Though he did not know exactly when the snow had started, judging from the accumulation and the rate at which it was coming down, Chase Brinker guessed it must not have been too much after midnight. Snow of any amount around here was noteworthy, and seeing it sitting six inches deep in the yard was doubly so. Though local weathermen had predicted some kind of event, Chase had not taken any of it very seriously. After all, meteorologists in these parts got to cast such dire predictions so seldom this time of year that any chance of a winter disaster was eagerly pounced upon, with all the attendant cut-ins on television programming and bottom-of-the-screen crawls that went with it.
“Damn,” said Chase into the silence of the house. He had risen early as usual, though he was surprised at just how far away dawn seemed to be at this point. There was nothing to do but put on another pot of coffee. Even with the weather being what it was, he knew he had more than enough time to prepare himself.
Despite the fact of what today was, perhaps in a way precisely because of what today was, a small, electric thrill ran through Chase Brinker as he sipped the steaming black coffee and looked out his front window at a world both menacing and inviting, alien and yet somehow….he searched for a name, came up with “frisson”, but wasn’t sure if that’s because it was appropriate or simply had the words “freeze” and “frozen” ping-ponging back and forth within it. He turned away from the window and the weird blue light of snow in darkness, back to his kitchen, back to another cup of coffee and the calendar that hung on the wall next to the refrigerator. Chase did not need to check the date, for he knew very well what day it was. Still he looked, as if there might be some last second loophole that would let him out of the task at hand, as if, perhaps, there was some vital message to be received, encoded somewhere behind the overt one that Elizabeth Chatham, your local independent agent, was capable, in fact infectiously, even cheerfully so, of meeting all your insurance needs. Chase slammed back the last, scalding bit of coffee, headed for the door, and went out into the snow to meet his fate.
As Chase Brinker trudged through the snow, his environment impinging upon him, diverting him from considering too much what lay in store for him at the end of his journey. He could banish the urge for inaction or panic by concentrating on every next step, one by one, on every snowflake floating down with its gentle violence.
Once dawn arrived, the morning turned out to be much brighter than Chase had thought it would be, the newly fallen snow reflecting the available light at wavelengths foreign to those of the conventional day. The snow continued to fall, and even as he tried to focus on the act of seeing itself, his mind once again wandered into regions that would inevitably lead to yet another appraisal of his situation, an appraisal that would find the value of that situation ‘dire.’ He began by watching individual snowflakes float and stagger, the movement of each a completely random, unique, unpredictable event, utterly dissociated from all others. But, and this was what he found to be the crucial point, when he looked at the snow falling in its totality, there was an identifiable pattern, the simple result of wind direction and gravity. All the infinite variety in the arcs of singular lives was invisible, subsumed by the macrocosmic blankness of the storm.
The time spent walking never seemed commensurate with the distance traveled, or, put another way, his destination in space seemed to get farther away as seconds seemed to tick by faster. Whatever brand of relativity one wished to become the puppet of, the upshot was that Chase became increasingly aware that his coat and shoes were not adequate to the demands of his day. He first thought of the effect as bracing, then merely annoying, followed by downright uncomfortable. At the first hint of wet socks, he decided a brief stop to dry out and warm up was in order. As if by divine agency, a sign was given: Fat Danny’s Lion’s Den Lounge. With benumbed fingers and a powerful thirst, Chase opened the door, stepped inside, and waited for his eyes to adjust to a darkness relieved only by the names of various beers spelled out in neon.
Given his situation, Chase knew the smart thing was not to have gone in at all. Barring that, he knew the next smartest thing was to get a warming shot of bourbon and move along. He, however, availed himself of the ability of human beings to willfully confuse reprieve with procrastination.
“What’ll you have?” asked the bartender, Mike, as he wiped down what seemed a perpetually wet bar.
“Draw beer,” Chase replied. He knew, without admitting it to himself, that simple phrase would have far-reaching effects on the course of his day. Quickly one beer would become another, and after a linear succession of several generations that any royal would envy, tequila would make its entrance on the scene. Chase made a conscious effort to avoid looking at the clock. As the hours passed, he was undecided on whether or not he was simply giving up or effecting some kind of passive protest.
