Shut the door! It’s freezing outside. I haven’t been warm since November—or was it October?—when I first removed my fur-lined boots from the closet floor and brushed the dust off them. My house is cold, my car is cold, my bathrobe is cold. I’m cold.
It’s been winter forever. Icicles hang from the eaves and a few of them touch the ground. Some won’t even budge from the force of my husband Mark’s 30-pound sledgehammer. When I come inside, I leave my jacket on, and sometimes my hat. I’ve been rotating through the same fleece sweatpants, the same thermal turtleneck, for months.
Right now, I don’t care about lipstick or Italian high heels. Or trousers that fit. I want to be warm. We are living on top of a glacier. Often, I build a fire. I go out to the porch to collect wood from the pile, and the logs give me splinters which I can’t feel until my hands thaw. I forgot again to wear gloves. I should have waited for Mark to get back up from the studio. The cold has made me impatient.
Somewhere under the permafrost, there is my sage plant, my raised vegetable beds, and my orange Princess tulips that will experience some kind of sensory memory and reappear on an April morning. By then, I might have forgotten this frigid winter. By then, the chill that has commandeered my bloodstream may have vanished. Man, I’m cold. The dog is cold. He won’t go outside, and when he does, he comes in and licks the pads of his paws, which must sting. Then, he sits on my lap, or on Mark’s, and the heat from his fur seeps through to our thighs. I assume that we heat him up, too, and everybody’s content.
I see the pear, the lilac, the peach trees. I don’t know if they will survive these days and nights of being encased in ice. The peonies are buried, but not the memory of their pink heads that perfume the June nights. The magnolia tree has gotten bashed around each time the plow has come. The dune of snow keeps growing beside it, and several branches have cracked off. I don’t know if it’s dead or alive. I love the week in spring when the magnolia blooms all white. The petals fall to the ground almost as soon as the flowers appear and the tree starts to look empty again. For now, the shovel is lodged in the snow bank around the trees’ broken limbs. I chip some ice off the steps and walk inside. “Let’s make a fire, honey,” I call out to Mark. “I’m so cold.”
I carry the groceries and my daughter who is 13, walks behind me with her backpack. “I’m so cold!” she cries. Without unzipping my coat, I put some milk on the stove and stir in some cocoa. My hands are chapped and I see that my daughter’s are too. We drink hot chocolate together and don’t say much. I pour a few drops of heavy cream into her mug. She smiles and I do too.
I’m too cold to work. Not Mark, who is outside all winter. But this year, he’s spent more time than usual de-icing his sculptures, which he has to do each day before he can work on them again. I abandon my computer and walk to the window. From the house, the yard looks vast and there are almost no markings in the sheet of ice that covers it. If my children were still small, they could not sled down that frozen hill. I picture them on a hot summer night out back, with Mark at the grill in a faded gray T-shirt. The air fills with the smell of steak and grass from the lawn that was mown that afternoon. The periphery of the yard is strewn with daisies, and there is a trickle of sweat between my shoulder blades. After dinner, we go out for ice cream. Mint chocolate chip for me, with hot fudge sauce.
At night the wind groans as it drags itself across the fields of snow. We hear something bang and crash, and Mark goes downstairs to make sure the roofs and walls are intact from the weight of ice. All clear, we wait to be lulled to sleep by the ceaseless monotone of the wind.
I am afraid the post-apocalyptic ice planet I seem to inhabit of late is beginning to sap me of my sanity. The whiteness is making me wonder if my eyes can process color anymore. The arctic landscape is unchanging by the day, and the weather report says there’s going to be more snow.
In the morning, I go outside and start the car. The cold catches in my throat and makes me cough. I see what was making all the clatter last night. Our Christmas tree, which had been dumped way out back, blew its way around to the front steps. The dashboard thermometer reads 9 degrees. Two hours later, I open the door on West 16th Street in New York City. I’m colder still. I forgot to wear my hat and the wind whips across the avenues, slices up my coat sleeve and batters my face. When I meet my friend for lunch, I can barely speak since my mouth is nearly frozen shut.
I decide to come home early, and when I arrive, my house feels deliciously warm. After dinner, I draw a bath and put some oil in it to make me think of July. Rose and lavender. From outside the bathroom, Mark asks what smells so good. My daughter goes to bed late, later than I do, because the New York City wind is stubborn, and won’t leave me. I make us all some tea, then crawl under two down comforters and sink into the bed. “I have never been so cold,” I say as I feel myself heating up from the tea and the blankets. But the truth is, I have never felt so cozy, safe and warm.
Marcia DeSanctis lives in Bethlehem.