Whiteout

Michael K Laidlaw About 3 000 words #406 3524 31st NW

Calgary, Canada T2L 2A5

Email: 4451moana@gmail.com


Whiteout

by

Michael Kamakana

First, there is the sound of winter wind. Next, the sounds of a truck engine, of tires on snow, of windshield wipers flicking across glass. Now, a radio playing, a song interrupted by static.

A voice, concerned, reads out a severe weather warning on all roads west. Whiteout conditions. RCMP are stopping drivers at the edge of any towns, warning them, and turning them back. All travel plans should be suspended.

Night falls soon.

A radio continues to play in the background: a country song, mid ‘90s.

A young woman’s voice, fear muted, soft but anxious: ‘Stop,’ she says. ‘Stop, please.’

A young man sighs.

‘Please stop the truck,’ she says again. ‘Stop. Please, Richard.’

A man’s voice replies as wind becomes louder: ‘I can't stop. I don't know where we are. We're off the highway.’

After a pause she speaks, firmly as a mother to a child; ‘we can't go any further. Can you see where you're going? Do you know where we are? Stop the truck-’

‘We're on the road. Don't worry,’ a proud male voice counsels: ‘I saw trees to the left not far back. We're almost there. I can't stop.’

‘We can't go any further. I didn't see any trees. We should have stopped back at the turn. I didn't even recognize the turn. Please stop the truck. Please Richard. Richard-’

‘Try and find another station on the radio, Princess. Or turn it off.’

Radio disappears into static.

Turned off.

Silence.

#

A woman- Princess- less agitated, relaxed now, a wondering quiet voice recalls memory from years and years past: ‘Whenever I think of Richard, my first love, I think of that day, that spring blizzard, that whiteout. I think of how scared I was. How angry he was. I think of the way the whiteness killed the radio. Killed all sound. The truck sliding into the snowbank, almost like we were in a silent movie. Or as if we'd suddenly gone deaf.’

#

Suffocated sound as the truck slides into a snowbank.

Engine racing.

Stopping.

Sound of a hand hammering the dashboard, once.

After a long pause, listening to the wind, again comes the young man’s voice: ‘Don’t say it. You okay?’

‘What happened?’ she asks. ‘Don’t say what?’

‘Nothing. Don't worry. Truck just slid off the road. We're in a ditch.’

Sound of a hand hammering the dashboard, once.

Twice.

Three times.

‘Stop!’ she says, confused between fear and anxiety: ‘Richard, please. Jesus, it's not the truck's fault.’

A long pause, his voice: ‘Yeah yeah. It's my fault. I should have stopped. I saw trees on the left not far back. You okay?’ There is a long pause: ‘Stay in the truck. I'll check how deep in we are.’

‘Richard, wait-’

In silence there is the sound of a seatbelt undone, of a door opening, of loud winter wind, of a man getting out of a truck.

Slamming door.

Silence.

#

A man- Richard- less agitated, relaxed now, a wondering quiet voice recalls memory from years and years past: ‘Whenever I think of Princess, my first love, I think of that day, that spring blizzard, that whiteout. I think of how angry I was. How scared she was. I think of the way the whiteness descended around the truck, erased the road, the fields, the sky. Wiped out the horizon. It was like the clouds had swallowed the landscape. Or as if we'd suddenly gone blind.’

#

Sound of a door opening, of loud winter wind, of a man into a truck.

Slamming door.

‘You okay?’ she asks.

‘Should have stopped back at the turn. It's my fault,’ he says: ‘Fuck!’

‘Richard, please. Don't worry,’ she says, ‘it’s not your fault. I shouldn't have insisted you drive me home. In this weather.’

A long pause before he speaks again: ‘there’s no way we're getting out of here by ourselves. We have to get a tow. Not any time soon in this weather.’ A long pause again: ‘it’s my fault.’ A last long pause: ‘you okay, Princess?’

‘What do we do now?’ she wonders.

‘Stay in the truck,’ he replies, then runs down what knowledge he remembers that might be applicable here: ‘Never try and walk through a Whiteout or a blizzard. Keep each other warm. Here, try and get the engine going and turn on the heat. Stay in the truck. I'll check for gear in the back.’

Again comes the sound of a door opening, of loud winter wind, of a man getting out of a truck.

Slamming door.

Keys clicking. Inserted. Engine stalling, turning, stalling, turning.

#

Princess: ‘I think of how quickly it got dark. We were both scared, I guess. Both angry. Just different ways. Richard got angry when he was scared; I got scared when I was angry. He was scared of the weather, of not being in control. I was angry with Richard, for not stopping, for not listening. But then I was afraid of being bitchy and losing him, always afraid of losing him. I was afraid it was my fault for insisting he drive me home. In this weather.’

#

Sound of the engine starting.

Fans come on to her relieved sigh.

Radio clicks on, from station to station, nothing but static.

Sound of a door opening, of loud winter wind, of a man into a truck.

Slamming door.

