ni zyu ichi

The clock radio woke Liz up far earlier than she wanted to be, with a familiar voice.  “Good morning, all you squishy-dishy sunshiny WHMH listeners out there!  You’re listening to Sigue-Sigue and Vim’s morning show!   Aw, aw, aw, I know, you’re all out there whining, going, ‘eeeuh, Sigue-Sigue and Vim don’t have a morning show!’  Well, you’re absolutely right, commuters, we don’t.  So why are we here, Vim?”

Liz rolled over onto her stomach and looked at the radio, blinking slowly.  She was only about seventy percent awake but she hadn’t drunk enough to be hung over, so the mystery of why HMH’s evening DJ was on the air at seven in the morning was worth pondering.

“It’s like this,” said Vim, who was Sigue-Sigue’s quieter, somewhat thoughtful partner and had a faint English accent.  “We came in and did our usual show–and if you missed it, it was completely fantastic, and your life would never have been the same.  Anyway, at about nine-forty Jerry calls in and says he’s stuck in the snow, and he’d be late, and could we cover for him?  So we did.  We did some more fabulous DJ work for a while.  It was no stretch; we’re just that good.  So an hour goes by.  Eleven o’clock, still no Jerry.”

“But don’t prank call his house yet, kiddies, it’s not his fault.  Although if you want to prank him, I’m sure his ex-wife will give you the number.”

“At eleven, the syndicate took over until one,” Vim continued.  “I went to sleep at midnight, Sigue, you’re going to have to fill in the rest.”

“Sure sure, Vimmy.  You see all that snow that fell last night?  Six inches my perfectly round ass, we got at least four feet.  And I’m not exaggerating, for once.” 

That woke Liz up.  She pushed herself up, far enough to peer through the window.  The apartment complex’ parking lot–shit, as far as she could see–was a flat expanse of snow, broken only by square objects that were the roofs of cars.  She couldn’t even tell which was hers.  “Sugoi!” Liz gasped in bemused surprise, dropping back into bed.

Sigue-Sigue continued her story.  “Actually, it alternated between rilly heavy snow and freezing rain or sleet or some other thing that makes the wimps move to Florida.  This is what they call a century storm!  So get out there and enjoy it!  Meanwhile, all of that, ahem, precipitation accumulated on our brand-new parking garage, which you may have heard us boasting about this summer.  Well, at about twelve-thirty, that fine, fine structure came a-tumbling down.  That was the noise that woke you up, Vim darling.  The whole damn parking garage fell down and most of it came right up against and or into the lobby of our building, which is now buried in fifteen feet of snow and chunks of concrete.  And the other two fire exits are buried in drifting snow.  So, obviously, when Moby and Captain Ahab were supposed to come in this morning, they couldn’t get into the parking lot, let alone the building.  Assuming they left their houses at all, which I doubt.  So we’re still on the air.”

“You’ll also notice that we are one of the only stations on the air,” Vim added.  “The storm has taken out the repeaters and towers for ‘NIC, ‘JBL, WWJ, and most of the other stations in Detroit.  Isn’t life grand?”

So you’re stuck with us!” Sigue-Sigue screamed, and played a soundbite of a crowd screaming in terror.  “Okay, look, I’ve been on the air for going on thirteen hours now, and I’m really hungry, and I’m in a bad mood.  I’m going to have another cigarette–shut up, Vim, I’ll take you out in the hallway and kick your ass again if you bitch at me about smoking in here.  You’re a punk, I’ll beat you down.  Do the public service thing while I smoke, honey-child, that’s a good manservant.”  Vim began reading off a seemingly endless list of school closings, power outages and other public emergencies and then started on freeway closings–Liz wondered why he bothered.  With that much snow out there, every school and business in the metro Detroit area was going to be closed.  She certainly didn’t plan to try to dig her car out.

“You know what?” Sigue-Sigue said, interrupting Vim.  “If your child’s school isn’t closed, you may want to call them and ask why the hell not.”

The phone rang less than an hour after she’d fallen back asleep.  It startled Liz awake, and she looked around wildly for a moment before figuring out where the ringing was coming from.  The wall-mounted phone (so old it still had a rotary dial) was too far for her to reach from her bed, so she had to go to the kitchen to use it.

It was Mr. McIntyre.  “Can you work?”

Her first impulse was to say no, but she had no reason to tell him she couldn’t.  It was a shitty job, but if Mr. McIntyre needed her, she owed it to him to be there.  That was what her mother would have said, and she listened to the internal voice without hesitation.  “Sure.  I’ll have to get my car out.”

