Cold Snap

Robin McLean

(USA)

In December, the valley cars barely turned over. Batteries died. Blankets were coiled on the sills of frosted windows, tacked over ill-fitting doors. Wood split with a tap of an axe. The ice on the lake was three feet thick, then five, then seven, then the auger froze. When the wind died down, the townsfolk had parties on the lake below the Ledges, the deepest part of the lake, so warmest water, so best fishing. The fish huts all huddled together. The friends built fires in the middle of pallets with brush hauled out in trucks parked behind the huts. The fire was taller than the roofs. It leaned with the wind. They drank hot drinks with gloves, red noses at rims, leaned away from the lick of flame. Their boots shuffled and stamped toes awake; winter’s good fun when it’s a real winter. They breathed steam around hats and muffs, told jokes across the fire, clapped mitts and laughed hard about the cold snap. 

Lilibeth could see all from the boat launch. The party was a mile away from the windshield. She chewed chicken salad from the deli counter. She bobbed her head to the oldies station the next valley over, which cut out while her head bobbed on. This chicken was good. Its plastic bin balanced on the steering wheel so her gloves were free. She’d gotten the binoculars in the divorce. She chewed and watched the huddle move around the flame melting a crater in the ice: no danger in this cold, but what did the fish think? The light, the shapes. Some coming disaster. The lake a-boil. The crater would freeze smooth, always did, with charred sticks, broken glass and bark swimming in it. She’d lost the fish hut in the divorce, but the gambrel roofline was distinctive. She squinted for it in the lenses, but fish huts all look the same at twilight. 

Last winter had been warm, so they weren’t expecting it. The mercury dropped every day. In town, at the school and meetings places, they talked ozone holes and natural cycles and getting suckered by headlines. They wore wool socks. They ordered extra blankets from catalogues.

It got colder still. The furnace ran 24/7 at the Food Boy, the only store in the valley with a deli and pharmacy section. The snow machiners bought no gas. The station owners groused. The men stayed in and finally painted the babys’ rooms and fixed the drips in basements. Easter Creek froze, the ice dammed up, then the creek burst and overflowed the dam, until the dam broke loose and took Smitty’s Bridge out. 

“That bridge was too low anyway,” people said, taking pictures. “That bridge had it coming.”

The Town Council voted on the bridge. The road crew erected a fence and sign as directed, then the wind came up and flung the fence in the creek and the sign high up in a downstream tree, Road Closed! Go Back! which they thought was funny and took more pictures. They voted again, a second resolution, calling for a less casual effort, for concrete blocks, no dirt work was possible, secured with reliable knots to reliable trees. The Town Clerk should have arranged the work, but broke his leg the next morning. Lilibeth found him sprawled on black ice, called the ambulance, yelled “Hello!” and waved them into Elm Street. She’d been walking her dogs. Further resolutions were tabled when the pipes froze in Town Hall. 

Lilibeth had once known all the resolutions. She used to take minutes, a public service, given her handwriting. But since the divorce she’d been laying low. She lived with the dogs in a house on the hump of the hill in the middle of Elm Street. The chickens lived in the shed. The house fit her budget and was tucked in the pines, which leaned so far the house was nearly invisible. Electric wires dropped down to the roof through branches and needles. The pines hardly swayed in greatest gusts. Her new address was not yet added to the Newsletter list, so she was not up on things. 

The valley got colder. The pipes froze downtown, in the houses and shops on Main Street. The houses up on the hills and slopes lasted longer due to thermal inversions. On the lake, the drifts climbed the fish huts, ramped up the walls until the kids off school could scramble to the roofs then slide back down, again and again, their mothers watching from idling cars, calling out “enough!” when they thought about frostbite. At night, the drifts wrapped around the sides until only the doors that opened inward opened at all. One kid stayed overnight on a dare. They tried to cut him out in the morning. The mother was frantic. The oil plugged the chainsaws. The handsaws blades snapped in two. The heads of mauls dropped off their handles. Such was the freezing differential between ash wood and steel. 

“It’s too cold to keep trying,” the police chief said since it was too late anyway. “You people go home.” They all did but the mother.

Many went to the firehall. They huddled around the radio. The broadcast died during the lead-in: post office frozen three towns north. 

“POs should be immune,” they agreed at an emergency meeting. “Given federal regulations on pipe depth.” 

“The plumbers must be making a mint,” they said as back-up generators hummed. 