‘Here,’ he says, displaying gear from the back: ‘Heat candles. Space blanket. Matches. Old sleeping bag. There are rustling sounds as he searches through the gear: ‘No food. You okay? Hungry?’ There is a long pause: ‘You can turn the lights off. No one will see us. Here.’

‘Your hands are cold. Here. Better?’ she says.

‘Move closer. Keep each other warm. Better. You okay?’

‘How do we keep each other warm?’

‘We'll think of something. You're shaking. Are you cold?’

‘Just scared. You're shaking too.’

‘Just cold. Don't worry. We must be close to home. We're on the road. Just stay in the truck. Keep each other warm. Wait it out. Don't worry. You okay? It's getting dark. I’ll light the candle.’

Sound of a match struck.

Silence.

#

Richard: ‘When darkness fell the storm didn't stop. I turned on the lights sometimes during the night. Nothing but a few feet of falling snow, a wall of grey. Trying to take care of Princess, to keep her from being scared, made it easy for me to forget myself. Not that I knew what I was doing. In this weather. I knew only a few rules about being snowbound. Stay in the truck. Never try and walk through a blizzard or a whiteout. Keep each other warm. Wait it out. I repeated these rules to myself all night. Whenever I wondered what I was doing.’

#

Sound of static, various channels passed.

‘Richard. Stop, please.’

‘Just trying to keep warm, Princess.’

‘Your hands are cold.’

‘Then warm them up.’

‘Can we just talk?’

‘‘Just talk?’ I can talk to my brother.’

‘Richard. Please.’

‘Yeah yeah. Don't say it. I know. Do we have to talk about it now? We can't do anything about it. Wait it out. You can’t leave your horses, the ranch.’

‘You don't have to live with them. You don't have to love them-’

‘Do we have to talk about it now? They're your parents. They don't like me. You do.’

Sound of static. Louder.

#

Princess: ‘I think of how suddenly I was in love. Blanked out, blind, crazy, romantic love. I had always imagined a Prince Charming, how he'd sweep me out of my life. How my parents, school, horses, everything, would be erased from meaning. Someone who would stir up my life. I thought it would be love. A moment of escape. Madness. I never thought it would be just lust.’

#

A line of music. Lost.

‘You okay? Cold, Princess?’ The heater fans come on, louder, a long pause before he speaks again: ‘Better?’

‘I want them to love you. Like I do. It's not your fault. They just don’t give you a chance. You just don't give them a chance-’

‘Princess. Do we have to talk about it now?’

‘Richard...’

#

Richard: ‘I think of how suddenly I was in love. I was scared. I tried to control it, tried to name it- this compulsion, this need- but this was the first serious time. I was on the football team, a DB; she was already graduated. She had been a rodeo girl- but now her sight was gradually, slowly fading and there was no way to stop it- a dog was in training for her. I called her ‘Princess Di’, those years ago, in public just ‘Princess’. She was vain enough. She called me ‘Richard’. As in the actor Richard Gere, in some movie we’d seen. I am not Richard Gere: he’s a pretty boy and I’m a cowboy.’

#

‘Stop,’ she says.

He sighs, without meaning; no response she can understand.

‘Stop, please.’

He sighs again

‘Please stop. Stop. Please, Richard.’

Wind becomes louder, rocks over the truck: ‘I can't stop. You know what I want. You know what you want...’

There is a long pause; the sound of clothes rustling.

‘We can't- Richard- oh God don’t tease me like this! - you’re not listening to me...!’

‘We can stop whenever you want Princess...’

‘Richard- you’re not...’

‘Don't worry we can stop whenever you want...’

‘Richard...’

‘But you don’t want to stop, do you...?’

Noises of outer clothes crinkling as they undress. There is no argument here, no discussion; only playful intentions, not too different with how their winter dates usually progress. They ‘park’ for hours before she must return home. Murmuring voices typical of those moments. Sounds of kissing, of caress. Heater fan comes on. Her voice deepens, becomes hoarse and petulant and teasing as he’s heard before, when she had told him to listen to her hands caressing his chest, opening his shirt, her lips kissing his or kissing his broad chest, not her words of censure. She needs this game no matter what pace or what her words say; it is silence of her touch always enough for him:

‘Don’t stop, oh God, don’t stop oh Richard, yes please Richard... Richard...’

Sounds of making-out, of heavy breathing, of mumbles of pleasure and a man’s chuckle and a woman’s scolding then affirmations to his moves, to her pace mounting.

#

Princess: ‘It was not like we knew what we were doing. He was my first serious boyfriend, like going further than just a kiss... oh, he knew how to neck. I thought he would know... you know? I’d heard girlfriends boasting about- about what they’d done with their boyfriends. I had everything towards- towards orgasm... maybe my sense of touch compensated for loss of vision; maybe he was just real sensual... but I was so frustrated. He was frustrated too. A girlfriend gave me some book about the female orgasm, but it seemed to mostly be about masturbation as self-knowledge, and I never did that. Never.’

#

‘Aren’t you cold by now?’ she asks.

