Beyond the bright white noise of the crowded coffee shop the snow swirls in slow silence under parking lot lights. Falling sparks blaze red, green then amber as street signals and crawling cars shift positions. The lacy puffs fall in empty school yards, and spiral down between evergreen boughs and frozen rock in mountains just tall enough to appear as islands in the gray sea stretched out beneath the flashing marker lights of a whispering air liner.
The redhead sips her coffee and stares out the window pondering all this. She thinks of the crisp brightness of stars that know no clouds or cold or loneliness in a universe of billions of billions of like-minded souls with nowhere to hide. She prefers her solitude in this crowd, her deft skill in appearing oblivious to the obvious flirting smiles, and the depth of her contemplations as she considers signing the blank white page before her and calling it poetry -- except the mark of her signature would spoil the purity of the emptiness, of her longing to end her longing for a completeness she can not define. The empty page speaks the totality of her being, the poetry of perfected nothingness.
All I know of this is her emptiness -- as I watch her eyes follow first one descending flake then another, as she stares blankly toward the cone of white swirls surrounding the light pole above my car. I wonder if she knows it's my car she looks at, and I know she doesn't. But I know my own version of the empty page, of wanting to meet The One who also understands how no one can meet those undefined expectations of "other" without marking the page and so destroying the purity of total emptiness -- which we hate so much yet find so consoling. Feeling her emptiness I know I have finally found The One I have been seeking. If she could see my emptiness she would also know she had found me, but when her eyes drift my way she sees only her own, private emptiness in everything.
A cigarette burns between her thin fingers and there is something sensual, deeply indulgent, in the slow inhalation, in the stare from the depths of unconsciousness as the smoke escapes curling from her half-open mouth. She licks her lips before lifting the cup to them, holding the warm fluid against her tongue a long moment before swallowing, then cocks her head once again to gaze out the window.
Suddenly she locks her eyes on mine. I am afraid to offend her by not looking away, afraid to look away because I could lose her before we've met. I light the cigarette hanging loosely between my lips without breaking our gaze and draw upon it for strength. I tilt my head and smile. She tilts her head and stares. It feels like, no it is, a contest. I smile again, acknowledging the awkwardness in the way we have acknowledged each other. Her eyes and face are cold and unchanging.
A child screams and bangs a spoon against the table next to me and I instinctively turn to scowl at the distraction. When I glance back she is already standing to leave. Urgent panic jolts upward from my chest as she glances briefly my way in time to see the lost expression on my face. Her smile is laughing at my defeat.
In one hurried movement she sweeps up her purse and long, black woolen coat then steps briskly to the register. Both my strengths and weaknesses urge me to obey their commands and I find myself gasping like a startled deer. Before I can decide what to do I am on my feet, coffee spilling onto the table, coat trailing behind me, hands fumbling to grasp the assorted implements of my coffee shop world. I drop the ticket, turn to retrieve it and she is already entering her coat while exiting the door. I am too late.
I paid the ticket and exchanged pleasantries with the hostess as I put on my coat and stepped out into the cold. Looking upward with my eyes closed I strove to sense the depths of the snow-shaped clouds, felt the cold trickle of disintegrating crystals running down the side of my neck, then turned in the direction of my car and stepped on her foot. The surprised aimed my butt toward the icy sidewalk but she grabbed my arm and spared me the fall.
The moment of courteous chaos subsided as my apologies were overwhelmed by her hard stare.
"Do you want to fuck?" she asked with the intensity of blued steel.
My tongue stumbled attempting to formulate that seemingly appropriate, "of course not - I don't even know you," but the sense of challenge I felt when we first made eye contact returned.
"I love you," I said to the being hiding in the depths behind her eyes. For a moment those eyes swept the ground nervously.
"Good one," she said dryly, then she turned her back and strode into the eerie gloom beyond reach of the lights.
"Can I offer you a ride?" I half stuttered, but in the silence of the snow the words reported from the building walls like a shot.
"No. But can I offer you nothing?" she said without turning or breaking her stride. I couldn't react. I just watched her dark form dimming and shrinking until it was slowly absorbed into the swirling gray darkness. The signal light turned red on the corner as a car sped through the intersection in a roar of flying slush. Then only silence.
My '56 Chevy was cold and slow to start. I let it run a good long time to warm up, all the while wondering if I should attempt to drive along the road to find her. I waited for my thoughts to form and they came in chunks, much like the snow sliding down the windshield, filling in the gaps where it had melted. "She's psychotic." A moment later, "she's incredible." Then finally the thought with the power to make me act -- "she's gone."
I pulled the lever on the steering column into gear and the car slid a bit as I turned onto the road to go home, but I wasn't heading toward home. I went toward the mountains, in the direction where she had been absorbed from my sight. I told myself I was just taking the long way home but I knew I was hoping to find her, knowing that by now she would probably be wherever she was going.
The roads were bad and the Chevy handled like a boat on an ice skating rink. Sometimes I had to roll down the window and catch the wiper blade at the end of its sweep, breaking the ice off by flipping the blade against the glass. On the passenger side the blade rode atop a sled of ice in the center, making it hard to see the sidewalk, hard to see what I most hoped to see. The car crawled beyond the end of the street lights into the swirling gloom, toward the last side street at the end of town where the lights of the burger stand glowed like the last ember of a dying fire. I knew she could never have walked this far, that the woman standing in the fluorescent gleam of the big sign with her thumb extended couldn't be her.
"I thought this might have been your car," she said when she got in.
"How did you get this far?" I asked. "Did someone give you a ride?"
"A woman. Useless," she said dryly, never looking me in the eye. "I need to get laid."
