The story you should probably read before this is compulsion, and all the ones before that. Maybe it will make more sense then. But it might not.


“When you’re talking habitat you realize how little of the solar system is inhabitable by the human species. Antarctica barely qualifies.”

-- Thomas Dexter, Glaciologist, Los Angeles Times Interview, 2002

“Mitch loved Annie the way kids love horror movies. She scared him to death, but he couldn’t stop seeing her.”

-- Nolan Holland, Author, Larry King Interview, 2002


The first time you see her it’s like this.

You go outside to play in the new fallen snow and there she is. Just like that. Little kid where before there was nobody. Must have just moved into the neighborhood.

She’s bundled like overstuffed luggage better prepared for lunar travel than child's play. The sky is gray and underneath the world is marshmallow quiet. Her breath makes clouds as if she’s smoking great big cigarettes and she pretends for a moment she's a steam train, but you aren’t interested in small talk. Too many big ideas confuse a young mind.

The snow is deep and with each step the white embeds your legs to the mid thigh. She sinks up to the waist and she resorts to paddling around on her belly for a while. When she realizes that you’re moving faster than she can, she screams to get your attention.

Frustrated, you mutter, “Come on,” and grab her under the armpits and drag her onto the street where the snowplows have cleared the way. There’s only hard packed snow on the road and she can walk impeded only by the tension in her legs caused by the multiple layers of clothing her mother put on her.

You watch her discover the colors in the snow that taste the bitter your mother told you was bad. So slap the wad of snow from her hand and say something about the yellow snow coming from dogs. She wasn’t going to eat anymore anyway, she tells you, her eyes full of you.

When you reach the pond she says she remembers something and says it, but you don’t listen and run and slide on the rippled ice in your snow boots. You run and slide back. Think to invite her to join you, but why bother? Let her figure it out for herself.

She squats on her haunches and pokes at the ice with a stick, intense, never looking up at you so that you stop your sliding to see what’s so interesting.

And so now crouch in front of her the baby her and ask the child, “Whatcha doing?”

“Looking for the house, stupid” she says. You should know that.

“A house? That’s silly. There’s no house in the snow.”

“Don’t you remember? It's in the snow-a-lanche.”

“Snow lunch?” you reply, summoning up as much falsetto as you can to mock her voice.

“When the snow fell off from the mountain. It got on the house.”

You look around and see only trees, a field, and the road. But in the back of your mind you remember being somewhere the land rose toward the sky and ended so high the clouds fell onto the top like snow. “What mountain?” you say. Wasn’t it here just a little while ago? How could it have gone?

“The mountain near the town,” she insists. “Do you have your shovel at least, stupid face?”

You think for a minute and stand. Yeah. Find a shovel. Someone has to dig all of them out. They’re all down there.

And your heart races. What shovel could you get that would be big enough? You need one of those big yellow tractors they have where they’re building the houses, and they all went away when the snows came.

“Rocco. Go to the cemetery and get the gravedigger’s shovel. What’s wrong with you?” she says.

Now wait. Now wait. That wasn’t now, was it?
Is this a dream?

“That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard,” you say. Tell her, “They don’t have shovels to dig up houses.”

You squat next to her in the snow to simplify things. Lots of ideas swimming around your mind. Memories. Other people’s memories. You’re thirsty so you grab a lump of snow and suck on it.

“Don’t eat snow, Rocco. You’ll freeze.”

Why is she doing this? You were okay with it for a while, but now it’s starting to make you mad. “Stop calling me Rocco. My name is Mitchell.”

She reaches out and touches you on the shoulder. “Okay, Rocco. Now your name is Mitchell.” Then she pushes you backward and you fall backward, sitting in the snow.

“What’s your name, kid?” you ask because in that moment you forgot her name.

“Anna,” she replies, and you think that was it but maybe not. But she tells you, “I'm always the same,” as if she knows what you’re thinking.

Of course she knows what you’re thinking.

You lean forward to touch her snow suit. Make sure she’s real, not a dream where your hand passes through her as if she’s made of smoke.

She's cool on the outside but warm underneath. There’s a heart beating in there, just like yours.

“They just named me Mitchell a little while ago,” you say, because it could change again.

The setting sun pokes gold rays through the slit below the ceiling of gray clouds and the land staining the horizon orange and red. A car passes on the plowed road behind you and the snow crunching under its tires sounds like your father eating corn flakes in the morning.

You think she’s going to say something about the dream, but she doesn’t. Maybe it’s against the rules.

“Where’s our house?” you ask on the vestige of a fading memory. It’s fading so fast the answer isn’t going to matter.

"Do you have your ring?" she asks you, and you fish around in your pockets for something that's so clear in your mind you know must exist even though you've never seen it with your eyes.


She says, "Here it is," and pulls it out of the hole she poked in the snow. "You're not supposed to lose it."

You say, "I know, I'm sorry," and you have no idea why.

She tells you it’s getting dark and it’s time to go home, so you tell her goodbye and you go.

It’s what kids do.


“Rescuers should familiarize themselves with the three major causes of death in crevasse accidents. 1) The Fall: If the crevasse is deep enough the impact of the fall can break bones and cause internal injuries. 2) The Cold: A crevasse fall victim is out of the wind but is subject to sub-zero temperatures and long periods of restricted motion. 3) Suffocation: Crevasses narrow toward the bottom. The victim may attain enough speed during his fall to wedge his body into the narrowing channel to the point where the rib cage is compressed and breathing is inhibited.”

- US Antarctic Program Field Guide, 1999


Life breaks everything at some point.