‘No- wait, don’t get dressed; I want to look at you. Just turn on the heater again,’ he murmurs with something like awe in his soft voice.

Keys clicking. Inserted. Engine turning, stalling, turning, stalling,.

‘I love looking at you,’ he says.

‘Can I just put my shirt over my shoulders?’

‘If you must...’

‘There.’

‘Beautiful.’

‘Turn the fans on defrost, the window is fogged,’ she puts her hand against the windshield. ‘Window feels cold.’

‘D’you want outside to see in?’

‘I- it’s just the idea; the idea maybe clouded windows mean people in trucks making-out-’

‘Somehow I don’t think anybody will see. Or have any other idea than snowbound if they do see.’

‘This heater is taking too long.’

‘Come here; let me warm you up...’

#

Richard: ‘Not like I knew what I was doing. I was just seventeen. She was my first girlfriend- serious girlfriend, serious like going further than just necking. Necking was good. And listening was good. Things I told her... well, it had maybe been just sex, at the beginning, but that was just a phase. Somehow this whole other emotional... connection came. I thought it would be lust. A moment of escape. Madness. I never thought it would be love. I began to love her. Everything about her: her voice, her hair, her smell, her touch and then her body under my hands. The sex we had, things we did, the hours we spent in the truck... months and months. Fall fell, winter passed, spring came. And the guilt: I could never bring her to... coming. I worried that there was something wrong- like physically wrong, that I was no good.’

#

‘I don’t think a cellphone would work in this weather anyway,’ he says.

‘But my parents- your parents must be worried.’

‘If we didn’t both live at home they wouldn’t know anything to be worried about. Don’t worry, I’m sure my father has enough confidence in me that we could survive a blizzard-’

‘My parents-’

‘There’s nothing we can do but wait. Well, okay, there are a few things we can do as we wait...’

‘Jesus Richard, maybe we can just talk.’

‘‘Just talk’? I can talk with my brother.’

#

Princess: ‘The world was out there, coming fast, the world we only knew by television, and it’s not like we knew what we were doing. Part of me wanted to go to the city, as soon as the dog was ready, part wanted to stay at home with Mom and Dad and Richard. But I wanted to adjust to the city before my sight was all gone. I wanted to see other guys, rather than just ranchers and cowboys and small-town guys. I wondered if there was something wrong. Was it me, was it Richard, was it just the situation? Now I do live in the city, now I’m married to a man who doesn’t even think about those things, now I have three kids- it’s hard to remember how intense those hours were. In my mind, in bed, sometimes it is Richard I think of, those nights in the truck, that whiteout... I no longer thought of us getting married, having kids, building a life together. I thought only of sex, how intense, frustrating- and satisfying in an odd way. I knew I pleased him. And now...? I remember. Not that I would ever tell.’

#

‘Is it getting light?’ she says.

‘Won’t be for an hour or so; are you getting cold again? - Here,’ he says.

Sound of the engine starting.

Fans come on to her relieved sigh.

Radio clicks on, from station to station, nothing but static.

‘Whiteout is ending, I can see the trees and fence, we’re not far from where I’d thought we were,’ he murmurs; ‘not far from your house...’

‘Should we walk home now?’

‘Wait ‘til it’s light.’

‘Aren’t you cold by now?’ she asks.

‘No- wait, don’t get dressed; I want to look at you. Just turn on the heater again,’ he murmurs with something like awe in his soft voice. There is a long pause.

‘I’m getting cold.’

‘Turn the heater higher.’

‘We’re going to kill the battery.’

‘Not with the engine on, don’t worry; it’ll power up.’

‘Then we’ll be out of gas.’

‘Don’t worry; it’s not that low,’ he laughs. ‘We’ll have to get a tow out anyway.’ There is a long pause. ‘Princess? What’s wrong? Don’t cry baby, don’t cry.’ A last long pause. ‘What’s wrong?’

#

Richard: ‘That was the end. A spring blizzard. A whiteout. She told me it was her parents, forcing her to choose between us, to love them or me. I don’t know. I graduated three months later, my new girlfriend went to a Beautician school down East. I was still around when she came back. It was different than Princess and me. Chloe is a serious Christian, so we never did anything more than necking. I knew how to kiss. When we married she never had trouble overcoming any... barriers. Princess went to the city, got married, had kids. Has a city life. Blind now, I’ve heard, but happy enough so I don’t know if she ever thinks of us. Maybe I shouldn’t but I do. Not that I would ever tell. I guess this is real love, mature love, I have with Chloe: we share the same love of our kids, the same values, the same goals for the ranch, and if I ever think of Princess it’s just those times in the truck, and then that whiteout. If it isn’t real love I share with Chloe, well... it’s close enough it makes no difference.’

#

No sound: snow absorbs early morning silence.

Sound of one truck door opening, the other; both slamming closed.

‘You sure? You can wait in the truck,’ a young man’s voice says.

There is a long pause.

‘Beautiful morning,’ he says, to say something; thoughtful, weary, afraid. A last long pause. ‘It always is, after a whiteout.’

- 121100/271219


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