Ryland Greene
Day one

I alone am Warren. Almost. About. Very little is clear and the weather may be at fault. I always find winter vexing, and now this!

I have just gotten off the phone with Charlene. She says that she is trapped in her freedom from me! The weather is, no doubt, an influence, drawing us into such contradictions. I feel frozen in arousal. You see what I mean.

Day two

The snow began during the early morning hours of Monday and continues through this, the evening of Tuesday. The accumulation is staggering. The snow gathers in deepening stretches and drifts on the ground, on roof tops. It sprawls over passageways and vehicles. It thickens the air so densely that visibility dissolves into a jittery field of unknowable depth. Sharp structural forms soften. Some even disappear as the wind raises drifts and scoops out curvaceous troughs which appear to have no relevance to the previous environment except, perhaps, where a gully testifies to some wall's sheer effect on the wind. Hardly anything moves but for the snow that falls and swirls as if driven by its own silence. Small animal life, birds, squirrels, trash-happy raccoons, have hunkered down in such cover as can be found, alerted, one believes, by their innate attunement to the vagaries of nature.

Plows and their snow-removal equipment teams stay in various quarters--garages, basements, sheds, barren offices with frost-white lights and gray steel furniture--listening to the occasional jabber of FAX machines and the repetitive self-addressing voices of radio announcers telling anyone willing to listen what the listeners already know, that the blizzard is of stronger force and will be longer in duration than originally predicted. Crew members holster and unholster their portable phones and walkie-talkies, checking battery strength, checking also their lunch pails, sandwich numbers measured against the expanding hours and depth of the storm and the growing projection of hours that will be required for the dig-out. Cots have been assembled and placed in orderly formations. Bodies rest, self-dampened, hot yet chilled in layers of clothing. Occasionally there are noises of the body, a wayward, meaningless comment on events and conditions. Only a few of the snow removal machines and crew are out working and these on emergency errands. The storm is too powerful for routine snow response.

Here, in my house--chestnut molding circa 1928, beveled glass, fireplace alight, ornate built-in wood box by the stairway, an abstract stained glass window on the landing, nevertheless a modest home--all is quiet. It seems that nothing moves but me and the flames wrapping around the burning logs and I do not move often or far. The soft snow is a shock in its insidious build-up, a long blow with a soft instrument, immobilizing life with pernicious speed. I worry that I will not recover.

Day three: am

By this morning, Wednesday, there is, at least and at last, some level of visibility. The density of the snow that continued to fall last night was lighter, more provisional. Life begins to emerge from its hideouts but ever so cautiously. It is not life as it had been for the previous thirty or forty months, in other words, since the last inundation. It is not life clear and active and purposeful, the operative mode until last Sunday when, in one of those curious reversals of the ordinary, prediction modulated into reality and reality became greater than predicted and unloaded upon us shortly after midnight leaving us thus.

News services and weather stations have been graphing and sketching various components of nature in algorithmic choreography, playing and replaying swift summaries of satellite perspectives of cloud masses that charge across outlined states only to be jerked back to be played yet again, a study in motion as non-motion. Weathermen and weatherwomen have been lecturing to unseen millions with pointers and lecture lights, with sweeping hand gestures and serious head nods before screens that they know to be there for viewers but which may not be visible to them in the studio, glibly asserting their grasp of the latest information at once conveyed and delayed through their smiles and frowns and quips.

As the storm worsened and then withdrew, weather reports have given up their dominant role in favor of interviews with stranded travelers, businessless merchants, mayors, and directors of municipal service, all suddenly elevated in importance. Governors declare emergencies. Birds search for the few full bird feeders not filled with snow. Clean-up crews emerge at the controls of their curious, Precambrian-like yellow machinery. But, for a long moment something had stopped. The busy world was stripped away. Suspension reigned. Nothing was suddenly possible! I repeat, nothing was suddenly possible! Just an inkling, mind you, but of such magnitude.

Today I lie in bed listening for the first scraping sound of plows on our road, a north facing slope. Earlier, I had seen the flash of rotating lights fall on my venetian blinds, a sure sign, given no sirens, that the plows were running. But only the faintest sound, a muffled, prolonged cough was heard. Obviously, the snowfall was too deep for the plow blade to ride directly on the roadbed in its first pass. This then would be the first of several passes. I knew that with each pass the road would become more accessible, but also more narrow as the compacted snow turned to temporary stone. White walls build up in my mind. My sheets seem to crowd me. Finally, it becomes necessary to get up and survey the damage.

Day three: pm

You are, no doubt, waiting for me to tell you that the white world is, in spite of its threats and inconvenience, beautiful. Not so. Different, perhaps. But not different from the wash of imagination overlaid and constrained with images from thousands of calendars--always decorated with images of stopped time. But certainly different,say, from Sunday, and Saturday and Friday before the blizzard. And that which is different, even in the short term, always gives pause. The sense of pause now present is certainly noticeable, is, in a further sense, oppressive. Time predicts time to come, a hint of cabin fever, the monotony of whiteness, a monotony aggravated rather than relived by the slow discoloration of the snow stained by the air and debris of thoroughfares. The whited scene makes me imagine death as exile into unrelieved monotony, a stage worse than nothing. The white is not beautiful to the discerning eye and will become less beautiful. It will become unbeautiful to discerning minds reading what is written in the inks of pollution, unbeautiful to a consciousness that imagines clarity and abjures easy unities, common impastos, homogenous smudge.

