Elaine Patterson of Solus Road
A mail carrier was finishing her route on Solus Road. A sigh of relief escaped her chest knowing that she was approaching her last stop. The lake effect snow was taking over the sky, enveloping everything in white, forcing her to drive practically blind. She was grateful that after ten years of delivering mail, she had all the curves and landmarks of the roads memorized. There were four reflectors left on the road. That’s how she was able to tell if she was still over the pavement. The little red circles were the only things she could see as she carefully crawled her car through the white abyss. One was on a telephone pole, the next two were on sticks signaling the end of a driveway, and the last one was on Elaine Patterson’s mailbox. As the courier deposited the mail, she briefly glanced at the several feet of white fluff that hid Elaine’s driveway.
Elaine was completely unaware that the mail had even come. Her old farmhouse sat so far back into the trees that she never heard or saw any happenings beyond her yard. She was sitting in her recliner with her dog’s head rested on her leg. He was silently begging for pets which she intermittently gave. The television was on, but it wasn’t holding her attention. Her eyes were repeatedly drawn to the window and the blowing white chaos beyond that rattled the old windowpanes. It’s been many years since Elaine had to worry about driving in the lake effect snow; her age allowed her to do things at her leisure. This wasn’t enough to give her relief though. The longer the snow continued, the tighter her chest felt. Her fridge was practically empty, and she only had two rolls of toilet paper left. Supplies were running low, and she really needed to get to town soon.
If the snow would stop soon, she pondered, I could start clearing the driveway, and then I wouldn’t feel so trapped. Elaine looked down at her old Labrador, “Please Wendell, just make it stop if you can.” Her short-lived attention prompted the dog to push his black wet nose into her hand, insisting on another pet, which she obliged.
She continued to flip back and forth between two different news stations. Each one had a different opinion of how long the snow would last. She felt the average of the two would give her an answer. Then and old boxy gray phone from the 90s on the table beside her started to ring, prompting the dog into a barking frenzy.
Elaine picked up the phone quickly, trying to stop the barking. “Hell-hello?” she struggled to say over the dog. “Wendell, be quiet!” she yelled, finally silencing him. “Hello sorry about that.”
“Mom, how many times do I have to ask you to stop calling the damn dog that! You and Dad named him Roy!” Elaine’s daughter started, already sounding agitated.
“I’m sorry, Joy. I just can’t help it. It makes me feel like he’s still here,” Elaine defended in a sad tone.
Joy made a loud, audible sigh. “Now I feel like the bad guy. I’m sorry, Mom, it just gives me the creeps. I just called to see how you are doing. Is it snowing hard? Are you going to need any help?”
Elaine briefly looked out the window again; she knew cleaning up this snow was going to be more than she could handle with just her meager shovel. Getting to town was starting to feel like an insurmountable feat. “Oh now, Joy, it’s barely snowing at all. I should be just fine. How are you and the kids?”
“Are you sure because I can arrange a plow for you? It’s not a problem.”
“Oh, no, that’s not necessary,” Elaine insisted. “Please tell me how you are all doing?”
“Everyone is doing great, Mom!” Joy proclaimed. “Johnny is in soccer now and Mira has been painting—oh they are just walking in now—” the background gets loud with voices and Elaine patiently waits for Joy to come back. “Sorry, Mom, I gotta let you go. I told them I’d take them to the beach today, it’s 75 out!” Joy continued in a hurried voice.
“Oh okay. Bye, Joy,” Elaine says quickly.
“Have a good night, Mom!” Joy shouts over the loudness of the background.
“Tell everyone I love—” the phone hangs up before Elaine can finish. She docks the phone, lets out a big sigh, and strokes the dog’s head. Her eyes glance to the window and she noticed that she can see the trees again. The lake effect band must be finally moving south.
“Well, Wend—” Elaine stops herself and starts again. “Well, Roy, we better start shoveling.”
The dog wagged his tail and eagerly pounced alongside Elaine as she made her way to the bench by the door and started to put on her winter layers. Wendell had made the bench early in their marriage, and it was starting to show its age. It had some dents, some spots of unusually thick clear coat matched with areas of almost no clear coat at all, and the legs were uneven, giving it a slight wobble. Flawed as it was, Elaine could feel admiration for her husband’s old creation. She always, after pulling on her boots, caressed it affectionately as if it was Wendell himself.
