Photo Source: Public Domain Pictures
The Nor’easter dumped three feet of snow between midnight and dawn. The forecast had been for inches. I made and drank coffee, called in a no-show at work, bundled up, and grabbed my snow shovel. A town plow had made one center pass, mounding the snow across the street. It would be hours before it would return to clear the sides.
Across the street, in front of the facing house, a compact sedan was buried to the windows. It shouldn’t have been there. Paul and Laura, pilot and stewardess, drove SUVs. And Laura had told me the morning before that she was just leaving for a west coast swing. I saw no one inside the sedan and decided it was none of my business.
The air temperature was just above freezing, and the snow had the soggy, resilient texture of putty. I knew from the first shovel-full that I needed to lighten every scoop. I’d sweated through my T shirt and cleared about thirty feet of walk when the front door across the street opened, and a petite brunette stepped out and sank into the snow. She didn’t belong there either.
She sink-walked her way out to the sedan, opened the trunk, and took out a plastic shovel half the width of mine. Her boots, glimpsed as she high stepped, were built for fashion rather than function, and she wore a light jacket on top of a blouse. Her mittens were porous wool that would be soaked in minutes. She started shoveling right behind the trunk.
“Wrong end,” I called out.
“Just shovel out the front. I’ll help push you from the back.”
She worked her way to the front of her car and resumed shoveling. I glanced at her a few times as I did my own chucking. The thin plastic blade of her shovel bent with each scoop, spilling a third of its load. She would be at it for hours, or more likely, just give up and go back into the house. I fought against my better nature, but trudged across the street.
“I’ll give you a hand, it’ll go a little faster.”
She nodded her thanks but said nothing. Close up I could see that her short cut hair was still sleep tousled and her face had no makeup. A quick getaway maybe. I had to ask.
She hesitated. There was only one probable situation that would have put her where she was, and even a suburban dullard like me must have surmised it. “He had to leave right after midnight for a charter flight.”
I nodded, and stayed silent. If she’d been a friend of Laura’s she’d have told me, to exonerate herself.
We shoveled alongside each other in silence for ten minutes. She was a hard worker with a bad tool and I admired her tenacity even though she must be getting hypothermic. I paused. Inviting her into my house to warm up would probably just generate fear.
“Look, why don’t you go back into Paul’s house for a little while and get warm?”
Another hesitation. “I can’t When I shut the door it locked behind me.”
“Oh. Okay, let’s dig out the driver side door so you can get in, start the car and get warm.”
“I’m fine, really.”
I watched her tremble. “No. You’re not. Get in the car, please or I’m going to quit shoveling.”
Her smile was pained, but she nodded yes. After a couple minutes of shoveling we were able to unbury the door so she could get in. Once the car started, I went back to bending and scooping, and laughed out loud at my meandering thoughts. I was helping a woman I didn’t know get away from a one-night stand with a married neighbor. I was both envious of their sexual encounter and somehow feeling protective of her.
After a few more minutes the muscles in my back and shoulders begin to ache and I had to slow down, but five minutes after that had cleared away enough snow that she could try to launch. I stepped over to her window and she rolled it down.
“I think we’re close. I’ll get behind you and push. Just accelerate gently, and if the wheels spin, rock back and forth until you break loose.”
“Okay, thanks.” She had a faint smile that suggested she also saw the absurdity in our situation.
It took a few tries, but she broke loose and pulled onto the plowed portion of the road. She rolled down the window again and we shook hands. Hers was still snow cold.
“Thanks a lot.” She stared at my sweaty face with concern.
“No problem,” I lied. “Safe trip wherever you’re going.”
She looked like she wanted to say something, but gave me a crinkle-faced smile, nodded and drove off.
I slogged back across to my side of the street and continued shoveling. She’d never told me her name, and I’d never asked. I never mentioned her to Paul.
Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had over two hundred fifty stories and poems published so far, and five books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of six review editors.
If you are interested in leaning more about Ed Ahern, you can find him on these social media outlets: