SNOW JOB                  

 by Ivanka Fear                 

Winter came in early November and seemed to have every intention of staying for the long haul. “I hate, no I absolutely despise, positively abhor winter,” complained Martha, as she trudged along the slippery, snow-covered ground. “You’d think people could try a little harder to keep their sidewalks clear. There’s no safe place to walk in town. Especially for older people like us, it’s a death trap, is what it is, all this ice and snow,” she continued as her husband, Gord, walked silently beside her.

Gord and Martha turned the corner and headed toward their grey brick bungalow, having cut short their nightly walk due to the hazardous walking conditions. They met and were greeted by their neighbours, Linda and Greg and their two kids. “Nice night for a walk,” Linda said, “Great to get some fresh air.”

“Aren’t the sidewalks just awful, though? And it’s not like you can walk on the road instead. You’re likely to get run down by a car the way some young people drive,” Martha responded. Gord looked at Greg and just shrugged as if to say, “What can you do?”

As they entered the front door of their house, Martha reminded Gord to wipe his feet, place his boots neatly on the mat, and hang up his jacket. With her OCD, Martha couldn’t tolerate any mess or things out of place. As usual, Gord complied without a word.

“I could use a nice hot cup of tea,” Martha told Gord. “Would you mind…?”

“No problem,” replied Gord. He was accustomed to accepting orders even before they were given. After 40 years of marriage, a man learned his place.

Settling down in front of the TV in her flannel nightie and cozy socks minutes later, Martha grabbed the remote from Gord and said, “No sports. I want to watch one of my shows.” Martha’s favourite shows were mysteries and thrillers, as were her favourite books. Although Gord didn’t share her passion for murder, Martha liked to have company while she tried to figure out the whodunit and why.

“I suppose we’ll just have to postpone any further walking till spring,” Martha decided for the both of them. It’s just too dangerous being out there.”

“Mmhm,” agreed Gord.

As the month continued, the snow kept coming down on the town of Richtown. Having retired from his warehouse job in the spring, Gord found himself increasingly bored spending days on end at home. When he expressed an interest in working part-time or volunteering, Martha shot down his suggestions, insisting this was their chance to spend more time together enjoying each other’s company. As Martha had never wanted children, it was just the two of them. At first, Gord thought she would change her mind about having a family, but after several years, he lost hope. Martha’s scornful expression when she watched children misbehaving in public with their parents made it clear she found them disgusting (both the children and their parents). The closest they came to having kids were the cats she doted on. Not being particularly social, when she was not working at her job at the post office, Martha had preferred to spend her time alone or with Gord. They had no real friends to speak of, just some acquaintances. They rarely visited relatives as Martha had no use for them. So now that they were both recently retired and alone, they had to entertain themselves.

During the spring and summer, it wasn’t really that hard to keep busy. There was plenty of work to do outside the house. Gord mowed the lawn, did minor repairs on the house, and puttered around in the garage. Martha did the gardening and sat outside reading her mystery novels. Each evening, they went out for a walk around town. Some days, they got in the car and went for a drive to the lake. Martha loved wading in the water and she could sit all day in the sun and sand with a book in hand, while Gord quietly tolerated the hot beach, sweating and burning, waiting patiently to get out of the sun. But now that winter had settled in, Martha had become irritable and discontent. Not that she was ever content, but winter made her fit to be tied.

“Look at our driveway! And our sidewalk! How am I supposed to get out of the house at all with that snow closing us in?” Martha shouted at Gord as she stared out the bow window. “The neighbours have a snow blower. Why don’t we have one? Oh, that’s right, we can’t afford one! I guess you want me to go out there and shovel myself?”

“No, no, of course not, dear.” Gord reassured her he’d get right on it. Although Martha was all for equal rights, she made it clear snow shovelling was men’s work. Gord bundled up and headed out to take care of the snow problem. He did his best to keep the driveway and walkway clear of snow. Each day, he shovelled, despite the ache in his back. Each day, the mountains of snow that lined the driveway got larger. One day turned into another, November turned into December, and Gord kept shovelling. Not that it mattered all that much. They rarely went out. Martha refused to drive in the winter, fearing she’d have an accident.

As Christmas approached, Martha’s mood lightened somewhat as she decorated the house and they spent their evenings watching romantic Christmas movies. Gord bought her the 60” television she had requested and Martha surprised him with a snowblower. “I know it’s a lot to spend, but you deserve it,” she told him.

