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Katherine's Night Out by Bruce Harris Bentzman
published in Volume 4, Issue 2 on November 10th, 1997

It was the eerie silence that roused her from sleep. Her impression was that their bedroom had become unmoored from the Earth. She eased out from under the covers so as to not wake Martin and shuffled to the window. Drawing aside the curtain, she found the neighborhood made smooth and creamy by snow. "Oh come on, Martin, it's so beautiful; let's go for a walk together," she begged her husband.

"Kate, no," he mumbled through the pillow.

"Don't let this opportunity pass. How often do we get a chance like this, a romantic interlude, just you and me surrounded by all that beautiful scenery, and by tomorrow it'll all be gone."

"Honey, I'm not interested, please leave me alone. I have to get up early in the morning and go to work." He sunk beneath the covers seeking to escape the lights. She also might have to work, but she was sure the schools would most likely be closed because of the snow."

"Well, I'm going to go whether you want to come or not."

Katherine tugged on two pairs of tights, on top of which she dragged long johns, and then two pairs of her husband's wool socks. She climbed into comfortable wool pants, worn and stained, favored and of sentimental value, not expecting anyone to see her at three:thirty in the morning. She stretched into two turtleneck knits and over them pulled a thick wool sweater. She draped it all with a forest green Eddie Bauer parka, protected her feet with imported Wellingtons, mittens for her hands, and covered her salt and pepper hair with a knitted skiing cap of bright colors. She tried once more to interest her husband in accompanying her, took his groaning as dissent, and abandoned him to his miserable life of routine, snapping off the bedroom lights with a flair signifying her annoyance. Martin, his face buried between pillows, failed to appreciate the extent of Katherine's dissatisfaction.

The perimeters of the visible universe were defined by the slightly orange glow that street lamps gave the fog. Katherine could only see the well lit facades of matching homes belonging to her immediate neighbors. They now possessed snow thatched roofs that transformed this American suburbia into what Katherine could imagine as an 'olde' English village. Buried under snow were the sidewalks and roadways merging with the white lawns. There was no wind and the millions of flakes tumbled gently, with equal merit, on everything, covering shrubs and trash cans, parked cars and dog houses. She followed the would-be streets, her crunching footsteps making the only noise in snow six inches deep.

When she heard the crash and grind of an approaching township plow, could see above the hill the swinging beams of the truck's spinning yellow lights, she
abandoned the street for the woods. The truck went by scraping snow from the
roadway and spewing rock salt out the rear. Katherine stayed with what seemed to be a path twisting through the trees. The diffused light came from the streets and houses that bordered the park; it was enough with which to see her way. The snow-covered forest floor was shining through the dark silhouettes of trunks and limbs, the air vaguely aglow with densely falling snow.

If she stood still, steadying her breath, she believed she could hear the muffled impact of the many flakes coming to rest. Facing the sky she became momentarily entranced with the flakes abruptly appearing out of the overhead abyss. There was a fox that bounded away when it caught sight of her. She had never thought such exciting wildlife lived so close to her home. And now hers were not the only tracks in the newly fallen snow.

She missed not having company with whom to share all she viewed, but it wasn't her husband that came to mind. She was disappointed with him and re-commenced considering divorce. She wanted a more active partnership, a more active partner. Their daughter was away at college and could no longer have any bearing on her decision. She had her career as a grade school teacher which provided an adequate income. Thinking about divorce was an ugly distraction from the splendor of her environment. She again postponed further thought on divorce and returned her attention to the immaculate snowfall.

She saw wisps of steam rising from a trench. It was the creek that meandered through the woods and her path traveled alongside. She could hear the racing waters of the creek, but she could not see it. Snow was piling on the broken sheets of ice that partly covered the creek and in the gaps it was pitch black.