While finishing up with a scarf, hat, and gloves, Elaine cracked open the door to let Roy outside ahead of her. Roy hesitated at the volume of snow, which had packed a couple of feet up the front door, and then leaped over the stoop steps, fully diving in. Elaine let out a chuckle as she watched him briefly disappear and start to make trails through the white fluff. She grabbed her shovel and cleared off the first stair so she could step outside and close the door behind her.
The horizon already had an orange haze to it, so Elaine knew her time for shoveling in the daylight was waning. Her goal in mind for the evening was simple: clear a path from the front door to the driveway. Unfortunately, though, after she shoveled a foot or two past the front step, she was already losing momentum. She didn’t want to give up on her goal, so she took more rests in between bursts of shoveling. At breaks, she would lean some weight into the shovel handle and observe. Aside from Roy’s panting and running, the world seemed completely quiet. The wind was gone, and the fresh snow insulated any sounds.
Elaine’s eyes trailed down the length of her driveway, then she turned and stared at the little progress she had made. The reality that she was going to need help was starting to sink in, but her thoughts were interrupted by a chattering thrill sound: a squirrel.
“No, Wendell!” Elaine yelled while pointing to her dog, who was growling with his head low. “Don’t do it.” Elaine continued to raise her voice. “Stay!”
She thought the dog was going to listen, but then the squirrel teased him again with a chatter and he ran for it wildly barking. “Wendell! Come back!” Elaine shouted desperately.
She kept calling for him and even tried to follow his trail, but she knew it was useless. She was no match for the dog’s speed, especially with the snow. Squirrels have always been his weakness, especially when they teased him with a chatter. She returned to her shoveled area and helplessly listened as his barks faded into the distance. He always came back, but this had never happened at night before. The outside porch light flickered on as its sensors detected the darkness. Elaine continued to shovel, now using the breaks to alternate calling and listening for the dog.
After another hour, she still hadn’t completed her goal, so she gave up shoveling and sat on the steps staring at the pine trees where the dog had disappeared. She hadn’t heard or seen any sign of him. The thought of leaving him outside felt unbearable, but the tops of her thighs were starting to feel itchy and numb. The cold was seeping in through her layers, and she had to surrender and go inside. She decided to sleep in her chair so, if he scratched the door, she would hear him.
Once she got all settled with her blankets and the news back on, she immediately noticed the absent space to her right. Elaine repeatedly stroked her right leg, Roy’s usual head rest, and began to sob. She threw her head back into the recliner and succumbed to her sadness.
“Please, Wendell, help me,” she whispered as tears silently rolled down her cheeks. “Please help. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Elaine stayed up for quote a while longer and every hour or so called for Roy out the front door. Sometime around 3 AM though she finally surrendered to sleep.
Just a few hours later Elaine work, she immediately looked out the front door and saw nothing. She moved slowly about the kitchen and brewed a pot of coffee; it was the only breakfast option she had. She had no idea what to do next. She had no one to turn for help. Her daughter lived so far away, she hated to be a bother to her. She sat at the kitchen, eyes fixed on the tablecloth floral pattern, when she started to hear a noise. A roaring noise, and a. . . .a barking! She immediately flew to the window but couldn’t see the end of the driveway where the sounds were coming from. She quickly threw on her winter attire and dashed out the door to confirm what she thought she was hearing. From the end of her shoveled path, she could see it. There was a big white plow truck clearing her driveway, and Roy was happily barking alongside it. Elaine had no idea who was plowing her driveway and could not yet see who it was.
“Roy!” she called. “Get over here!” The dog immediately looked in her direction, perked up his ears, and ran towards her. “Come on,” she encouraged as he pranced over.
She hastily grabbed his collar to secure him and embraced him with her other arm. “You dumb dog, don’t ever leave me again!”
Still holding the collar, Elaine walked the dog to the house. He seemed more than happy to go inside and rest after a full night of gallivanting. Elaine then returned to the end of her path and could now see the plow driver’s face. Why, it was the mail courier! She briefly stopped plowing to smile, wave, and then continue to push snow. Elaine stood dumbfounded for a moment at this woman’s compassionate gesture. She didn’t even know her name. After a minute of taking it all in, Elaine’s eyes glistened, and she looked up to the sky and said, “Thank you, dearest Wendell, thank you.”