“Wow, that’s quite a machine,” Gord said graciously. Martha outdid herself and cooked a delicious turkey dinner for Christmas Day. “This is nice,” Gord complimented her.

Then January came and stole the pleasantries of Christmas with its ice, snow, sleet, freezing rain, and wind. Martha decided it was time for Gord to do some minor renovations indoors. “This place is falling apart. We haven’t updated anything in decades! I know a new kitchen or bath is out of the question, but how much would it cost to put a fresh coat of paint on the walls? And while you’re at it, maybe you could sand down the kitchen cupboards and restain them. And I’m really sick of those leaky taps. By the way, I’ve been looking at curtains online. I’ll need you to put new rods up.” Martha spouted her distaste for their home with barely a pause for breath.

“Whatever you want, darling,” Gord promised.

“Don’t you darling me, just get started. I’m sick of looking at this place,” Martha told her husband.

The excitement of fixing up the house placated Martha for a while, and Gord didn’t mind doing a bit of painting, if it made her happy. At least he didn’t need to break his back shovelling now that he had the snowblower. Unfortunately, as always, she didn’t stay happy for long. One day, in her excitement to redecorate, she took the car to the city to do some shopping for decor items. As she was carrying her packages into the house later in the day, she slipped on some ice in the driveway. Although she was fine, she started on her tirade against winter with renewed vigour.

Upon entering the house, Martha screamed, “That’s it! I’ve had enough! I just slipped and fell on my bottom. It’s a wonder I didn’t break my back.”

“Are you okay?” asked Gord, concerned.

“Yes, but no thanks to you. Is it too much to ask you to salt and sand the driveway? Do you want me to break a hip or crack my head open? Do you want to be pushing me around in a wheelchair just because you’re too lazy to keep that damned driveway clear?”

“I’m sorry…I’ll fix it,” Gord said, trying to calm her down. He put away her packages, got her settled on the couch with a blanket and a cup of tea, then got dressed to go outside. He chopped as much of the ice as he could, which was rather thick, and salted and sanded till he ran out of salt and sand. “That should do it,” he said to himself.

February brought more of the same. Day in and day out, Martha grumped and demanded. Gord couldn’t seem to do anything to appease her wretched mood. “Do you think you could put your dirty socks in the hamper instead of on the floor? You’re a grown man, an old one at that, you’d think you could look after yourself,” she nagged.

Gord picked up his socks, did the laundry (as he often did), and tried his darndest not to upset his wife. All the while, he kept the driveway blown, salted, and sanded. Inside, he painted and sanded, repaired and decorated, while Martha kept finding more jobs for him to do.

“Do you have to leave your empty cup on the counter? How hard is it to put it in the dishwasher? You’re such a slob,” Martha berated Gord.

Gord picked up his cup, turned on the dishwasher, and wiped down the counter. “Sorry, my bad,” he said. “I know I’m a lazy slob. I’m so lucky to have you to look after me.”

“I love you anyway,” Martha said as she hugged him.

“Love you, too,” he said back.

“Feel like a short walk around the block? It’s really getting to me, being cooped up like this.”

“Sure, good idea,” Gord replied.

As they carefully walked along the edge of the driveway, Martha asked, “What are those huge white bricks sticking out of the pile of snow?”

“They’re just chunks of ice from when I was chopping up the driveway,” Gord answered.

“Wouldn’t be very good if someone slipped and hit their head on that, would it? Just watch we don’t get sued by somebody,” Martha said.

“I’ll take care of it,” Gord said once again.

After their short walk around the block, Martha settled in on the couch for one of her TV mysteries. “Come watch. There’s been another murder,” she told Gord.

“What a surprise!” Gord joked as he joined his wife on the couch.

Near the end of February, the living, dining room, and bedrooms had been completed, and Gord was starting on the kitchen improvements. Martha yelled at Gord as he was removing the cupboard doors for sanding. “Honestly, how many times do I have to ask you to pick up your newspapers after you’re done with them? I work hard to keep things neat and tidy, and all you do is keep messing things up. It’s a full-time job following you around and picking up after you.”

“I wasn’t done with them yet,” Gord explained, “but I’ll put them away if you want.”

“Oh, never mind,” retorted Martha as she headed towards the recycle bin in the laundry room. “I am SO tired of this!”