The park narrowed and the wooded ground rose on either side, but her trail remained next to the creek at the bottom of what became a small valley. She was approaching a third set of tracks on a steep slope that came down to the side of the trail. From fifty yards away she thought them to be the scars made by sleds. When she was only twenty feet from the slope, which rose from the right side of the trail, the tracks seemed more violent than could have been produced by kids on sleds; something had torn through vines and bark had been ripped from a tree trunk to the height of three feet. The tracks crossed her trail and as she turned a corner, circumnavigating a snow blanketed bush, she saw the tail of an automobile sticking above the embankment of the creek.

It was a red Camaro that had already acquired a thin skin of new snow on its upper portions. It was angled sharply off the steep bank. Aghast, Katherine reacted instantly, rushing to the car concerned as to the possibility of a hurt occupant. Standing next to the rear left wheel she could see the Camaro submerged to within a foot of the windshield, the front of its long doors underwater. The creek's interrupted current was seething across the hood and out from underneath the gap formed between the car and bank. The back window was covered with a shallow snow, the side windows opaque with condensation.

Grasping the wheel well, Katherine was able to lean over the edge of the embankment. The door was locked. She tried wiping clear the glass of the driver's door, but the condensation was on the inside. She pulled herself upright and brushed the snow from the back window. Peering intently into the dark interior of the vehicle, she thought she could discern the shadow of a driver, or was it the shape of the seat with its headrest? She circled the trunk and cleared the snow from the other side of the back window.

She saw it now, the dark figure slumped across the steering wheel outlined against the windshield. She banged the glass and shouted, but there was no response. Holding the other wheel well, she tried the passenger door handle and found this side also locked. Returning to the driver side, she once more grabbed a wheel well and precariously leaned to reach the glass nearest the driver to continue her banging with her bare hand, her mitten in her teeth. There was still no response. Then she slipped and slid down the bank into the creek, the icy water coming above her waist and gushing into her Wellingtons.

Katherine was crying; tears of bitter disappointment and discomfort; and she cursed her failure aloud as she lifted herself out of the creek using the brambles and roots that had been laid bare by occasional flood waters. Still crying and cursing, she pushed off her boots and emptied them. She was irritated with being wet and at the prospect of putting the boots back on her soaked feet, which she did anyway.

The quickest route to go for help would not be the long trial by which she entered the park and traced the creek. She decided to climb alongside the path the Camaro had made descending the slope. This was accomplished by firmly placing each step sideways against the slope and first pressing the foot down to pack the snow beneath the boot before shifting her entire weight to it. When a tree was close at hand she used it for support. At times she leaned her gloved hands against the slope to keep from falling and in this way climbed twenty-five feet.

At the top she saw what had happened. There was a street that came across a hill and had not yet been plowed. The street turned sharply at the bottom of the hill. The only tracks were those that had been made by the Camaro. The Camaro came down that hill and failed to make the turn. Instead it had skated across the fifty feet of level park ground until it reached the edge of the woods, where it continued over the ledge and skied unhindered into the creek below.

On the side of the street opposite the park was the familiar row of like houses that resembled her own. She made a beeline for the nearest one, conscious of her cold pants having become heavy and growing stiff..

It was taking so long that she thought no one was home. Then the overhead light came on and a voice yelled through the door, "who the hell is it?"

"Please, call the police and an ambulance, there's been a terrible accident."

"What?"

Call the police and an ambulance, there's been an accident and someone is hurt."

The door opened a crack and the small face of an elderly man appeared. "Did you say an accident?"

"Yes, yes, someone has driven their car into the creek and I think they might be badly hurt."

The old face eyed her up and down, and then peered around her to see if she was alone. He opened the door. He wore a woman's robe over his striped pajamas. He had on only one slipper. "The phone is in the kitchen. You make the call. I'm going to get dressed and will be right back."

"Who is it, Sol? What do they want?" The loud voice came from a small woman leaning out of a doorway at the far end of the hall.

"It's okay, Bernice."

"It's not okay, it's four o'clock in the morning."

Katherine found the telephone and dialed.

