Guardian

by Jefferson Hansen

 


David: "I worry about the weight on the roof."

Anne: "Imagination pulled beyond memory, only able to accept, not to encompass."

David: "Everything has a breaking point."

Anne: "What is it that makes us why?"

David: "That threshold comes with an awkward price."

On a city block, lined with single family homes, built in the 1940's.

They had turned their sofa away from the T.V. and sat in front of the window, watching furious snow being blown almost vertical, then swirling in winds and drifts. The room was a spare, serviceable living room with, other than the sofa and T.V., two black, wooden chairs with arms and a book shelf. Nothing else. Not even a rug

Neither boredom nor wonder nor fascination. A little like blankness; like barrenness, perhaps; a little like empty; like nothing; like the final, furious whiff of determination.

They needed to get the snowshoes stored in the rafters of the detached garage.

Anne tied a long rope to her back door handle and the other end to her waist, so that she wouldn't lose her way, and walked into the fury of white in what she hoped was the right direction. Through the waist-deep snow, she struggled for every step. Even though her face was wrapped in a scarf, the sharp snow particles managed to prick her there. Finally, more from feeling than from sight, she found herself at the door.

After flinging it up, and stepping down and in, she was safe from the howling. Her ears and face burned. In the wind the snow felt more like shards of glass than snow flakes.

Staring out into the storm, she could make out, just barely, a drift that curved down from her roof and almost made contact with the drift coming up from the driveway. She remembered storms from her childhood deep drifts across a driveway that she had to shovel; roads slickened by ice, and trees bent low, branches sometimes snapping; sometimes, even, when the heat was lost, the pipes bursting and flooding basements with cold water. It was all true, but were her memories stemming from the impressionable eyes of a child?

She reflected that the storm defined them, almost entirely, for now.

Memory maybe less connected to the past than we would like to believe. Maybe fluidly gathered in the present, offering us a comfort in a present it created. No repossession.

She felt as if she watched the storm with an utterly different 'self'.

The snowshoes were surprisingly accessible in the rafters even though they hadn't used them for years. She took off her gloves and tested the leather ligaments by hooking her index finger underneath them and pulling upward until the crease behind her knuckle turned white under the pressure. They seemed solid. What would she have done if they were not?

She put them on and, holding on to the rope, began making her way back to her door. As she was stepping out of the garage and up onto the feet of accumulated snow, she smashed her head into the open garage door, stumbled back into the garage, and fell on the concrete. She bruised a knee and an elbow, and strained a shoulder, but all the injuries were minor.

She made it out the second try. In the little time she had been gone a small drift accumulated before the outside, screen door, and she had to kick it out of the way to get in.

Her head throbbed from slamming it into the garage door.

She was not happy. But she was not unhappy, either.

David might have been scared, or maybe just worried. They grew incommunicable during storms. Perhaps crisis caused each to withdraw, like turtles.

They had food. His biggest worry was the heat and electricity. But even that wasn't too bad. He could drain the pipes, and the wood burning stove in the basement, after getting really fired up, would keep them warm.

Out the window they saw the vicious churning of the white out. She simply stared.

Like yoghurt being churned; like a pounding, and whistling fog; like deranged confetti; like rain forgetting to hit the ground; like a bevy of helicopter leaves blown vertically out of a sea of maples in the spring gusts. A little like all of these. But what was it, exactly? Could it be just wind and snow and cold, so cold?

The first night of the storm they slept in the second floor master bedroom. Anne awoke to a horrendous screeching, and the house seemed to sway. She felt something falling onto her face was it snow or plaster? Then it cracked again. David got up to turn the light on. Rafters, plywood, and even some shingles poked beneath the ceiling. Then the lights blinked out and they could see nothing.

There was another loud screech.

They ran downstairs.

David turned off the main electrical breaker and the main water feed. The storm had not let up. They considered whether or not it would be a good idea for one of them to venture out on the snowshoes.

Anne: "All real thinking begins in crisis, and moves to contemplation."

David: "A decision is incumbent, now."

She asked: "The pain, the dislocation, leading to reflection and contemplation, a crescendo, no? Almost musical, isn't it?"

David asked: "The present insists on an action. What is it?"

She: "When the angles are sharp, character is defined."

The companion: "A house is nothing but the space created by a number of fragile angles."

The next night they slept in the downstairs bedroom, and it happened again: a loud screech, a crack, the walls seemed to shake, and either snow or plaster fell on her.

