|It was a hard winter. I lost the house that I had bought only five months earlier - I had to sell it. It was brand new - the first house I ever owned and it seemed that what they said was true, that if you worked hard and - oh you know. But losing the house isn't what made it a hard winter.
I had a promising new job too. I had a lot of new things around me in my new house. I had a beautiful new cat - Sasha - she had short, paper-white fur and bright gold eyes. I had a beautiful new woman and a beautiful new baby boy - he was about nine months old at the time, beautiful and new.
One day I came home and maybe the newness of life had worn off. I remember it was the third day I was off work because of a labor dispute. This would stretch on for sixty-nine days without a paycheck, but I wasn't worried on the third day - I figured my new woman could take up the slack. She had a programming job at the same company I had left just three months before.
When I went inside the house was quiet - it seemed odd that no one was home at that time and something I couldn't fathom was different about the place. I streched out on the couch feeling a bit uncomfortable, and after several hours alone, I started sifting through everything lying about - old notes, messages, papers - not sure what I was looking for. This built to a forensic search of the empty house followed by several phone calls to family and friends, after which, I had to accept the fact that my new woman had left the state and taken the new baby boy with her. Maybe I was intoxicated by all this newness, but I had no idea that she was unhappy, and it was one of those things in life that is so shocking, you have trouble believing that it is really happening. But, at the time, I still had the new house and the new cat. Four days later I still had the house, but the new cat had disappeared and I never saw her again. When I think back to that day - it was over twenty years ago - it always seems as if it's happening right now.
It's snowing outside - tiny, dry flakes that for a moment rise like dust in a shaft of sunlight, before they fall again, flitter down, and cover the moving things of the world. They muffle the sounds of the moving things beyond the bone-aching cold glass of the windows.
Standing in the open doorway, in the dry-white silence, I can only hear the off-key racket of crows fading into the distance and the drone of my breathing. In the quiet, bitter air it makes a boom-hiss, drum and cymbal sound as the brilliant white puffs keep falling - drifting together in softly curving mounds - belieing the angular geometric structures pillaring these sparkling hives.
Outside, as I stride through the snow, it blasts up before my face with each thrust of my boot, swirling around my head, as fine and glittery as the deep drift that covered Pompeii. Before long, the wind gusts, picking up strands of snow crytals and spinning them into a translucent fabric. It flutters around my face, wrapping my neck and then sliding away like chiffon trailing the arms of a veiled dancer bangled in silver.
The snow already on the ground begins to drift before the strengthening wind. The high, moon-white banks of resting flakes are scoured from the ground and driven along by the sand-blast of the suddenly fierce, dead-cold wind, away forever - unless they encounter some solid object - the house, a fencepost, the rotted tree stump sticking through the pond ice - where they gather once more. The pinflakes of snow pile like fine-sifted flour against every standing object, taking the form of each obelisk in the path of the now relentless fresh gale, as fellow flakes swarm past the edges of the thing. Sooner or later, most all of the shining crystals will be stopped by something the wind places in their path. Perhaps some will only fly before the wind until their silver spokes dissolve and gather together in blue water.
I hold my breath as long as possible, stopping the last sound, and listen for something other than the wind bucking past. I pull back my hat, letting the warm pink of my ears pale in the pinch of the freezing air, straining to hear anything apart from the reedy, buffeting wind - maybe the sound of a tenuous world where snowflakes land in a tinkling jumble of icy millions. The noise of the wind bending and stripping branches from the dark fir trees forbids this and reminds me to breathe again. It howls past even louder, the gritty flakes tearing at my eyes, racing with fearsome intent to leave this place. It burns my face with bitter cold as hot as steel brought from the forge to the anvil of my skin.
I retreat into the empty house. It's no longer quiet and still inside - the wind sounds even louder here where the house shudders as if it was a living thing, shivering like a starving animal at every pounding gust outside. Sitting in the tired, cold arms of a faded, brown leather chair, I gaze out of a large picture window at the back of the house as it bows, facing into the gale from the northeast, and watch the sky until it grows darker and low black clouds cover the few stars. The power is out because of the storm and it's not much brighter inside - the only light or warmth comes from the fireplace. I stare at the rolling flames and wonder how much firewood is left as I myself drift off into a cold snowbank of sleep.
Bright-yellow sunlight streaming at and warming my face through the window wakes me in comfort. The storm has stopped. The blank dead-blue of the sky, the sagging trees and their frozen branches look as fixed as a photograph. Instead of my store of firewood, I wonder at the stillness after the violence of the nights wind. I wonder if that wind is now rushing away, far to the southwest on its' way around the globe - until it bears down on the house again to complete its' dark purpose.
I try to open the back door of the house to step outside and feel the sun land on the whole of me, but the door is blocked shut by snowdrift. Opening the front door, I am amazed by the absence of snow - there must have been thirty inches or more covering yesterdays ground. Across the gravel road, beyond the wire fence and fallow field, I can see a neighbors brown house turned white by seven or eight feet of snow that was scraped from where it lay and plastered against the eastern side of the place. I stare at it for a few minutes - still half awake and not thinking of anything else in particular, until finally, it seems like I should be doing something - so I turn back into the house to see if the power might be up and flowing yet.