"It's four:thirty, and it's okay, there has been some kind of accident?" Sol told his wife. Even after the old couple had both disappeared into their bedroom, Katherine could distinctly hear every word Bernice said to her husband.

"How can it be okay if there's been an accident? Do you know you're wearing my robe? What? Did you offer her anything to eat? She must be cold."

A woman's voice came on the line. Katherine explained the situation. The voice, very business-like, asked her questions. "Excuse me," Katherine called down the hall to the old people. "Hello, excuse me, what is the address here?"

Bernice appeared at the end of the hallway wearing the robe she had taken from her husband. She came rushing forward calling out the address. Katherine concluded her report to the police. She returned the handset to its cradle and then stood paralyzed with uncertainty as to what to do next.

"Oh you poor dear, what is your name?"

She looked down at the smiling face of Bernice. "Katherine," she told the old woman.

"Kathy, you must be cold. Sit down and let me make you coffee."

"Thank you, but I'm not sure."

"What's to be sure about? I'm sure you've done all you can. You look cold and hungry and we're going to warm you up." Bernice didn't wait for a reply, but brought out a jar of instant coffee, turned on the electric stove, and was filling a kettle in the kitchen sink. "You mustn't worry and we'll just let Sol handle this. Tell me about the accident. How many were hurt and how badly hurt?"

Sol? What could Sol do, Katherine thought to herself. The man must be at least seventy. And the police, and the ambulance, how soon could they get here with the snow so deep? She saw the baseball bat propped up in the corner with a mitt and Red Sox cap hanging on it. She envisioned the Camaro's interior filling with the creek's water, the dark figure slipping off the steering wheel. She saw the automobile shifting from the strong current, tumbling from the embankment and plopping upside down in the creek. "I need the bat." She stood and grabbed the bat from the corner, allowing the cap and mitt to fall to the floor.

"My grandson's bat! What are you going to do?"

"I'm going to rescue whoever it is in that car," she said as she made her way out the door.

"But wait," Bernice called to her. "Kathy, wait. Wait until my husband can join you. Sol. Sol! Hurry up, she's going back there on her own."

Opening the door, the cold air bashed Katherine's face, yet she had to go out there all over again. "Why me?" she asked herself. When she had reached the forest's edge, she sat down at the beginning of the slope and simply slid down in the path the Camaro had made. She rushed to the side of the car. New snow had gathered in the areas she had earlier swept clean. She steadied herself and swung the bat against the back window. The bat bounced away, the snow on the surface of the glass danced. It had not been a good swing. She felt encumbered by the many layers of clothing she wore. She cleared the snow away and saw that the glass had acquired a myriad of cracks, but she had failed to make a hole. She removed her parka and her mittens. Once more she steadied herself, twisting her feet until they felt braced. She swung as hard as she could and this time the glass gave way, even as the bat slipped out of her hands, and a foot slipped causing her to plop onto her derriere. She quickly lifted herself back up and saw that most of the back window had vanished. Putting her mittens back on, she cleared the particles of glass still attached along the rim. Climbing on to the slippery trunk, she descended into the dark interior, wishing it could be someone else doing this and she back in her warm, dry bed.

The interior possessed the stink of stale cigarettes and beer. The figure on the steering wheel was a young man in his shirt, but no coat. Two overlapping webs of cracked glass showed where the young man's head twice came into contact with the windshield. Water had filled the tilted car to the front of the bucket seats. The water engulfed both his legs. The bat was sticking out of the water on the passenger side. She saw a mass floating next to it. At first she was alarmed that it might be a drowned passenger, but the area was small and she decided it was the young man's coat.

Kneeling on the back of the front passenger seat, careful to not fall between the seats, Katherine removed her mittens, tossing them out the back window, and leaned down and touched his cheek. It was ice cold. She grabbed the back of the young man's shirt collar. He was heavy, but she was determined. She pulled at him and he slipped from the steering wheel. Gravity was stronger. She tried to place him back on the steering wheel, but felt gravity pulling him under the wheel into the frigid water. He would not go back to his stable rest against the wheel. "You've done it now, Katie," she criticize herself. "You're going to be the cause of his death, if he isn't already dead."

