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Post Road Magazine #32

Yellow Snow

Tom Treanor


Nights I sleep warm, sweaty sleep. The kind of sleep that brings with it a week of illness. The kind of illness that lingers, travels from one residency specialty to the next: GI, respiratory, ear nose and throat. I can feel it in my chest. Sputum like driveway gravel.

It is January and we've had a week of summertime. No marine layer since the Christmas sales. The rest of the country is in the deep freeze, but here we've landed Indian summer.

I call Clairebear. She lives where it snows.

"I'm getting sick," I tell her.

She recommends multivitamins, unfiltered cranberry juice, dietary supplements that effervesce.

"What ever happened to chicken soup?"

She says there have been studies on zinc. There are lozenges, cherry-flavored.

"They're disgusting," I say to her. "They make my mouth taste like dimes."

She says last year the snow didn't stick at all. This year, it's everywhere. On cars, fire escapes, awnings and umbrellas, picnic tables in the backyards. It looks so different the way the city lights at night descend upon everything from the reflection in the sky, how the snow glows like pink twilight: it's emanating, a slow burn, it's the mothership coming in for a landing.

~~~

The date breaks a votive on the table with her purse. Wax spews. It was an accident; she says she could use a drink. She just moved back after a year in Belize, but that's not her excuse.

"What does one do in Belize for a year?" I ask her.

One apprentices as a personal chef to a billionaire with a compound of jungle bungalows. She says it was a learning experience.

"What did you learn to cook?" I ask her.

Cheeseburgers, of all kinds.

"All one of them?"

No smile on her end, and I laugh a kind of stupid snicker. A first-date snicker.

She orders a double bourbon.

~~~

A man wearing a hospital gown jostles open the doors to reception and pisses on the floor. It is early; reception is not yet open. The doors, apparently, were unlocked. We watch from the security monitors bolted above the switchboard, all in fisheye black-and-white. The man moves the couch to cover the spot on the floor. He sits on the couch, pisses on the couch. We aren't sure who we should call first: the police or facilities management.

The chief security officer is a woman months shy of retirement. Ruthie Basso, former cop, wears Christmas sweaters. She says the man was not dangerous, just confused, unwell, smelled like a septic tank. He was looking for his wife.

"Who is his wife?" I ask her.

He didn't know. He thought he might find her here.

~~~

I wake up into what feels like a pressurized fog. Sitting up in bed, the room goes hyperbolic. I think fever: feed a fever, starve a cold. Or is it the opposite?

Daylight is bright, searing, prying open the sky into something bigger and bluer than is meant to be. People strut the streets in shorts and t-shirts and tangerine swimwear, taunting with their flip-flops the rainy season gone on vacation.

Insects have been swarming the neighborhood. Bees, flies, bugs with wings and nubby segmented bodies. They say it's the warm weather. They say the insects have nowhere else to go. Bees everywhere, their nests nestled in the eaves of Victorians. So many competing for shelter, searching for hives. So in my kitchen, they've come to die: a tiny, perfect pile like a cone of sand in an hourglass. Here they are, a dish of desiccated bees, with their fuzzy carcasses and vellum wings, a pyramid of puffed wheat.

~~~

I cancel a date because I blow bloody mucus into a napkin. The advice nurse on the telephone tells me I am at the peak of illness. It's only gonna get better from here on out.

"Is there some kind of tea I should be drinking?" I ask her. "Herbal tea?"

Orange juice, she recommends. Fluids, water, unfiltered cranberry juice.

"I'm really quite interested in the tea," I say to her. I ask about naturopathy, homeopathy, aromatherapy. "I understand that frankincense costs a hundred bucks for a vial the size of a diary key."

She's unfamiliar. I should be tip-top in no time. It's just something that's going around. And for one hundred dollars, she'd rather go out for a nice steak.

~~~

Back in the office, three days out sick. The receptionist has been fired. She forgot to lock the doors again. Apparently it was a pattern. She had been monitored, she had been performance planned. They said it was a statement: forgetfulness, disobedience, insubordination.

I'm told I still sound hoarse. I say, "But I'm no Mister Ed!"

They hired professionals to steam-clean the carpets. They selected new couches from catalogues.

~~~

Another date, two weeks after the last. This girl a former Peace Corps volunteer. The Ukraine. Extended tour, back just in September. Taught English language classes on a potato farm.

"Is potato farm a fancy way of saying vodka distillery?" I ask her.

No, a potato farm is a potato farm.

Those who go overseas have their lives changed. They return world-weary and important. They wouldn't trade it for anything. This girl practically learned Russian overnight, a special dialectic Slavic. A whole new alphabet of potato, tuber, root.

