This day is the fifth George has been snowed in the cottage, and the worst, it may be, so far. The night the storm arrived, things did not seem so ominous. But the fall was heavy, or perhaps it was just so incessant that it built and built all day and dark, and all day the next, too, until the entire cabin was nearly to its top with snow!
How insidious, George said to himself as he watched the windows go white. He would have considered leaving, but it was dark, the cabin is far from a lodge, and most of all, he has a dreadful fear of beasts.
The snow would be dire enough on its own, but alas, it's hardly the worst part of the whole torment. George is not alone there but with his son James who, in the simplest terms, hates him completely. As far as exchanges have gone between them, the utmost James has been able to do these days past is look vaguely in George's direction while handing him a cup of black tea.
Sometimes, although not always, he'll give his father a light nod when he hands him his cup, either acknowledging George silently or else (it's George's idea) assuring himself under his hot, anxious breath that yes, I could do it with a knife, or certainly with the gun on the mantle.
If it were at his discretion, James would like a cup of hibiscus instead. Above all, because it's fine for his health, but James also enjoys its delectable taste of cranberry, one that he imagines sprang quickly over the wooden barrier, terrifically ripe. But he's quite a simple individual and very rarely has a strong preference, so he settles for black tea. It's his principle that he does not let himself enjoy much, although nature, he cannot deny, strikes him in wonder, and he does like the peaceful spiritude he feels when enveloped in mountains, belted in waist-high water, swathed in the sand. These are his delights.
However, excluding nature, James practices his way of self-denial with troublesome perfection in all dimensions of his life. For instance, he has never indulged in one loving gesture to his father and often reminds his best friend, Samuel, who looks up awkwardly from his scarce height, that he plans to maintain abstinence from that for the whole of his life. He sees no necessity for it, as he's beyond the point it would concern his character whether he had a father or not.
Ah, cursed gray-eyed son! George always thinks, and his body burns in fury. For it's George's view that to despise one's own family, blood, one's own father is an unnatural, most horrible crime! And the mere idea of it breeds an angry bitterness in him so extraordinary, he vows it could very well be his hostile, thankless son's twin.
George is willing to forgive James, at least he believes he is, but then it is past him to forgive a person who won't apologize. And James never even thinks of it! He is sure—doubly, nay triply sure—that everything is all right with him, that he is a gem son, a son of the first water (isn't it true that diamonds are the hardest substances on earth!) and that George is the one only problem. What a sentiment, what a loveless frame of mind for a son! For whom there would be no frame (or flesh!) without his father!
They've never had a conversation about this subject of blame before, but George has worked out his son's stance, and it's become amazingly apparent while being shut in the cottage together since the storm. But even ahead of the storm and this cruel imprisonment he suffers now, George knew what he knows about his son's attitude. Yes, even if they scarcely spend two weeks together each year, this now being one of them. After all, attention to detail is quite important in George's line of business, not to mention he works with the same orders of people as James. Proud, self-seeking, and most frustrating of all, above reproach!
There is one defense attorney in George's office who, after being sued for malpractice, defended himself favorably against a fraud claim by one of the biggest clients anyone at the firm has ever had, second only to George's largest client, of course. Fraud! It was a very clear-cut accusation, and it was quite obvious he'd done it. Yes, there could be no doubt about it, and yet he insisted he had not! Perhaps it was that thoroughly contrary zeal of his that helped him win, and George sees that same manner in his son. He would be no mean lawyer, that boy! And could convince a jury the good rutty strawberry is seedless, or the hateful seed is not loveless!
This contemplation produces more anger and frustration in George, and like a fiend, he desires to feed it, as most people do in such states, or at least most people like George who are, unbeknownst to themselves, addicted to their own stress. He begins to remember an experience the other night that certainly wasn't unusual, but that is significantly related to this reflection.
The wind whistled grimly outside and snow flew from the tree limbs, spraying like an ocean brume. James had spent hours pacing all around the house, trying to find a connection on the two-way radio and get in contact with a distress frequency, as they were running short of food, and the lines were frozen. But it was useless.
"The snow is probably blocking the signal," he said to himself.
His father did not say anything or endeavor at all to help, but sipped his bottle, loured, and shook his head with casual dismay. He was quite unhappy with the circumstances, but he livened up when James made dinner, or perhaps it was because he'd just finished the seventh bottle in under two hours. After eating separately for a while, George told his son he ought to come into the same room, and they could share a drink or few.
