He called out:
“Ode to Joy!”
This was the name of the mountain cabin he and Sal had rented for their anniversary weekend. His thinking was that she might ignore a generic call for help. He didn’t think to call her name.
Sal slept through it, the first real trial of their union. They’d spent last night making love, bathing, getting high. Watching the snow. Telling each other wicked stories about hillbillies. Even if they were to be snowed in, they had everything they needed: food, wine, dog food for Willow, wood for the fire, and extra back pills in the car if Kevin had another flare up.
They were in the wilderness, but not really. There were dozens of cabins nearby, all clustered along gravel roads with bird names. They had a hot tub. But it wasn’t a popular weekend to rent a cabin. It hadn’t been a popular weekend to get married, either. Sal was his second wife, and she was a bit younger.
Kevin yelled, “I broke my leg!”
Finally the old man and woman shared a moment, passed a look between them that said: That’s not our fault.
But there was no way an ambulance would get Kevin to the hospital in decent time. The old man helped Kevin lay down across the back seat of the Santa Fe. Kevin screamed and hollered and panted.
It was one thing to get Kevin into the Santa Fe, but another thing to rouse Sal. The old woman pounded on the door and yelled: “Your husband broke his leg. Ma’am, wake up! Wake up!” She even went inside, yelling. Willow the dog enjoyed this. “Sal! Get up! We’re taking your husband to the hospital.” But Sal was nowhere to be found.
The old woman returned to the Santa Fe, got in the passenger side. The old man would drive from here on out. “We gotta get going, can’t wait for her.”
But Kevin wasn’t having that. He kept yelling, “Ode to Joy!”
“He says she has to be in there, Linda,” said the old man. “You check ever where?”
Linda shrugged. She hadn’t. The house reeked of potpourri and it had made her uncomfortable. Besides, who could sleep through all the yelling?
Kevin moaned, and the old man considered. “Maybe she’s in there hiding. Maybe she thinks you were telling her we broke his leg and we’re coming in to break hers.”
Then the front door of the cabin opened, and out came a plump blonde in pajama pants and a Hokies sweatshirt. She carried a tote bag and looked uncertain. Linda slipped out of the SUV to tell Sal, “We have to go now. You follow us.”
The old man suggested that Linda should ride with Sal. Linda looked at him like he was crazy.
Linda didn’t think much of Sal or Kevin. Linda had a feeling this young marriage wouldn’t last long.
Linda asked Kevin about his job, seeing as he liked to run his mouth so much. He described his position as a network consultant for environmental organizations, but the details were like a spell. He didn’t get three words out before Linda’s mind started to wander.
As they entered town, the old man turned up the street by the courthouse—not the only way, and not the quickest way. Linda was interested in her husband’s choice. This stretch of avenue was quaint and cobble-stoned. Kevin started howling in pain again.
Sal got stuck at a light, so they lost her for a bit. When she reappeared she was as far back as a vehicle could be and still be seen. Kevin said again that she was nervous in the snow.
They finally pulled up to the hospital, and Linda went into the emergency intake. The hallways were dark and there was no one there except two enormous nurses. “We found this man out in the snow. He’s broke his leg,” Linda explained.
The receiving nurse did not get up from her seat. “You need a wheelchair?” And then she nodded to a row of ancient contraptions lined up against the green wall. Linda chose a chair. She was expected to bring Kevin in herself?
As Linda and the old man jostled Kevin over the threshold, Sal pulled the Avalanche into the hospital lot. Linda handed Kevin over to the nurse who asked, “You’re his family?”
“No, no. We just found him. His wife’ll be right along.” At which point the nurse wheeled him away.
Linda had never seen an empty emergency room before. She felt like she was in a Stephen King movie. She’d never read any of the books. She asked the old man if he thought there are any doctors in the hospital. It didn’t seem like it.
The old man said, “Let’s get.”
As they drove out of the Hospital lot they looked for Sal. They looked for where she’d parked the Avalanche. But Sal and the SUV were nowhere to be found. Linda and the old man drew their own conclusions.
The old man gave Linda a look. “Oh he cried all right, just like a girl. When you went in to find Sal. Was all I could do to keep from—you know.”
They discussed briefly whether they should go back to Ode to Joy to check on Willow.
Before they reached the end of town, they passed a vehicle that had slid off the road and was half in a ditch, steam coming out of somewhere. The wipers were still wiping. It could have been the Avalanche, but there was no way to tell for sure.
“I can’t stop,” said the old man. “I can’t stop now.”
“Didn’t ask you to,” said Linda.
The snow accumulated, even on the highway.
Linda looked straight ahead into near white-out conditions. “You know if I ever get sick, no matter how sick, do not take me to that hospital, Red.”
“I won’t,” Red promised.
“Even if I’m throwing up blood,” which was something that had happened recently.
Linda put her hand up. Red almost smiled, but it was hard to tell.
“Let’s go look in on that pup. Make sure he’s got water and such,” he said.
“She,” Linda said.
“She.” Red pulled the wheel hard and turned off the highway onto the mountain road at an intersection that was completely hidden by the snow. “So Willer’s a girl’s name?”
Red nodded once. “I can live with that.”
No answer to that but the squalling wind.
Red chewed on the side of his tongue, which was what he did when he needed to concentrate. They had begun a treacherous ascent into the so-called wilderness, the way being invisible and slick, but again and again they had seen worse before.
And Linda was very damned happy.