We were waiting in the car, in the parking lot of Ace hardware. Jeremy had gone inside, searching for an early snow shovel with which to excavate the driveway after two days of freak snowstorms and sharply dropping temperatures. Tom and Dave and I were left in the car, listening to the radio, smoking Marlboro reds with the windows not even cracked. Mid-November hung outside like a heavy fog. It was 1996, and I was just nineteen.
Tom was wrapped up in his inherited cashmere coat, long and black, with a tasteful scarf of some kind. Dave, who went to the Cleveland Institute of Art downtown, had a long black wool coat and a frivolous scarf: something to the effect of a feather boa, but not actually feathered. I had a knee-length charcoal grey car coat, badly in need of a lining, and a scarf I can't remember. None of us were wearing gloves for the moment; we were smoking. We hunched up inside our collars, pulling our fingers close to our noses. Tom's and Dave's fingers were long and pale against their black coats, which were in turn set stark against the blank white of the outside.
Cigarettes warm you. Tiny sparks of heat radiate upward. If you flip the cigarette downward, the smoke rises into your ungloved hand, through your soggy cuff, up your sleeve. You get to hold onto a little light, feeding on itself until there is no food left, and it dies.
We were listening to the loudest music possible in such an enclosed space. The Perfect Drug had just come out, on the Lost Highway soundtrack, and they actually gave it radio play. You wouldn't think there were decent radio stations in Cleveland, considering how bad they are everywhere else, but there were. Good stations, even. So we were listening to NIN, car chassis vibrating, steam melting into the thin air outside: listening very intensely and seriously, as if we were all professional critics.
"The only way I would improve that," said Tom, "is to increase the beats per second." This seemed true, yet physically impossible.
School had actually been canceled due to power outages: the weight of the ice kept pulling down wires. The city snowplows were not yet in optimal working order; the snowplow drivers were not on a regular schedule yet; the shipments of street salt had not yet come in. The whole east side was snowbound, it seemed, and we were skidding around in the half-plowed streets, looking for the shovel we had not even thought of needing yet, the shovel that was nowhere to be found, since no one expects a snowstorm like that until January, and so the shovel orders were not yet in.
The next song was Mother's Little Helper.
We listened for a while. The car was getting gradually colder. Where the hell was Jeremy? Was there another hardware store anywhere around? Were we going to have to just ram the two feet of snow in the driveway? This seemed likely. Outside, the dark had begun to fall.
"You are going to be just like this song in twenty years," said Tom suddenly.
"It's valium, babe," said Dave. Smoke rose in a curl around his fingers. They shot sardonic glances at each other, then at me, over their wool shoulders.
I looked back at them.
Jeremy came out of the store, then, empty-handed, and we skidded back into the street.