Yes, customarily, they eat in different rooms, but George is not above the rare impulse to have a glass with his son and talk to him of manhood and careers and other brave things a father in his social and financial position ought to talk of. Needless to say, the basic desire for socialization, even with someone particularly unsociable, had also partly prompted his invitation, for it had been days, what felt like weeks, in that cottage, and the confinement was beginning to have disturbing psychological effects on George.
"Come sit in here, boy," he said.
James did not move but kept so dutifully still, as though his religion were to make George think he did not hear him, and this lack of respect put a madness to George he could hardly contain! For he would never show his own father such obvious and utter rudeness, no matter how much he, being the selfish, narcissistic man he was, quite deserved it.
While George wanted to yell and screech and scold, he didn't wish to call too much attention to his son's behavior, lest it might license James in a way, perhaps make him feel more sure in his shameless boldness. And so George chose to pretend that he had not noticed James pretend not to notice him, and that fraught silence persisted a few minutes.
But after a time, George determined he had to say something. He stood up, pointed to the narrow, beveled mirror in the hall near where James sat, and hollered, "You know what, stay there! And take a good minute at that in the meanwhile!"
Now James finally acknowledged his father, and with a look of weary loathing, and perhaps a soreness, too, or a slight, very dull sense of pain, as if his father were a nagging agnail. But then, he'd rather keep around the agnail before George, or would rather choke on it than sit with his father in the "awkward, suffocating silence," as James puts it. For when there were not bursts and boutades in the way just illustrated, there was such silence that could split the earth.
James believes his father would prefer the quiet, as it is just that to him—quiet.
It's maybe that George does not have an ear for the rife, wordless misery of the world. (What a blessed one!) As though it were not a station on his radio, if you will, and so it were not within him to detect such low sounds, to hear the harsh weather, an avalanche, the soft, pale cries...
James is much more like a dog in that reasoning. He cannot help but notice the so much buried, so much unsaid, under which his boy form hides or perhaps perished and now rots. Yes, James is sure it's far too late for any sort of... he does not want to call it reconciliation, for the term implies restoration, bringing something back to its earliest condition, and the original state of their relationship was indeed brokenness. And yet, he can conjure one or two pleasing memories in his sleep, although he forces himself when awake to regard them as nothing but ridiculous visions of his mind, perhaps there since imagining so many times what it should have been. He's confident that's the case.
George would not agree with any of this, and is not sure of anything except that his son is an ingrate to the greatest degree and more than once in a piteous state during these four days past, James considered finding a way or other to abandon his father and venture out into the snow, to hopefully discover somewhere else to stay or catch his death of cold! What man could do something like that who didn't already have a badly frozen heart? Yes, it seems to George that James finds nothing worse than what's been the last four days, not even his own demise.
It would take a lawyer like me to believe that boy has any heart in him! Any blood at all! And even I don't have the skill for it.
And now on the fifth day, oh, how terrific the states of things are, both inside and out! And although the snowstorm has ceased, they have not yet created an exiting process, and there is a signal in the quietness that more's to come.
But what more could they take? The cottage already sits nearly all-swallowed in a prodigious height of snow, which is somewhat taller on one side than the other and all but reaches to the toppest eaves, as though the place bobbed in a collar of harshly run beer and, being heavyish, began to sink.
And yet, George thinks to himself, the two are quite different. For there are, of course, no black bears or mountain lions to be found in a pint, are there? Oh, would he like one or two volumes of alcohol merely thinking such harrowing things!
Perhaps I've left some after last night, he considers the possibility with faded hope. For although his mind right now has the soundness of a well-boiled jelly, he is reasonably confident that, unless he had a fainting fit that endured some handful of hours and so misremembers, he finished the last of his store of ale by the fire around ten o'clock, at which point he thinks James had already been to bed, or else he may accuse him of taking the remaining few.
While the likelihood that he lost consciousness at some point in drinking does have promise and restores but little of his hope, he remembers the kitchen where he must investigate is down two floors, and his heart dips slightly.
Now, two floors may not sound very much to most people, but George has been avoiding movement all of the morning for how very numbingly cold it is, yes, and for the pain in his head, which he assesses at roughly 60 dols, and principally for the trouble that stirring even barely would cause him, what with the great nausea that afflicts him. That does it so fatally, a visit to the kitchen would, he determines, be all too disturbing, considering the way the room already moves to and fro despite his intense effort to keep utterly and consummately still. Then there's the lopsided way the snow covers his window. Oh, Mother Nature's stunts!