"My friend Clairebear lived in the South Pacific for two years," I say to her. "The Marshall Islands. Got a plantar wart the size of a frisbee. Foot surgery in Honolulu, the works."

The date orders a bourbon. I consider one too.

Vodka in the States, she scoffs. She won't touch the stuff.

~~~

Clairebear calls and says she's never seen so much snow in her neighborhood. She is in love. Snow collects in powdery haloes in the windows of brownstones.

Snow brings out my inner child. I make snow angels, snowballs, snowmen and their families. Snowmistresses, the occasional illegitimate snowbaby. It's been maybe years since I've even seen snow. Clairebear and I, together then with a boulder of packed snow, pushing it down a leaf-littered slope. The snowball was large, the way refrigerators and sofas are large, not quite spherical, not quite cubic, gathered like peeling up fresh tongues of sod from a lawn.

People here are going to the beach, working on their winter tan.

"I wish I could be there," I say to her. "To play in the snow."

Clairebear asks how the last date went.

"I have a new appreciation for American whiskeys," I say to her.

That good? she asks.

~~~

Since sickness, I haven't slept. Several nights now of tossing, turning, sheets wrung and twisted. I am convinced I should take something. My medicine cabinet is lined with over-the-counter sleep-aids in squat bottles, and I tell the advice nurse on the telephone that they don't work.

"It's just been so warm," I say to her.

Her phone voice hits a caramel timber on par with twenty years of cigarettes. I should see a GP, she tells me. Try something prescription-strength. There are anxiety repressors, time-release capsules. Sedatives, some of the best used as antidepressants in extremely high does.

"If that were the case," I ask her, "wouldn't I be asleep all the time?"

Exactly.

"I was really sick last week," I say to her. I search for redemption, for sleep-starved validation. "I have a post-nasal drip that goes drip drip drip."

I wonder if the advice nurse has ever had to talk people through plague. The Hanta virus, Ebola, something flesh-eating, tubercular, exoticized from the common cold. Spanish flu, avian flu, flu of the drug-resistant variety, eating vaccines for breakfast. I am not sure how to broach the subject.

"Can you coach how to perform a testicular self-exam?" I ask her.

One bee buzzes aside the dusty corner of the windowsill. It moves like a marionette.

~~~

Reception smells plastic. The carpet has been spray-tinted, walls painted anew. Things glisten a fire-retardant gloss.

The new girl in reception is a germaphobe. We watch her from the switchboard as she arranges magazines on the tables. Back issues are spun into perfect pinwheels. She snaps on purple nitrile gloves before she handles anything. She suggests placing the front desk behind plate glass.

A tiny doorbell is fitted to the underside of her desk in case of another incident clad in a hospital gown. She used to work in a bank. Ruthie Basso's number is on speed-dial.

People at work are dropping like flies. They're detoxing on cocktails of vitamins, dining on flights of antibiotics. My supervisor has gone nasal, calls me Patient Zero.

Accidentally, I knock over a wastebasket in the hallway on my way to the restroom. Wadded tissues scatter like errant snowballs.

~~~

New date, this time a girl with charisma to spare. Nonchalance as flirtation. She's just getting over something. A nasty cough, but no more; tissues are at the ready. Hasn't been out of the country since a senior trip in high school. Europe, the ABC tour: Another Boring Church.

"Bourbon?" I offer.

In Europe, her group scheduled only an hour for the Louvre. An hour! Other kids wanted to do other things. Other kids, the temper-tantrum toddlers, complained, stomped their feet; museums are bor-ing, they said. She and her friends weren't going to be daunted; determined, they ran through the whole place. Floor by marble floor, sweeping the halls to the tick of a stopwatch. Like a race, like a gameshow.

"Mona Lisa?"

She nods.

"Venus de Milo?"

She nods.

"Even Winged Victory?"

And all that wingspan, she says to me, doesn't do you a bit of good without a head.

~~~

Clairebear's voice falls when she sees the ten-day forecast. No new scheduled snowfall, just Antarctic cold.

I say to her, "No more yellow snow."

No, she huffs. Only green ribbons of frozen dog piss.

And I picture it perfectly, snaked in kinks down the concrete.

~~~

My first night of deep sleep, and I'm woken up to the click click of rain. A deluge, the oscillating rush of rain on the roof, like an amniotic slosh, hitting hard like a heartbeat.

With the first scissor of thunder, I make a beeline to the window.

People are dancing. They're drenched and screeching, holding their hands up into yellow streetlamp light where the rain glows like laser beams. The streets on the hills run like rivers. The ground is pinched tight, happy with its dryness, the water with nowhere to go. And it's only just begun.



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