THE WORLD THROUGH AN ICE CUBE
A day out of focus, with cold so bitter you can taste it on your breath. I suspect a walk in the cemetery woiuld allow youi to hear the teeth chattering of those below, their knuckles tapping helplessly against the walls of satin-lined caskets. The crows are a bit slow in thei air, as if their wings were having to work harder to cut through the gelatin of the frozen daylight. The fan in my car has stopped working and I’m told by the garage man that the repair would take six hours to complete. Over his head was the rate chart indicating that one hour of labor in the garage will cost me $95.00. I give the man a wry smile and thank him cordially. I won’t be back, in other words. My next stop is the garage run by a Trumper whose sign in the window spells out Trump in giant letters, with “Make America Great Again” printed below in glowing yellow italics. I shiver to walk into his shop and lean against his linoleum-padded counter. A rachitic white dog is straining against his leash as he looks up at me with snarling lips. He knows I’m liberal, a democrat, and we agree to hate each other in that moment. I stare down into his soul, to the ashes at the bottom of his paranoia, and see something primordial and dead lying there - his conscience.
Just behind the tiny lobby is the man’s wife, as round as the stump of an old oak tree. She’s seems to have spent her entire life doing the books to keep the garage solvent. To endure the tedium she eats cookies and crackers smeared wtih some sort of cheese. Her labored breath tells me she has heart problems. Her husband’s dark mind seethes like an old black smith’s forge, full of ressentful fire that could melt the pig iron he intends to mold into the Statue of Liberty. If ever he finds the time to do so. But he’s not in; his father, a scrawny, sunken-cheeked old geezer with wattles, informs me he will be back shortly. I’m relieved. My wife can talk to him; she has a certain tolerance in dealing with these fanatics on the right. Not that she likes to, but she feels sorry for them. She took down a sign planted in the grass behind our house with the same huge type spelling out Trump. It was printed on plastic and came out of the frame easily. She hid it in the mud room behind some rusty shovels. We’re told by friends that the garage man is actually very gentle and honest, and doesn’t overcharge his customers. He’s a devout Christian, if you can believe that. I have to to continue living in this little town in the middle of Vermont. Otherwise we would become nomads changing our residence every few years as the ultra-right wing caught up to us.
The cold is so brittle it tastes like a chain link fence you were dared to lick by your esteemed peers in the recess yard. I hesitate to inhale too deeply. It snowed last night, about an inch worth, which is now dissolving into the mocha-colored clay. No animal tracks. Not even the delicate polka dots of deer feet to tell me that things are still relatively normal. But I shouldn’t be surprised by the barenness of my little domain. It’s deer season for rifle hunters; every hunter gets to kill two deer, which they must register and weigh at the game warden’s office. You can hear the rifle reports echoing through the trees now and then. But deer are not stupid; they have an inborn calendar that tells them when to lay low, when to scurry at the sound of human voices and footsteps, when to retreat to some unwelcome thicket of shallow ravines too nasty for hunters to climb down into. Deer only leave a bit of scat on the path; they don’t build camp fires or leave chicken bones for the scouts to find. They travel light and follow the old ranger’s saying, “Pack in. Pack out.”
The cold has penetrated the outer walls and now accumulates in my living room. I need to build a fire if I’m to read this afternoon. Lunch was some tea crackers and stiffened peanut butter from the fridge. Nothing else to drink but a half-glass of milk. I’m not fond of milk any more; I drank my share of it as a kid, and now the stuff turns to glue in my stomach. I should have scrounged around in the cupboards to find a can of black beans to heat up, with a dash of vinegar and some smoked paprika to give them some flavor.
Yesterday two portly women got out of a long black car and delicately negotiated the grassy edge of my lawn to come to the front door. They knocked politely and I pulled open the door to find two round faces sizing me up as I stood there. They told me they were Jehovah’s Witnesses and were going around the neighborhood to inquire if we were all reading our bibles. My first thought was to asks if the Williams sisters, the great tennis masters of our time, were their inspiration, since they shared their faith. But I held back. I didn’t want to encourage too much conversation. I told a small fib by saying that my family and I were good Catholics and weren’t looking for a new denomination. That seemed to cool their ardor a bit. They inched along in some small talk but both women sighed, shook my hand and wished me well. The long black car started up and purred away to the next house.
I didn’t mind the visit; we were all three of us pleasantly cordial and fairly well meaning. But once they were gone I sat down with my scarf cinched up around my neck and thought of the shouting and rants and shrill voices of the MAGA people demanding that their way be the only way in America. At least these two women, well-dressed and, by the look of things, well off with bankers and lawyers for husbands, were not going to shove their doctrine down my throat until I gagged. So much to be grateful for. I even forgave the darkening slate sky for coming over the house with its cargo of wet snow to unload on my roof. I squeezed some love out of my heart for the welfare of the deer and wished them long life. I hoped the hunters would take the wrong path and end up in some boggy wasteland and go home without a bloody carcass tied to the front of their car. A few beers and a nice steak would ease their frustration over an empty day. Me? I was looking for some newspaper to start my fire.