The wind is from the north, cold as a winter’s gale. I could smell the snow as early as this morning, but it hasn’t hit us yet. One of my neighbors came by, offering to batten down the barn for me, get the house ready, and it was odd to hear him rattling around upstairs and in the yard. But he’s gone now, and the wind is all I can hear. The wind, and the emptiness in this creaky, ugly old house.
I fill the sink with water, set a few plates in to soak. It’s been days since I’ve bothered to wash anything. Days since I’ve bothered to cook, since I’ve lit the lamps or stoked the fire. I haven’t cared enough until now, but the wind is cold, and the walls too flimsy. The dogs will sleep inside with me tonight, and the barn cat with his stupid crooked tail and ugly yellow eyes. They’ll whine and howl if it’s cold, pawing at me, wanting to crawl into our bed like they used to on cold nights, and they’re too stupid to understand why I can’t let them. If I shut them downstairs they’ll leave me be, but they’ll need a fire at least.
And I can’t light the lamps without noticing how dirty everything is, how far I’ve let it go.
The plates and silver are clean faster than I expect them to be. I drop the last of the jars, and it shatters in the sink. I swear, biting off the curse before it makes a sound. No one is here to hear it, not anymore, but it’s been a long time since I dared speak against the silence.
The house is listening. I can’t bear to disturb it.
I gather the broken glass quickly, throwing the largest pieces into the dustbin, and cut my fingers on the sharp edges. The pale suds have blood in them now, red against white, and I bite my lip and toss the rag onto the counter, leaving the rest for later. Tomorrow, maybe. If I can convince myself to care by then.
The sky is dark outside, and the wind is growing colder. It snaps at my wet hands, tugs at my hair and my skirts, and I lean against the porch railing and watch the storm move in. It’s growing closer. Snow will hit before dark, and the passes will be closed for a week. Maybe two. My eyes linger on the road leading off our land, the fence line that will soon be buried in drifts, and search for the horse and rider I know won’t be coming. He rode in at this time nearly every night once, his face tanned and rough with sun and wind, his hat pulled down over his eyes. His grave is behind the house, beneath the trees he planted in the summer before we married, but I still watch the road for him when the sun goes down. He’ll ride in, one of these nights. I’ll be waiting when he does.