As March began, winter showed no sign of releasing its grip. “I wish we could go on a holiday somewhere nice and hot. If I had married Bob, I could afford to travel all the time. But no, I had to settle for you. It’s not like I had any shortage of suitors when I was younger. Why I chose someone with so little ambition, is beyond me.” Martha mused aloud, oblivious to the fact that she had belittled her husband maybe just one too many times.

“Maybe you should think about going to visit your sister. It’ll be warmer there than it is here, that’s for sure,” he suggested. Martha’s sister and her family lived in the states. “I know it’s a long bus ride, but a change of scenery might be just what’s needed.”

“Maybe you’re right,” she agreed. “I’m just so fed up with winter and being locked up like this. It’s enough to make a person go nuts. I’ll go spend some time with her. Maybe we should think about a move to the states ourselves before next winter. Things have to change. With the house fixed up a bit now, it should be easier to sell. I don’t want to face another miserable winter like this,” Martha decided.

“Whatever you want, dear,” Gord acquiesced, “Sounds like a plan.”

The next day was garbage and recycle day. In the evening around 9 pm, Martha looked out the window and saw the recycling bins hadn’t been brought in yet. It had been a stormy day and the snow continued to fall, the wind continued to blow. “I can’t depend on you to do anything, can I? They can’t stay out there all night. If the wind doesn’t blow them away, the snow plow will bury them by morning,” Martha admonished.

“I’ll take care of it,” Gord said as usual. “Why don’t you go have a nice hot bath while I throw out some more salt and get the bins, then I’ll get you your tea and we’ll watch the last episode of that murder mystery.”

Martha couldn’t argue with that, so she did as she was told. Nice and comfy in her pyjamas, she sipped her tea. “It tastes a bit funny. Did you remember the sugar?” she asked Gord.

“Oh, sorry, dear, let me fix it for you.”

Then they settled down on the couch together and enjoyed the last episode of the Agatha Christie miniseries. “Ah ha, I knew it,” she exclaimed as the killer was revealed. Gord didn’t answer. He was already fast asleep.

Turning off the TV and the lights, Martha looked out the window before extinguishing the outdoor lights. “What on earth? Is he losing his mind? Honestly, if it weren’t for me, he’d forget his head!” Martha exclaimed. “Oh, well, if you need a job done properly…” Martha was feeling rather groggy herself, but she pulled on her coat and slipped on her boots, opened the door, and went out to fetch the recycling bins that hadn’t moved since she last looked out. It was dark, but the house lights and street lights were on. She’d just quickly grab the bins and get right back in, she thought, as she glanced over at her useless husband. “Just useless,” she muttered.

***

The next morning, Gord made himself coffee and toast and read the newspaper in peace and quiet. “I’m sure you’ll be a lot happier where you are now,” he said aloud to no one. “Won’t need to worry about all that snow and ice, not to mention the mess around here, and won’t need to look after your useless husband.” When Gord woke up earlier, Martha was already gone. He missed her nagging and complaining, but he’d get used to it.

 After breakfast, he got dressed and prepared for a day of making choices. He was free to do whatever he wanted, for the time being anyway. As he made his way towards his car, he looked at the mounds of snow and thought it would still be a while before they melted completely. Greg was leaving for work and waved to Gord. “Hey, haven’t seen much of you lately. Heading out on your own today?” Greg asked him.

“Yes, Martha’s gone to visit her sister in South Carolina for a few weeks. Took the early bus. I didn’t see her leave, guess she didn’t want to wake me. Left a note, though. Said she’s had all she could take of this miserable weather,” Gord told him. “I’m just staying behind to finish up some renos I’ve been working on. Hope to get it all done before she gets back.”

Gord drove to the bank and withdrew some cash from the ATM, then went to the comic book store and treated himself to a few copies of magazines Martha didn’t allow him to buy. His next stop was the Canadian Tire where he wandered around just enjoying the chance to browse without being pestered. After that, he had lunch at a fast food place and gorged on fatty foods Martha didn’t let him eat very often. The afternoon was spent at the movie theatre, an action adventure flick Martha would have hated. “I could get used to this,” Gord thought. “But Martha will turn up sooner or later. Things will change. Better enjoy my time on my own while I can.”

After a couple of weeks, the weather took a turn for the better. A few days of warm sun and gentle breezes had started to melt the snow. “It won’t be long now,” Gord thought. “She’ll be turning up soon. Better be ready to face the music.”