Though time was clearly passing, Chase Brinker could not tell for certain when it was exactly that he noticed them. Moving around in a back corner of the room, as far from paying customers as possible, was a small group of teenagers, barefoot and with the bottoms of their obviously soaked trousers rolled up, the consequences, Chase guessed, of a lengthy snowball fight during school today. They appeared at the moment to be setting up musical equipment.
“Dan starting to have live music?” Chase asked, not particularly interested in the answer at that point.
“No,” replied Mike, “his kid is in the band that plays with the choir over at the high school. You know, for like competitions and stuff. I guess a few of them are trying to start a rock band or whatever of their own, so Dan told them they could practice here today. Not sure exactly how the weather figures in, but somehow it does.”
Chase turned in his stool to look over at the group, which was just starting to make a little noise, talking, tuning up, the drummer punctuating the proceedings, as drummers often do, at seemingly inappropriate and random times. A few words, a three note guitar riff, a handful of unmusical runs on the bass; the whole long process by which a young garage band spends three-quarters of its short life doing little in the way of actual playing.
It suddenly struck Chase how little this kind of scene had changed since his own school days: the tall, skinny, pale, long-haired guitar player was a pattern that had been repeating itself for at least a couple of generations now. This was the outcast, the kid who didn’t fit in, the one with the funny hair, goofy looks, strange clothes, that picked up a guitar like it was a key, or better, an ax, that could unlock or bust down the door to the Cool Room, where life still wasn’t fair but you got to be on top, make or break the rules, and get laid all the time. Chase looked at these boys and knew them, knew they were living in that time when, along with others in the band, choir, and drama classes, they had found a place of acceptance by a larger group than they had ever known, and if not universally liked and respected, they had at least become that mysterious fringe that somehow made the jocks nervous and their girlfriends curious. They were not yet, and maybe never would be, the bringers of the Revolution, but that was the course they had set for themselves as they launched into a version of “Satisfaction”, sans vocals, that sounded like they were each playing a different song.
Seated at a table a few feet in front of the band, looking directly and intently at the lead guitarist, was a teenage girl. Chase studied her, and again saw a type. She was thin, almost frail-looking, an unremarkable young girl with glasses, long black hair, and dark skin. He imagined she had a name like Petra. She was the young man’s first love, the first to see in him what he wanted to believe he saw in himself. She would be his first ardent supporter, defender, and Muse. She would also be the first casualty of any success he might achieve. Chase could see the time coming, when the girls got prettier and more numerous, that goals in life would no longer be mutual, when the once shared values would diverge, especially those concerning how much time should be spent at home, the proper consumption levels of certain substances, and how many sexual partners constitute true infidelity.
Chase Brinker knew loss and regret. He knew it in himself and he could feel it in others, even those for whom these things were as yet impossible. He saw the wrong path in every potential choice, and he knew the wrong choices were coming, he knew it and he felt no better for it. He had to turn away from the kids, tune out the noise, and reinvent a possible future sighted through the yellowish lens of an upturned shot glass slowly drained of tequila. Even as his own choices closed down around him, he knew the time had come to take action, any action that might still be available to him.
This need to act coincided neatly with the natural consequences of drinking for several hours. He stood up abruptly and walked decisively, albeit a bit unsteadily, to the back door. He stepped out into the alley behind the bar, into a darkness he had not expected. Looking up, he saw that the sky had largely cleared, revealing the few dozen stars bright enough to cut through the light thrown out by the frozen city. The cold was sobering, with an occasional wind gust that shot stray clouds across the face of the near-full moon. A layer of undisturbed snow undulated down the length of the alley, covering with a glittering uniformity the accumulated detritus common to all such places.
Chase Brinker knew that what he was doing was childish. Still, looking down at his name jaggedly spelled out in yellow snow, he knew he had committed, however slight, an unequivocal act of defiance. He knew that there would already be forces at work to effect his undoing, but if he had not delayed a fate inexorable, at least he had withdrawn from his willing participation in it.
Bob Carlton lives and works in Leander, TX. For those willing to navigate a minefield of broken links and a sea of literary obscurity, more about him and his work can be found on his website.