She Will Wake Again
The radio had lost signal a long time ago. Not that either of them noticed, having Rick’s phone plugged into the speakers. They’d been building a queue of songs that alternated between their two separate tastes. They were both metal-heads of course, having spent so much time in the same room growing up. Quinn was driving. Nothing out of the ordinary, seeing as Rick had lost his license a few months back and was too angry to take the proper steps in reacquiring it.
Snow was hitting the windshield in a constant stream. As if a giant pillow had exploded in the clouds and rained its feathers onto the world below. The wipers whirred on high. A valley—somewhere in northern Michigan—sat below, down the slope of the cliff, veiled by the wintry mist that swirled about everywhere. The jagged rock of that slope cried javelins of ice.
“Not a fan of their newer stuff,” Quinn said. “They’re sucking all the shit that made them famous out of their sound.”
“Bands have to change. No. They have to evolve. If Metallica released Ride the Lightning every year in different clothing, the world would tire.”
“But we’re not talking about Metallica.”
“It doesn’t matter.”
Silence—“silence” meaning the music playing at thirty volume—returned to its comfortable position in the air. It thwarted the conversation but encouraged streams of proprietary thought. About the music. About—
“Dianna. She would’ve loved it up here.” Rick had his face against the glass now. He observed the winter as they drove through it. He watched the season extend its fingers through the air and assault the window. “I don’t mean to wallow—”
“People who wallow don’t know they’re wallowing. They’re not…self-aware.” Quinn adjusted himself behind the wheel. “You haven’t talked about her this whole ride. Spill.”
The music stopped. It was the end of the queue. True silence struck.
Rick’s face wore the perennial buildup of a sigh that never seemed to arrive. “Snow. Winter. The icy wind. It reminds me of her.”
Their favorite breakfast place was in The Hills. This, in their upstate-New York town, was a collection of shops and little restaurants that glittered a forested series of slopes. The couple knew the staff on a silent level. They had their favorite waitress but never wanted to mess with the way things were run and deliberately ask for her.
She had ordered an omelet, doused it in hot sauce and ate it at a pace one could only describe as purposeful. Artistic.
He loved such a sight. More than his favorite film. More than the pair of over-easy eggs he’d ordered with a side of rye and hash browns. He loved how she gazed out the near window with that stillness—that calmness—contrasted beautifully by the chaos of the restaurant’s bustle. By the swirl of coffee steam that rose from her mug.
“Look at it out there,” she said.
He obeyed. He surveyed the glimpse of woods she did. How barren.
“Every time fall comes around,” she continued, “I forget that all the life is just going to sleep. That it isn’t dying. It sure seems that way though, doesn’t it?”
The restaurant had a fireplace. The walls were adorned with orange, rustic lanterns. People laughed. Silverware clinked. Coffee grounds left their scent trailing in the busy, quaint air. But Dianna didn’t look inward or observe the intimacies. She looked where grey leaves scuttled across muddy pavement and grass became the consistency of wet cardboard.
And she pointed it out.
Rick took a sharp inhale, returning to his only remaining triangle of toast. “How’re classes?” he asked before divulging.
“Fine. Philosophy is the most frustrating.”
“Why is that?”
“It’s my professor. He speaks with such care for the subject; you can tell he loves it with all of his heart.”
Rick swept the slice through a wad of jam.
“And most of my classmates can tell this much about him. They appreciate the sort of dedication the man has to a course most students are required to take.”
Rick said, a mouthful of toast accompanying his words, “Why the frustration, then?”
“Because it doesn’t matter what he says. It doesn’t matter with how much conviction.” She glanced at Rick with glassy eyes. “A face can say more than anything.”
“And what does his say?” Rick chuckled. “What does mine say right now?”
Dianna offered a hollow snicker. She looked out the window again. “Sorry that I’m so…intense right now.”
Rick leaned forward and smirked without realizing it. He placed his chin tenderly on his hands. “Don’t apologize. I love when you get all,” he leaned into this next word, “philosophical on me.”
She offered that stale snicker again. Dianna hugged herself as if she was out in the biting, autumn wind right now. “I can’t believe anyone’s words anymore,” she said. “All I can do is look at their faces. See the entanglements and worries and fears behind their eyes. Sometimes it’s the emptiness.”
Rick took a moment and looked down at the table. Only he found no plates in front of them. The coffee had cooled off. The crumbs were all that were left. And the restaurant was emptying around them.
Quinn and Rick had finally arrived at the cabin so elegantly placed on the cliffside. The snow fell more cinematically than before. Rick could study the intricacies of each flake on his leather glove. He stood on the long, wide-planked porch that overlooked the wintry oasis below and took long drags from a cigarette. Not the cigarette he’d found and kept with her lip gloss on it; it was from a new pack—a pack he’d purchased before the trip. He kept his back to the cabin which hummed with conversation about incidental shit no one cared about. Rick only looked down below. He looked outward. Beyond.
But Rick’s never-ending stare into Michigan’s wintry offerings didn’t go unnoticed. Someone approached, and Michelle was already beside him before he could weasel himself into isolation again. Though she wasn’t empty-handed. She held in her hands a small, metal canister with a pair of dates etched into it.
A name, too.
“I want you to have a moment with her, Rick. Just by yourself.”
Michelle withdrew from the porch, leaving the canister with him.
But even with that soundscape in his ears—the one that so painfully reminded him of her—Rick couldn’t have his moment. Not with her brand of cigarette between his fingers. Not with her very ashes in his hands. Not without that face of hers engrossing him.