George sits unmoving for a little while again, or perhaps he falls asleep without realizing it. Nonetheless, when he gets back to the moment with awareness, he gathers all of his strength to peer out the grand window next to his bed and sees most regrettably a line of long, terrorizing spikes of ice hanging stiffly, stabbing harshly toward the ground.
If there were such a thing as divination using icicles—icklemancy may be its name—he can say with modest confidence the forecast would not read so well, and that's being gracious, and perhaps assuming the icklemancer in the made scenario to be a shy, retiring woman (for one can't imagine many normal people as icklemancers) who would not wish to clarify her visions. Perhaps she should, if that's the case, give up her work, for it is her duty to tell people what will happen, isn't it? It is her duty, and not to prophesize is a quite shameful thing for a prophet to do!
But even without this mythical woman and the occult, which George does not believe in at all anyway, he knows something is imminent. Pneumonia? A bear attack? He'll need a drink with far more alcoholicity than his ales.
"James!" he shouts. There is silence. Then he hears a hoarse call, perhaps a crow's, blare out garishly somewhere in the distance outside, and though it's likely not actually so loud, the snow hides every other thing and makes the world all but entirely dumb.
The noise puts him on edge, and it's possible his nervous body provides enough chemistry to relieve his nausea, at least for the time now. He accepts his revitalized condition gladly and hops from bed, his stomach appearing like the half of a ball (it has been expanding gradually over the last five years) beneath his lightweight nightshirt. He hurries down the stairs to the kitchen and surprises to see James not there, but then he remembers about his son that's he lazy, and that he isolates most often in one of the downstairs rooms.
"He could never stand it as a lawyer," George says to himself. He walks to the refrigerator and finds one of his bottles on the bottom shelf. The last one left.
"Ah, yes. in fact I did know this was here."
Happy though he is to find some alcohol, he is hit with a spell of dizziness and must relax (it is much more like collapse) on the couch for a moment. He lays there, perhaps falls asleep for another time, or has a short waking dream about a bear.
He comes to in a highly nervous condition and begins to fret about the odd quietness in the house. Would James really forsake him there?
"James!" he calls.
"He must be sleeping still, the waster!" He takes a long, noisy sip of his drink.
More moments pass, each one worse than the last. He gets up and finds the radio James was fiddling with a few nights before.
James was fiddling with the machine last night again, George thinks, although he's not sure. But then it doesn't make a difference either way, for evidently, his struggles were totally empty, as no one had been to rescue them at all or even told them, as far as George knows, what was going on out there and when it'd be over.
Somehow, after pressing nearly every button and turning each dial right and left several times, George hears a voice at the other end of the microphone.
"Hello!" George says. "Hello! Can you hear me!"
"Copy. Radio?" the voice says.
"Oh! Oh, yes. My name's George. The snow is nearly up to the eaves."
"Are you in the mountains?"
"Yes, I'm in my son's cabin." George swallows the rest of his drink. The bottle is empty.
"Are you all right? Is anyone injured?"
"No, I am not injured. Can you bring something to the cabin?"
It strikes him again as strange that James is not around yet, for the last three days he has spent a majority of the mornings and early afternoons reading at the dining room table.
He looks at the window nearby, completely blocked with snow. It's as though the cabin's a small organ trapping him, enclosing him within the wider, more giant hollow of the world. How cruel can Mother Nature be, to have absolutely no regard for him? To leave him here abandoned like this, to give him a son who cares nothing about him and refuses to make sure he is alright or wakes up even just to say yea, yeah, aye. How can anything be so cruel and uncaring?
"It's not safe to come out there at this time," the man on the radio says.
A moment of silence follows, and more than ever before, it knocks George as harshly as a horrendous bout of tinnitus, a steely ringing through the galaxies of nothingness.
The man on the other end does not reply this time. How could he! Do people have no meaning of duty? Mother nature, the dispatcher, his bitter son! Oh, everyone and everything around him! Tell him it isn't so.
He looks outside the window and sees again his wintry prison, the frigid truth. He is alone! Stuck here alone! Deserted. Deserted!
The silence tings again.
"Hello! Answer me at once!"
There is no one any longer on the other line. He searches the house for James, but to no avail.