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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
Call the police and an
ambulance, there's been an accident and someone is
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 not okay, it's
four o'clock in the morning."
Katherine found the
telephone and dialed.
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
"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
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
"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.
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.
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
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
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
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
"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
closed," she murmured.
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.
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