“Good.  The truck rolled.  We need to go to Toledo and unload it.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“Murphy hit a patch of ice on 75, and put the truck in the ditch.  The roof’s torn open, and we need to get the load off before they can tow it.  I need all the hands I can get, and I can’t get ahold of Keith.  Eric’s stuck at home.”

Liz was sure he was either asleep or stoned, but that wasn’t the point.  “It’s going to take me a while to dig my car out.”  The apartment was cold, and she was deeply grateful for the warm socks Andrew had loaned her the cash to buy.

“Wait for me to call you, then.  I’m waiting for my stepbrother to call, and see if he can find us a jeep or something.  The roads are complete shit.”

“My car has four-wheel drive, Mr. McIntyre.  All I have to do is dig it out.”

He grunted with satisfaction.  “Okay, then, you’re driving.  I’ll pay for your gas.  How long do you think it’ll be?”

She rolled her shoulders, thinking about the ocean of snow outside.  “I don’t know.  Give me an hour, I guess.  I don’t even have a shovel.”

“All right.  Meet me at the store,” Mr. McIntyre said.

So much for a day off of work.  Liz sighed again as she hung the phone up, and looked at the empty fifth of Jack Daniels in the trash.  Her intent had been to take just one sip, and dump the rest, and she’d mostly stuck to that, having finished maybe a third of it before forcing her self to pour it out.  At least she could remember the whole evening.  “Baka yo,” she told the trash can, drawing out the first word in petulant irritation; whether she was calling the liquor or herself stupid was a matter for debate.  No, fuck that, it wasn’t, she knew who the stupid one was.  She deserved to work.

It was going to be cold.  She knew it was going to be cold.  She didn’t have long underwear (they hadn’t been able to find any her size) so she wore two sets of clothes instead, as well as her hat and fingerless gloves, an extra shirt, and a handy Army-surplus coat.  And none of it did any good.  She was still freezing.  Having grown up with Michigan winters, though, Liz was used to ignoring it.  She was miserably cold during the forty-five minutes it took to free her car from the wet, heavy snow that had buried it overnight, but by the time she got to the fish store, she had forgotten about how much the cold sucked.  She was cold and wet to the skin in several places, it was about fifteen degrees, and that was just fine, because that was as fine as things were going to get today.

It took them three hours to make the forty-mile drive to Toledo–actually five miles north of Toledo, where the truck had crashed.  “Thank you for doing this,” Mr. McIntyre said.  “I can’t afford to lose a load, not this week.  I gotta eat the cost when that happens, you know.  If we get that truck emptied out, I’ll give you time and a half for today.”

“Cool,” Liz said.  She was concentrating on the roads, which had been valiantly plowed and salted, but the sky was already opaque with snow again. There was so much snow the roads appeared to have walls.  Her little car churned along dauntlessly, so long as she didn’t try to go too fast.  She found herself zoning out, thinking about kicking back with a drink when this was all over and knowing she couldn’t do it.

The radio was a distraction at least.  She left HMH on, to listen to the trapped DJ and her partner.  Around the time she had picked up Mr. McIntyre, Sigue-Sigue had broken into the music to report that a front-end loader owned by the industrial complex had been brought into the lot to try and dig the back door free, so that someone else could get into the building.  One commercial break and two songs later, she was back to report (through giggling) that the tractor had managed to roll itself over in the snow, parking itself upside down and right in front of the door.  The compacted snow and twenty-ton machine had blocked the exit but good.  “But they got the driver out, and we’re okay,” Sigue-Sigue reported.  “Vim is teaching me socialism,” she added.  “We just used the emergency fire axe to bust open the vending machine in the lounge, and we’ve got more Snickers bars and Cheez Nips than we know what to do with.  And, you guys, stop ordering pizzas for us, would you?  They can’t even get into the parking lot.  Duh.”  Liz laughed out loud.  Mr. McIntyre was paying only minimal attention, and she had to explain what was going on to him.  He started muttering about fire codes and someone losing his job over that.

“You’re no fun at all,” Liz said with a smile.  To her surprise, Mr. McIntyre smiled back. 

She saw the accident before they got there, and the mess stunned her.  The red and white twenty-seven-foot McIntyre’s Fish truck, a familiar piece of equipment to her, was upside down in the freeway median.  The lower side of the box had been peeled open like, well, like a sardine can, and boxes of fish peeked through.  There were several police cars and a wrecker on the scene.  Flares tinged the snow-filled air orange.  The traffic, sparse everywhere else, was backed up behind the wreck, which was blocking one lane.

“We have to unload that?” Liz asked as she pulled as far into the median as the deep snow would allow.  The sight of the upended truck disturbed her hugely, and she wasn’t sure why.

“Yup,” her boss replied.  “Hope you brought better gloves.”