The price of stovewood went sky high. Families played board games together for the first time in years.

When the broadcast died, Lilibeth was listening in a bathtub not deep or fancy, but hot and reliable. Her dad had bought the radio in Hong Kong in the service. It was top of the line in its time. She’d got it in probate. She got out of the tub to shake it. She dripped on the floor, which was cold on her feet. 

She’d gotten the house cheap, a foreclosure, as-is. It needed paint. The porch sagged, with mice in the crawlspace, but the furnace was good as were the roof and well. She jiggled the toilet handle, which was running non-stop again. The plumber had not called back yet. She brought the phone to the edge of the tub and got back in. She’d given Norm her number weeks ago, a fireman. It was his idea despite his wife’s death last year. Norm was a shy one. He had only one friend outside the crew, an old miner. 

Lilibeth splashed. 

She’d met the old miner once on Norm’s doorstep. They’d popped by Norm’s at the same time. Lilibeth rang the bell. The old miner carried a tray with a turkey.

“I need the oven,” the old miner had said when Norm appeared. 

The turkey was pink, freshly plucked, and pimpled. The old miner stepped in past Lilibeth, searched for salt and pepper, took a shower. He slept on a rug by the woodstove as the turkey roasted. 

Turkey scent filled Norm’s house just as Lilibeth was leaving.

“That old boy will be the last man standing,” Norm had said. 

The miner’s face glowed in the firelight. He used no blanket, but was very thin. 

“I don’t know about that,” Lilibeth had said. 

In the bath, she watched the phone when not watching her knees, which were islands washed in the tropical sea with hot foamy bubbles. The washcloth was a baby eel, which dove around coral reefs, her calves, ankles and thighs. She dried her hands and pressed a few digits of Norm’s number. She did not understand. She set the phone down. She’d turned up the thermostat in the hallway and the furnace rumbled. “Let the man come to you,” the book said. “Never push a man or he’ll head for the hills. A man likes to feel in charge.” 

The pines tapped the roof gently as the wind whipped and arched over Elm Street and everywhere.

“We’ve never seen such a cold snap,” they said when Fish and Game closed. “Till the road gets better,” the game warden said. Some went to Florida. Road drifted in over notches and passes. Some wells had hand pumps and people pumped into buckets until their eyelashes stuck together. The ice on the lake was 20 feet deep according to the high school science club, which met anyway. 

Tree limbs snapped power lines, candles burned low and oil tanks emptied. Animals made dens. Emergency meetings served hot chocolate and sweet rolls. Birds tucked away somewhere. School closed for another week. Story time moved to the firehall for the littlest kids. The engine bays had never been fuller. The kids loved the ladders and pole from the bunkroom and the first-aid kit was near at hand. The firemen peed down by the creek where the bridge had been, jogged down through trees in full gear and masks.

“Someone will forget and drive right off that,” one said. His beard was ice.

“Even lawyers need to eat,” another said. They zipped up quick and jogged back through trees again. Masks fogged then cleared, fogged then cleared.

Town Council resolved to call the tank farm two valleys over for additional oil trucks. They were told to call the Capitol and left messages. The firehall was busy. They ate on paper plates around the blower. The dogs chased the cups that cart-wheeled away. 

“This is fun!” the kids said.

“The capital N in Nature,” the librarian said.

The leach fields and septic tanks were soon rock solid, then septic lines. Old outhouses were cleared of shrubs grown in. Others rolled trashcans to the edge of decks with curtains around them. Holes were cut in the seats of wicker chairs and buckets placed under. This was hardest on the sick, elderly, and shy. City fathers looked the other way. They’d decide on the collection and disposal at next Town Meeting. 

Lilibeth read like a scholar. The books on self-improvement were stacked by her bed. Her TV had been broken since her last boyfriend. It sat on the porch as if looking for the street. He’d kicked the screen in, a sheriff’s deputy-in-training. Maybe Norm felt conflict of interest that she’d dated a fellow man in uniform. She did not understand. Until the radio died, she’d not missed the TV.

She took baths while reading. She took baths and filled out job applications. Norm’s wife was the most likely reason. “He needs time before his next commitment,” the book on grief said. “Don’t be over-eager during the healing phase,” another said, “Soul-mating takes time.” He’d suggested she trim back the pines, a fire hazard. “I like the closed-in feeling,” she’d told him. He had not offered his chainsaw though he was certified. It had been their one night together. 

