At Some Point in the Night,
Everything Fell Away
Winter still flourishes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun spills over the land at an increasing rate low on the horizon as snow falls. It is April in Alaska. We are sitting on the porch of our cabin, escaping the five hundred square feet inside. I take a drag from a cigarette. The smoke disappears into the woods. I watch, jealous.
Levi sits opposite me, lightly strumming a guitar. The music cuts the silence in the woods. He can’t hold a tune. I pretend he can play and he pretends I can quit smoking. I inhale deeper, grabbing a beer from the six-pack beside me.
“Can I have one?” he asks, his sweatshirt glowing in the dark.
I don’t say anything - just toss him a beer. He delicately twists the cap off. His face hidden under a dark beard, that’s something I still love, as if I can love someone in pieces. Maybe that’s how everyone does it, by loving one thing at a time, until there’s nothing left. I look away embarrassed, the wind blows sugar snow into my face. “Fucking snow,” I wipe my eyes.
“Babe, it will be gone soon. Summer is on its way, I can tell,” he says, as if gloating. Three years in Alaska and he thinks he gets it. I look back at him. When he looks over at me, I see his eyes slide over my body, undressing the dirty layers and washing the smell out of my skin. He has the kind of face that says I’ll take care of you when he smiles. He makes strangers fall in love with him with this look, but the charm wears off.
I fell in love with him once, a long time ago now, and I guess it is true he takes care of me, but something’s changed. Maybe we don’t want the same things anymore. I look at him. For a moment, I admire his boyish features, enchanting in the soft light, but look away feeling sad.
I stub out my cigarette. “Sure, so I got a job offer in Seattle,” I say, with a weak smile.
He stops playing, looking straight at me, “That’s great, really,” he pauses. “How soon would you start?”
“They said end of August,” I stare at the black spruce trees in front of me, the black branches draped in snow. For a while he says nothing, just starts to strum the guitar again.
“But don’t you like it here?” he says, looking over. He loved everything about Alaska: the hard winters, sun soaked summers and the forbearing black spruce that make up the forests. He even loves the lack of plumbing, as if it is a return to something simpler.
I shake my head, rocking the chair back. The trees move in a slight breeze. I say, looking away, “Anyways, do you want to do something tonight?” Suddenly the chair feels too small, the trees seem to press in, as if getting closer. All around me there is snow and suffocation. I rock harder and tap my hand in frustration.
“Look, I’m happy you got the job, but I just need some time to think about everything, OK?” He reaches across the porch to touch my hand. I let him. We sit like that for a while. I almost forget what I asked him and then he says, “I don’t know, I’m kinda loving just sitting on the porch,” he picks the guitar back up. I turn away listening to the snowfall. The small tink that excited me in the fall aggravates me now. “What were you thinking?”
“Let’s go to the store. We’re out of pretty much everything,” I say. He sighs, the air pluming out in front of him.
But, he gets up and puts the guitar inside the door of the cabin. Then he smiles at me, trying to fix my mood. Something about the look on my face makes him walk over to me. Wrapping his arms around my waist, he kisses my cheek and then my lips, something he hasn’t done in awhile. I push him away. “Let’s get going,” I say. He steps back surprised as he steps back from me and reaches into the cabin for a pair of gloves. Lately we haven’t slept in the same bed. He falls asleep on the couch and I forget to tell him to come to bed
“Grab my gloves too,” I head down the steps toward the truck.
We get in. The orange pickup truck starts, a grumpy sound coming from the engine. We head down the dirt road; we say nothing to each other. The wilderness passes through the windshield. It’s almost 10:00 p.m., the sun is down behind the hills, but the evening still glows, never fully darkening until the fall. “Look, I’m sorry,” Levi says, keeping his eyes on the road. “I am really happy, I just--”
“It’s fine,” I turn the radio on, flipping through stations. “Nothing’s on,” I fold my arms over my chest.
He turns the radio off. “I don’t want to listen to it. Can we just talk for a bit?” he says.
“Sure,” I say, watching the dirt road turn into concrete, the emptiness becoming buildings. The snow falls harder. I place my feet on the dashboard and light a cigarette.
“I wish you would stop. I hate tasting the cigarettes on you,” he glances over at me in disgusted. “And you shouldn’t sit like that. It’s dangerous and besides I cleaned the inside of the truck today,” he pauses. “Shit, we need gas.”
I roll my eyes and look around the pick-up; the floor is covered in a combination of dirt and leaves. A soda can rolls under my seat, small pieces of candy corn sit in the corners.
“Are you serious? This place is a trash pile. I mean,” I bend forward picking up rotten paper and crumbled wrappers. I place my boots back on the dash, turn on the radio, and tap my foot, staring him down. He screws his face up and looks at the road.
