by Ron Pullins

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short fiction

Dada wakes and finds the world has stopped. Everything has changed. It has snowed, and it is cold. He will once again throw off the sheets and push himself into the day. Get coffee. Today the world is altered. This is the moment of catastrophe. Things must return to normal. Ideally before noon. He’ll want lunch by then. He’ll be hungry.

A sudden, unexpected, deadly kind of silence wakens Dada. Zero at the bone. Silence fills the room. Dada pulls the sheet up to his nose, stares at the ceiling. Frost crawls up the window. Outside it is gray. A winter morning. At early dawn.

The power’s off. That one thing.

He toggles the switch; the lamp doesn’t work. He tries again; it fails again. The overhead isn’t working. The clock by his bed has stopped. He no longer hears the fridge on the floor below. The furnace in the basement, the clang of steam pipes, they have fallen silent.

Outside a steel gray day, everywhere the same. It’s snowed for weeks, blowing, drifting, snow hiding everything but the snow itself. Streetlights are dark. Perhaps the power has been lost. Yes. But this time it feels dangerous. Change threatens the routine. Dada wonders.

How do these things occur. How does change happen. Perhaps some thing from outside has entered in, corrupted the mechanism, disturbed the operation of the now. How he yearns for stasis. Again. Return.

Dada looks about, eyes open just above the sheet. He sees the event is more than local. It’s beyond the house. Beyond the bedroom. The outage extends beyond the lightbulb. There is no power here, or anywhere. He lies, eyes open, pulls the sheet down to his neck, the quilt, and his breath translate to fog. It’s cold and growing colder, but it’s warm beneath the quilt. She’s there beside him, his little heater.

Outside snow has fallen for days. The river has been rising now for days. Storms upriver bring the snow; ice flows downriver, jams where it meets the tidal bore. It’s there where things are happening. One wonders how.

The river overflows its banks. It has risen, edging half a block towards where Dada lies in bed, where he dreams dreams beside his little heater. She snores. Or, is that ice in the river, groaning, breaking, cracking, shifting.

The day invites him out. Another day. Like every other day. Same routine. Except now things are changing. There is no power.

Outside the river bears the ice to ocean; halts when it encounters the rising tide; the river snores. Will waters rise, reach the house, grind the stone on which it sits. One wonders.

Staring out the window, Dada sees his breath. If one shapes one’s lips and puffs, does one’s breath form rings of fog, like smoke forms rings from cigarettes? He does; they do. Interesting how all that is.

She’s next to him. It must be her. It always is. That’s the pattern. Little heater. Hiding in the twisted blankets, sheets and pillows. Bedding is her lover. Was his lover. Now she sleeps. How she dreams. One wonders what dreams are.

The catastrophe has arrived. Will Dada know, or notice, care, or worry. Whatever’s coming now is coming. His morning thoughts overwhelm his senses, then dreams overwhelm his thoughts, then the nothing overwhelms his dreams. His sinuses relax. He breathes again. There’s fog again. Time passes. Where is time from. Where does it go.

Descend the stairs. Dada does. Grasp rail, move forward foot, bend the knee, lower knee behind, slowly—slowly—body sinks. Foot touches riser, slowly—slowly—move forward slightly, slowly—slowly—, rest weight on foot out front, then stand erect on it, then lift rear foot, weight forward, slowly—slowly—, bend, descend, and on and on, and down.

The power’s off. The lights are off. The heat is naught, no clanging from the pipes. Cold, he thinks, is but the lack of heat. He yearns for comfort from the clang, clang, clang below, within. To hear that clang. Such is desire. For now it’s silent. It is yearning unrequited.

Dada makes his coffee. Such is ritual. Fill the coffee pot with water. Filter, coffee, then the waiting, watching. Time will pass. But now there is no power, no heat, no water sucking out the blood of beans, no smell of morning’s promise.

He pauses between thoughts and nothing. Is that the dream. Snow falls outside. Unblemished snow. More snow than freezing rain. The wind has calmed. There are no birds. One wonders.

Outside a man trudges down the unplowed street. The snow has hidden street and sidewalks, buried shrubs that line the street, the roots of trees that tear at sidewalks. Knee deep in snow, the man goes forward. He lifts one leg, plunges it before him deep in snow. Then shifts his weight ahead. Then lifts his leg behind. Then twists somewhat. Then plunges his rear leg in front of him. Shifts his weight. Then steps again. And then again. He leaves a trail. It disappears, as wind-blown snow erases history. One wonders.

Dada dresses. There is work. A place to be. Work is warm. There are others. They will talk at work, ruminations, labor. Things will emerge from all the effort. Perhaps he dreams catastrophe will end, overwhelmed by economics.

