Compass

Lots of fresh snow over the past day and a half.  The driveway’s been plowed clear, so now I can   appreciate the aesthetics.  The snow is at its most mysterious an hour before sunrise, blurring the edges of everything.  The stars and streetlights cast bright circles and deepen the shadows.   In every direction I see the opening scene of a different movie.  

To the west:  Hallmark.  Neat houses with slanted white roofs, hedges cutting the landscape into rough squares, forming a giant quilt.   I’ve been awake most of the night, worried about my bookstore-coffeeshop on Main Street.   My bills are mounting, and after I rejected Claude d’Eville’s low-ball offer for the shop, he’s sued me.   I’m a simple, kindly widow trying to pass along my love of books and caffeine, helped only by my sassy barista Ginny, dreamy Thom the clerk, and my handsome nephew Ben, who sources the coffee during his off-time from his computer company and shows off his muscles by lifting heavy boxes of books.  Fortunately my young friend Amy’s back in town, taking a break after losing her job at a big-time law firm in the city.   She loves the bookstore and agrees to help with my defense, even though it means she’ll have to work with Ben, whom she finds equal parts annoying and attractive.  She may win the case, but lose her heart…  

South: Indie.  A road curves up a hill to the snow-capped water tower, edged by evergreens and granite outcroppings.  Most of the houses are dark, but one has two lights gleaming.    In the basement, Ben has started carving another block of wood, using his free time before work to keep his hands busy and his mind empty.  (Close-up on a row of carvings, goddesses without faces)   Thom has carelessly left his bedroom light on after sneaking out.  He sneaks for the hell of it, not because anyone cares—he’ll tell you defiantly—and he knows where the fence is loose by the water tower.  Up he climbs.   At the top of the tower is Ginny with her sketchbook, drawing the fading moon.   She says she’s surprised to see Thom; that may be the truth.   From my kitchen, I see Ben’s pickup edge onto the street, and I text Amy that the coast is clear.  She parks down the block and opens the front door with her old key (Ben will never change the locks).  She leaves casseroles in the refrigerator along with a carefully detached and factual note on heating times, props the SAT prep book left on the hall table where Thom will see it.  I’m not the only one watching Amy as she makes her morning delivery.  Claude puts down his binoculars in order to document her arrival and departure in his notebook.  Ben’s faceless goddesses will have their hands full working around this mess.     

North:  Costume.  A broad expanse of gray-white, forest beyond, a small building with a steep roof and side door, with one window throwing gold stripes onto the ground.  My skirts are soaked and heavy and my hands are freezing as I drag the buckets inside.   The room is smoky from the hearth and warm with bodies packed close.    Claude shouts “In the King’s name, close the door, wench!”  while the rest of the drinkers attend to their tankards.   Ben nods towards the fire, which needs to be stirred, and pours ale. I dodge grasping hands and weave among the tables, poke the logs, sweep and listen.  Young Thom is going to get himself in trouble if he keeps mentioning the Sons of Liberty so near to Claude.    Ginny crashes in, not closing the door. “Uncle Ben!  It’s the Mistress’s time…”  “Too early!”  Ben’s face turns as pale as the moonlit snow.  He runs for the house.   I mop and settle the fire, then take a candle for my room upstairs to write my report… 

East: Noir. Two bare trees and a stretch of scrub lining the road.  My heart’s still pounding from the nightmare: Amy crumpled like a doll at the bottom of the stairs.  The terrible angle of her neck.   I pull the curtain and stare at the street lamp; beneath it stands a young man in a black coat, lighting a cigarette, stepping away from the light.   He looks chilly, harmless.   I don’t remember him from Claude’s, and please god that Claude doesn’t know…The youth raises his head.   Can he see me?  All of the lights are off, but my nightgown is white.  I shrink back, wondering if I should call Ben, the detective with the flexible morals and low bank account.  He seemed…intrigued, and willing.  I peek outside, see no one.  I fumble for the phone.  No dial tone.   The old house shudders and creaks, and somewhere I think I hear the turn of a doorknob.          

Once the sun’s up, everything looks itself again.   I get busy with dishes and a grocery run, back to real life, but on the way home the snow flips me another Rorschach test:  a hammock in a backyard, stretched between trees, on it a blanket of white with a patch in the middle as though something has just finished a long, cold nap. 

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