The snow was not as bad as the local news had predicted. Jeanine preferred the NWS forecasters on the weather radio anyway. The radio was the crank kind, for emergencies. She always seemed to be cranking it.

The baby drooled orange mush, slouched in his highchair. He rested one fat cheek on his upper arm, the stuck-out hand clutching a pink spoon. A distant relative had sent a cheap set of tableware for tots—all in pink. Jeanine had sent a thank-you with a gentle reminder that the baby was a boy but never heard back. They probably still thought she was a little bitch.

She smiled at Roy Jr. and mentally blocked out the name’s associations. Even with the snow, or because it was less than predicted, she had the sense he would be back tonight. Like the reverse of a trick toe or a bad knee, her bruises always healed up in time to signal Roy’s return.

She picked up some chatter on the two-way. Out on the plains, far enough away from I-70, they had poor TV reception and no cable, just satellite for shit in the blowing snow. Reliable handles announced traffic was clear east of Odessa; the storm was stalled over eastern Kansas. Roy might have barrelled through KC already. He certainly hadn’t tried to reach her. She wondered if he was with an old girlfriend, bound up in the snow and her skanky arms and making demands for barbecue.

Jeanine kicked the draft dog against the bottom of the kitchen door, which gave onto a sinking porch and a view past a scrub of silver maples. The air had assumed the visible color she liked, just at twilight: ground, horizon, and sky suffused with the coolest baby blue. A cold color that couldn’t warm but would do.

Roy Jr. made a sound like waking from a bad dream and farted audibly. He raised his spoon in the air like a scepter. Jeanine felt her habitual tension soften. She loosened the tray, clutched him to her despite the spray of whipped sweet potato and his gassy smell. In the next room she cleaned him off, changed his diaper, and rocked him to sleep.

An hour went by, and finally Jeanine stood, her neck in a crick and her left arm tingling. She lay Roy Jr. in his crib and covered him. She closed the door to his little room.

The kitchen light brightened the windows some but gave nothing to the obscurity beyond. She cranked the weather radio and listened a minute. The storm was overspreading mid-Missouri. She turned on the porch light. Clogged as the globe was with dead bugs, she could make out little whiplashes of thin but plentiful flakes soundlessly hitting the screen of the dilapidated porch. A gust of wind whistled across the empty clothes line. She killed the porch light and kept staring out. Then without looking away she reached to switch off the overhead light, too.

Twin lights jerked across the side of the metal outbuilding down the road. A large vehicle, headlights hung high, turned up the drive. The speed in the snow and darkness was wrong. With little attention to the contours of the curving drive, the lights picked out the maples and then led the way to their mauling. Jeanine heard a chunk and a crack, then nothing else. With the wind up she didn’t even hear the diesel engine cut out. She just watched from the darkness.

The passenger door of the rig flew open and a figure tumbled out. With exaggerated care, the silhouette brushed snow from its knees, then straggled forward. Reaching the three steps to the porch, he tripped, knocking the screen door open, and fell flat on his face atop the stairs. For a handful of minutes Jeanine watched. When nothing changed, she gave the weather radio a vigorous crank. The neutral voice of the NWS noted that the storm was expected to dump several more inches over mid-Missouri before passing over the Mississippi valley. Sub-zero temperatures were expected, and a wind chill warning was in effect until—

Jeanine listened as the voice died out. She did not crank the radio again. Instead, she opened the door to Roy Jr.’s room and stared at him as, in sleep, his mouth agape, he rolled prone, swaddled in blankets of white.

~ fin ~

Jack Ryan’s short stories have appeared in Out of the Gutter, Suspense Magazine, and MARGIN: Exploring Modern Magical Realism. His collaborative story “Hothouse by the River,” which introduced private detective Ed Darvis, was produced in a limited letter-press edition at the University of Iowa School for the Book. He is currently looking for a publisher for his first novel featuring Ed Darvis, Allegiance under the Skin.