The snow is on everybody tonight—on upturned faces, reflected back in the irises of children in the window; on the hot back of your wife's neck as you know she's shoveling the snow at home; on the men chopping wood for the stove, warming themselves (as the Finnish proverb goes) twice. You can hear the echoes of the axework just barely through the winter air so thick with flakes. You are bringing the bad news to the family whose daughter went through the ice. This always goes to the youngest, they told you, the ones who haven't got seniority or sense to avoid the dark work. And you're it, just out of the old high school that will be torn down in a year, so you read in the Daily Mining Gazette, the newspaper that rarely reports on the mines anymore except in retrospectives and to say that they're still closed and still there are no jobs and the hills surrounding the town are riddled with shafts like holes in the body.
      You have no holes in the body from duty. No bullets taken. You've never even been cut.
      A girl through the ice with a guy. Elizabeth and somebody. You never remember men's names. Prom night and you're holding a gun and you're working, you're walking up some other girl's steps to her parents—only a year beyond prom yourself, that night that had held so much before you got it and turned out as empty as a fist, that night which you regretted.
      Your breath forms fountains in the air as it batters the snow. A couple lights on in the house that you had to walk up the snowed-in driveway to get to. You are halfway. The manual says to make lots of noise on your way to the door so that you are not a surprise, to leave the cruiser's lights on for authority, to make sure that the parents are properly seated. You do all of this tasting salt, hardly making out their backlit faces with the fire open behind them and the warm air coming out to your breath and melting the snow. Inside there are pictures of the girl and you try not to look and you know you must come straight to the point and give them the news that is bad that is the worst that is good only because it's something certain, but nothing good.
      You write down instructions on how the parents can recover the body—she is being dragged up as you speak but it is certain that the body in the base of the lake is her. They don't even understand what you are saying. You are back out the door walking backward, back in the snow that's half-down on the ground, a down on your body, a fuzz in your voice and your breath leaping out of your mouth and it's like you are eight again, your brother ramming your head through the wall and your lack of understanding, and having to cover up the holes in the walls with glossy posters of cars that gleamed in the bedroom light. You are shaking, as if you were the one receiving the news. You sit down on the snow next to the sidewalk, and then you lie back in it.
      When you get to your car, the street light is out. There are kids throwing rocks at one another, but you won't reprimand them or take them in. The water main might be leaking and the pipes are frozen all over town, you're sure. Drunks on their way home troll the roads like zombies. City Council election posters hawk their candidates. All the animals in the street are dead below the plows. Your mother will die soon, you just know it now, no more holding on in the home with the iron bars of the bed and all the static on the radio since she can't tune it in quite right. And you know you must go back to her with this knowledge wrapped like a gift—a syringe or a prayer in your hand, hot on the back of your neck burning red and wet from the snow.


[from BIG 32]

BIG 32
210—true boiling point of water at this altitude in this climate in this place in the summer underneath the summer heart and heat, given the mineral residue from the mines and other impurities that have made it into the water, and given the general resistance of the people this far North to drinking water straight without fizz, a lime, or an alcoholic spike. Drink up. You find fish floating gut-up in some of the lakes. Come out and grab them with your hands. Take them home and clean them up; cut out the tumors and they're fine to eat. Though still, in Harriet's opinion, an unacceptable risk. Some things are worth your life and other things are not.

184—temperature of sparks caused by the plowblade on winter pavement after cutting through the epidermis of snow; Harriet always felt it was like the guys who fired off bottle rockets and roman candles on the Fourth while she ate fried fish: greasy, good, both the boys (though just for a while) and definitely the fish. Liz and Harriet would pick up these kinds of boys some summer nights, do their cool-girl smoking thing in the Subway parking lot as the leftover gunpowder haze settled around them like a shawl. Liz and Harriet in that shawl together, boys outside. Harriet more coy, all smolder, no flare; Liz all burn, a bright and flying thing, a beacon.

184—Sparks don't stay at this temperature for long. They're like birds moving swiftly South for winter. Or atoms dying. A flake of dandruff descending to the floor at the end of an aborted date.

114—when she exfoliates her skin by rubbing quickly, this is how hot it gets.

106—as high as her body temperature has ever gotten; scared her father sick what with her mother gone a month before and Harriet bed-ridden and brow hot as a wake-up airplane towel; she made it to the emergency room and they managed to bring it down with ice and medication; temperature she has tattooed on her lower back as her breaking point. The tattoo that she showed to Liz just after having it done at the only tattoo place in town. Liz surprised, for once a step behind—like in a daze. Even briefly jealous, Liz. Temperature of no small excitement.