Let me introduce Cathy, my girlfriend of three years. I love Cathy. She always wears blue. When we're making love I call her my little parrot fish. She calls me Joe. Don't ask. Long story.

Cathy loves me. Cathy left her husband so she could be with me. It didn’t bother either of us she did that. He was baggage.

She didn’t love him anyway. They married too young. He was fooling around with other women and she was fooling around with me. Physical separation was simply the culmination of the status that had become their marriage. They were just two people who lived together and occasionally had sex.


We are people who love each other and frequently have sex. That’s the difference.


She loves me so much she’s calling my hand. Show me the cards, is what she’s saying.

Say the words, boy. Say it. It’s now or never. Get rid of the ring I found in your night table.

Why are you looking around in the night table when I’m in the shower? -- Don't ask it. You know it's what they do.

Why do you keep your old wedding band around, anyway? Tell her the truth. They all get to this question eventually. Now is as good as any time. What's it gonna be?

Now. Or never?

So I say, because I never shrink from a challenge: never.

Houston, we have a problem.

I say, "It's not what you think. Sweetness, there's something about that ring you should know."

Cathy is in the doorway. How'd she get dressed so fast? She’s more in the hallway, buttoning her blouse with shaking hands, fishing in her purse, sobbing, alternately swiping at her nose and fussing. She stamps her feet.

I tell her: "Take it. I'm not kidding. Take it and do whatever you want with it." I pick it up off the night table and hand it to her.

I ask for her to come inside and reach for her arm. I’ve touched all of Cathy at one time or another. Now she won’t let my fingers near the cloth of her sleeve. It's going to be a rough night when we come home from work. Like sliding across sand paper.

And then the next day she confronts me again, ring in hand, holding it up to my face while I'm still dripping, fresh from the shower as I rub a towel through my hair.

"How many of these do you have?"

"Just the one."

She reads the inscription. "Anna y Rocco, 1944. They're even inscribed the same."

"Chuck it," I tell her.

She looks at me, squinting. "The one from yesterday I threw off the Vallejo ferry. And you put this one in the same place so I'd find it. You're sick."

I take the towel from around my waist, pull on some underwear.

"Make a mark on it. Something only you know. Toss it in a dumpster. Toss it into the bay. Whatever you want to do."

"What are you telling me?"

"I'm telling you I'm not getting rid of that ring."

Now she's in the hallway again, nearly dressed. I go to her and touch her arm. She pulls away, dropping her shoulder, hiding her face in her hands and then going back to searching for something in her purse. Swears at me, crying: “You…you… I sacrificed my marriage for you. You, you asshole!”

It takes her ten seconds to think of the adjective. In the pause I calculate how to get out of this.

This is the way it feels: When I was young I climbed on the peak of the roof of our detached garage. Then I slipped. The friction kept me from sliding down the pitched side immediately, but every time I moved I slid a little bit. Nothing I could do would stop me from slipping. My choices were to stay still and stay there forever, or to try to save myself and fall off.

There was no way back up without deus ex-machina. Please God, save me.

The prayer of the terminally stupid: God save me from myself.

Now I feel the same way. I’m watching three years slip away and every move I make makes it slide further.

I don’t know why. I don’t know what I did, and that makes it worse. It’s just a ring. It doesn’t have to mean anything. I haven’t seen my ex-wife in years. I don’t answer her phone calls anymore. Haven’t spoken to her in months. Damn, she’s in the Congo or something shooting mating rhinos with a film crew from National Geographic. What the hell did I say to deserve this?

Why does she always get so weird after sex?

“What did I say?” I turn my palms up and lower my head.

“You're scum,” she says. “Stop acting like you don’t know.” Now she’s got the car keys from her purse. She was supposed to stay with me tonight, but she’s going home at least. Somewhere else at worst.

Why is it sometimes everything I do is a mistake? Every move I make pushes me further toward the impending fall.

Maybe I’m just supposed to fall. Stop fighting it.

“I’m sorry,” I say. I say it a few more times before I realize it dilutes with repetition. "You can throw that ring out as many times as you want."

“What the fuck do you take me for, Mitchell? Now you're just being cruel,” she says. She says I can’t sorry myself out of it.

I wonder what “it” is.

“Anna never comes here,” I say.

The words are like bullets. Cathy flinches when I say Anna’s name. A little voice in my head tells me to say I love her, but I can’t. The words get stuck in my throat like dry peanut butter.

“But you still have her picture and your wedding band in the top drawer of your night table? Don’t try to tell me you didn’t just put them there to hide them because you knew I was coming. I know better.”

Go ahead. Tell her I don’t do that. Lie.

Tell the truth. Tell her I love her but I’m confused because there’s this goddamned pain in my chest about Anna. I do love you Cathy. Very much. Anna is more like a disease I can’t shake. She’s like a genetic birth defect I’ll never overcome.

Okay, so I can’t forget her. It doesn’t mean we’re still married. It doesn’t mean I’d drop everything and run away with her if I saw her again.

“Well how do you feel now, bastard?” she says to me. I hear the same thing from the voice in my head.

Bad. Very bad is how I feel. Don’t go.

I say, “Don’t go.”

“No wonder she left you. You’re such an asshole.” She turns and nearly runs down the hall.

“Please. I’m sorry,” I say.

“Too late.” She doesn’t even turn around when she says it.

I slam the door because I’m mad. I pound my fist into the door because I’m mad. I squeeze my fists so hard my fingernails make my palms bleed.

So, how do you get off the garage roof? You push. You fly. You pray for Pegasus to pluck you out of the air during the fall. If he misses, it hurts when you hit but unless you fall the wrong way you live.

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