Write a short story about people stuck in traffic during a blizzard. There's nothing much to do but wait, and talk...

I was in college, in the room I shared with my friend Claude B. His parents lived in St-Félicien, quite far away from Montreal where he was pursuing studies in order to get his BAC. As for me, the extern, I had a desk in his little domain where from 3 :45 to 5 :40 p.m. I was supposed to use the place to study and write the homework  professors in all disciplines throwned at us. Claude was on his bed, reading some material in geometry as he prepared to study in architecture and I was typing a critic of a movie by Fellini for Brother Jean Marc, our social science teacher. The music of Nino Rota had been the part I had liked the most in that picture seen at the Montreal University Friday night ciné-club one week or two before. It didn’t take me long to buy myself the sound track and the record was now playing on my friend turning table.  Once upon a time, when the melody thrilled me the most, I looked at my companion to see if he shared in my pleasure. It was somewhat of a disappointment to realize he seemed impermeable to the melody’s magic, looking to me like he wasn’t hearing anything while my eyes were watering so much I felt the sadness and melancholy in certain passages.

At the sound of the bell that announced the end of our period of study, as I was preparing to leave, picking up my stuff and coat, it was cold outside, the middle of February and at noon, the temperature had reached 10 degrees Fahrenheit. While I anticipated with some displeasure the walking back home through the frigid streets of Westmount, Claude addressed me from his couch :

- Care to go out tonight and have some fun? 

The suggestion stopped me dead on my tracks. Claude had a car. Not yet 19 and his father had sent him away out of some shithole in the Saguenay-Lac St Jean region at the wheel of a brand new Buick with an 8-cylinder engine. This has made my companion very popular in school and it felt like a privilege to be his friend. I thought to myself : it’s the middle of the week. We must be in school tomorrow morning at 8 :20. Normally, the strolling in town was reserved for the Friday nights.

- Well, I said with some hesitation, I will have to call home and invent some pretext…

He laughed away my wavering.

- Tell your mom we must prepare some bullshit or the other and I will get you home before midnight.

My eyes stopped at the window in the room and I issued what I felt like a brush off of his proposal :

- See outside? There is a blizzard. Right now, your car must be under ten inches of snow.

- Don’t baby-talk me out of a nice way to get through the nuisance. Come on, we will eat pizzas at Paesano and then, hit the clubs where we might find girls, dance with them and have some fun, if you know what I mean.  

The prospect of such recreation won my approval at last. While he disappeared in the direction where his car was parked, I went out of his room to use the phone in the hall and call home to tell about my change of plan.

- You don’t intend to go out with Claude, she pressed on me.

A good thing I was using the phone because I could never mislead my mother without showing signs of some duplicity that she could detect at all time.

They were having veal liver and beacons. My preferred meal. This outing is better be worth the loss and the lie, I stew about.

When I reached him, Claude was working hard to get the Buick out of its harden jail of ice and snow. The engine was running. He threw me a scraper:

- Make yourself useful, he said.

 Obediently, I started working on the front glass. Snow squalls were violent enough to blind you or push you on the ground. I looked around. There were not many cars on the Queen Mary road and the few I could observe weren’t making good progress in whatever direction they were going. I said to my friend :

- We won’t be able to go anywhere in this awful shit of weather.

- Always the pessimist, aren’t you?

I resisted his teasing.

- I live a few minutes away by car. Maybe fifteen in these conditions. Come and have supper with us. I will go inside and call my mom to tell the family to wait for us. I am sure she and my dad will be happy to have you.

He had often visited and more than a few times, he had shared a meal with us.

- Well, he answered back with a smile, no doubts I like your mother’s cooking, but she can’t beat a pizza at Paesano.

I kind of agree with his logic and continued to work my scraper through the mess of mush under it. The heater in the car was working full blast and the ice tended to give away. At last, and thanks to the vigorous efforts of  Buick emerged out its white blanket and we both took place on the bucket seats. He put the car into drive and off, we went.

Paesano was two blocks away on Cote des Neiges. We made it there easily enough. There was nobody in the place. After eating one green salad and a pizza all dressed, accompanied by a bottle of red wine, we exited the place. It was 7 :35. Claude was driving the car like it was a bulldozer, accelerating and plunging into snowbanks fast enough to be able to get through them. The more I put distance from my home, the more I knew this trip downtown wasn’t worth the trouble.

- There won’t be anybody where we go, I stated.

 - Then, he responded, we will have all the place for ourselves.

- I won’t dance with you, I announced.

- As if I cared.

- The place might be closed. Look around you. Nobody on the sidewalks, not many cars and those we see are in a hurry to get out of this mess.  Who in his right mind would think of chasing girls in such a windstorm.

- Will you shut up, for once, Claude cried angrily, throwing at me a look made out of contempt and derision.  

We ride a bit without exchanging words. Then, I murmured :

- What the hell…?

Claude who must have gone at 30 miles an hour did apply the brake fast because suddenly, over a hill, we saw that the traffic was blocked for reasons unknown. Obviously, it was too fast for the conditions outside and for a moment, I said to myself : this is it. The crazy bastard is losing control and he will crash in the other car in front of us or made a head to tail and we will find ourselves in 3 feet of snow on one or the other side of the Chemin de la Cote des neiges.