Things could always be better. The warning light in her car was a little golden engine. The guy from the shop had not called back. She tried to remember if she owed him money. The trees around her house seemed bigger and thicker in this cold, to lean down like a tent. She’d missed her period, and though the test was negative, her message no doubt had upset Norm. When she ventured out with job applications, his car was at the firehall, not his normal shift. The parking lot was full, some party, the faces and heads behind the frost of the roll-up glass of engine bays. She pulled in and watched. Some people waved at her. Even her ex-truck was parked there, the one with the hitch to pull the fish hut. She must have forgotten some holiday because all the shops were closed on Main Street. She’d knocked on the glass, “Hello! Hello!” She left the applications in doorways, under flowerpots and stabbed by the edges of shovels. The flag at the cannon in the square had been ripped by the wind. The cars were drifted-in. The meters were red, all out of time, not a single ticket. 

She saw a group, a family, and called, “Hello!” The family was so bundled, she could not be sure if they were male or female. A bundled baby swung from a parent’s hip, its small face crushed to the larger shoulder, perhaps crying over a frostbitten nose or ice-cold feet or numbing earlobes. She squatted to study their stampede of tracks. They turned down an alley. They never turned. She nearly felt their heat under an awning, almost sniffed their smell around a corner. She followed for a while, then she looped back to the square past the antique shop and hardware store. 

It felt colder in town than at her house. She stamped her boots and hugged her arms. It felt much colder. She marveled at this impression. How real it seemed, how actual, factual, reliable, true. How apparently based on sensory perception, the nerves in the face, for example, the capillaries of the ears when the hat flew off and tumbled away. The pain in the lungs, deep breaths required for catching the hat, for leaping a drift. 

She stood at the flag by the cannon. She folded the last application and stuffed it in her pocket. She would have to rewrite it. The chase had rumpled it terribly. Her car rumbled and puffed all alone by the library, and she marveled at the power of the mind, since she knew from her readings that such impressions of doom were purely psychological: mere exaggerations of the current conditions caused by the scar tissues of grief – swollen up layers of disappointment, sadness and anger, the book said, which ganged up to distort perception, to disable the afflicted. Don’t believe this empty town. This coldest cold. This Death of the World.

She wrote her real problems on paper. They hung on the fridge behind a magnet. She studied the list while eating soup from a can at the oven door, open to 350: 

Mice in crawl space. 

Percolator plug/missing/lost. 

Woodpile low/ get wood

Dogs tracking bark into house 

Dogs chewing braided rug

Engine light/engine light

Chicken feed

Find job/ anything

Toaster adjustment

When the bath started acting up, she added it below: Bath/coughing/investigate. 

There were other issues: In the morning, she found the chickens huddled together under the light bulb. They were not happy. They pecked each other out of boredom and stress, the chicken book said. She dabbed cream between feathers on the scabby parts. She told them to simmer down, look on the sunny side. Things are always worse for someone else. Her snowpants pockets needed patching, for example. Quarters fell out and anything smaller. Her phone card minutes ran to zero. She lost the charger for her phone, so how could the shops call for an interview? She drove down Main to add notes about the charger. Her applications still flapped in the doorways. The extended new holiday apparently continued. She would buy a calendar after her first paycheck.

The plumber’s office door was open. She left a note on the desk chair about the tub. “I can’t live without it.” 

When the hand pumps froze, people filled their jugs at the Easter Hill Spring, an old pipe in the slope that poured out constantly. The plows cleared the pullout to it. The pipe was the width of a thumb. It filled a cistern built by a Water Committee decades back. A historical plaque said some old miner dug the spring out for his mules. 

“It’s artesian,” some Committee members had argued. 

“Geothermal,” said the ones who’d been to college.

“It’s God either way,” said the religious faction. “The Flock will not go thirsty.” 

During the cold snap, they kept a fire burning by the spring. Each family backed in with empty jugs and a stick of wood they threw on the fire. Kids tapped the fire’s edges with their boots. As the cold pressed in, the pipe lengthened and thickened with days and weeks, until the ice on the pipe was an elephant’s truck with a smirky tip where wind had shaped it and the water dripped out. Some women wouldn’t look at it. Men and boys made jokes. Exhaust from the tailpipes sank and swirled, and people coughed. They filled buckets and tubs and screwed-top jars. They dragged the heaviest through snow to tailgates. Birds landed on the cistern and were shoed away. Town dogs licked the runoff.