Headlights pass as we pull into the gas station but he says nothing. The roads are deserted. I’ve learned that in small towns things shut down after the sun falls. He pumps gas, gets back in the car, and we head off down Tanana Loop. Levi stares at me, swerving on the road a bit. “Watch the road,” I say. He glances at the road, and then back at me, “What’s with you tonight?”
He stares out the windshield; my eyes slide over him. “Nothing,” he says.
“Look just take you’re feet down, OK?”
His voice sounds like he is talking to a child. My feet stay on the dashboard. We pass a biker and someone walking their dog on the path next to the street. Levi still stares at me before reaching over and swatting at my boots.
“You pushed me away when I kissed you,” he says.
He stares at me: my boots on the dash, my body curled over my legs, holding myself. “Look, it’s been a long day,” I say.
“You’ve said that for the last month,” he continues to stare at me.
“Stop,” I say, the car is swerving. “You’re going to hurt someone.” I look over at him and he won’t look away.
“Fine,” he looks back at the road, but the car jerks to the left. There is a thud on the bumper, and then the body lands on the windshield. I watch glass crack, slow as it splits, void of sound, blood running into the cracks like rivers. I scream as he pulls to a stop, and my heartbeats against my eardrum, that’s all I can hear. He hadn’t been looking at the road at all; the body is strewn across the windshield. Its legs twisted in, the arms bend at strange angles and blood streams down the man’s face. His face stares down at us, a scar above his lip, salty thin hair; he almost looks like he’s smiling. His eyes dilate; the pupils almost cover the whites.
“Are you OK?” Levi runs a hand up my arm; I jump, my body shaking, sound starts to come through again but his voice still sounds far away. The wind outside howls a long the road. Crows watch from the trees, their chatter so loud I can hear them telling our secret. Snow falls fast, as if burying the truck. I notice the light slipping over the hills and causing the valley to glow in an unnatural way. The world is alive with sound and light, speeding forward. Levi places both hands on my shoulders, his face in the view of the body. He feels warm against my coat as he tries to talk to me. His voice is muffled by the sounds outside.
“Nora…Nora…Nora…” Levi repeats my name, getting louder each time. He jerks my shoulders, tears coming down his eyes; he no longer looks like he can take care of me. “We have to do something with him,” he says.
I look up. My head shakes yes, then no. Levi gets out of the truck and comes to my side to open the door. I nearly fall onto the ground when he opens my door. He helps me up and we walk to the front of the truck. We stand outside the truck holding hands, the bones are coming through the man’s pant leg and his shoulder has been dislocated. Part of me can’t believe no one has passed us on the road and the other part is thankful there’s no one out. Even the other people we passed were out of view.
“I’m going to check his pulse,” Levi says, letting go of my hand. I pace back and forth in front of the truck. Levi places his fingers on the man’s wrist. He shakes his head, “No pulse. Shit!”
Levi reaches into the man’s jacket pocket, looking for a wallet I assume. He pulls out a Fred’s card but nothing else. Every so often I think I hear a car and turn, but it’s only the wind playing tricks on me. I listen to my footsteps, my teeth shaking, my hands tucked under my armpits which are soaked. The truck is right there, anyone could see us. Blood has started to pool in the cracks and turn a deep black, a sign that it is drying. I light a cigarette and blow the smoke out.
The snow is falling so quickly the body has a thin layer over its frame. I squat down. “This is it,” I mumble. “We did this. We murdered him. He’s a person, I can’t do this.” My body rocks slightly back and forth.
Levi walks over, squats down and grabs my shoulders. “Nora, listen, we need to do something with him, bury him or get rid of him. But I need your help babe,” he looks back at the body. “Look, it’s either him or us. I can’t find any ID on him. Maybe he was homeless and no one’s going to miss him.” He pulls me into his chest and I grip him, as if it’s the only thing left that’s solid. My cigarette falls to the ground. He lets go and kisses my forehead.
I stare at the man on the car, “Yeah, maybe. But we can’t bury him if the permafrost is too hard. Maybe we could bury him in the snow or something,” I say.
Levi helps me stand up. “OK, now I need your help to put him in the back,” he says. “I’ll take the shoulders.”
I look over the hood at the man’s feet, the bones covered by the snow. The road winds down into darkness on either side of us. Levi drags the shoulder off the windshield, lifting it up. I reach for the legs, his body is heavy, and I can feel the bones bending as I lift him up. “Walk quickly. The body’s heavy,” Levi says as we waddle to the back of the truck.
The man’s bone twists out completely, leaving me holding his foot, “Holy fuck, fuck, fuck!” I scream, dropping the body and backing away from it. Levi looks and sees the foot in my hand.
“Nora, just toss it in the back and pick the legs up,” he says.
“No I can’t,” I say.
