Sometimes it appears in the sky. Once in a while, it lays frozen at
your feet. But this time, when it fell out of a tree, I got a little
freaked out. Not exactly ready for it. The way it wrapped its arms
around its chest, legs slamming against the ground, then all of that
white covering it, making it disappear. Like it never happened.
I guess thatís what made me go out there.
Into the storm.
Lifting it from the heavy snow, I think, Poor guy, so young, so full
of dreams and adventure, did he marry, have children, find a home? But
then the damn thing lurches toward my throat, claws scratching, so of
course I drop it, send it spiraling. Its beady black eyes looking
through me with a Get the hell away from me, Cabin Girl, go back to
your green tea and hummus sandwich, New York Times crossword and NPR, we
donít give a shit about you anyway squirrel attitude and then its
sullen scamper away. No warm heart-felt glances, no clasped squirrel
paws, no moment of gratitude at what weíve been through together, furry
animal and fucked up girl; itís just his bushy tail shaking and
incessant chattering, chattering on those icy branches. So, I think,
hey, Iím all done here-- no more rescuing any more of their twitchy
asses. Even when the other ones start coming at me, fur and claws and
flailing fists balled tight before crashing.
Iím a little out of whack.
Must be the storm.
Iíll call home.
"Quick, turn on the television," Mama says first thing, like she says
every time I call her.
Pissed off squirrels cartwheel down, drowning in the drifts. I turn
away and stare at the burnt out fire, my crumpled newspapers.
"I donít have a television," I say.
"Whatís wrong with you?"
Television shows are the major form of communication in our family.
They dictate what books to read (Kelly and Regis Show), what
advice to take (Monteil Show), and hair styles (All soap operas).
My sister, Dee Dee, just got her hair cut exactly like Bridget on The
Bold and the Beautiful, this soap opera that the whole family
watches, makes bets on. Dee Dee is the star in the family. Sheís a
flight attendant for Florida Air, lives two doors away from Mama, has
platinum hair, paints her nails with stars and moons and is married to
her high school football star sweetheart, Nelson. Who is now forty, fat,
and owns a car dealership in Fort Lauderdale. I fucked him in junior
"I donít know. Maybe itís the snow," I say in monotone because Iím
watching a somber squirrel taking his place on the highest branch. He
looks up to the gray sky before he rolls over backward.
"You should move back to Florida where itís sunny all the time."
"Sunshine scares me."
Her unique, whistling snort. "Why canít you just be happy?"
"Happiness scares me, too." I pause. "Judith."
Mama hates me calling her Judith. She goes by Judy-Bee.
"Jesus Christ," Mama says, but sheís not praying for me. After most
of our conversations, she tells me to go to hell, so instead I live in
Northern Maine with potato farmers, logging trucks, thick woods and
cross eyed children.
This conversation is not helping.
Pines sway at one another and globs of snow smash the shutters. One
is broken. It flaps back and forth, wooden lips mouthing off to the
storm, Fuck you, Noríeaster, yeah, fuck you.
"Are you listening?" Mom asks. I forgot she was there. "Howís Tom?"
"What kind of name is Tobias?"
I really donít know. Heís Jewish and thin. He wears galoshes with
wool socks. My sweat pants hang off his skinny ass. He torments over the
debacle of ethnic cleansing and suffers from constant colds. But then
again, he is saving Loggerhead turtles, the ones that get lost from
Florida and wash up catatonic on the Cape beaches. He calls them his
He visits once a month.
He has a mouth guard and layers on eye cream at night.
He gets asthmatic after sex.
I donít especially like him.
"Thereís a blizzard here," I tell her.
"Donít change Judge Judy! What are you doing, Bobby? They got
the goddamn prostitutes on next." Bobby is my father. His real name is
Robert, but he says it sounds like a fucking fag name and donít no one
call him that, that heíll break their fucking head if they call him
that. So I call him that.
I donít go home often.
"Do you ever watch Judge Judy?" Mom asks.
"Television scares me."