Dada pauses at the question of his shoes. Old ones. New ones. Leather ones. Cloth ones. Blue ones. Brown ones. Or even shoes at all. Boots. High cut. Low cut. Deck shoes. Sandals. Perhaps those pointy-toed Italian things he bought when he got married.

Dressed, his round black hat, his long black coat, his case, he steps outside. He plunges one leg before him into snow. Then the other, and shuts the door behind him, plunging his other leg in front, then pulling up the back. The routine; step, shift, pull, forward. Step, shift, pull, forward. He turns. Looks up. Above the bedroom windows are iced over. If she rises, when she rises, if she can rise, if she is warm, if she is there, if she has knowledge of descending stairs, if she can hold in heat in all this cold, if she has power for all the effort, and there is power for the pot, then coffee will reward her, and perhaps she will remember him, and dream of him. One wonders.

Dada turns, plods forward. Pauses, and the trail behind him fills with snow. But he moves on into virginity. Unblemished snow. The wind picks up and snow blows across a crust of snow, erasing all direction. Wind and snow, more freezing rain to come, the end of landscape, the end of dreams of warmth and comfort. Little heater. He remembers. Dreams of her.

Does water seep into his shoes. Does river water kiss his feet. Has all creeped up its bank to underwhelm him on his way. Does ice then grind away our dreams. Groaning, breaking, cracking, shifting.

He heads to work across the snow. Will he be at work alone. Will he sit at work beneath a light. Will there be light. Will there be power. At a desk. If there’s a desk in this new order. In this routine. If it is morning. If he arrives.

One wonders.

Days like this. How things unfold.

Wrapped in a heavy coat, a hat, a scarf, burdened with his brief, Dada travels through the snow, approaching his place of work. Before he arrives a yellow-slickered clown appears and points. A frozen body hangs inside some shrubs. A form familiar. The yellow-slickered clown will disappear and leave Dada alone with his catastrophe.

Dada finds his way to work, makes a path along the road, and down, you know, the hill to where the old mill sets. He crosses a bridge, a dam which halts the water which aches to flow, is pulled along by gravity, and was configured long ago so wheels would turn, and turn the shafts, and spin the cogs and twist the gears to channel power on to shafts inside. And lathes would turn. And things were made. All this turning, turning, then, applied to stuff, so things evolve, things emerge. Buggies. Felt. Hats. Gloves. Thread. Buttons. Beads. Cloth. No longer. The power of the water is let flow free, and it does then under ice, and then away. One hears it run beneath the ice. One hears it laughing on its way.

Now the mills are pizza shops, and ATMs, and offices. On top is Dada’s office, cells against the outside walls and windows, whereas inside the barren rank and file of cubicles are high enough so when one stands his head and shoulders pop up, move about, until one pops down again as if one is a gopher who drops to hell.

The lights are on. The mills are orange, their red bricks muted by the frost and cold engendered mist.

Silence. Water running under ice.

“Yo!” A voice across the bridge.

Robbie stands in a yellow slicker at the far end of the bridge.

“Hey!”

Robbie beckons. Points to shrubs.

Red frames, dark glasses, yellow slicker, Robbie holds his bicycle with one hand, waves with the other. He rings his bike bell. Rings it again. What does it mean.

“Yo!” Robbie waves. “Yo!”

How does one respond.

Robbie points towards the shrubs. Then points again. And, “Yo!”

Snow bends the shrubs, splits them into clumps, and in between two clumps an image hangs from a sapling two fingers thick. A clothesline round his neck, gravity pins him cold and motionless, a prisoner, a straight line pointing from the heavens to the center of the earth. His legs are bent, his knees hang an inch above the ground, all motionless and frozen. His neck is slightly crooked. Eyes open. Sad. A tip of tongue between his lips. Do dead men mourn. All looking, talking, frozen in the moment. What was last seen. What was last said.

“Who,” Dada asks.

But Robbie’s gone. The door behind him closes with a thump. Snow slides from the roof, taken by a greedy gravity.

This object is oblong. Upright. Silent. He has arms. Dressed in a long dark coat. His legs bend where he has knees. Dada parts the shrubs, brushes snow off the head, the shoulders. Ice hangs from the dead man’s nose.

Dada knows him. Like one might know a ghost. A dream. Know one’s own reflection in a mirror.

Suicide. Or murder. Intent or accident. Indeed. Or just a force of nature, now here a prisoner of physics. Dada backs away like some old lobster from the shrubs.

Do not go in. Do not touch that. Do not make tracks. Do not get close.

The air is cold. The ground is frozen. Dada stamps his feet, but soon he wants to sit. He calls in and reports the travesty. The bench is cold concrete. The silence is oppressive. Waiting is oppressive. Grey is everywhere. Not far off, sound of water. But just in time the sky breaks free, and blue comes forth, as deep and rich as it can only be in winter.