Fortunately, he got the Buick in line and, as the vehicle in front moved a bit, his own came to a stop right in the spot vacated just a few seconds before.

- That was closed, I said with both my hand grabbing the dash.

- Stop acting like a jerk, will you.

I ignored his last comment and looked around. Normally, the road is three ways in one direction. Now, It was one way with snowbanks on both sides. Why was the one line of traffic stopped? Your guess as good as mine. I saw lights reflections hitting my friend’s face. It originated from the headlight of a truck that came to a stop just behind our back. Now we were stuck. No way to back off and find some other track toward home. I wanted to say : now what?

But I abstained. Claude, always the optimist said :

- Won’t be long and will be moving before you have time to start crying like the baby you are.

I looked at my watch and made some calculation in my head. We were stuck not very far the boulevard intersection. Maybe one mile from my house. In those conditions, a walk home would take me one hour… at the least. Not much of a solution but still, it constituted a way out of this mess and such a concept lifted my spirit a bit.

- What time is it?

There was a clock just in front of him but I didn’t point that up. Instead, I said :

- Fifteen past height.

- Ample time left to see those girls and have some fun.

I looked at him in astonishment. Surely he was doing this to taunt me, looking to put me in the wrong whatever my response to his dare. I stayed quiet and started working on the radio. Believe it or not, we both loved opera and I found one station that played some. I recognized Nessum dorma but before having the time to give the piece some form of approval, he shouted :

- Leave it.

- Sure I said, couldn’t resist adding and using the tone of someone who knows best : Hope they will play Turandot till the end. I guess the way things are, we won’t miss the chance to listen the whole shebang.

He started laughing and the sound of it incited me to be careful :

- You don’t give up, do you? He said with a snarl. With his hand he shut the radio down.

- Nice initiative, I commented.

- This attitude of yours has taken all the fun out of this Puccini distraction.

- Look where we are, I objected. We haven’t moved more than two feet in the last 20 minutes.

Now, my friend noticed the clock on the dash :

- Eight minutes to be exact, he corrected.

- Whatever.

More time passed. Traffic was blocked for good. Neither of us issued any words. The silence was heavy and awkward. Claude must have realized he was in the wrong and tried to find a way to turn the situation in a way we could both dismiss his previous oversight and dispatch the trouble we were in now as the unfortunate repercussion of a game plan to go sour. As for me, as long as he wouldn’t open his mouth and give me some indication that he had arrived to such conclusion, he would turn anything I would say against me.

Someone got out of a car in the distance. When he emerged from the interior, it looked like he would fly with the wind. After regaining his balance, the man bent over backward against the door, trying to close it. He was a small guy, his weight no more than 130 and all bets were off on his ability to succeed.

- You see this? I asked my companion.

- Why don’t you go and help him out? He hissed at me.

- You know what, I might just do that.

I told myself I would get out, looked around a bit, made Claude a report of my findings and then, announced I would try to find a convenience store and use the place to phone home and hoping my father would come and pick me up.  

I opened the door but the wind shut it with a bang.

- What the hell are you doing, he asked while cleaning himself from the show that had engulfed into the car.

- I did as you suggested.

And I move to open the door again.

- Are you crazy?

I turned to face him. I told him about my plan and added he was free to come with me. He could either sleep at our place or my father if possible would bring him back at the college.

- What about the car?

I looked around. The road had been opened in the middle by a snowplow. There were five feet of it free of snow on either side of the car. Outside that area, a blanket of white powder one to three feet high the more you approached the sidewalks. I said to him :

- The truck in our back is twenty feet away. The same is true for the car in front. Here is what I would do if I were in your place.  I would pull back and then, I would throw myself against as fast as possible against the snow on the side of the road. This will leave the pathway  we are on opened. Tomorrow morning, you will come back with a tow truck and hopefully, you will be able to get your car back.

- I might be towed by the city workers who will want to get rid of all that snow, he said.

- I doubt it very much. Anyway, if this happens, no big deal. You will just have to go and pick your car up where it will have been brought. No doubt it will cost you but, well, you can’t stay here all night.

Outside, the man that had played the scout was returning to his car.

- You go and ask him what he has discovered, I directed my buddy.

Claude didn’t protest. I was surprised to see him obey my command and leave the cubicle to affront the elements outside. He must have been repentant of his previous deportment and this was his way of showing his regret.

- It is a mature tree that has fallen and blocks the road 500 feet down this road, he said when he got back into the car. The guy I talked to don’t think it will be cut to pieces  in time for us to be free to use this course, bring our car home and sleep in our bed tonight.

- This settles the matter, then, I conclude.

- Right, he answered.

And he threw the Buick into the snowbank. We walked half a mile in very difficult conditions up to a metro station. From there I phoned home but couldn’t reach our number because the phone network was out of service.

- Damn, I murmured.

- What are we to do now, he asked?

The place we were in was vast and the floor, made of tile of ceramic, looked like the perfect place to execute cabrioles. I approached my friend and extended my arms in his direction.

- Will you accord me this dance, I answered.

That got me a laugh and all went well starting that instant.

January 09, 2020 23:04

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