"Here, talk to your sister." Momís had it with me. "And go toÖ"
"Hey, Girl." Dee Dee likes talking pseudo-black now that sheís found
religion with The View. Thereís a black woman on the show Iíve
been told. She also likes Oprah, not on book club or self help days, but
on celebrity Fridays. Oprah says Ďgirlí a lot too, so I guess that gives
Dee Dee more incentive.
"Hey, Girl," I say back to her, without the same enthusiasm.
"Guess what?" Sheís almost breathless.
"What?" I ask.
"I got a new car!" She has an edgy bounciness that tells me sheís
popping pain pills again, Oxycontin, probably. Iím hoping to call home
some weekend to hear that Dee Deeís in jail after robbing a drug store
in her angora pink sleep mask, demanding in her little girl voice,
give me the pills, give them to me quick, Iíve got to get home for the
next installment of the ĎThe Bachelorí. So far no luck. "A Lincoln
Continental with adjustableÖ"
Another squirrel plunges with a tragic sense of purpose. Maybe it
felt suicidal, stuffed one too many chestnuts down his throat and
decided to call it quits. Maybe it never really felt part of the
squirrel world and just wanted to take its chances in the afterlife, or
maybe it believes in reincarnation, that it will become a tiger next and
rip apart small animals.
I donít see any movement in the snow. No little squirrel legs
twitching. The frozen trees detached and stoic as another squirrel
flails backward, clawing at air. That shutter just banging and banging
"Are you even listening to me? Did you even hear any of what I said?
I twirl the telephone cord around and around my finger. "Sorry. There
are squirrels dying outside."
"Why canít you just be normal? First its squirrels with you and then
itís on to something else like women in Afghanistan. Sure, theyíre poor
and have to wear ugly scarves all the time and sometimes get their arms
blown off but are they my problem? Am I to blame?"
"Jesus Christ," I hear Robert say. "What the hell is she talking
"Give me the goddamn phone," Mom says.
I think itís a good time to get off before Iím questioned about my
pierced nose, why I chained myself to a nuclear reactor and how I go to
that goddamn graduate school full of potheads and tree huggers.
"Buh-bye," I say in my best flight attendant voice to Dee Dee.
She hates when I do this.
I pull a squirrel out. Itís iced over, rigid, but somehow the little
guy has kept a sense of buoyancy on his hairy little face. Like he said
wheeee when he jumped. I sort of want that in my life. A
conscious flush of happiness before I hit the ground. I rub at his
chest, flipping him over onto his back, then up again. His frozen eyes
He should be my friend.
So I put him into my backpack, next to my two granola bars and
thermos of herbal tea. His stiff little tail pushes at my extra set of
mittens, in and out with all that wool like heís having some
hokey-pokey. Naughty, naughty, I think.
Snow sprays down my neck.
The moon pushes the stars away.
And a sheet of ice falls from the roof.
Black and blue, it splits into shard and silvered glass and I smell
the air and swallow my breath.
"Ready, Rocky?" My dead squirrelís name. "Here we go."
I strap on my skis and head down to the frozen fields, blue spruce
and buried logging roads. I want to get lost.
I know the trail, so off I go to the sinkholes, empty vernal ponds
groaning and cracking as I slide over them. Deer tracks and dried
yellowing grasses and pockmarked spindly trees and the cold and the
numbness, silence knocking at my head. Pull up one hill, fall down
another, one right after the other until Iím in deep. Thereís no one.
That blizzard blowing hard. Ice in a sweat layer around my face. Dusk a
faint light across the distant lake, then dark. Soon, Iím five miles
away from home.
Thatís when they come.
The sound of revving engine and splintering ice then the smell of
gasoline and smoke, crushed branches and mud, and headlights over the
snow above me. In shadow, I see them, dressed as shiny marshmallows,
black and silver, blue and red, their faces covered in reflective metal.
And I crouch behind a pine and watch the line of them, tight against
each other, spitting up snow, leaving a haze of gray, then gone.
