by Kathleen Johnson Coskran '62

She ran after the truck, calling his name, yelling Stop, oh, please, stop, but he never looked back, never checked the rearview mirror, never slowed. He paused at the highway, turned, and was gone.

She ran a few more feet, then stopped to catch her breath. It was 10 below with a wind from the north. Might snow today, he’d said at breakfast, Got to get going early, and then he’d left without his hat and gloves, was out the door and in the truck with half a cup of coffee still warm on the counter. She stood in the empty road, pulled her robe around her, and started back to the house. It was cold. She put his hat on—it was too big but relieved the sting in her ears—and pulled the gloves over her tiny hands, balling her hands inside the gloves and letting the fingers flop.

The back door was locked. He was going to fix it—something about the way the hook swung and caught the loop if you weren’t careful and let the door slam, if you hurried too much. You could lock yourself out without even trying, he had said.

    Who would try?
    You know what I mean.

Now it had happened, ten below, in her bathrobe, slippers, his hat and gloves. She slipped off a glove and tugged at the door. It didn’t move. She went around to the side door, the one they never used, never unlocked. There was no front door. He’d built the house without a front door because a front door was an invitation to visit, to drop by, to stop in for a minute, and they didn’t want random visitors, people so unknown to them that they’d use a front door. The side door was locked.

The first floor windows were closed tight and shuttered. She waded through the snow, tried each shutter, none of them moved. She pulled the cap over her ears. It was a warm hat, the warmest one he’d ever had. She’d made it to his specifications, from pure, unprocessed wool, all the lanolin and natural oils still there. He was genuinely happy with that cap. She didn’t know how he could have forgotten it. He was going to be in the woods most of the day. He needed the hat. He probably had an old pair of gloves in the truck, but he needed the hat.

It was cold. She unrolled the cuff of the cap, pulled it down to her neck, and retied her robe. She went back to the locked door, pulled at it again, hard and harder, tugging at it with her eyes closed. She imagined the metal hook slowly straightening out, releasing its grip on the loop. She could will the hook to bend just enough to slip out—or maybe the screws would loosen.

Not likely. He made everything to last, secure, tight. The hook would come straight before one of his screws would pull out.

The wind picked up the hem of her robe and sliced across her bare ankles. Her slippers had stiffened in the cold and the wind—she was losing feeling in her feet.

He didn’t trust neighbors. They had moved to the country—peace of Eden, he called it—to live the way the Lord intended and forbade her to leave their one acre without his permission. Thou shalt not, he said and kissed her. His last words every morning. Stay home and I’ll be back. Even in his rush this morning, he had said those words. Stay home. Words of comfort.

Until now. If she stayed home, only her frozen body would be there to greet him. If she left, if she went for help—although where she would go was not clear to her—if she found a neighbor—then what? She didn’t know what he would do, and a neighbor couldn’t get the door open either. She’d have to stay with the neighbor until nightfall. Thou shalt not.

She pulled on the door again, with all her strength, screaming at the lock, open, open, open, then sank down so her robe flowered around her feet. She slipped her arms out of the sleeves, hugged her body under the robe, and turtled her head in so the edge of the cap rested on the collar of the robe, a mound of pink huddled against the door.

The wind blew snow around her. She didn’t mind. Snow is insulation, he said when he showed her how he wanted the snow mounded against the house when she shoveled the walk.

He was right as always. The snow piled up around her, keeping her warm until she fell asleep.