhat guilty congratulations “You can make it up to her right now by stopping all this racket on her day off!” The old man bellows and Shauna closes her eyes gratefully as everyone quiets with a few murmured apologies.
    Then she sleeps for a long time.
 
    When she wakes up and stumbles into the kitchen it’s already noon, the sun high and bright in the watery white sky. Tiff is re-heating last night’s lasagna as Shauna starts to make tea. 
    “Sorry for this morning,” Tiff says, bumping Shauna’s shoulder with her forehead. Shauna places a practiced kiss on the top of her head, silently accepting the apology. 
    “Did everyone eat?”
    “Jake says he’s not hungry but he’ll be in here soon I’m sure.” Tiff drops her voice into a dramatic whisper, “He’s trying to make up for the climate control mistake by doing more work, and also fasting, apparently.”
    Shauna snorts. Like that was any punishment for Jake. She doesn’t know anyone who loves their job more, and he wouldn’t know a healthy eating schedule if one punched him in the face.
    “He said he was gonna make you a cake too,” Tiff says, leaning against the counter, mouth full.
    Shauna whips around to stare at her. “He will not! Bea is bringing up a pie for me when she gets back, and I won’t have him ruin that for her.”
    “Oh right!” Tiff says, suddenly excited. “Bea’s supposed to be back soon, I totally forgot!”
    “She was at the checkpoint yesterday, so hopefully she’ll be here in two or three days.”
    “Late for your birthday.”
    “Shush.” 
    Shauna does not have many days off, none of them do, the weather isn’t a thing that allows for breaks, especially not here, in the permafrost and the wind, the ocean keeping score ten miles south. She savors it, that this day she won’t be subject to the small changes in pressure and temperature. It’s started snowing, and she doesn’t even mind when she isn’t beholden to record it. 

    She’s curled up on the couch in their living room, reading, legs resting on Mel’s dusty cello case. The living room was always more of a structural composite of all their respective detris than anything else. Bea was constantly trying to clean it but failing.  
    Shauna is dozing off when she hears a knock at the door. The wrongness of that doesn’t quite hit her until she’s stumbling into the hallway, eyes on the white blaze of snow beyond the small glass window on the door. Who would be here today? Why didn’t they tell us?
    She gets her answer when she opens the door, and finds herself looking at the face of her friend and mentor, Bea, half frozen in the doorway to their home. It is not two or three days later, Bea looks panicked, and Shauna can feel the floor tilt slightly beneath her feet. 
Bea’s eyes widen. She mutters an expletive as she drags herself, Shauna, and a half a foot of snow into their front room. 
    “Is everyone here? We need a family meeting,” she bellows, then gently sits Shauna down on the couch, and takes her face between her hands. “Shaun. Look at me. I’m okay. You’re okay. It’s going to be alright.” Shauna nods, but there’s a look in Bea’s eyes: like her world had been changed. It rocks Shauna to her very core. She remembers years ago, when her eyes looked the same, changed. 
    Shauna swallows. “Okay. What is it.”
    Bea looks away towards Tiff and the old man, who are standing, mouths open in the doorway, questions not quite out of their mouths. 
    Shauna shakes Bea’s sleeve urgently as Mel and Jake join them. “I need you to stop treating me like I’m going to break because of something that happened three years ago,” she says, and she can feel Tiff’s eyes on her. 
    Bea looks around the room one more time. 
    “Half of Russia is gone. Parts of Texas, and most of the Pacific Islands. This happened a week ago, it’s still happening, and nobody knows why.” 
    There is a long a stunned silence. 
    “What.” Shuana turns to see Jake standing against the wall still holding a sandwich, mouth agape. And then the room is a flurry of shocked questions and nervous uncontrollable laughter, and all Shauna can think, as she sits, incredulous on the couch, still reeling from memories brought on by seeing Bea so haggard and cold is: this is a pretty shitty thing to happen on my birthday.
    
    Shauna holds Jake’s hand as he dials the number. His legs are bouncing, jostling her and the plexiglass bench they’re sitting on. The murmur of voices fills her ears so she won’t have the listen to the dial tone. Again. And again. And again. 
    They packed out to the mainland the morning after Bea arrived. They didn’t have cell service at the house, but the town had set up a temporary crisis center at the post office. It was packed, Shauna even recognized some people, looking grim as they set up last month’s voting booths to give people privacy around the pay phones. 
    “Jake, there’s a line,” Shauna says gently, when he rings the number for the fourth time, putting her other hand on his leg, and then gently taking the phone from his trembling hands. They walk out of the booth together. 
    Shauna feels oddly detached as Jake starts sobbing into her shoulder, just gently running her hands down his back. She hears herself shushing him softly, like her mother might have done. Yes,     I know it hurts. And she does, she does.
Bea’s waiting for them by the water fountain. She and Shauna share a look, as Shauna hands Jake over to her. Neither of them have picked up a phone. 
Tiff finds her in the bathroom. Shauna makes eye contact with her in the mirror, Tiff shakes her head like she’s telling Shauna not to worry, but Shauna asks anyway.
    “My parents are fine, they’re worried about me, but they’re fine. Most…” she swallows, “Most of my friends are good too.” 
    Shauna hugs her, tries to make it count. Tiff says muffled into her sweater: “You didn’t call anyone, did you?” Shauna hopes Tiff can feel her shaking her head. 
    “Jake?” Tiff asks.
    Shauna shakes her head again. “His partner lived abroad, he was studying somewhere in Eastern Europe.” Shauna knows that she’s compartmentalizing, knows by the way she’s already set Jake’s boyfriend in the past, by how she’s been clinical about everyone else’s losses all day.
She realizes Tiff’s saying something, looking up at her. “I need to know that you’re okay,” Tiff is saying. Shauna looks back at her.
    “I didn’t lose anyone.” 
    Tiff gives her a look.
    “I didn’t lose anyone today. It’s different.” 

    The day that Anne died was not unlike many other days, days that had passed unremarked, unnamed, unimportant. 
    Shauna was content to stay, screaming, next to where Anne shouldn’t have fallen, but did. But Bea found her, bundled her up, and carried her limp, heaving body home. Bea was three years younger, but even so. Anne was Bea’s friend, her family, too. She’s confessed to Shauna how she didn’t know how she did it, but she did. 
    “It had to be done,” she’d say, then change the topic so Shauna wouldn’t shut down for the rest of the day.

    The ice and the deep do not spit back their dead, they horde them jealousy. They did not have a body to bury, a body to send home, or a home to send it to. They each placed a rock up on the bluff above where she died. It was Bea’s idea, the only one of them with any kind of religion. She said the Mourner’s Kaddish as well as she could remember. Shauna had stopped crying at that point.  
    Shauna lost her wife, her sanity, and two fingers that day. It took her three years to rebuild, but she never thought of leaving. She was training the new recruits: Tiff and Jake. Where would she go, to whose arms would she run?
    
    It was spring, that day. It was April, and they lost the trail because of a freak snowstorm. Afterwards, that’s what Shauna fixated on. 
    “I was born in a blizzard, you know,” Anne had said, eons ago, hands carding through Shauna’s hair. 
    “Weren’t you born in April?” 
    “Smack dab in the middle of the Blizzard of ‘91, I even made the local news because my mom couldn’t get to the hospital. Gave birth to me in the car, and firemen had to dig the car out of the snow, basically because it had snowed so hard we were trapped.” 
    She had said it fondly, like she was giving a part of herself to Shauna. And she was. And she was.

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