13 February, 2017 – Ann Arbor, Michigan
Even on the day of her interview, it takes Kate five full minutes of staring at her computer before she can bring herself to finally hit send. And then she wishes she could call it back.
The two-sentence length of the email certainly offers little justification for her having re-read it ten times. There are only so many ways you can say I am not feeling well today. I hope to be able to come in tomorrow. The main reason that it took thirty minutes of her morning to compose such a masterpiece of communication is the fact that it contained the highest ratio of lies to words that Kate has ever written in her life. This does not please her.
She can imagine a different world and a different Kate living in it: a person who would have sent an email saying I am resigning my position at Miller, Phillips, and Smith immediately. Please forgive the short notice.
The Kate in that other world, would not worry about possible retribution by Mister Miller. She would not imagine him sending back an email that says Deny me, will you? I’ll make sure you never work in this town again, you little slut! She would also not worry about accusing him, or explaining herself to her former compatriots who are anyway not the kind of people whose opinion she should be very concerned with. That other Kate would simply resign, walk out onto the sidewalks of that other world, and trust that she would be able to find a new job before she starves to death. Or before Mister Pogany kicks her out on the street.
Standing at the window now, Kate reflects that the other better Kate in that other better world probably did not have eighteen inches of snow fall Saturday night and Sunday morning, equaling the worst snowfall of an already horrifically snowy winter, on the weekend when she can least afford any snags as she goes to an interview that she fervently hopes will save her life.
This Kate, in this world, reflects that she is neither very brave nor very lucky. But she is paranoid enough to worry about the effect that this latest snowfall might have on the bus schedule. She turns toward her kitchen to see if there might be an egg and a piece of bread left in the refrigerator so she can make a little bit of breakfast. Maybe she will leave some crust and some egg in the sink so the cockroaches can celebrate while she’s gone. Somebody ought to celebrate today!
She wants to leave no later than six thirty, even though her interview is scheduled for ten o’clock. It’s all fine and well to feel sorry for yourself and say I’m not very lucky, but it’s practically a miracle that she has been invited to an interview on Monday after sending an email on Saturday. This is one day when Kate does not want to leave anything to chance.
Trying to ignore the frigid wind, trying not to step in snow that’s deep enough to go over the tops of her boots, Kate does not see the Med Center bus-stop in the predawn darkness until she is almost on top of it. The moment she manages to glance at it, she knows that something is terribly wrong. There is only one man standing in the shelter, and even as she watches he throws a red-glowing cigarette butt into the snow and starts to trudge away. There should be at least a dozen people waiting for the seven o’clock bus!
“Excuse me!” Kate shouts, running toward the man. She stops, out of breath after twenty steps, when he hears her and turns around. “Excuse me,” she repeats. “Is there something wrong with the bus?”
The heavily-bundled man makes a disgusted face.
“Yeah, the f—” He gets a clearer look at Kate and edits out the obscenity he was about to use. “The city says they aren’t running ’em today. They put it up on the website. They can’t run ’em until the roads get plowed, and they don’t know when the road’s gonna get plowed.” With a last glance at her, the man turns and continues on his way.
As the man recedes into the darkness, Kate pays attention to the roadway for the first time since she left her apartment. Even though the snow stopped falling more than twenty-four hours ago, it has indeed still not been plowed. There are only a few deep ruts from a couple of vehicles that have forced their way through, and those were probably delivery trucks or ambulances for the hospitals.
Blinking, Kate looks around the almost deserted snow-bound street. The hospitals, at least, are well lit, but the lights that spill from around them only emphasize the emptiness of the roads. High up in the dark air gusts of wind blow swirls of snow off the roofs of the big buildings, temporarily darkening the parking lot and street.
If the buses aren’t running, then there sure aren’t going to be any cabs. Not that she would be able to afford one if there were.
Cortez, upon reaching the New World, commanded his ships to be burned. He did this because (1) he was a very serious asshole, and, (2) in Mexico, it was not twenty degrees outside, and snowing. If he had, by some bizarre miscarriage of navigation, landed in Michigan, he would have high-tailed it all the way back to Spain to tell Charley V: We’re going to need warmer uniforms! And real pants!
Kate, however, through the modern miracle of e-mail, has already burned her boats as thoroughly as old Hernando ever did, and she accomplished it in one millisecond.
Her face and feet are already starting to feel cold, and the only way she can think of getting down to the Briarwood area, to the Burlington Office Center, to her interview and her hope of a better life, is by making her way on foot to State Street and walking all the way down there.
She’s pretty sure it’s less than five miles, but she’s absolutely not certain. Looking around one more time and not seeing any way out of this, Kate pulls her collar and her scarf up higher around her neck, and starts walking.
