In the Lodge, by Anne Bartles
I stare at the heart of the candle flame, and wonder, if the fire freezes, will the whole flame turn blue?
My fingertips are numb and dark, so I pull my hands back inside the blanket and tuck them into my armpits to try to warm them.
Outside the big window, the stars are brighter and more brilliant than I’ve ever seen. Their cold light scatters and sparkles across the thin layer of snow. Frozen, broken power lines lie strewn across the crystalline white crust. I think they look like cracks in the earth.
I prefer the nights. They’re more honest than the pallid parody of daytime we have now.
In the fireplace, the wood sparks and cracks. It’s the only sound in this quiet, lakeside cabin.
We came up here, just the two of us, in search of, what? Escape. I wanted to get away. This was my idea. I wanted us to have time away from the noise and calls and texts, and to remember what life was like before all this constant connection. And OK, yes, before the baby. I wanted some peace and quiet for my husband and me.
I don’t turn my head. I don’t look at what I’ve placed in the corner of the room. I stare at my candle. Then slowly, with the blankets still wrapped around me, I get up and throw another chair onto the fire. The varnish burns off first, a bright cherry red. Suzie would have loved that. She would have laughed and bounced her fat little hands at the warmth, and the colors.
I don’t cry. I cried once before. The tears froze before they hit the ground, which scared me more than anything that has happened so far. More, even, than when the lake froze all at once like an explosion. Brian screamed and I laughed. I can’t explain why. I was so afraid, it felt like the ice was moving into my body already, and all I could do was laugh.
I try to warm my hands over the candle but it just hurts, so I stop.
How many other people, I wonder, are holed up in some vacation cabin that happened to have a big, stone fireplace, and plenty of rustic furniture to burn when the wood ran out? Not many, I bet.
When the radio still worked, and when we were desperate to know, no-one could tell us what the future would be, only what it might be. We could hear astronomers, people’s theories, and prayers. I wonder if they know now. Are we forever spinning slowly farther and farther away from the sun? Or about to turn, and fly into its roaring heart? I think about this, not about Suzie and the sitter. We don’t have a fireplace at home, and our heat was electric. I don’t hope. I can’t stand the warmth of even a tiny spark.
I look out the window for what feels like the millionth time. The tracks Brian left when he went back, when he couldn’t take not knowing anymore, are gone. They were covered by snow before it got too cold to snow. I was amazed the car even started. The look in his eyes when he left… I can’t think about it. I told him I would stay behind, keep the fire going, just in case. He had to be sure, to move, to do something, and I stayed frozen in this place.
My stomach is numb with despair and rage. I don’t hope, but I watch. Over and over I look out the window to check the space where the road cuts through the trees. It’s there that I would see the headlights of the car. And it’s just about there that the radio said we could, maybe, see the sun slowly grow to consume the sky. It’s there I look to see what happens next. Right now, there’s nothing to see but frozen summer-green trees and a sparkling clear night. In a few hours there will be another white, flat, lifeless sky lit by the shrunken, white disc that feels so far away.
I loved him too much to have let him know how afraid I am, what I was planning. When he left, I let him think he was the weak one, the one who cracked, because I knew if he stayed with me, and never knew what happened to Suzie, he would hate me by the end. Also, he might try to stop me. I waited until the red glow of his tail lights faded out of sight before I took the rifle down from over the fireplace, and loaded it with the shells I found in the kitchen the day we got here.
In my mind, the warmest thing in this lodge is the cold blue steel that stands waiting for me in the corner of the room. Because, when you get right down to it, I can accept freezing to death. But I am not willing to burn.
Originally from New York, Anne Bartles is currently hiding out in Texas. Several cats allow Anne to live in their home, in exchange for kibble and her silence about their activities. Recently, she’s been working on the last edits of her first book: a slightly supernatural murder mystery.
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Tags: Anne Bartles, family, suicide