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May 3, 2019 Fiction

Pathetic Fallacy

John Elizabeth Stintzi

Pathetic Fallacy photo

While they wrote about the never-ending snowstorm in the first pages of their novel: outside of their apartment, snow began to fall.

~

It was four days into the snow, into writing their novel, when they realized that it had not stopped snowing since they’d started. Their partner was slipping on her boots and jacket and beanie and gloves on her way to the bookstore where she worked. “What’re you up to today?” she asked, and they said, looking out at the falling white: “The novel.”

~

In the novel, the main character lives in St. Louis and misses true winter—having grown up in northern Minnesota. In the first scene, the main character stands at their window in their apartment overlooking Forest Park, and is struck by the memories of having to wear a parka under their Halloween costumes as a child. Memories of door jambs freezing. Memories of walking exactly in the deep pockets of their father’s footsteps in the deep snow as they went out to fall a Christmas tree. It’s mid-October when the novel begins, when they are shook by the deepest, utterest nostalgia. All the while, outside their window, a blue fall sky begins to snow.

~

It was mid-October when they started writing the novel, too. Their apartment building was a similar building, only none of the high Forest Park-facing apartments were available when they moved in. Their apartment was on the third floor, facing the opposite way.

~

By the fourth day, the temperature outside had finally gotten cold enough for the snow to stick. There were several inches on the ground. They walked out of the apartment building to see it. On the streets, people shoveled paths in the sidewalk. It felt a little to them like home. After a short walk, watching their breath billow and feeling their lips chap, they went back to the apartment and continued to write.

~

On day ten there was three feet of snow.

~

On day thirteen—Halloween—there was seven. Outside the window, they and their partner watched kids dressed as ghosts move like snowdrifts down the snow-blown paths. They watched a miniature Captain America pull a beanie down over his mask. They watched a father carry a tiny Princess Peach wrapped in a blanket, while her mother followed with the tiny jack-o-lantern bucket. 

~

In the novel, the character saw these same things. 

~

That weekend, their partner was supposed to work but the bookstore closed. Business slowed to nothing in the non-essential stores in the city. They sat on the couch under a blanket together drinking tea and watching a marathon of The Simpsons“Treehouse of Horror” episodes. Their partner snuggled up as they took out their phone and sent themselves an email. “Is that for the novel?” she asked, and they said: “Yes.”

~

The novel was about the dangers of nostalgia. The dangers of wanting the world to be a certain, remembered way, while not understanding what that would entail. The email was a note telling them to introduce other characters into their St. Louis: characters who didn’t see snow, but found themselves back in high school, or being treated as though they were nine years old again, before their parents’ divorce.

~

While they wrote these stories into the novel, the snow would let up a little. Until they returned to the main story, where the snow was never-ending.

~

On day nineteen, half of the city had left, and it was the third day of the state of emergency. The snow was twenty-six feet deep. The news showed flyover footage of St. Louis under a blanket of whiteness that ended at the Mississippi, and didn’t go further west than St. Charles. There was snowy footage of houses that had collapsed under the weight of the snow, of office buildings abandoned downtown half crumped under the immense weight. 

~

“This is all proof that global warming is a hoax,” someone said on the news. The next segment was an interview with a family who lost their home in University City, camera zooming in on every tear.

~

They spent so much time writing the novel. There wasn’t anything else to do. Most of their building had left, but there were enough that relief teams dropped food and water and other necessities on the roof for them. Whoever was left wasn’t ready to be evacuated. Between writing the novel, they would go out on the roof for a shift of shoveling snow to keep it from accumulating and crushing the building. It was so cold by then that nobody could stay out for more than 15 minutes at a time.

~

They hadn’t left, though. They did not have a car or anywhere to go.