“Nora, you can I’m right here, OK?” he says.
I shake my head, trembling and cursing the whole time I lift the body. Blood runs down my arm as we push him into the truck. Levi closes the gate and we sit on the bumper listening to the snowfall; the trees blow in the wind and the crows stare down at us, waiting. “Can I have a cigarette?” he asks.
“Yeah.” I hand him one and light it. He puts his arm around me and we sit like that for a while, just listening.
The minutes fade by slowly; some cars start to drive by. One car stops. “Are you OK?” the driver asks.
“Yeah, we just hit a moose. They’ve already come and gotten it. We’re just waiting for Triple A,” Levi smiles, knowing the dent isn’t big enough to have hit a moose. The man takes another look at the front in disbelief, before driving off slowly. “We need to go,” he says, kissing my forehead again.
I nod and get in the truck. He grabs a rag from the bed and wipes the windshield down. The windshield could be worse, I can still see out. He gets in. We head for Murphy Dome. No one will be there at this time of night. Maybe we can just bury the body in a snow pile or a little under the ground. I twist my coat in my seat and bounce my legs on the floorboard.
Levi reaches over and grabs my hand. “Everything’s going to be OK,” he says, steadying my legs and giving a fake smile. There are more wrinkles now on his face as if he has somehow aged. He grabs another cigarette from the center console. We ride in silence, every bump causing me to look back in the bed. I keep thinking: He’s going to move and reach for us through the back window. “He’s not going anywhere Nora, he’s dead,” Levi says in a mournful tone.
We reach the top and get out of the truck, “I won’t be able to walk far with it,” I say.
He nods. “We’ll throw it down a hill, then bury it in the snow, maybe even some ground if we can get it to break,” he says. Levi backs the truck up to the edge of the dome and I get out to open the tailgate. We lift the body out; it’s heavier than I remember and I drop the ankles. I pick them up again and we swing the body down the hill. I watch it: the body seems to turn into a large snowball as it picks up speed but doesn’t make it very far.
We grab snow shovels and tears fall down my eyes. The moon is full in the sky, giving everything long shadows as we walk down the hill. We start to move the snow when we reach him. “I wish it were really dark,” Levi says and I nod. The whole time I keep looking over at the body to make sure it hasn’t walked away, as if that’s something that could happen in any place other than the movies. We dig. At some point that night everything fell away. The snow peels away layers of leaves, the grass, and finally Levi reaches the ground, rock solid. “Fuck! I knew this was going to happen.”
I look up at him. “What now?” I say. He walks off, ramming the shovel into the snow before letting out a scream. His face is beat red. “Maybe we could dump it in a lake or the riverside.” He walks back over and sees the tears falling down my face. He kisses me hard on the lips to calm me and I kiss him back because I don’t know what else to do.
“Yes, OK, I can drag it up by the arms,” he says. He starts back up the hill with the body. He stumbles as the body catches in the snow at least half a dozen times. Finally he makes it up the hill, a thin layer of sweat covering his body.
We load the body and get back in the truck. Everything starts to fragment; first we’re at the top, then half way down the hill, and all of the sudden we’re by the river and I’m smoking a cigarette. The sun has started to peak over the hills as the town begins to wake up. “We have to do this fast,” Levi says, finding rocks and putting them in his pockets.
“Isn’t this a silt river?” I say.
“Yeah, at least I think so, but better safe than sorry,” he says. I help him lift the body, a cigarette still in my mouth. “Ready?” he asks. I nod and we roll the body off the bank into the river.
“I hope you rest in peace,” I say to the man, adding, “And go to heaven.” Though I’m still not sure there is one, and, if there is, I’m not getting in.
We get back in the car. Levi looks over at me, something is different in his eyes than the last couple of months; there’s lightness. “We’ll get the windshield fixed tomorrow,” he says, running his fingers through my hair. He smiles, and for the first time I know he can take care of me.
When we get home the sun is up and dotting the land with little sparks of snow. For the first time in a long time, I lock the door to the cabin before wrapping my body around Levi on the bed. Our bodies huddle together in the center of the worn mattress. My legs curl around his hips, spooning him in a way I haven’t done in months.
”I think you should take the job,” he says. Maybe it’s from fear or love or both. His hand holds my hand. “It’s just you and me now,” he says, before falling asleep, and I know that we are stuck together now. The light fills the room in long slants, and I drift off to sleep.
About the author:
Janell Zimmerer is an urban explorer in Chicago. She holds a BA in English and Creative Writing from Purdue University. Janell is an avid traveler, having what she describes as wanderlust. She has been published in Emerge Literary Journal and Vine Leaves Literary Journal and has work forthcoming in Livid Squid Literary Journal. She believes in exploring near and wide, capturing a unique moment from each place.