My neighbor's cars are hooded in white, players in some play without lines. Without voices. One has a single window exposed, staring blankly as from an empty cranium. Not a morbid scene, but one devoid of presences in their full form. Hints, implications, ambiguities, allusions, all indeterminate, unstable yet fixed. Well, frozen. I remember Professor Jimmy Hardle saying, after the war had ended inconclusively, that there had been a world wide ontological change. It seemed less so for a while, less so until today. It seems appropriate to the environment to be conditional. The verb "to be" has been modified, drifted over. Eventually the snow will thaw but one is never sure about the drift or what rests beneath this covering that was not there before the storm.

My neighbors are not in evidence yet. Soon they will emerge, Andrea and Carl, and begin the task of clearing sidewalk and driveway. Then the family across the road will appear and begin their attack, and, soon after, I will have to do the same. With the size of this deposit, I will be taxed. A muscle twitches at the mere thought of a snow shovel. The abysmal pretense of 'man against nature' makes these labors even more dreary. Do the work and be done with it, Warren old slug, I tell myself. These instructions will bear repeating. I do not convince myself.

Captured in my own home with little to do but to play this game of the mind looking at itself looking, I recall the storm several years ago and the body of a neighbor found packed in the plow-compressed bundle of snow at the road's edge not five house away from here. Clayton just disappeared. The authorities believe he fell and lay unconscious while fresh snow covered him and then a plow turned him into the icy bed which held him for more than a week before a passing driver saw a protruding foot. It was like the discovery of an ancient human in some glacier and the weather was construed to have contributed to Clayton's preservation as if that were more newsworthy than his demise. Weather and death are kindred spirits at times, the positive and negative of experience. No one was able to determine why Clayton fell, or, for that matter, why he was walking in the road in such a storm.

Weather fosters inconclusivity.

Day four

A white gazebo with screened openings still flocked with snow-dabs carries a large quilt of snow on its tin roof. The tufted screened openings form calm rectangles suspended in whiter space. On one face of this structure there is a warped door which is held closed by a length of steel pipe leaning against it. Because of the warp, a thin triangle of space remains. A bird has flown in there and now cannot find its way out. Its caged flights are visible from the kitchen window, furious motion in a motionless place in a stilled world. On the wire fabric tufted with snow there are now blank shapes where the bird has impacted and lines of flight bounce off window frames, winged lines dit-dit-dit- on space seen as a screen apart, a child's etch-o-sketch, an old Futurist image. The white expanse between house and gazebo is simply too formidable for me to negotiate and this in turn suggests that the unfortunate creature's hectic flight is without hope and will be brief. It is that way with shelter, the uncertainty of what is kept in and what kept out. Poor bird.

Bird, I am warren. Ah yes, Warren with a capital. Nevertheless, I do think of myself as a habitat. Things live in me, or, if the designation 'things' carries too strong a sense of the corporeal, then let me say that experience, yes, even essences reside herein. I feel your flight constrained in my gut, your terror, your determination so bleakly affected.

I remember your kin, last summer, trapped as you are now. Its flight was so frenzied that even when I opened the door and tried to show the way out my help was not sufficient. Having learned to fly inside, your relative would not or could not leave. And now you. There were flashes, then as now, when dedication to interior flight seemed quite admirable if ill fated. I understand also the two robins, the female cardinal, and the starling. The bat with its electric vision finally found an exit. Visits such as your and theirs have occasioned arguments with lovely Charlene, my sometimes companion, about the existence of nature as compared to the concept of nature as artifact. I favor the artifactual view. Of course today I stand looking out on a white assertion of natural determination. God is a secretary at his desk correcting our texts. Recently, it was as if He would white us out. Of course that has never gotten done properly, at least so far. And what is it about white, Warren? And you, sir Bird? White? Any clues? Is white some summary state? I am still and quiet inside my cage, but my mind is mad in this white world. I think about the triangle at the corner of the warped door. The way in and the way out.

Charlene does not answer her phone.

Day five: am

Tubes and tunnels, gross carriers, filters and funnels, covert, overt, chambers, converters and transformers. Air to blood to body to be. The micro beast alive within us! I think this as I wake up.

Nourish this thing. This holder and huddler that I am. Contain herein what flies and hopes and hops, what drags a limb, whispers, sings, cries, does not hope at all, what waits and does not wait, what is and is not, knows and forgets and finally forgets it all. A place looks out upon a greater place through the last flakes to the massed flakes and to the whiteness where and why it is.

The television tells of closings. Libido, which soared at the first sign of snow, is now buried, blanketed with a deep chill. I think of Charlene. She is in another time and space and it does not matter to me who that is she wraps her limbs around. I am blank.