A woman in a red coat passes by, looks. She walks her dog. Then she walks on. But then looks back long and hard. Then looks again. She has stopped to look much closer. She wears a long red, red coat, which once matched her red, red shoes, but now her shoes are wet, and are darker, made in such a way and of such a stuff that darkens when it is wet, so her shoes are darker than her red, red dress. Her feet must now be cold. One wonders.

The dog is on a leash. The dog tugs forward, then stops and barks at Dada, at the oblong in the shrubs, then leaps on its leash, forward once again, into today’s virginity.

“Yo,” Dada softly says.

“I’m not getting involved,” she says.

“Nor I,” Dada says. “I’m just waiting for authorities.”

“Such as they are,” she says. “Such as they say.”

Then the dog resumes control, and off they go, across the bridge, away.

Authorities come, Dada heads to work, but he is late. It’s time for lunch. Dada feels the hunger, and desire to embrace the healing company. The morning has been forever lost. Where does it go. He heads to the café where his worker friends will be. As always. He has news.

“Someone’s died,” Dada says.

The restaurant is two floors below his office. Formica tables, a daily special—announcing today: beans and weenies! Dada’s shoes are wet from snow, and somewhat dark because of it. The office crew is sitting where they always sit, same places every day. No one looks up.

Cluck sits at the head, Lou Gino and Haught on each side, then Putz, then Dada’s chair across the table, then at the end long suffering Dot and prim Maureen with big breasts and perfect curls play cards as they eat their salads.

“No one can live with a nail in his head,” Haught says. Haught, balding, pompous, the smart one in the office, reads books, fixes computers, is full of doubt.

“A nail in the head,” Lou Gino says. Italian, middle aged, dark hair slicked back, his destiny is to be fired. As he knows it. As everyone knows it. Every day he orders something with meatballs. If not spaghetti, a meatball sub. They always have meatballs. Today it’s spaghetti.

“I was outside when it happened. Coming to work,” Dada says.

No one listens as Dada sits. The chairs are tubular chrome, and they wobble.

“Impossible, a nail in the head. Like with a hammer? No one would put up with that.” Haught shakes his head.

“It was torture,” Lou Gino says. “It didn’t hurt. The idea is all the pain. A nail pounded in your head. But….” Lou Gino pauses. “One feels nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing. The story said he lived for years after that. Maybe he’s still alive. Maybe the nail’s still in his head. He could be one of us, working in the office. Think of that.”

Everyone eats. Dada looks up and down the table.

“He was there when I came to work,” Dada says. “Right outside the office.”

“A person can’t live with a nail in his head.”

“He did. That’s the thing. They stitched him up and sent him off.”

“Some torture, I’d say. If you can’t feel it.”

Lou Gino cuts his meatballs and spaghetti with a knife and fork. He’s not a spaghetti roller. His clothes are impeccable. Spaghetti wrapped around a fork will drip.

“Frozen stiff. Hanging there,” Dada says.

“You all want pie?” the waitress asks.

The waitress also has big breasts. Cluck is partial to her. She pities him. One sees her tenderness to Cluck, always in unironed clothes, old shoes. He cuts his own hair.

“What kind of pie you got today?”

“All kinds,” she says.

She smiles, then names the pies, the same every day.

“Chocolate,” Cluck says. “But just half. A whole piece is too expensive.”

She halves the price but brings a whole slice. As she does every day.

“Dead,” Dada says. “Hanging there. Like it was me. Looked just like me. I felt it was me. You know?”

Putz, a clumsy bear, holds a half-eaten weenie on his fork.

“Hanging from a rope,” our Dada says. “Frozen. You know what I mean.”

The two women continue playing cards. One wins; the other loses. Lou Gino cuts a meatball. Putz returns the weenie piece to his plate, dredges it in bean sauce, then eats it. Silence lingers over the table. Dot shuffles and deals.

This is not hell. Hell is not cold.

“What can I get you?” the waitress asks Dada.

She brings Cluck pie. He admires her breasts. He always does.

“It’s Monday,” Dada says to her. “I’ll have the beans and weenies. If it’s not too late.”

“Not too late for you,” she says and smiles.

Her smile would melt your heart.

Dada eats lunch. Then follows the crowd to work. He answers his phone and mail all afternoon. He sees from his window they have cut the body down, taken it away. Beans and weenies have Dada more apparent. At the end of the day he feels he has been at work when he leaves work. That’s a comfort. The afternoon has been warmer than the morning. The power is on when he gets home. Things are normal. Who would have imagined it as otherwise.