Two hours later, in her office at Triple-AI, Haniel frowns, stands up from her chair, and walks to the window. An observer might think that she was listening for the repetition of some faint sound she thought she had heard a moment before. She stands for some seconds looking down at the heavy layer of snow, still drifting and blowing more than a full day after it stopped falling. Watching it, and listening for that faint noise, Haniel sees an image in her mind. It is a young woman, forcing her way through snow and wind.
Haniel’s eyes widen, while her mouth tightens.
Idiot! You should have foreseen this! She has no car, and wouldn’t be able to use it if she had one!
Haniel hurries back to her desk phone and, touching a button on it, takes a calming breath. In a moment, a man’s face appears on the screen. He is dressed in a workman’s clothes, and appears perhaps a decade older than Haniel.
“My lord,” the woman says.
“What?” The man shows some surprise. “Not Gabe?”
Haniel shakes her head. “I don’t need a janitor,” she says. “What I need is one of your soldiers.”
Kate doesn’t have a cell-phone—most people don’t anymore—but there was a clock in the window at Bell’s Pizza a couple blocks back, so she knows that she’s been walking for almost two hours. Even wearing her gloves and keeping her hands in her coat’s large front pockets, her fingers feel like ice. She has gradually pulled her scarf up until it covers her entire lower face, leaving just a slit for her eyes. The biggest problem, though, is the fact her legs and feet are freezing. Her legs are so cold they hurt, and she almost can’t feel her feet at all. The snow keeps getting over the tops of her boots and melting, and she is starting to seriously wonder about the possibility of frostbite.
Bells was still closed, of course, and there hasn’t been any kind of a building that she could just walk into ever since she was halfway through central campus, at least six blocks ago. She can’t go all the way back there. She can’t afford to lose that much time, and she’s not sure at this point that she could even make it there. And from what she can remember about this part of State Street, there’s nothing useful up ahead either, until she gets practically all the way to Eisenhower.
Kate figures that she has only covered about half the distance in the last two hours. If she keeps this up, she will be at least an hour late for her interview. But there’s no way she can keep this up.
The wind feels like it’s blowing right through her as she approaches the corner of the big old Yost Field House. Keeping her head down and staggering against the wind, wading through a deep drift, she manages to reach the corner of the building and get a few yards past it, out of the wind. Kate leans a shoulder against the old brick wall and hugs herself, closing her eyes and trying to blink away tears that the bitter wind has caused.
At least her tears are mostly caused by the wind, although she is also not above feeling a little sorry for herself.
Should she have just let the Lovecraftian horror that calls itself Tom Miller caress her with its slime-covered tentacles? Let it drag her into the Mailroom of Madness, where it would perform upon her the unspeakable rituals of its Elder Gods?
What is wrong with the world, anyway? Even Kate, as young as she is, has at least caught intimations—in books and movies, mostly—that there was a time not so very long ago, when a city like Ann Arbor would not have been shut down by a snow storm. When a young woman would have been able to take a bus to where she needed to be instead of killing herself trying to emulate an arctic explorer. When, for that matter, a young woman’s boss would not have felt that he could accost her with impunity, knowing full well how difficult it is for anyone to find a new job.
The wind howling around the corner of the great old building sings a song of desolation in fashionably discordant post-modern tones. Has anyone ever actually died trying to get to a job interview? Will they find her body in April, tears still frozen on her icy cheeks? Look, the ice-explorers will say to each other. This one was crying.
Her whole body shivering, Kate shakes her head to try to clear her vision, and catches a hint of motion to her left. Opening her eyes wide, she is startled to see a man in heavy clothes approaching through the swirling snow.
“Hey, everything’s cool,” the man shouts above the wind, holding out his gloved hands out to show his harmless intentions. “Are you OK? You need a ride? I was just going by.”
He’s a middle-aged man wearing a big brown Carhartt coat that looks like his job sometimes involves getting rolled around in a cement mixer. Behind him on the road Kate catches glimpses through the blowing snow of what she never knew, until just this moment, is one of the most beautiful sights that can be seen in this life. It is an orange and white Chevy Suburban that looks like it’s a good twenty years older than she is. There is exhaust coming out of its tailpipe and the blowing snow that strikes its windows is melting. The big vehicle looks like it has been forcing its way through deep snow for forty years, and is ready to keep right on for forty more.
“Where do you need to go?” The man shouts. “I was going down to Briarwood, but I might oughta keep going till I see Florida!”
Kate laughs, and then is embarrassed to have to stifle a sob because her chest hurts so much from simply breathing the air.
“Briarwood is perfect!” she shouts. “Oh thank you so much!”
“Hey, no problem!” The man shouts back, putting out his gloved hand partly to shake hers and partly to hurry her along toward the waiting truck.
“The name’s Karl!”