Cold Co-op

We tried everything to keep the cold out — plastic on the windows, towels shoved under the door. We burned up all our wood and then we started burning summer clothing: baseball caps and T-shirts and bathing suits that sent up an acrid smoke. Still in the middle of the night we woke up shuddering, our feet heavy and lifeless under the covers. One of Rachel’s toes turned black and we had to amputate it in the kitchen, while Joel poured bourbon down her throat. We kept the water running all the time to keep the pipes from freezing; at night we dreamt of lazy creeks, rushing rivers in summer. Before the snow covered up the windows, we could see the lake frozen hard as metal, and the pale high icy sky.

Spring: we talked about it like you talk about the lottery. When it came we’d build a treehouse in the maple. We’d plant sweet peas and sunflowers and squash and tomatoes. We’d love the land like we’d planned to when we came to this place. When we were talked out we’d sink against each other on the couch, all four of us. It seemed we all fell asleep at the same time, and when we woke, we found ourselves all breathing in the same rhythm.

Then the lake cracked open. The snow fell away in torrents down the hillsides. We stepped out of the house bundled in our winter blankets, and we began sweating. Little yellow flowers poked up around our feet.

Rachel was the first to go. She packed her bags while we were making bouquets in the dining room. She tried to slip out without saying goodbye; when we caught her, she couldn’t explain where she was going. The three of us tried sleeping together on the old couch still, but it was too hot. We struggled and woke each other up. We complained of one another’s smells.

I left next, so the men wouldn’t stick me with the job of cleaning the house. Our experiment had failed, and I was eager to move on. Now I live in Arizona. I love it here — the red sun, the emptiness of the desert. But sometimes I miss that time, the very bottom of the winter, when we lived together like a single animal in hibernation.

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