Once, Lilibeth pulled in at the pullout to see about the hubbub: cars abandoned, jumper cables hanging out, water jugs half-buried. She waved at friends she’d not seen for ages. She shook her head and mouthed her question. “No water?” her lips said. “I’ve got water at my house!” Her eyes and teeth were big and her mittens excited as they pointed toward Elm Street. The friends tapped on windows too iced up to roll down and pointed at their phones. “On the line to the Capitol,” their lips said, and Lilibeth nodded as if she understood they were requesting reinforcements, water trucks and propane rations, a generator at school so the kids did not fall behind. 

Sometimes she’d have liked to hurl a rock: to coil the arm, to let fly at glass, but it was hard to justify such an idea.

The old friends waved goodbye. They gave thumbs up with empty milk jugs. A show of support, she thought later, for finally getting up and running, surviving her troubles, like writing GO TEAM GO! on the glass. 

The plumber didn’t show. Norm didn’t call. The little golden engine on the car’s console was now a constant. The town’s sudden holiday must have been extended. Days dropped away and away. The sink and toilet were fine, but now the tub was failing. It sputtered a tepid twisting trickle. It groaned as if giving in. Water boiled in pots to supplement, in the kitchen, on the woodstove. She dumped hot over the cold sheen of bubble bath. She stirred the mixture and got in with a book about self-employment, but who could dream with all this worry? In the morning, she drove to the plumber’s house. The door was open, “Hello!” The firehall lot was empty, the weeks-long party was over. All engines gone. The school was dark. The library drop box was frozen shut. She kept the books. 

Capitol Radio reported frost to 22 feet. All Governor’s staff was in the emergency bunker, well stocked, but the pantry bunker froze. The canned goods were crushed, oozed when heated. The staff cooks asked to bring their children down, but with so little space no one else was permitted. Rivers froze to the bottom. Dams iced in. Rail lines snapped at critical junctions. Coal cars stood in the western fields. Southern news crews showed footage of icicles, people chipping, sucking, so thirsty, so thirsty. 

When she found the hardware store ajar, she borrowed a crowbar and a bag of mousetraps. She pried the back library door. She easily found the plumbing book section.

First step, the book said, was locate the blockage. The crawlspace was low and dirty with mouse droppings. She crouched at the door. She crawled lower as the ground sloped up. She baited the mousetraps with peanut butter.

Mapping the kitchen sink was easy with the pencil. She crawled along the copper to the first major junction and marked it. The flashlight shone up on the belly of the house where the junction split. She followed the split to the bathroom sink, to the toilet, to the place where the tub sagged down like a cave explorer. She lay crushed under floor joists, barely room to pull a mitten off, to feel for the frozen place.

She crawled out and boiled water. She crawled back under with a paintbrush. There was no room for pouring. She painted the pipe with scalding water in the beam of the flashlight. The blockage was enormous, a foot across at least of frosty copper, and the brushed on water was no match for it. She went to bed dry and cold. 

Days and nights came and went. She climbed on her car to the broken window at Food Boy for peanut butter and dog food, which she also fed the chickens. She left IOUs signed and dated. The aisles were flooded and frozen. She screwed screws down through her boots for extra traction. Her car roof got scratched. She picked any shopping cart she wanted. Back home she lit candles under the blockage and steamy bowls of water. If only she’d tried this hard with marriage, employed creativity. When candles and bowls failed, she lit twigs in the frying pan and slid it under. She added paper slowly, but the flames licked the joists and she doused the pan. “Think with logic for once!” she wrote in her journal and thought how if she froze, her ex would come to identify the body. Who else would do it? He’d flip though this journal on the kitchen table. He’d see how much she had learned, how substantial she’d become from new experience, how far she’d advanced as a human being. After the fire, the tub coughed rusty drops which she tried to analyze. 

She tried innovations. She bent a hanger straight and shoved it in. She banged the faucet with a hammer, but chipped the tile. She tried the hammer in the crawlspace too, but made no headway without any backswing. She set the mice on the woodpile for the birds. She washed her hair in the kitchen sink with a mug poured over her neck. Soapy water ran down her forehead to sink to drain through pipes to tank to leach field, then down, down through pebbles and rocks in layers, between faults toward magma, only to steam up again, spit out someday, maybe some geyser, some national park with buffalo romping and children. Anyway, her hair was clean. She reread an old paper by the woodstove while drying the hair, then burned the paper to prevent rereading.