She screamed. Her companion leapt up and grabbed a flashlight, shone it on her, and screamed too. A cracked 2x4 from the wall was aiming a jagged point directly at her chest as she lay on her side. She slowly got out of bed. Her companion grabbed the mattress and dragged it across the floor. She went first with the flashlight. As they moved into the basement, the mattress jolted with each step.

They lit the big stove. It was the type you could cook on.

David: "We could boil the squash for our vegetables."

Anne: "Inaccessibility plays a roll in claustrophobia."

David: "Pots would be good as well."

Anne: "We are more familiar with the chemistry of cooking, than the chemistry of our homes and even our bodies."

After eating they sat in the comfortable basement. They had a rug down there, and some old furniture: a sofa and two wooden chairs. The walls were concrete block: unfinished. It was lit only by the glow of the stove and some candles.

They spent the rest of the night there. The next day the storm continued. They were cautious about venturing even onto the first floor because they knew that there was more and more snow weighing down the second floor at all times. They spent the day playing competitive solitaire by candlelight and eating when they were hungry.

Late in the day they heard a buzzing, then it got louder and became a rumble. Two men walked into the basement wearing blaze orange snowmobile suits.

David: "Is the storm over?"

One of the men: "No."

David: "Please, tell me you will get us out."

The other man: "Only if you agree to our demands. And if you don't, we'll frame it as suicide." He pulled out a Bowie knife from somewhere in his snowmobile suit.

Anne: "Shit."

The other man: "Yeah. No shit."

Anne: "Who are you?"

The other man: "The angels."

The Angels helped themselves to squash, beets, and beans and gave the others none. Both ate using a Bowie knife.

Anne: "What do you want from us?"

Angel one: "Sustenance."

Anne: "But why us?"

Angel two: "But why not you?" He laughed. "You seem to have a lot of hang ups."

David: "No more than the average person. In fact, I think she is above average in that regard. She has real spiritual stamina."

Angel two (to the other angel): "What the hell does this 'real spiritual stammer' mean?"

David: "'Stamina', not 'stammer'."

Angel one: "Damn if I care."

Anne: "That's all you want? Sustenance?"

An angel: "Well, I suppose I could also use a little 'real spiritual stamina'. Think you could help us out with that?" Anne and David sat on the coach with their arms around each other. David's long face looked more ashen than usual, and his long legs were listless, with the outside part of the right foot making contact with the floor, as if he did not have energy to turn it. Anne, her long, thick hair pulled back in a loose and unruly pony tail, stared straight ahead, her brown eyes wide and nervous.

When stealing off to a corner to get more wood for the stove, Anne and David agreed that they would take shifts staying awake during the night. When both of the angels were asleep, they would take their knives kill them. Then they could take their keys, steal the snowmobile, and go for salvation.

Unaware of how ridiculously movie their idea was, they tried it. Only to find that one or the other of the angels were also on watch all night. But they didn't fake it. While on watch, they sat bolt up right.

* * * *

Anne: "Are you taking perverse pleasure in making us suffer?"

Angel one: "Of course."

Anne: "How can you be so brazenly unethical?"

Angel one: "How can you be so brazenly hypocritical?"

Anne: "I beg your pardon!"

Angel two: "You won't be getting our pardon any time soon." The angels laughed.

"You're hypocritical because you don't admit the pleasure you gain from having power over others, and seeing them suffer because of it."

Anne: "How can an angel speak like that?"

Angel one: "There you go foisting your Christian assumptions on us. We are neither good nor bad in your terms, we just are." Pause. "We are a force, not a set of principles."

Anne: "You seem so much more articulate now than when you arrived."

Angel two (shrugging): "We switch around a lot. It makes the time pass. Don't you get restless, sometimes? Wouldn't you like to test out being different characters sometimes?" (Pause) Did you know what prolonged exposure to threatening weather can do to people's perceptions; the sorts of delusions, illusions, even phantasms that can result?"

Anne: "Is that what's happening here?"

David (interrupting): "Don't pay attention to him. He's just "

She: "Shut up. Is it happening here?"

Angel two: "I don't know, is it? We could all be suffering from perceptual difficulties, us and you both."

She: "Help me out more than that."

Angel two: "There's a chance that we were sent to be your guardians during the storm.

You know? Your Guardian Angels."

Anne: "Then why aren't you nicer to us?"

Angel two: "Would you be? We are dragged out of bed and stuck on these whirring machines in a horrible storm. Then we have to come down here. We don't know who sends us. We don't know why. Hell, we're more clueless than 'Charlie's Angels'. You know how they don't know Charlie?"

