Todd saw dark gray clouds gather in the distance shortly after sunup. He grabbed a shovel from the garage and set it next to the house's back door. He went inside and warmed his hands over a potbellied stove in the kitchen.
Todd tuned into the local radio station and stood with his back to the stove. The weather report forecasted a winter storm.
Todd hustled outside, not putting on his coat. In his arms, he cradled a stack of split wood that he gathered from a lean-to shed.
Todd cut and split two cords of wood two months earlier. He stacked it in the small lean-to shed a few yards from the back door. He did not have far to walk to retrieve firewood. He used to stack it away from the house, into the woods, fifty yards from the house. Although invigorating, when temperatures hovered around zero and below, it was brutally numbing in the dread of winter.
He added the wood to what already was stacked beside the fireplace in the living room. He tossed two pieces in the fire and steadied them with the poker.
He heard Myra come up from the cellar stairway that was in the kitchen.
Todd walked into the kitchen.
“Cold enough for you?” Myra said.
“Yeah,” Todd said. “I checked on the animals.”
“How they doing?” Myra said.
“No complaints,” Todd quipped.
“Did you hear the weather report?” Myra said.
“Yeah,” Todd said, “the clouds in the west, looks like they’re full of snow. I made sure everything was tied down. I don’t want to be repairing a barn door with the wind whistling up my pant leg.”
Within an hour the snow came and fell heavy. The wind whistled through the pines and naked oaks surrounding the house.
Todd watched from the kitchen window. Drifted snow collected in all the familiar places; beyond the lean-to shed, near the garage, and just beyond the fence around the barn. Myra opened a jar of canned tomatoes. She poured them into a pan on the stove.
“What are you fixing?” Todd asked.
“I thought chili would be just the thing for a cold winter night,” Myra said.
“You make the best,” Todd smiled, still watching the snow and wind.
“What’s the weather supposed to be?” Myra said. “It looks bad.”
“We don’t need to worry,” Todd said. “We made this house for days like this. I do worry about others and the animals. There’s the older couple down the road. I’ll give ‘em a call in a while to see how they’re doing.”
“Maybe take some chili down to them, if you can,” Myra said.
“You know what they’re like,” Todd smiled, “if I go down with a pot of chili, I’ll come back with a couple of pies.”
“They’re such nice folks,” Myra said stirring in a can of black beans.”
The aroma of chili filled the home. It combined later with chocolate chip cookies.
As evening came the storm continued. It was difficult to know whether the snow remained falling or carried by the blistering wind.
The wind died not long into the evening but its severity cut the electricity. The small house, five miles from the nearest town, sat in an emptiness of quiet and cold—as if a universe of its own. Any fears soon melted away with a fireplace full of crackling flames. The flicker of four candles spaced around the living room danced like ballerinas.
Todd and Myra sat near the fire on the floor leaning against the couch. Todd had his arm around Myra, and she snuggled close. Her head leaned against his chest.
“Your heart beats steady and slow,” Myra said.
“It is because you are near,” Todd said.
“I feel warm when I’m near you,” Myra said.
“It’s the fire,” Todd quipped.
“I knew you would say that but you knew what I meant,” Myra said.
“Yes, I did,” Todd said, holding her with his other arm. “Holding you is like clinging to a rock during a storm at sea.”
“You’ve never been in a storm at sea,” Myra smiled.
“I’ve been in storms,” Todd said. “Not the weather but you know, just things in yourself that can make you feel like you’re drowning.”
“Is something troubling you?” Myra said.
“Like I said,” Todd said, “I have you.”
“I’m glad this is happening,” Myra said. “It gives us time to think about who we are. Do you know what I mean?”
“Yes,” Todd said. “but sometimes things like that can be depressing.”
“Why would you say that?” Myra said slightly straightening up and looking directly into Todd’s eyes.
“How much I wanted to become someone else,” Todd said. “Something better than what I am. It’s just that every now and then I look in the mirror. It just never changes.”
“It does,” Myra said.
“No,” Todd said. “I’m the same person I was the first time I looked in the mirror and didn’t like what I saw. There was deceit, selfishness, scheming, and ugliness.”
“I don’t see how you could possibly feel that way about yourself,” Myra said.
“If you have been with me as long as I have been with me, you’d know,” Todd said.
“Many artists see only the flaws in their own work,” Myra said. “Yet, they see the beauty in the work and talent of others and those others see only the flaws in their own work. Could it not be the same with you?”
“I would just like to be somebody else,” Todd said exasperated.
“Then what would I do?” Myra said.
“What do you mean?” Todd said.
“It is you that I have grown to love,” Myra said. “Yes, when we first met you were deceitful, selfish, and you schemed, but you were never ugly.”
“Were you that desperate that you had to go for someone with so little character?” Todd said.
“I would have never loved that man,” Myra said. “I saw you make changes and when I saw a complete transformation I swooped in and snatched you away before someone else did.”
Todd patted Myra on the hand. “Thank you, dear. What can I do for you?”
“Nothing,” Myra said. “But when the time comes I know you’ll be there for me. Above all, Todd, that is the best of you, you are always near.”
Myra settled back into Todd’s embrace.