The wind howls. I bump and batter the branches with my ski poles. And
head over another hill. And another. My mittens are soaked, my backpack
frozen to my jacket, I canít feel my ears because theyíve probably
fallen off my head and are laying on the trail somewhere and I really
need a drink. And not some damn herbal tea, either.
This fucking sucks.
Trash the sky.
Trash the wind.
Trash the cold.
Iím ready to party.
They circle around again. Down in field, glittering and spinning in
circles and figure eights. Buzzing engines, yet the smell of oil mixing
with spruce and fir invigorating. Then they disappear over the hill in
flashes of red.
Aimlessly, I ski. First left, then right, heading for the glow of
their lights below. Finding dark pockets. I hear a loud hoot, a
goddamn, and smell smoke.
There are no tracks now, drifting snow covering any trace of me.
Icicles hang out of my nose. Are frozen over my chin. And my hands are
filling with cement.
So I lean against a broken tree, pushing my hip into the bark. Itís
rough but slides when I rub up and down on it and the outline of the
moon is hazy, no evening star, no splash of white to get lost inside.
Maybe I am crazy. Not normal. Deranged. Maybe Iím really an alien pushed
into a human body and Iím not meant to be here, ET, ET, phone home,
pointing my finger to the sky trying to find the right telephone number.
Maybe I was put in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong
family. Maybe Iím just wrong.
I feel like hitting something.
So I hit the tree.
It stays still.
Rivulets of ice freeze along my chin, over my cheekbones.
I smell him before I see him, his heavy body next to me. Grease,
roasted pork, burnt rubber, swallowed beer, leaking gas, warm engine.
When I open my iced eyes, his face is the color of a smashed tomato.
Helmet off, he slings me over his shoulder and my bones crackle.
I drape my hands over his down jacket hips and the machine whisks us
past blown apart bushes, dead trees and granite cliffs.
I bite his jacket to hold on.
Their hut is covered in plastic sheeting, lit up by kerosene lamps.
It glows with the plastic milk bottle whiteness and rattles even though
duct taped closed. A smoky fire made of charred logs, tires, and beer
cans blazes in front of me but we donít warm our hands to it. Inside the
hut, I hear singing, a drinking ditty called Hey, Lottie, about a
girl who loves to give blow jobs. Someone throws a bottle of whiskey
outside and it breaks apart as I try to stand.
"Hey!" One of them comes out from the side of the shack, zipping a
flap on his snowmobile suit. He walks in a sway-backed way and grins at
me with a wrecked face, broken nose, chipped tooth, raw cheeks.
I just stand there, propped against my Snowmobiler Boy.
"Yo, Jay Z," Snowmobiler Boy says.
"Found her?" Jay Zís voice is gravelly. His eyes gleam. My skis stick
up from the back of Snowmobiler Boyís silver Ice Monster snowmobile. He
takes them out and props them on the shack.
"Yup," Snowmobiler boys says, taking my skis and propping them on the
"Itís fucking cold out here," Jay Z says, as he kicks one of the
tires further into the fire with the tip of his boot.
Snowmobiler Boy nods again, staring at me.
Inside the shack, theyíre singing another Hey, Lottie song,
this time about girls with big tits.
"Come on," Snowmobiler Boy says.
Smoke gusts into my face from the burning tire. My eyes water so I
close them, temporarily blinded as I nod my head, yes, yes, until the
cold air smacks them open again. He pushes the plastic aside for me, but
I fall against him, warm air coming out of the shack, guys inside just
raising their fists and bumping their hips at us.
"Shut the fuck up," Snowmobiler Boy says, the shack littered with
candy wrappers, sodden newspapers, an old mattress, two cots. They move
away from us, still nudging each other in their shiny suits, spread out
feet on the lopsided floor. I feel my face melting.
They pass a bottle to me and itís too quiet, their eyes down my face,
studying my chest when I take my jacket off. I take a long haul off the
whiskey and note the nods I get when I wipe my mouth with the back of my
"How you do it, Jacko?" asks Jay Z, adjusting himself.
Snowmobiler Boy, Jacko, shrugs, sitting next to me on the mattress.
