A bitter, stupid wind blows over the ridge and down through the pines surrounding our cabin. It is purposeless. The snow has already been scoured from the frozen soil, and the temperature is dramatically below freezing so we’re not going outside, anyway. This wind doesn’t even whistle through the boughs; it just creates a constant, ambient hissing, like the radio when you get somewhere so remote that even the airwaves are speechless.
We’re stuck here, Sally and I. Stuck in this small and minimally-apportioned log cabin half-way between Flagstaff and Tuba City. It’s a long, bumpy eight miles off the main highway over an old logging road, and we were dropped off here by the realtor in his oversized and highly-suspended pick-up. He’s not due back until Friday. And he’s the only one who knows we’re here.
Sanderson is the realtor’s name. Bob Sanderson, call-me-Bobby-all-my-friends-do. He was looking a little gray when he left us – gray and sweaty at the temples, and breathing a little hard. I can’t help but worry that he was in pre-cardiac arrest, and is currently lying dead on the roadside or comatose in a hospital bed, our names and location locked within his bluing lips.
But that’s just my paranoid animus trying to break free. That’s what Sally calls it – my paranoid animus. She knows the true me, the inner me, she says, and it is not a pretty thing. There is apparently a great deal of pain, paranoia and general disregard for others swirling around inside me, but Sally is willing to overlook this – or more specifically, she is willing to put up with it – in order to help keep me on the right course, humanity-wise. And, I suspect, in order to continue to enjoy the proceeds of my numerous and thriving businesses.
We are on sabbatical, Sally and I. This cabin is our monastery, sequestered within the mountains of northern Arizona, where we can meditate in silence and meld our spirits with nature and eat the grilled cheese sandwiches that Sally burns so consistently. Instead of rough, brown robes and woven sandals we wear blue jeans and thick ski sweaters, hiking boots although it is too cold to hike, multiple pairs of thermal socks. When forced to venture outside – for firewood from the pile, or a moment in which to breath one’s own air – we don puffy Gortex coats, thick gloves and military-looking balaclavas, as if we are assaulting the weather.
Our monastery is small – one room containing both bed and kitchen, with a woodstove that produces a hellish heat and constantly frosted-over windows – but it is comfortable, if space is not a source of comfort for you. If you’re at all claustrophobic – which I am, of course – it radiates all the snugness of a tomb.
Sally calls it cozy. I call it the augury of my grave. In addition to paranoia, Sally says I am morose.
I can smell the perspiration from Sally’s forehead steaming in the blast furnace of the woodstove, but still I stuff in more wood, which crackles and sparks the moment it touches the flames. The air is thick with her breath.
With the windows impenetrably frosted we could be anywhere. Without the lodestone of place – the view of a street, a rock, a tree, anything – I feel as if the cabin is nowhere, a self-contained universe floating through a black void.
I can take it no longer. I pull on my puffy coat, my heavy gloves, the balaclava, and head toward the door. If there is nothing, then I am resolved to step off into oblivion. Anything is better than this overheated hell.
Sally looks up from her crossword as I pass. I open the door and am hit by a blast of the atmosphere of Mars, and the lack of oxygen whips the air from my lungs. A fine spray of tiny ice crystals peppers my face. I force my eyes open, prepared to meet my end, and see the forest at dusk – wind-scoured, desolate, but still, it is Earth. Of course.
“In or out!” Sally shouts into the cold. “You’re letting all the heat out.”
I step outside into the sub-zero world and feel the air tighten my skin and pull at the hair in my nostrils. I look down the rutted, dirt road from whence we came, and I wonder how I will last until Friday.
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