It's still dark inside - the fire has gone out and it's cold and dread silent except for the dull sound of my pacing footfalls. I turn the kitchen faucet to fill a glass, but no water comes forth and the pipes below rattle ominously. I need to piss, but if the pipes are frozen - I pull on my coat and relieve myself outside by the woodpile. No one is about in the few miles of alternating patches of bare ground and high snowdrifts as I spin around to compass the whole horizon. Then, behind the house, I notice a perfectly round patch of dark bare earth spanning about six feet, in the middle of the now shallow fields of snow. It's where the septic tank lies buried, its' belly full of waste, churning and boiling, giving off heat enough to melt the icy covering. A strange thought swirls and rattles around in my skull like a marble spinning and bouncing in a roulette wheel - one of those ideas you never conjure up yourself - they come unbidden from the evil muse. With grim effort the marble stops, and with it the notion that the circle of bare dirt has a certain utility (being roughly six feet across and probably quite soft from the heat percolating up through the soil and the meltwater trickling down in answer) so that if I put hand to shovel, I could easily dig down two or three feet - about halfway to the tank - and lie in the dark on the warmth of the soft earth, until charcoal clouds from the eastern foothills move over and cover my last bedchamber with a winding sheet of soft, clean-white snow. But - I still have plumbing concerns at the other end where frozen water pipes have made the toilet useless, and the snows' grandmotherly hand will have to wait before turning down the covers so that I might retire to the long winters' night of oblivion. A man feels a certain drive to solve problems - to fix things and make them right, but no matter how involving that can be, he always dreams of the end of all projects, where he can return to the dark realm of the Mothers - where all is created whole and nothing needs repair.
Out on the south side of the house, the wind has removed the snow from a painted gray slab of plywood that covers the access to the crawlspace. I kneel down and slide it to the side, then bending nearly in half into the galvanized, corrugated metal well that surround the access through the foundation, I peer into the the dark under the house, but can see only dim smudges of daylight from the foundation vents around the perimeter and a thick lace of spider webs hanging a few inches from my face - all else is black. I retrieve a flashlight from the kitchen drawer, shake it a few times to get it working, and slither through the webs onto my stomach in the darkness. Training the light upward at the floor joists, I can see the red copper glint of the plumbing hanging uncovered by any insulation. Squirming over the black plastic vapor barrier to get a better look at the pipes, the plastic bunches up under me - it's laid in strips only about three feet wide and is in so much disarray, that most of the light tan, sandy ground beneath the house is uncovered as well. I can see water dripping from foot-long cracks in the copper piping. Shining the beam of light far down the length of the house, I can see a section of the crawlspace that looks almost deep enough to stand in, and I start a combat crawl with the flashlight in one hand, pulling myself along on my belly with the other, head down in the low space - looking up at every stop to guage my progress through a cloud of musty sand fanned by the thrashing, coiling black plastic.
After what seems like an hour, I am near the center of the house - almost to where I could maybe stand, or at least rise up on my knees and straighten my back. Panting and sweating in the dim, cold air, while the rising dust sticks to my face and neck, and holding the flashlight high, I reach forward one last time with my free hand - when it touches something soft. It's cold, but strangely smooth and velvet-like, and as I recoil my hand instinctively, I think that something soft and cold under a house must also be wet and gooey - some foul thing rotting here in silence that will stick to me - but in the millisecond before my hand has fully retreated , the sensation of clean, dry softness reaches my brain. This, however does not prevent me from dropping the flashlight, shrieking like a girl, and hitting my head sharply on one of the floor joists. I fumble for the flashlight - it's lying on the wrinkly black plastic shining on a small twig that has a clump of layered snow crystals stuck to it.
My hands are shaking as I feel for the wet of blood at the back of my head with one hand and arch up on my stomach, grabbing the flashlight with the other. All of these movements are as an autonomic response - I can only think of what I could have put my hand to out in the near darkness. Back in control of the light, I aim it where I thought whatever I touched might be, but there is nothing except the dusty mocha ridges of the exposed sandy soil and the tangle of creased black plastic. Then suddenly, a flash of white - a hillock of powdery snow that has drifted through a crack? The lights' beam swept by too quickly, so I reverse the arc of its' passing - slowly, slowly - back to the white. And it was white - whiter than fine paper or the ground-glass white of the drifting snow. It is only a few feet ahead, but I can't make out what it is as I lay in the whirling dust, my heart racing with fear of dead things, and a thick aching at the back of my head. The thing seems to be about eight to ten inches across and maybe only four or five inches high whatever it is. Thankfully, it remains motionless with the light on it, so I crawl toward it, carfully keeping the light aimed at it, and between me and the thing, as if the heavy flashlight was a walking stick that I could poke slimy little beach things with at low tide.
And then - I knew, I knew and it came as a shock that somehow doesn't startle - in fact I now became quite calm as my eyes rested on the most beautiful, pristine white dove, lying still under the very center of the house on a sheet of black. Beautiful, even in death - and I could not move or look away from her. There was not a mark on her, not a dingy feather near one leg or a speck of blood from her dying. Her feathers were perfect and smooth. Even her peaceful, closed eyelids were covered with tiny, fine white feathers. I stared at her for a good five or ten minutes and my eyes filled with tears.
I marvelled at how she had come to rest here. I crawled around the remainder of the crawlspace looking for an opening of some kind, but there was nothing large enough for even a small twig to pass through end-wise anywhere - even the vents were covered with a fine wire mesh. I crawled back to her, put the light on her milk-white breast and watched over her again in the stillness. After a while, I took her in my hands - she was cold, yet very soft and seemed as if only sleeping. Her body was limp - no rigor had set in and her head rolled back and forth - toward and away from me as I crawled, cradling her in my palm.
I brought her to a place near the center of the house where there was a slight depression, laid her carefully in it, and as I covered her clean whiteness with the fine, dry sand, I wondered if she was Teslas' only love - the white dove that he fed in the window of his rooms at the New Yorker hotel and nursed when she was ill - that flew to his bedside one last time, where blinding beams of light pouring from her eyes told him she was dying and he knew that when she died his lifes' work would be finished. His mind would fade with the light of her eyes and he would walk through the park across the street for the remainder of his life, feeding the other pigeons - always looking for her, hoping to find the pure white dove.