Some days she crawled under the house and sat with the pipe and the mice. She wished for a weasel, which she understood ate ten mice per day. Sometimes the dogs sat with her. Sometimes the chickens came to be chased by the dogs. 

Outside, she stretched. She reset her scarf over her nose. The sky was patches through branches and needles. Not a puff of wind. Birds pecking frozen seeds. 

She drove to the lake with the little gold engine beaming. She parked at the boat launch. She walked across the ice over ten foot drifts and slid down the back sides, then bare patches, on and on. The ice groaned sometimes, made lines and cracks in spider webbing. Pine branches had blown and impaled themselves upright in drifts, such tender new forests, so sudden and stupid.

She walked to the fish huts. She circled the fire crater. She peered in windows. When she found her old fish hut, the door opened to the armchair. Fishhooks stabbed up the armrests. A fish was penciled on the wall – Bass, 8 lbs, the date under it – and a picture of the ex with a girl and a girl with a fish hooked from gills and thumb. A jigsaw puzzle glued together. She tugged the handle of the door in the floor. The skin of ice was thin. She bashed it in with the pick leaning on the cooler. 

“Hello!” she called down.

She tied a hook to a line. She tied the sinker. She sat in the armchair. The beer in the cooler had exploded into aluminum ribbons. She dropped the hook down into deepest waters where it floated in the warm current with the fishes.

As the glaciers moved south toward the Capitol, some high points and valleys were spared. Ice slipped around them, while the rising sea pressed the coastlines. Planes dropped from the sky, no one knew why. Engineers volunteered from the private sector. They repaired and upgraded. They drilled for heat in the earth, hot water or steam, to turn the turbines. It was proven science, but the crews were stressed and components untested. Reactor waters were ice rinks boiling in the middles when the sea crawled up over boardwalks and streets, consuming bike paths and smashing hotdog stands against shopping districts and schools. 

Lilibeth studied copper and drew maps. 

Once, she drove to the spring looking for the old miner. She’d seen him there sometimes removing tires from abandoned cars. She honked when she saw him. He wore a leather cap tied under his chin. He dragged a sack through the parking area. He dropped the sack, darted off in the wrong direction, up the hill, his canteen swinging. She ran after him for a while up through the trees, but this slope was difficult. How did the old man do it? On the steepest pitches she clawed on hands and knees, but this old miner was very fast. Sometimes she stopped to spit, to call toward the ridge top, “Wait for me!” 

The sack contained a half-skinned opossum, a snare and fish hooks. She studied how he’d done the skinning. She kicked the snow for his knife. She took the sack. 

She called the plumber again, then Norm once more, then threw the phone in a dumpster behind Fish and Game. 

Back home, she walked the TV to the curb. Her neighbors’ trash was no better than hers, a sanitation strike she guessed. She’d so lost track of current events. She blew on her gloves. The dogs ran around while she wandered the trash. She dragged a couch down Elm Street. On the corner she found a three-bladed fan on a pedestal base with an oscillating cage. She walked it home. She ate dinner with the fan across the table. 

She found an extension cord in the hardware store. She plugged the cord in on the porch and dragged it all around to the crawlspace. It was almost night time when she tried it. The flashlight wagged. The mice scattered. 

The fan wedged between the ground and joists, as close as could be to the blockage. She dialed the oscillation off to focus all energy. She clicked the fan on. The three blades hummed like moths on the window. She took a nap. 

She took chicken from the freezer to celebrate. She boiled rice in a pot and shared it with the dogs like a party. The fan purred below. She filled the tub, hot and fast. She peeled off everything and sank into a miracle, the tangible principles of air flow science she’d never learned in school, the kinetics of wind, surely, derivative of planetary motion, most likely, solar storms flared millions of miles arriving at the earth eight minutes later, parting like water around a stone in a creek, excited atoms in thinnest atmosphere bumping and shoving the next bunch down, again and again. Atoms prevail! Comprehension so overrated! The healing phase very truly takes time. Don’t push Lilibeth or she’ll head for the hills! Lilibeth likes to feel she’s in charge! 

She soaked until the book was soaked when she woke, her bottom teeth under. She spit out and toweled off.

The next day she walked the thermometer to the curb, stuck at minus 75 for weeks, more proof of cheap modern manufacturing. She stitched her snowpants. She walked the fan to the car and turned the ignition. She aimed the blades through the steering wheel at the little golden engine. She cracked a window and napped. When she woke the car started right up. She drove to town. The fan sat in the passenger seat.