Time is a series of cells. Or is it a collection of crystals? It is a cruel nest, as gazebo to bird, as flake is to screen, as white is to a brilliant mind starved for color!

Day five: pm

I am J. I was christened Warren, my middle and most used name, but first named Jay. Jeramiah, John, Jim Jackass Junior, Jeehosophat. I answer to many potentialities. Jonah when the snow melts. I don't give a damn. Jay Bird, how's that? But J. it is.

Why do I feel called upon to note this matter? Who cares? Ah, identity. Identity, no matter how obscure, no matter how vast the undifferentiated plane on which one exists, identity is all. The snow invites such refutations of its excruciating blankness. The snow challenges us to assert ourselves to ourselves. Or else.

Yet reading back over these notes, the sentiments are so effete! Where is my vigor? Has this whiteness so pushed me back into the blank side of self that I now fawn and fumble over a matter of climate? We are, are we, the cages that we fly in?

Day six

I detest white. Cream is acceptable, fine, lovely, indeed often desirable. The faint tints that turn white into a color of life are marvelous. Earlier today, the first day out of my driveway following the storm, I went to the Egyptian's American style family restaurant where I was seated by a young woman of delicate face, a countenance miraculously symmetrical. She was very quiet, pensive, yet not retiring. A landscape of upper breast was visible above her blouse and in that delicate turn of flesh there were threads of blue veins which wandered and explored the fullness and curves of her form, moving in a surface so delicate and transparent that the designation "cream" only hints at its subtlety. What other terms could I employ? Opal? Ivory? Amber? Whatever.

Curiously, noticeably, her delicate upper body suddenly flared into its formal opposite, heavy legs clad in blue stockings, buttocks flabby and muscular, juggling beneath a tubular dress. I have not seen her there before. She was excruciating, containing all. It is such incongruities that master our sense of being. Follicles push at our groins, each one asserting its individual hair at the lips edge of the lap's gravy, or before the purple and green gland of a snub-nosed Cyclops clumsily wrapped in its swagger of veins. We are both factual item and artifact. The persistent incongruity of is displays its own grand presence, beyond our speculation of what is real, what is fact and what is evidence of fact, what is and is not desired.. White would pretend otherwise, posits a false unity. These days I hate white. It lies. It has not always been so. But I cannot return to that time or place.

Day seven

I have returned to the Egyptian's restaurant. I watch the girl as she seats customers.

In spite of my feelings about whiteness, I have ordered and consumed creamed chipped beef, scraps of flesh suspended in a gluttonous sauce over wrinkled toast, reluctantly crisp at the edge even as it softens at the center. Secretly, I like the toast slightly scorched, but one cannot communicate this to a waitress, not without great risk from the literalist in her. How incredibly strange this entire matter of nourishment! There it is, on the one hand, the follicle end of chemistry, the fact of the food, carrots as carrots, salt as salt, the sludge of the digestive tract; and, on the other hand, the gourmand's creative expectancy, the chef's flair for appearances and spices. No flair called for with chipped beef, to be sure, but it serves the point even as it begs the point. No doubt its chemistry holds some evil I have already encountered in the morning paper or will promptly encounter on the noon report if I survive what I have partaken. Calories, cholesterol, other contaminants. One thinks of cherubic cancer cells floating and clambering around each other, hob-nobbing with fat globules on their sinister way to the heart of the matter.

The dried beef and gravy looks clean compared to the filthy snow outside. The shoulders of the roadway look gangrenous, the floor is puddled with gritty moisture, icy and snow flakes disappearing before the eye as if to protest the reception they have received. We who eat breakfast today are more or less free to go where we wish, and, even if the snow remains a limitation, we have pushed it back sufficient to our needs. When I go home, I will retrieve the now dead bird, breaking through the crust which has formed on the accumulation, kicking a trail open with my booted feet. I will box the small carcass and send it to Charlene. I will write a card: "love has flown."

No. This is just a thought. Mental slush. A sign of feeling returning?

I will await the full thaw, unhappily to be sure, but better off in my irritated state than in one that, for a few days, threatened to be blank. I am suspicious about what this uncovering melt will produce. I live in my discontent. I crawl and struggle through it and hide myself there. It is a way of life. Through discontent I have survived innumerable hostile spaces, bad weather, being pushed and shoved, love, other disturbances of motion and emotion. Again, I think, I am Warren. I might wish for more but do not risk, by such a request, being less with less.

I feel a tremor of sentiment for the receding white.

Ryland Greene was an exhibiting artist working primarily in sculpture, and a professor of art from 1960 to 1990. He began writing fiction in the mid eighties. He discontinued visual art production, a conscious decision, around 1990. In 1991 he went to Japan for two years where he taught at a Women's Junior College in the Kansai area (Nara). While there he produced several short stories. He returned to writing as he concluded his teaching career in the visual arts, and he now aspires to being a professional in the area of fiction. In addition to individual short stories, as yet unpublished work includes a proposed collection of related short pieces (tentatively, Talking It Over) , Five Tales of Nara, and two novellas in advanced drafts (Curlicue; Between the Eyes).


In Posse: Potentially, might be ...