"Another?" He presses the bottle at me and nods.
I lean my head back and pour it down. Then I smile at him, my face
cracking, melted ice down my neck. He licks his lips slowly. Then takes
a toke of the weed circling around. When he hands it to me with
drumstick-sized hands, I hold my smoke in hard and let it out in tight
Oís, watching it rise to the wooden ceiling filled with carved names,
dates, phone numbers.
We party. Wind plastering the plastic tight against the shack. We get
drunk. Buried bottles of scotch, gin coming in from the woodpile covered
in blue veined ice.
We get stoned. Moonlight spreading white outside. We play cards. The
lake splintering and groaning.
"Why you out skiing?" one of them asks, and I look them over, mud
boots kicked off, hardened melon arms matted with fur, unzipped pants,
blue tattoos of naked girls, cracked teeth, Jacko with his moon face,
his capped silver tooth, his thick thigh pressed against mine. Weíre
boarded safe against whatís outside; their beer bottle breath and fried
eyes, all of us huddling together through the blizzard, expecting
nothing but the next drink. I almost want to start singing another round
of Hey, Lottie, itís so calm in here.
But I donít like feeling safe.
"Iím in training," I say slowly.
Now this piques their attention. Curiosity heating up their faces,
making them twitch their lips. Jack Daniels gets passed.
"For what?" Jay Z asks. He stares at the ceiling.
"Reconnaissance." I nod my head and all I hear is huh, huh as their
heads loll around on shoulders. "Mission F-12, SAD unit."
My brother, Fitz, is a Navy Seal and talks in abbreviations and
numbers, head bald, eyes dark, feet spread. He launches deadly attacks,
organizes special operations, despises fugitive dictators, and
continually saves the lives of innocent citizens in third world
countries. On his annual holiday leaves, he gives us riveting tales of
carnage, torture, slaughter, just before the pumpkin pie is served.
I recently burned a flag.
He thinks Iím a terrorist.
"My brother is in the Fourth Infantry Division," Jacko says, and
takes a breath so deep that he starts coughing so I pound him on the
shoulders with my fist until he stops. "Thanks." He unzips the rest of
his coat and gold chains spill out, a cross, St. Christopher metal, iron
fist, chain link. Dark chest hair rises to his neck. Heís huge. Chest
and face and arms proclaiming manhood.
"Where you stationed?" Jay Z asks. He cracks his neck in loud pops,
loosening his thin shoulders, and his eyes squint. Slams an empty can of
Bud against the wall with his fist and raises one eyebrow.
"Jay Z just came back from Fallujah," one of the guys tells me.
I keep my face neutral.
"You ever been there?" Jay Z looks me over, my skinny arms in my
Save the Whales tee shirt, pierced nose loop, my back pack with its
rainbow sticker. "Fallujah?"
A couple of other of the snowbilers look me over too, lulled
detachment mixed with who the hell is this bitch really and whatís
she even saying lines around their eyes, between the palms of their
So I get into full Brother Fitz mode. "Let me make it plain and
simple to you." I spread my legs out and push my backpack under the cot.
"I got a go-it-alone policy and if youíre shooting-from-the-hip hereÖ" I
give Jay Z my best interrogation stare, focusing just above his brow. "I
can take it another notch further." I clap my hands together hard and
kind of like how they back away. "Iím not the average soldier. I can
plot insurgent operations, simplify intelligence plans, justify hard
core tactics and occasionally, yes, I think I can say it, hereÖ" I look
at all their drunken faces. "Save small animals. I have tremendous
warmongering qualities but I also have a heart." I hold both hands over
my heart then salute the air.
They lean forward.
They rub at their hands.
They spit into cups.
They think Iím full of shit.
So I start making out with Jacko. Grab the back of his head and stick
my tongue in tight until itís just the stomp of boots leaving, rumble of
the engines rising high against the ridge, scorched tires and leaking
oil, haze of gasoline and Jackoís hand down my shirt.
"I always wanted a girl like you."