~

Around day fifteen, their partner started to walk around the frigid apartment in an old cross-country uniform and thermals. She ran through the halls, up and down the stairs. She’d hardly ran since she placed second at State in her senior year of high school. While she did, they went up to the twelfth floor and walked into one of the abandoned apartments that overlooked the park. There wasn’t really any park to see. The trees had almost all fallen from the weight of the snow. They just sat there and wrote.

~

“The snow is covering the park. There are twigs staring out from it. The pipes in the building have been bursting for the last three days. It’s beautiful and perfect.”

~

On day thirty-three, when they couldn’t see out the window of their apartment anymore, they moved into the apartment on the twelfth floor overlooking the park—which had become a bare, white plain. They were also only two floors away from the roof, and since people had started to leave—flagging down the relief helicopters as they came to drop off supplies and surrendering themselves to evacuation—they needed to take extra shifts shoveling to keep the roof clear. 

~

Down the hall from their new apartment, there was a family. Parents and a child from the sounds of them. There was always noise: sometimes childlike laughter, sometimes the parents screaming at one another, sometimes the sound of a child sobbing. Whenever either of them walked past the door on the way to the stairway, they swore they could smell something dead inside.

~

Meanwhile, their partner ran and ran. They didn’t really talk that much. They woke up together, she dressed in her gear and they bundled up by the window and wrote. Sometimes they woke up together in the middle of the night because of the sounds bouncing down the hall. 

~

On day thirty-four, the snow stopped at fifty-seven feet and they were hit with writer’s block. They went to the roof and looked out over the remains of the city, feeling deeply hopeless. They did not write on day thirty-five either, and the temperature started to rise, threatening thaw. They could hardly sleep.

~

On day thirty-eight, their partner asked: “What’s wrong?” as she pulled on her running shoes and they said: “I can’t write. I’m stuck,” and she said, “Do you want me to read it and tell you what I think?”

~

On day forty, as the temperature had been expected to rise above freezing for the first time in more than a month, the snow started up again as they started to write. Their partner had read the unfinished draft, but hadn’t told them what she thought. That morning, she put on her cross-country running shoes, and said: “You should clear the last of the roof in case the snow starts up again. I’m going on a run.”

~

As they cleared the last of the snow, they looked down and saw someone crawl out of a window of the building. She was in a cross-country uniform and thermals. They watched as she started to run away from the building, at a strong and steady pace. From their perspective, it looked like she slowed down as she got further away, but they knew that was just a trick of distance. She shrunk into the seemingly endless whiteness. Their breath started fogging as the temperature began to drop. The snow started to fall again. The words had come back to their head and they dropped the shovel by the door and went down into the empty apartment to write.

~

“This is unprecedented,” the news said about something other than St. Louis. On another channel, a death toll was roughly estimated, and photos of tent-cities on the east bank of the Mississippi were shown against a backdrop of a white snow cliff.

~

On the roof, they’d realized that the novel was all wrong. The premise was flawed. They looked at the strains of the book: the character who was nostalgic for true winter and found themselves in a city where the snow never ceased; the character who wanted to return to her high school glory and found herself eternally agitated and insecure and stressed out; the elderly character who wanted to return to the age of nine when his parents were still together and found himself restless and doted upon by his parents’ reanimated corpses between bouts of their foreshadowing fights. As they had watched their partner run, over the horizon of their world, they realized that the idea that these characters could each live in their own version of St. Louis at once was wrong. The true way would not be to make their worlds parallel, but perpendicular, because no one’s world is free from the interference of another’s.

~

On New Year’s Eve, day seventy-four, the snow was flush to the roof and rising. There was nowhere to put the snow to keep it from accumulating atop the building. The new draft of the book was finished, and they printed it out with the last of the printer ink and put it in a binder. They packed a bag with the book and the remains of their food, and went up to the roof. The snow was a foot deep.

~

Outside, they tied their scarf tighter and began to walk into the blank white. They left deep footprints behind that were quickly covered by the shifting snow. As they walked, they didn’t remember following their father through the snow. There were no footprints at all to follow in.

 

image: Aaron Burch


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