One For The Books
Twyla stepped out of the Hummer into knee deep snow. The cabin was just visible in the storm, but she knew it was there and how far ahead she had to walk to make the entrance. Anna-May had told her she was insane. One and a half feet of snow had already fallen and much more was expected. She knew the danger, she understood the consequences, but she had to be at the cabin on Christmas Eve, she just had to.
"Don't be such a worry wart!" She had told Anna-May. "Randy and I made it up there in worse than this."
Anna-May gave her a long, discouraging look, but relented. She took a picnic basket from her closet and began to load it up with supplies. Canned goods, beans, Vienna sausage, chocolate flavored coffee drink and three sandwiches. She slid a checkered napkin over the contents and closed the lid.
"Here," was all she said. When Twyla got that determined look in her eye, there was nothing anyone could do to dissuade her intentions.
"Don't be cross, Anna-May. It's Christmas Eve. Randy and I always spent Christmas at the cabin. We've done it for six years. I . . . need to be there."
Anna-May embraced her sister and looked deep into her eyes. She knew that Thanksgiving had been a disaster when the official letter was opened and Twyla was advised that her husband Randy Hall was missing in action in Afghanistan. Anna- May feared that Twyla was not in her right mind, certainly not stable enough to make this trip, but, there was no use in arguing.
Twyla waded through the snow at the gate, she knew she was headed in the right direction, pass the two ancient pines and through the arbor. The snow had just about buried the gate. She had a hard time opening it, and decided to climb over the fence, just to get to the cabin door.
She found the entrance and pushing aside deep snow, unlocked it. Inside it was dark, cold and unwelcoming. She would fix that soon enough. The snow had almost covered half the window. She went back out and down the path and over the fence to the Hummer. Opening the door she took out her duffle bag and the picnic basket. Turning back, she tossed the bundles over the fence into the place where her footprints made impressions in the snow. Hopping over, she picked them both up and went back to the cabin.
Twyla removed her coat, hat, muffler and boots. She left them in the foyer as she always did, stopping for a moment to mark the point that Randy's was not near by. Shaking her head to ward off the sorrow, she went into the family room and pulled logs from the basket by the fireplace. She wadded paper, lay it beneath the logs and lit the crumpled balls.
"Randy always does this," she thought. And smiled at the memory of having her hands on his as he lit the fire and they kissed.
Once again she shook her head. She was not here to be maudlin, she was here . . . well, just why was she here? That was a question she could not answer.
The fire began to crackle as she walked across the room and poured herself a glass of red wine. She sat down on the couch and listened to the pop and crack of the logs. The room began to warm, fire light played against the log walls and the wind buffeted the walls.
Twyla knew that in a few hours she would not be able to leave the cabin. The snow would bury the Hummer so deeply that she would have to dig it out to get away. It did not bother her. She was here for Christmas and she would stay until then. Surely, the storm would not last too long.
Twyla rose and turned on the CB radio. Sometimes she could get a radio station or two from Canada on the thing. It whirred and whined, but, a station did come across, playing Christmas music. Twyla frowned and thought about turning it off. She decided to leave it on.
"Randy . . ." she said and tipped her glass to her lips. A tear threatened and she brushed it out of her eyes. The letter had said "missing" not dead. Until she saw his body, she would not think of Randy Hall as dead.
She recalled the first time he had brought her up here. It was summer and everything was green and vibrant. The lake at the back of the house was filled with fish that Randy tried for almost every day. The woods teemed with game of all sorts and after they were married, the pair of them seriously considered making this place their permanent home.
Twyla raised her eyes toward the stairs to the second floor. She could not sleep in that bed tonight, not without Randy, so she pulled several Indian Blankets from a closet and piled them before the fire. Lighting Hurricane Lamps, she placed them about the room and decided to settle down with a book that she pulled from her duffle. It was quiet except for the wind, the crackle of the fire and soft Christmas music. Only one thing was missing and she couldn't let herself think too hard about that. She topped off her glass of wine, settled onto the blankets and began to read. The book was a good one, a spy drama. A noise at the cabin door made her realize that she had been asleep for some time. It was a soft knocking sound, and someone was twisting the door's handle.
She rose slowly. There were no visitors up this way. Neighbors were few and far between. Taking a lantern in her hand, she walked toward the window and pulled back the curtain. It was pitch black and only the snow could be seen very close to the window, drifting lazily down.
