by Curtis Smith
The whispering drizzle froze the moment it touched the earth. The glaze thickened on the pickup, its metal and chrome mummified beneath a slick, dimpled skin. Carla sat by an opened window in her son's bedroom. Her breath clouded the moment it plumed through the screen. Mesmerizing, the night's queer colors, the darkness shimmering with a million fleeting prisms. In the woods surrounding the house another branch snapped, a gunshot-loud crack. The echo lingered, captured by the ice above and below.
Carla closed the window and settled into the chair beside her son's bed. The electricity had been out since sundown, and in the garage, the generator purred, the house's workings whittled back to the furnace's droning heartbeat. A candle burned in a glass jar atop the dresser, a fidgety, shadow-casting light. Carla brushed a finger through the flyaway strands atop her boy's head, a touch so light it barely registered. How easy to forget the angelic details of the face and hands so often blurred by the whirlwind bustle of a four-year-old's days. She dipped a washcloth into a mixing bowl and twisted out a rainstorm of cool drops. The water's surface rippled, a network of overlapping circles. She folded the cloth and tenderly laid it across her son's forehead.
Her boy uttered a protesting, incoherent syllable. He rolled over, exposing a patch of wrinkled, moist sheets. Fever. As an emergency room nurse, Carla had witnessed scores of fevers, and how she wished she could assume his affliction, his flitting between pained consciousness and warped visions, the internal heat that unhinged the glue of comprehension. Ten miles of twisting roads separated her from the hospital, and Carla knew what the night would bring to the ER - the parade of bloody gashes and splintered bones, lives forever mangled to one degree or another. If his fever reached one-hundred-four, she'd call the ambulance. Until then, she'd sit tight and see what broke first, the ice storm or the fever.
Outside, another branch fell, this one close enough to rattle the windows. Carla thought of her husband, how he'd left on a night sticky-hot and thick with cricket calls, crushed by his discovery of her latest affair. Stupid, foolish, she scolded herself, her heart's delirious yearnings as much a mystery now as when she was a teenager . . . a child. She stroked her boy's flushed cheek, tasted the salty residue on her fingertips, and wondered how many nights he would spend trapped in a fever of one sort or another, his bearings undone by a fire within, a flame impossible to explain or resist.
She pulled back his T-shirt sleeve and placed a thermometer in his armpit's sweaty nook. The thermometer chirped . . . 101.5 . . . 102.2 . . . 103.1. . . . Outside, the storm continued. The trees, dreaming of summer, groaned beneath the thickening ice.
About the author:
Curtis Smith's stories and essays have appeared in over fifty literary reviews including current and upcoming issues of Hobart, Avery, Bellingham Review, The Humanist, Greensboro Review, Red Cedar Review, Turnrow, Lake Effect, and others. His work has been cited by The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories and The Best American Spiritual Writing. His book The Species Crown has just been released by Press 53.