The sun has fully set over campus. It is dark now, aside from a few sporadic street lights. The air has grown colder, though the absence of wind renders us light on our feet as we continue to make progress on the beer supply. If not for Josh’s absolute – and otherwise inexplicable – disregard for one of his back molars, our consumption would be reduced to only cans; alas, the cold bottles are a fun alternative, even if their contents are a few months out of date. He continues cracking them, one by one, laughing as he hands me a fresh, cold beer. A certain street is reached, and then everything goes dark. An echo of laughter, jubilant teens in their towers as they turn the occasion into a party, putting on hold any notion of an ongoing global pandemic. It’s hard to blame them, these adolescents with ample endowments and not a care in the world, as they look past us, and our earnest attempts at simple conversation.
Hey, how’s it goin’? we ask one or two, on occasion.
Eh, fine. And you?
Oh, just fine. Thank you.
My parents, too, always told me not to talk to strangers. But since reality had suddenly been flipped upside down, that sentiment could understandably be shed, no? For, who knew what any of this all meant, anyway? Or, better yet, who knew what was coming?
It is quite the social experiment, in a strange, oblong sort of way, as we keep our hearts out on our sleeves. What if someone would have lent a hand, or even the simple suggestion of such, even without the intent of following through? Surely we would have replied with, hey man, have a beer. But, to that, we only had our own supply to consume in a timely manner. After all, the beer is only growing warmer with every block amassed.
As our navigation is nullified by a dying phone – as it turns out, new batteries have a hard time keeping up in frigid temperatures – we are left to rely on the remembrance of certain streets, and which ones cut off without any notice. I have been to Steve’s a thousand times before, but not under these conditions. There’s a point we reach, right at the top of the hill, where MLK Blvd dips down into Lamar Avenue, and all that we see are the impressions of light from an oncoming line of traffic. Nearly a dozen headlights beam brightly, their horns heaving after having been stalled by one single car, midway up the hill, which is now stuck. The driver has gotten out and is dressing the area around her tires with kitty litter. It is only imminent that the rest will follow, unless they are able to unstick themselves from the sudden slabs of ice that have formed under their tires in the time that they were stationary, waiting for her to get unstuck.
Absolutely absurd – this is insanity, I say to Josh. We have to turn around, even if it means trying a few more dead-ends until we find the right street that will take us straight through to Steve’s.
After some time – at least, an hour after our quoted arrival time – we show up at Steve’s place: a quaint duplex at the end of a dead-end street. There’s something eery, yet quite pacifying, about how the skyline sits, streaming itself through shreds of barren trees on the edge of the street. When Steve answers the phone, I ask where we could park the wheels.
What wheels? Did y’all ride scooters? he naively quips.
Not exactly, I retort. So he tells us to find the back door, where we are to unload all the groceries in one swift effort, saving as much internal heat of the house as we can.
Hurry up and get in, he urges, as we stumble inside. Inside the building it is significantly warmer, much more than our own apartment that we left during the daylight hours. Certain items are to be stored in certain places, others are busted out and broken down for immediate consumption.
What about the cart?
We can return that later for you, Steve says, brushing off the notion of any inconvenience it might pose, when the world is turned right back up, and the sun is shining endlessly upon the hilly streets of his quiet suburban neighborhood.
Steam is rising from the many pots, placed precariously throughout the apartment, giving off the faint glimmer of hope as we hear the gas stove click and ignite what will be a surprisingly voluptuous spread for dinner. Simply relieved, Josh and I are, to receive respite amidst this sidewinding experiment of sudden survival mode. The two of them – Steve and his partner – at least appear partially equipped for the conditions, and proceed with offering all sorts of coping mechanisms.
How about some chocolate?
Sure. Why not? I’m not driving.
Soon, it all melts away. However, sleeping with all of your belongings huddled by your side, as your breath can be seen beating back against the air, is a rather unenviable way to be ushered back into the sober hours of the day, when the song of birds accompanies the strong sunlight that comes in through the slotted blinds. Everything suddenly comes rushing back.
Where the hell are we? And who is that, sleeping in a ball on the love-seat above me?
All of the air in the mattress I have been sleeping on has been usurped by a small, unidentifiable hole, forcing me to roll around on the floor, searching for but a few spots of support as I grapple with what is to come. Josh and I still need to get home, and in a timely manner, at that.
As I wait for Josh to stir, I decide to pull from one of Steve’s shelves an old book of mine, one that I had long forgotten about, and bid farewell to without actually saying goodbye to anything else around it; but, that is for another day. Peeling back its pages, moreover, is quite pacifying, as I sit in the throws of his lush, suede arm chair, overlooking the odd arrangement of the living room, while Josh soundly snores. In no time, he, too, is abrupt to wake; shaken by the sensation of frigid temperatures in an enclosed building. His eyes flicker, and he’s soon to realize how the set of circumstances bestowed upon us are so far flung from a dream. If given the blessing to keep sleeping, surely he would. But his boss beckons, and he is summoned home, to at least give the obligation a solid, earnest attempt, despite the conditions.
All the while, the rest of the house sleeps. We know we can be quiet enough, so as not to disturb Steve and his girlfriend from their sleep schedule. A swift effort is made to relocate and repack all of our perishable belongings – plus a few bottled beers, just in case the stores remain closed for the day – before hitting the road. But, one similarly aloof effort is given on the door, only to discover how the stark, unnatural contrast in conditions – internal moisture and frigid external temperatures – have sealed the sliding glass door shut.
Are we stuck here? Josh and I laugh, looking at one another with large eyes and addled expressions. Surely, if I am to attempt, and fail to open the door, instead cracking it down its center, that my five-years of friendship with Steve might come to a sudden halt. When he swoops into the room, some fifteen minutes later, Steve snickers at the thought, but fails to disagree.
Trekking downhill, as the sun seeps its way out of the clouds, and splits over the town, things don’t seem so bad. Our feet feel lighter and, despite the constant struggle to find solid ground, the roads are nearly entirely void of traffic – foot, or the like. We see remnants from the night before: stacks of cars, spun in odd directions across the road, and snuggled up to snowbanks that have now become ice blocks, as well as empty beer cans and tattered rolls of yellow caution tape.
Is this a vacated crime scene, or a simple call for help that went unanswered?
Many looks are sent our way – even a few earnest inquires – especially over our heavy, brown grocery bags, as we descend from the direction of the nearest store. One grizzled fellow even appears ready to fight, and his truculence lingers long after he staggers off in the opposite direction, visibly disappointed to learn that our goods only came from the night before. Apocalyptic, almost, in ways, how the world around us feels empty, stripped down, and sundered by the elements. Elements which, no less, bare no resemblance to what is to be expected on any given day of the year, in the sunny city of Austin, TX.
We fail, moreover, to consider what this what will do to the foliage: each of those palm trees which sway with the wind now seem stale as they stand, slathered in snow, showing especially stark against the sky blue aperture overtaking the town. Josh elects that we take the long way home, for it is assumed that the foot traffic will be sparse, and scenery lush. Along the river banks, steam flows fluidly, gradually rising to uncover the small tropes of turtles taking a breath before dipping themselves back into the icy ballad, which would otherwise be brimming with canoes and kayaks. Birds swoop and skim the surface, and for a few fleeting moments it feels as if humans were not meant for this terroir, after all.
Returning to the apartment, Josh and I graze over our groceries: it is enough, for now. Yet, gradually reinforced is the chilling notion that acquiring said goods was a mere stroke of dumb, intoxicated luck. Luck which, no less, feels to be waning with each hour that passes, the people on the news predicting more precipitation for the days to come.