It was the first patch of sun since September to have any heat in it. The lockdown and losing her bakery job gave Madison an excuse not to brave the numbing cold of the Minnesota spring, but fricking Ethan, born in the place, wore shorts all year round.
Less than a week in the place and he couldn’t bother to walk from one part of the small house to the other. “Why is the thermostat on 80?”
She was sitting wrapped in a blanket over a floor vent in the living room. “I was cold!”
There was a thunk as the furnace shut off and the rush of warm air bathing her legs stopped.
Spring was finally getting its shit together and the square yellow of light on the bed made her want to fly back to Phoenix. She would never complain about the sun or the heat again. And the desert nights! Oh, to call the desert a dead place is to never have ventured out on a January night in the middle of the week on the fringes of goddam Duluth.
“You’re not dressed?”
“It’s fifteen out there. There’s a lockdown. I’m not going.”
“We’re just having a few beers with friends. No-one’s got corona. Dave’s bringing some weed.”
“And a bit of coke.”
“It’s too cold. I just want to hibernate and watch Netflix.”
“You’re the one missing out. But no touching the thermostat, yeah?”
This is your brain, she thought. Frying pan. This is your brain on drugs.
“Vegas? I haven’t got money for a flight to Vegas. Do you?”
“I don’t, Maddie. But I just want to marry you right now. Is that crazy?”
“No! It’s not crazy. Oh god, Ethan. I want to marry you, too. You would not believe how much I want to marry you.”
“Here. This line’s yours, baby. My parents have got this little house we could live in. We should just ditch our classes, fly to Vegas, have a crazy party wedding, and go be married. Fuck college.”
“Vegas! I’ve always wanted a Vegas wedding. I left you a bump.”
“Thanks, baby. You finish it. I’ve got a fat one right here. I wonder how much flights to Vegas are right now. Tonight.”
“I haven’t got money for a flight to Vegas.”
This is your heart. Blender. This is your heart on drugs.
Ethan wasn’t there to study. She had been there to study, but then she was there for Ethan, and he decided he didn’t want to be there any longer. He was going to be asked to leave, anyhow. So she walked away, drove away with him, her Passat crammed with clothes, plants and books, up here to the fringes of goddam Duluth. What was she thinking?
The warm light across her face felt therapeutic. Someone had perfected a comfort ray. Four point six billion years ago. She could remember that. A G2V yellow dwarf. She could remember that, too. She could no longer remember what she was doing here. The sunlight was turning her brain into a lava lamp. Her memories were rising, stretching into filaments, the filaments parting, the pieces floating away into the light.
The light extinguished. She sat up. The sun was still out. She must have slept, because the square of light was now on the edge of the bed and stretching across the floor. It occurred to her that the sun also had to be shining and bringing warmth outside. Sun and warmth that none of her poor plants had survived to see. That would leave plenty of room in the car for just her clothes and just her books and all the people in the house, which was just her.
“Where are you going?”
“Dave’s got a new snowmobile. We’re going to try and reach his folks’ cabin.”
“When’ll you be back?”
“Dunno. Might be back tonight. If we make it, maybe Monday?”
“Can you leave me some money? We need groceries.”
“Card’s on the fridge. Don’t go blowing our money on heating this dump.”
Where even was she? She picked up her phone and looked at the map. Just a dot at the edge of a grid of lines, empty green to the west, the vacant blue of the lake to the east. It plotted directions for her—south, around the lakes, and then due east.
Her photo app was filled with picture after picture of a couple that had to be fictional, their expressions plastic, a dull and extensive set from a downmarket stock photo site. Her thumb hopscotched around the gallery, selecting them, deleting them. The phone felt lighter. She felt lighter as she walked through the cold house to grab garbage bags for her clothes.