She shoveled the parking spot for her neighbor, the cute one who had trouble walking for some indeterminate reason, probably drunkenness or some other affliction. He often got home late, and she watched from her living room window as he staggered from his car to the front door.
He slammed the door with such finality that she jumped even though she knew it was coming. The sound provided unwanted closure: “Just in case you fuckers were wondering, I’m never leaving the house again, because fuck you.” She was fairly certain he lacked the ability to close a door in a way that civilized people would find acceptable.
At least five inches of snow had fallen before she decided to start shoveling. She spent the morning slathering her face with lotion and drinking coffee, perching on the edge of the kitchen sink to smoke cigarettes even though she promised herself she’d never smoke indoors. She figured this was the kind of weather that demanded exceptions.
She wore three pairs of pants, four shirts, a puffy silver coat, and the best pair of gloves she owned, which weren’t waterproof but were better than nothing. It was the heart of winter, and the sky was impenetrable. Outside, the cold coiled around her bones like wire, and she considered abandoning the whole endeavor.
But she remembered how her neighbor looked at her when they ran into each other in the laundry room. She’d never seen eyes such a rich shade of grayish blue, almost purple. A jagged scar split the right side of his face like a canyon, like he’d gone through a windshield or been punched with brass knuckles — at least that’s what she imagined.
They both needed to use the only working dryer, and they reached for the door at the same time. She gasped when she saw him staring down at her. He was calm. He didn’t give a fuck.
“Excuse me,” she said, catching her breath. “I’m in a hurry, do you mind?”
He tucked his laundry basket under his arm, and she realized how huge he was, at least a foot taller than her and very muscular. He limped over to one of the washers and sat on top of it, his boots kicking against the hollow metal box.
“Nope,” he said, his voice rough. “I can wait.”
She loaded her stuff and rushed back upstairs, her heart pounding and her cheeks hot. When she came back down an hour later, her clothes were neatly folded. Even her underwear were tidy little squares, like handkerchiefs. She was surprised that this made her feel so special.
It took her an hour to clear the parking spot and the sidewalk leading to the front door. After ten minutes, she started to sweat, and she peeled off her coat and tossed it on the ground. The snow was light, but there was a layer of ice beneath it that she had to hack through with the sides of the shovel.
She worked until her arms ached and the mound of relocated snow stood several feet high. When she was finished, she went back inside, put on a pot of tea, and waited by the window.
The snow continued to fall, swirling like glitter in front of the streetlights. She tried to appreciate its beauty, but she hated it. The cold made her put things off. She kept telling herself she’d make a change when the weather turned, but some days she wasn’t so sure.
When a car — the wrong car — pulled into the cleared spot, she jumped to her feet and said, “No.” She slid on her boots without zipping them and ran down the stairs to confront the car’s owner on the sidewalk.
“No,” she said again.
“Excuse me?” he said, looking somewhat amused. He was young, probably 25. He wore a Montreal Expos hat and yellow-tinted goggles instead of sunglasses.
“That’s not for you,” she said.
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
“The parking spot.”
“I don’t see your name on it.”
She didn’t see any point in arguing. She went upstairs, pulled her coat back on, and grabbed her shovel. The night was getting darker and the air colder, chilling any exposed skin within seconds. She quickly got to work clearing another spot.
Soon, her fingers were stiff and painful. If she smiled, she feared her cheeks might shatter. Her toes ached in the tips of her boots. Hazardous — this weather was hazardous. The spot was clear enough. It would have to do.
She went back upstairs and sat by the window, chain smoking to stay awake. She was nodding off when she heard his old truck rumbling up the street, the muffler rattling. She peered out the window, suddenly afraid he might see her.
He parked behind the 25-year-old’s car, his tires crunching through the snow. She’d shoveled the spot in front of it.
“No,” she said.
She ran downstairs without her shoes and greeted her neighbor in the doorway. He stared at her with those purple eyes, dulled by drink but still sharp enough to register the strangeness of her long underwear and rainbow-striped socks.
“You parked in the wrong spot,” she said.
“I don’t see your name on it,” he said, and he unlocked his door and shuffled inside his apartment.