Anne: "Then why are you mean to us?"

Angel one: "Because we resent being here."

Anne: "Oh so you take it out on us!"

The angels both shrugged. Then both played with their Bowie knives before answering.

"Do you see anything else here we could take out our aggression on? Do you have a dog?" The angels were finishing each other's sentences.

Anne: "How come everything about you is so similar? You talk the same way, you have the same ideas."

The Angels: "We have two bodies, but we're a single, pissed off soul."

Later that day the four of them played poker, for chips not money. It passed the time.

David: "What's with the Bowie knives?"

An Angel: "What do you mean, 'what's with them'? What's with you? (pause) I have two pair."

David: "Do you carry them to intimidate people?"

An Angel: "Oh, yeah. Especially in the American South. The rich mythology that they are steeped in causes tough guys to melt before our eyes. First they want to check it out, you know, like a buddy. Then, when they realize we mean business with them, they back down really quit. Even the dumbest of them."

Anne: "I have a pair of twos."

An Angel: "Besides, look. They're gorgeous. We stole both of them from a time when we were in the home of a serious knife collector. We had to disarm the alarm to do so."

David: "Why were you there?"

An Angel: "Hell if I know. They were divorcing. Probably had to do with looking out for the kids. (pause) Fuckin' brats."

Other Angel: "But they're also a handy tool. You can use them for self-defense, as cutlery, as a toothpick, as a hunting knife, and so."

David: "Why do you want to intimidate people?" Angel: "Full house."

An Angel: "Because we have to always help you humans out. Do you know what the flip side of duty is? Huh? It's resentment. We don't even get any instructions or background information. We are just plopped in the middle of one 'human crisis' after another without even knowing why we were put there."

David: "Isn't there someone to ask?"

An Angel: "Probably. But I don't know who that person is. And asking around could get us hurt."

Two days later the man and woman began to get really hungry. The angels had allowed them no food for two straight days. That night, they both slept hard. In the morning there were no angels. Instead, there were chalk markings around where the two men had slept, just as at a murder scene.

But what was the murder? The taking of food? The breaking of basic codes of human decency?

All the food was also gone.

Could the chalk lines simply be a sign to David and Anne that, to them at least, the angels were dead? That seems a little simplistic. Anne wondered about her sanity, but she rubbed a section of the chalk line with her finger and granules came off; David confirmed it. The chalk lines were real. There meaning was obdurate. The Angels came from someplace. Somehow.

They walked up the steps and onto their first floor. The snow had broken through in numerous places. The brightness all around indicated that the storm had stopped. Even though they expected it, the suddenness of stepping into the brightness of that fresh whiteness blinded them. When they came to they did not find what they were hoping to find: serviceable snowmobiles. Instead, they found two burned-out, charred hulks. Even more strange: right beside both, in the snow, lay two pristine, completely untouched Bowie knives.

They could drink their fill of water by melting snow in their mouths.

She went back inside only to find out that her snowshoes were buried under snow and wood.

In snow up to their waists and beyond, it took them an hour to get to their neighborhood supermarket, only a couple blocks away. It was a painful walk, and they were hungry. But it was also a sight unlike any other: a sharp sun blistering across the brilliant white, with shade only on the side of drifts opposite the sun, while the other side took the brunt of the light full on.

The angels had come from somewhere out here. Apparently.

They made it to the store, which was open 24 hours a day. Because of the severity of the storm, the manager was ordering the employees to accept I.O.U.'s for staples. Anne and David were thankful.

After buying some groceries, they sat on a bench that looked out over the parking lot, lost under feet of shifting snow.

Anne: "What will we do without a house?"

David: "Inhabitation places such demands on us."

Anne: "Just thinking about it makes me feel overwhelmed."

David: "To look directly into the face of terror "

Anne (crying): "I don't even know where we keep the homeowner's policy."

David: "We are here, before the rolling snow, seeing this parking lot as we've never seen it before."

Anne: "We have no house, no car. I am so overwhelmed. What will we do?"

David: "A storm may create a separate reality."

The two of them looked out into the vast parking lot: drifts several feet high; the wind whistling up one side, causing them to grow and grow; then hook back so they looked like the letter "C," and then tumble. The angels had come. And David and Anne, being sated now, with bread and cheese and cider, might have allowed their brains to settle into similar patterns, into the lazy, roaming foci, the drift from one to the other, thoughts moving through like the snow.

The familiar having become so alien: dunes toppling into dunes. A new edginess in an unexercised part of their brains, uncomfortable, but thrilling.

There is no cold there.