"I think you need to go home, to someplace warm and --"
"Just drive," she said. "Up to the mountains. That's where my home is. I want to go home. I want you to take me there, to fuck me good then let me go home."
"I'll take you home but I don't know about having sex with you. You don't seem to be in your right mind."
She laughed loudly, almost hysterically. "And just how would you know what mind is right for me? I have never been more clear-headed in my life. I have finally found the answer -- The Truth in it's purest form. It's all right here in my notebook. All I want to do is get laid big time then I'm going home where I won't have a care in the world." She looked into my eyes and almost purred, clumps of snow falling from her hair onto my neck as she snuggled up to me.
"I'll do anything you want. I hope you will be gentle but it's OK if you aren't. Just take me home and I'll do anything."
"We can discuss that later,' I said. "Where do you live?"
"Drive to the top of the pass."
"But there aren't any houses up there, at least none I know of."
She didn't say a word. She just snuggled up to me and put one hand between my legs to warm it while caressing my neck with the other.
It was tough keeping the old boat on the road as we got to the higher elevations, and her undoing my pants and shirt didn't help me concentrate. I couldn't help but to use my free hand, when it was free, to reciprocate the stimulation. We were just below the crest of the pass when the snow was too deep to continue up the grade.
"I'm sorry," I said when the car wouldn't move forward. "How much further is it?"
"This is far enough. I want you to give me what I want now."
"Wouldn't you prefer to do it in a warm house?"
"No. Right here. Right now."
I let her have what she wanted, but I don't think she understood how much I needed what she gave. I thought she simply wanted it hard and fast but instead she gave her whole being with a gentle passion I knew I could only find with The One.
"Thank you for being so nice to me," she said as she finished dressing. "These old cars have really big back seats. They must have been made before they invented motels."
"I want to make sure you get home OK. Where is it from here?"
"That way." She pointed to the top of the pass. "It's not far."
"I'll walk you there."
"No!" she almost shouted. "I have to go home alone. What would people say if I showed up with a stranger?"
"I don't feel good about this."
"Don't worry. You are not responsible for my life. I got what I wanted so you can leave now."
Her tone was suddenly so cold and ruthless I felt a chill across my back. She grabbed her purse and notebook, stepped out of the car and was gone before the door slammed shut. I was still putting my shoes on. When I finally got out of the car to call after her I realized I didn't know her name. Nothing remained of her but a trail of footprints bordered with scuffmarks from the hem of her long coat, leading off along the road ahead. It had stopped snowing. The mountain air was so cold I thought my breath would freeze inside my lungs. I jerked the frozen driveršs door open to reach in and turn off the engine, which I had left running to stay warm, and called out. "Hey!" The silence felt heavy enough to crush my ear drums. There was no Moon and the stars were beautiful against the inky blackness of space. But it was so cold I had to get back in the car. It took a while to get turned around without sliding off the roadway, but then I stopped and called again. Something just wasn't right.
In the depths of my being I knew I should leave, but this woman was psycho. She could hurt herself. I was also aware that she may have psycho friends waiting for her in some nearby cabin, and if they decided not to be friendly it would be springtime before they found my body. But I couldn't just leave another human being in this deep freeze without knowing she was safe. I couldn't make myself go look for her and I couldn't leave either. I was getting too close to running out of gas and had to do one or the other. With the engine off I curled up in the seat and unintentionally fell asleep for an hour, maybe two. When I woke up shivering I decided I would follow her tracks till I saw them leading to the door of a cabin, then I would consider her safe and go home.
Only a few inches of fresh powder covered the snow-packed pavement, but it was up passed my knees where her trail led across the ridge at the crest of the pass. Soon my pant legs were soaked with biting cold and I started thinking how I wasn't responsible for crazy people doing crazy things and I should turn around before it was me that needed to be rescued. It was about then that I saw a dark spot on the side of the trail ahead of me, a point where the tracks led no further.
I started running, as best I could, started yelling, "Hey! Hey you!" But there was no reply, no movement near the shadowy place I was approaching.
The redhead was sitting on her coat, naked, with her back leaning against the rock. Even in the dark starlight I could see she was smiling.
"You're gonna freeze to death out here like that!" I yelled at her. But she didn't even blink and just sat there smiling serenely. She looked beautiful with her firm breasts almost a silhouette against the snow. I was shivering uncontrollably.
"Come on. Stop playing these stupid games. You could fucking die out here."
At that moment the realization that I might be talking to a corpse gripped my insides with a nausea that nearly made me wretch. I leaned close and looked between the puffs of my breath into her half-open eyes. They were coated with a spider web of frost.
I fell on my back in the snow and for a brief eternity the stars told me how lonely they were. Then all I could think of was her eyes, that frozen smile, and how she had kept saying she was going home. I should have known. Five or ten minutes passed before I was brought to my senses by the thought that maybe she wasn't dead, yet, and I was wasting precious time that might save her life. I forced my numb body to move, rolled on my side and pulled myself out of the snow. She was sitting exactly as before and I grabbed her arm in preparation to pull her up onto my shoulder. But the arm felt like heavy, water-logged wood and she fell to her side in nearly the same sitting position, still smiling.
For some reason beyond my understanding, nothing mattered any longer. I was totally prepared to have a nervous breakdown but instead felt entirely calm and composed. She had been holding a notebook in her lap, and as I tipped her body back to the way it had been sitting, the manuscript fell from her hands. On the cover, in bold letters made with many repeated strokes of a pen, were the words, "Letters From Home," and beneath that was, "my suicide note."
Lacy crystals formed as my tears froze on the empty pages.