My head is a riot of stars, the mattress so soft. And I watch him
unzip and unflap and unbutton, long johns, flannel, fleece in layers on
the floor. I prop myself on my backpack. Heís balding when he takes off
his wool hat, a white gleaming circle, and his eyes never leave my face.
He tells me that he loves me, that Iím his girl, that heís never felt
this way before or done this before, but I see his name carved many
times on the wood and thereís a Patty, a Shannon, two Lindseys, an
Alice, Annie, Jen and Liz.
"Whatís your name?" he asks me.
And when I tell him, he takes out a knife from underneath the
mattress and carves my full name deep into the wall, letters large, and
he dates it, looking at his watch. Some wood chips fall on top of my
face and I donít brush them off. They smell like him.
"You are so strong," he says and I say, yes I am, and we go at it
Itís a carnival ride of bushy tailed fucking. Flapping and flailing,
fingers and arms and legs and his fat tongue sucking and slurping,
flipping first one way then another, me on top, him on top, to the side,
backward, upside down, and me finally over the cot, panting, seeing
nothing but white. Our sweat on the splintering boards, leaving damp
outlines of hands and knees, my face.
He leans into me, tracing his name on my chest, Jacko in block
letters. "Where you been all my life?" he asks.
"Out in the woods," I say.
"When do you have to leave?" he asks and thereís a look of ownership
on his face, a hard grin as he traces his name larger and larger across
my stomach, down my thighs. He turns me over to write on my ass and I
stare at the floor, his used rubber, the broken bottles, my thawed out
"You mean dispatched?" And I know heís seeing me, this GI Jane girl,
out in my desert fatigues, with a ration pack and a couple of grenades.
Staring down foxholes, ordering up Marines, restoring order, warding off
advancing rebel attacks, Iím the girl deployed for him. He can leave the
rest of the chiseled ones alone because Iím the girl soldier of his
"Yeah." He flips me over and traces one of my nipples. Itís rather
sweet. So I stick it out for him.
"Next week," I say. "Undisclosed location."
"Oh, man," he says, pushing his face into my belly and I can see him
home with me, with Judith and Robert, Dee Dee and Fitz, and weíre all
watching Survivor, betting on the outcomes, the odds of revenge,
strategy, and itís so pleasant on the couch with Jacko, eating Cheeze
Whiz and crackers, cracking open the Old Milwaukees, all the men in John
Deere hats and the women in God Bless the USA teeshirts sipping
Carlo Rossi. I could dress like Dee Dee in a tight fake leather
miniskirt and sit on Jackoís lap and Robert would finally pat my ass and
wish me well. Wouldnít everyone have a good time? A normal time?
Iím covered in him.
His hand is hot.
I have to get the hell out of here.
"It can never work between us, Jacko," I tell him. "We come from two
fundamentally different places."
"But I saved you, Baby," he says, wood chips falling against my
backpack as he carves a heart with our initials sliced deep, his back
turned. "Youíre my little baby." And Iím seeing all the frozen squirrels
deep in drifts and the hands coming at them, liberating them,
emancipating them from death, to a new world order. Didnít I rescue you?
Werenít you in desperate need? Why canít you just cooperate, lay down,
and enjoy it? Hey, we expect full cooperation, a smooth transition,
I look at his potato bud ears. "You are totally disillusioned," I
He scratches his head, then pushes his palms into my shoulders, his
tongue banging against my teeth. "Iím going to take you home with me,"
he says, unplugging my mouth for a moment, only to return with liquid
"That would be a coup díforce," I say into his mouth.
Jacko bites my neck and I scrap at his back with my fingernails,
digging deep then rubbing. His face is so stupid as he moans. His breath
stinks. He canít catch a clue.
"Do you even comprehend the situation?" I ask but his eyes are
And thatís when I notice it.
That squirrel burns with blue fire as it pulls itself from my back
pack, its tiny claws catching and sliding, catching and sliding, and
those black eyes on me, unblinking.