At the library, she borrowed volcano stories and Spanish grammar in case she and Norm ever got to Mexico. A sign at the gas station said “Take What You Need,” so she filled the tank. 

In the square, sand bags lay scattered where they had fallen off some speeding vehicle. A truck was turned over against the cannon. The sandbags looked like kids at naptime under small brown blankets. She carried several to her trunk for traction. 

“Hello!” she called. 

The rope of the flag clanged the pole. Keep trying. Keep trying. She drove to the dumpster behind Fish and Game and climbed in. Her phone was right on top. 

“Hello!” she called from atop the dumpster. “Hello! Hello! Hello!”

The waves of her sound rolled down the lake. The words bounced to shore and up the slopes and ricocheted off a glacier dammed in the next valley over. When her voice hit the ice, it bounced back down: “Hello! Hello! Hello!” it said. Though the words were smaller, they were distinct and friendly. This new blue wall made the ridges look silly.

Her neck ached from gazing. She memorized the new skyline.

She drove by Norm’s house one last time. His car was parked at the curb and a deputy’s cruiser was parked in the driveway. Both drivers’ doors were wide open. All Norm’s tires were missing and the cruiser’s were flat. She walked the parimeter of the cruiser with the fan. If the tires inflated, it was very slowly.

The smell of wood smoke was unmistakable.

“Hello!” she called at the door. “This is your last chance!”

She used a rock to break the window. The woodstove stood in the middle of the living room. She circled it. The fire was low with bark and papers. The old miner from the spring lay bundled on the hearth, filthy and ripe, she could smell him from the doorway. She knelt and approached him on hands and knees. When she sniffed him, his eyes opened on her. His tongue circled like a slug along his lips, cracked but still plump and trying to speak. She’d have liked a few questions answered: why’d you run from me, for example. Why did you run? But his lips were down-turned and dismal, prone, it seemed, to gloom and disappointment, though gloom was understandable. Perhaps the spring froze up finally. Perhaps he’d lost his dog. Perhaps Norm had ordered him out of the house. Perhaps he’d quit looking for his dog and family, but how can things improve if you stop the search? 

She didn’t ask. She wasn’t in the mood for gloom. Silence was better.

When his mitten lifted, it pointed for the canteen, and she backed away. His lips sucked. His tongue licked, so thirsty. His canteen lay on the braided rug, the very rug she once told Norm was like her rug at her house, what a pleasing design, what a funny coincidence. 

The canteen was a good one, Army surplus. She reeled it in by its cord. She unscrewed the cap.

His mouth spoke in a frozen language. She shushed him with her finger to his lips. She squatted by him like an island, explored the face with her hands, the neck, the shoulders. She found the knife on his belt. The blade was sharp, well cared for. The knife cut with urgency, now telling him: Be quiet, Don’t speak, spoke in slicing motions across his neck, not silent, but speechless until his frown was gone. His eyes were wide and she dropped the knife into her bag. She would clean the blade later with snow, between thumb and palm, snap it shut.

She hung the canteen over her shoulder. It sloshed half-full and swung like a toy. Before she left she searched down the cellar steps for supplies. The rooms were smaller than she remembered. Her head seemed to scrape the ceilings, to stoop low under doorjambs. She’d grown so big and strong. She could have snapped a chair over her knee.

At home, she set the fan to oscillate in every room. She fanned the chickens one by one. They looked like dogs on a ride, so happy and free. She guessed the radio station was Cairo, still garbled weeks after installing the antennae from her neighbor’s roof. She had cut down a sapling for better reception. 

The chickens would be kinder to each other if spring came, with great bundles of buds to break all records, a bumper crop in the sudden heat and gush of creeks. The leaves would burst open. The turkeys would hatch. “La piñata fiesta,” she’d pronounce on the porch to pine trunks and to acorns forming tiny, nearly-nothings on stems, in the swirl of the great unfolding green. She sat on the roof with binoculars scanning in all directions. She did not mind waiting. 

 

First published in the short story collection Reptile House (BOA Editions 2015)

Robin McLean

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

​Robin McLean worked as lawyer and then a potter in the woods of Alaska before turning to writing. Her story collection Reptile House won the 2013 BOA Editions Fiction Prize and was twice a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Story Prize. She has also published the critically acclaimed Pity The Beast and Get 'em Young, Treat 'em Tough, Tell 'em Nothing with And Other Stories, and teaches writing across the U.S. and internationally.

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