The world is coated with ice outside my window and it makes me think of an ice storm that served as a literary device in my novel, CLEAN BREAK (thank you, Harriet). I call it a literary device because it’s one of those writer’s tools I’m using to move my characters around into the right locations for the critical subsequent scenes. Plus it casts a chilly, foreboding atmosphere over this sequence.
In these two short scenes, separated by 12 pages in the novel but glommed together here, Celeste and her son huddle together as the storm moves in. Later, her estranged husband, Adam, desperate to reconnect with his family, goes to their house and discovers they’ve left after having accepted an invitation from Adam’s rival to ride out the storm in his house, where the power and heat are still on.
When the time came, Celeste waited by the window for the bus, which arrived late, and she stepped outside when Spencer got off. The sky continued to spit frozen rain and every surface was coated now.
“Be careful, it’s icy,” she called from the porch.
“It’s fun.” He skated along the walk and grasped the wobbly handrail coming up the steps. Just as he reached the porch there was a loud crack and they looked up to see a limb on the tree across the street splinter from its trunk and thunder to the ground. The smaller branches exploded and scattered. Spencer threw himself at her and she hugged him.
“It’s okay, it’s just a branch falling,” she said. “The ice is building up and making them too heavy.” But the noise had jolted her, too; she was still anxious from reading about the denied order of protection case out in California.
Once inside, they heard another loud crack and crash, and Celeste cried out.
“It’s a branch falling, right, Mommy?”
“Yes, that’s right,” she said, exhaling. “It just surprised me, that’s all.”
She kneeled on the love seat cushions and faced the window. A tree limb had landed on the roof of a car across the street. She looked above her own car and saw it was out of range of any overhanging trees.
“Come here, sweetie. Come sit with Mom.” Spencer sat and she drew him closer and smelled his sweet hair; he’d used her shampoo again this morning. Holding her son grounded her and made her better. Calmer. But not for long. Over the next hour they heard more cracks, like booms of thunder—some close by and others distant—and each one gave her heart a little jump. Limbs broke and fell, revealed stark white wounds, littered the lawns and street with debris. After one loud thud, the lights flicked off and the furnace shut down. In minutes, a quiet, dusky gloom descended over the house.
The cars along the street were encased in ice, unrecognizable, as if frozen in place for years. Every house dark and abandoned-looking, like some apocalyptic movie set. The roof of one car had been caved-in by a tree limb. Branches littered the street. Adam pulled into a vacant spot right in front of Celeste’s house.
He slid over the slick sidewalk and onto the patch of lawn. There were footprints in the crunchy grass. He maneuvered the frozen porch stairs one by one, stabilized both feet on each tread before attempting the next.
He rang the bell. No answer. Cupped his hands against the window. Completely black. No light from candles or flashlights. Had they gone to bed already? He rang again. Tried the handle. Then he considered the jumble of footsteps broken through the crust on the lawn, the parking spot he’d found out front with the dry pavement exposed due to a recently departed car.
With his good hand he pounded on the door.
“Goddammit, Celeste! Open this door!” You fucking bitch you cunt.
“Spencer!” he yelled. “Spencer!” He punched the door with his fist, then delivered a single blasting kick, but the lock held and the impact jarred his ankle. He lost his balance and grabbed the doorknob to stay on his feet. “I want my boy!” He almost started crying. “I want you!” Check that: he was crying.