Once again she heard the jiggle of the knob and now the knocking became a bit louder. She dared not open it. What if it were some derelict? Some person who meant her harm?
She backed away from the door, but . . . "Twyla? Honey? Open the door, it's freezing out here."
"Yeah, Pie Face, open the door . . ."
Only Randy used that name for her. He had called her that for years. He always said that her round face looked like a cherry pie, with her bright red cheeks. She opened the door and her husband rushed in, stomping his booted feet and brushing snow from his coated arms.
"How? I mean . . . when . . . ?"
Randy grabbed her in his arms and kissed her. He held her tightly and she began to cry. She kissed him all over his face noting that it was surprisingly warm for having been waiting in the frigid air outside.
"How did you get here?"
"Oh, that's not important, I'm here, ain't I?"
Twyla pulled the olive green woolen cap off his head and helped him out of his soldier's overcoat. He still wore his combat boots and fatigues, and Twyla thought he must have hurried up to the cabin as soon as he got back to Minnesota.
He sat down on the hallway floor and began to unlace the heavy boots. Twyla helped him, pulling them off and setting them beside her own. When they were finished, she stood in his arms, too happy to speak.
"I thought . . . that is, the letter said you were missing."
"No, but the letter . . ." and he lay his fingers across her lips.
"I'm here, it's Christmas Eve and let's forget about that letter, okay?"
She walked into the family room holding his hand. She poured him a glass of wine that he sipped and smiled at her over.
They sat by the fire for a while and watched the dancing flames, then Twyla rose and crossed the room to where a book lay on a desk near the foot of the stairs. She picked it up and brought it over with a pen in her hand.
"What shall we write this time?"
"I don't know, let me think about it for a few."
He pulled her into his arms and she bathed in his warmth, in his familiar scent and touch.
She forgot about how he had gotten to her in this storm, how he had survived whatever crises had caused the report of his missing in action. He was near to her now, he was hers and that was all that mattered.
He removed his jacket and lay back. On his T-shirted chest she could see the pendant that she gave him the day he left eight months before. It was a little golden heart with her picture inside. He had worn it always, telling her in his letters that she was always near him because of the locket.
She lay down on his chest, listening to his heart beat and thankful for each rhythmic thump. He ran his fingers through her hair and hummed along with the Christmas tune that was coming from the radio.
"Were you frightened?"
"How did you go missing?"
"Let's not talk about that now. I only want to lay here with you, hold you, love you."
Twyla knew that many men did not want to talk about the war and the things they did, so she relented and just lay with him.
After a while he sat up and said, "give me the book."
They had always entered something inside of its pages, every time they came. It was sort of a running log that kept their memories of each visit .
He took the pen and scribbled something inside. Before she could read it, he closed the book and holding it out of her grasp he said, "wait until morning. It'll be Christmas then."
He pulled her close and embraced her, kissing her. She nestled into his arms and they lay quiet.
Twyla woke. She smiled and stretched.
"Randy . . ." she said with a smile. He was not next to her, but perhaps he was taking a shower. The bathroom was the only heated room in the house and he could be in there. After all, it looked as though he had come right to the cabin with no stops in between.
She stood up and hurried to the bathroom. It was dark and empty.
She made her way to the kitchen, thinking he may be preparing breakfast. No, it was as dark and empty as the bathroom.
Twyla became alarmed. Where had he gone?
She went to the entrance hall. Hers were the only boots, no army overcoat, no woolen cap or gloves.
She yelled his name outside in front of the cabin.
Sobbing, she returned inside realizing it was no more than a dream. She stumbled to the fireplace and sat down. The fact that the place was cold and growing colder mattered little.
"A dream. A lousy dream. Oh, Randy . . ." she sobbed.
After a while she noticed the log book laying on the blankets before the fireplace. She picked it up and noted that the book did not close all the way. Something was inside the pages. She flipped it open to find the locket laying across the page on which was written, in Randy's hand, "Love's Labor Is Never Lost."
She dropped the book off of her lap and stood up, backing away from the fireplace, the locket in her fist. Twyla cried, her whole body shaking. She knew at that moment how much Randy had loved her. He had pulled himself from death into her arms for one last Christmas Eve.
After drinking coffee, Twyla packed her things. She knew that she would never be able to return here. She would sell the place and let someone else build memories, hopefully as pleasant as hers had been.
The day after Christmas, with the snow plows clearing the way for her, she started her return journey. She would never tell anyone about that evening. But, it was one for the books.
Word Count 2075