She altered her position without letting go of the young man's collar. Placing her feet against the dashboard, using her body to pin the young man against the seat, she reached around him and searched for the release to the seat's back. She found it and the seat's back snapped flat. By inches, alternately lifting the young man under his arms or by his belt, then pinning him with her weight while she found new places to support her feet, she had him high enough to rest him on the back of the still upright passenger seat. She was out of breath, but glad to be feeling warm. Knowing she was going to succeed she came to possess enthusiasm for the chore. By bits and pieces, first extending his legs and then struggling with his torso, she had the young man's body half out of the back window, supported by the rim. She climbed over him.

So l was standing at the top of the slope pointing a flashlight down at them. "Is he dead?" Sol shouted.

"I don't know, yet," she shouted back. The yelling brought sharp pains to her chest and arms.

She dragged the young man from the car, dropping him into the soft snow. She stretched him out. He was just a skinny boy, eighteen, maybe twenty. His long hair was matted with dried blood and his face was dreadfully pale. His chest did not rise and fall with the evidence of breathing. She placed her hand to his throat and felt a vague pulse, but was uncertain whether it was his or her own. Then she saw the white wisps drifting from his nostrils; it was the warm, moist air from his lungs. She called to Sol, "he's alive." She fetched her parka and brought it closer, then she dragged the young man on to the parka and zipped it closed around him, not bothering to insert his arms into the sleeves. She stared into his face. It was not over yet. He could still die. He was just a child, young enough to be her son. She kissed him on his cold cheek.

Katherine brushed the newly fallen snow from the young man's face. She then commenced massaging his legs, not knowing if this was a useful procedure, only imagining it might do him some good. Brushing the snow from him, massaging his legs, this went on for a long time. The exercise kept her warm, except for her damps legs, which she ignored. There was also the pain across her ribs and in her groin, also to be ignored.

"Over here," Sol began shouting, "over here." She looked up and saw Sol at the top of the incline with his back to her, flapping his arms to get someone's attention.

Martin did not hear the police car that brought Katherine home. He did not hear Katherine enter the house or take a long, hot bath. She was ecstatic to be living in the age of central heating. She made an omelet for breakfast, cleared the dishes from the table, had them rinsed and placed her plate and glass in the dishwasher, all without an effort to be quiet, but Martin slept soundly. The telephone rang in the kitchen. Martin did not hear it because the ringer on the bedroom telephone was always switched off at night. Katherine snatched the handset of the kitchen's telephone before it could ring twice. "Hello? Yes, this is she. Yes. Oh, that's wonderful news. I'm so relieved. No, no, it was nothing. How do you spell his last name?" She jotted a name on the pad adjacent to the wall-phone. "And what hospital is he in? Thank you. Yes. Thank you. Really, it was nothing. Thank you. Good-bye."

Martin's consciousness was alerted only when his alarm clock sounded at seven o'clock. He woke and found Katherine sound asleep next to him. He nudged her. "Katie, it's time to get up."

"Schools are closed," she murmured.

"Closed?"

"Snow."

Martin climbed out of bed and went into the kitchen. Inspecting the driveway from the kitchen window, he discovered it had indeed snowed, was still snowing. He telephoned the weather tape which informed him that ten to twelve inches had fallen. He decided not to be bothered with shoveling the driveway and returned to the bedroom. Sitting on his wife's side of the bed, he gently rocked her.

"Katie, wake up," he whispered. "It's beautiful outside. Let's go for a walk together. Ours will be the first tracks in the snow."

"No thank you, darling," she mumbled and folded herself into a ball beneath the covers.

"Honey, I've decided not to go into work today. How often do we get a chance to be together like this?"

Katherine could not hear her husband from the euphoric depths of a white, billowy sleep.

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