"Youíre safe with me," Jacko says, taking my hands and pushing them
to his chest, over his heart. I look at Jacko like heís insane, a crazy
boy with his beating heart, so I smack him. He likes that and pulls me
Rocky climbs out and just stands there, arms clasped in front of him
as I twist away from Jacko, whiskers twitching. Irritation along the
edges of his snout, the way he pushes one foot out further than the
other, and I know, I understand. There are some things youíve not
supposed to save. You got to leave them where they fall because there
are reasons for the leap, reasons to fly free for just one fucking
moment. That feel of wind inside your head, arms loose and the
weightlessness, what it means to be held by nothing, no one. Yes,
thereís the blurry whiteness at the end, the black ice, but if you stay
very quiet, very still, lean your head softly against the ground, they
may never find you. Their tunneling hands faint then fainter.
"I wonít let nobody hurt you." Jacko keeps a reckless look to his
eyes as rips open another rubber, throwing the wrapper against the
flapping plastic. But I canít look at him, his craggy face, bristly warm
body, iron bound arms, the way he works his hands over me, under me,
into me, as if Iím not even there.
Rocky scampers over on his newly thawed legs and sniffs that rubber
package, pawing at it a little bit as if itís a scrap of food, something
held out to him. But when he realizes its just garbage, he gets pissed.
Jamming his squirrel arms into his squirrel hips and clicking his tiny
squirrel teeth at me. Jumping up and down, his bushy tail smashing the
"I want to introduce you to my brother," Jacko says into my neck, and
thatís when Rocky screeches, throwing his arms to the ceiling and
letting it go, rattling the plastic sheeting, sending bottles rolling
with his skittering feet, his cries echoing against the abandoned lake
and slumbering trees, flying out across the smoldering fire and granite
Jacko screams, both hands going around his dick, as that squirrel
scrambles up one wall then the other and finally smashes through the
plastic, clawing a hole to the outside. Wind terrifying and beautiful
through the branches and I laugh at Jackoís limpness, pointing at it,
until ice tears track down my face and he gets his rifle and shoots out
high, aiming at darkness, at that squirrel who chatters somewhere away.
And I laugh and I laugh, shouting, "Marines, Aim your guns, aim your
guns" until he leaves, calling me a crazy bitch, his Ice Monster
snowmobile blowing smoke and fumes.
Light now from the morning, rising pink through the slits of the
shack. This place patched raw and trashed as I tear the plastic off,
wrapping myself in it. I watch Rocky. His head inside a Lays potato chip
bag, hips shaking, and thrown Colt 45 bottles full of malt liquor ready.
This squirrel has found nirvana. No more suicidal leaps of hunger, of
faith, of boredom. Refuse and droppings and its all there for his
taking, spread against snow. Maybe heíll even find another trashy
squirrel to spend his life with and they can dig through crumpled
snacks, warm their fur on the occasional snowmobiler boy bonfire, have
lots of bushy tailed babies. Iím not expecting thanks. I donít want to
be congratulated, appreciated, recognized. Iím not going to call PETA.
And I donít want that squirrel following me.
Because sometimes it comes from the storm. And is simply this: The
packing up of your pissed off frozen squirrel and a long hike down some
beaten path to a shack made of garbage. Sure, thereís the hauling you
have to do, and yes, thereís this feeling of the clock clicking forward
and maybe when that fucking squirrel chatters and screeches at you to
come back, come back, you throw a couple of things to keep it away and
it can all be such a pain in the ass, this motion forward toward frozen
paradise. But if you hold it, press it tight, you realize youíre going
to get it, that one minute of happiness. A twirling and jumbled motion
in your head where trash is golden and scraps of plastic give warmth and
a final thaw is good. That your desire for cold and flickering light and
howling winds is just your way of tossing bundled secrets to the sky, at
peopleís faces. Today, at least, you were able to see. So you slide-kick
it out of there, tracks splintering snow.
And that cold feels good.
Peggy Newland is a psychotherapist living in
New Hampshire. Her recent fiction can be found in Chelsea and
Northern New England Review. She has just completed a novel and is
very sleep deprived due to a new puppy in the house.