By the end of March, the snow mountains were dwindling despite Gord’s snowblowing. Winter was clearly coming to an end. Martha hadn’t turned up yet, but it was just a matter of time.

One day, Greg and Linda were walking past Gord’s driveway with their kids. “Mom, Dad, look! There’s a boot in the snow!” shouted one of the kids. As they examined the boot up close, Greg and Linda told the kids to go home and lock the door. Attached to the boot they had noticed a leg.

When the police came, the accident scene was cordoned off until the coroner could examine the body and take it away. Gord was in absolute shock. The police interviewed the distraught husband and took notes. Apparently, the wife was sick and tired of winter and had planned to stay with her sister in the states for a while. On the night of her departure, she had probably ventured out late at night to collect the recycle bins beside the driveway. She must have slipped on the slick smooth surface and hit her head on a chuck of brick-like ice. The snow plow driver mustn’t have seen her as the snow filled in around her body. She was planning on getting on the first bus of the morning headed to the city. The bus stop was only a couple of blocks away, so she hadn’t thought she would need to wake her husband to drive her there. There was a note left on the night table next to his side of the bed. The husband showed the investigating detective. It was written in the wife’s handwriting and it read:

Darling,

Sorry to leave without saying goodbye. You were sleeping so soundly when I came to bed tonight, I didn’t want to bother you. If I’m gone before you get up in the morning, don’t fret. A little exercise won’t hurt me. Don’t worry about me, I can handle a suitcase on wheels (haha). I’m so looking forward to some nicer weather and a visit with Sue, but I miss you already. I’ll let you know when I expect to be back. See you in a few weeks.

Love you,

XXO

P.S. Don’t forget to feed the cats.

Martha’s suitcase was found packed and ready to go in her closet. Gord hadn’t looked in there as he had no reason to do so. He never disturbed her things, he told the police. When asked whether he had tried to text or call his wife or her sister, he said, “We’re too old for that texting stuff. She said she’d talk to me in a few weeks. I figured she was busy having a good time and I didn’t want to bother her. Besides, I figured I would have heard if something was wrong.”

The neighbours were interviewed next. Greg and Linda confirmed that Martha was fed up with the winter weather and Greg told the police that Martha was indeed supposed to have left for her sister’s place. When they were asked about the relationship between Martha and Gord, they hesitated and exchanged glances, then Greg said, “Probably what you’d expect it to be after 40 years of marriage.”

The coroner’s report indicated that Martha had suffered a blow to the head, consistent with a fall on hard, sharp ice. Between the blow on the head, exposure from the cold, and suffocation from the snow piled on top of her, the conclusion was that she died as the result of a tragic accident the night before she was expecting to leave for a vacation.

    ***

Six months later, Gord stood on the pier jutting out into the Gulf of Mexico. He opened the ceramic vase he was holding and tipped the contents into the water. Martha’s ashes flowed out. “You’ll never need to face another dreadful winter, my dear. You always wanted to vacation in warmer climes. You’ll love it here. You deserve it,” Gord said to his wife. For once Martha was silent.

The substantial life insurance policy, along with the sale of the house, would ensure that Gord could travel anywhere he wanted. There was a lot of world to see and there were a lot of people to meet, he thought to himself.

He hadn’t really expected to get away with it. It would have been worth it, though, just those few weeks of freedom. He was fed up with winter, but he was even more fed up with his wife. Thanks to winter, her reign was over.

The last murder mystery episode night, while Martha was in the bath, Gord had dumped buckets of water on the driveway close to the bricks of ice sticking out of the snow bank, next to the recycle bins. He had spiked Martha’s tea with sleeping pills. Knowing the forgotten recycle bins would irk Martha enough for her to venture out herself, he feigned sleep. Luck was on his side. Sleepy, not paying attention, she had slipped and hit her head. All Gord did after that was turn on the snowblower and cover her with a blanket of snow. Then he packed her suitcase, put it in her closet, wrote the note, and went to sleep alone. When he woke up, Martha was gone. A tragic accident caused by snow and ice, aided and abetted by sleeping pills in place of sugar and buckets of water in place of salt. Stir in one fake handwritten note, written after decades of forging his wife’s signature. Add a bit of good fortune and a great snow job.

A delicious recipe for murder. Too bad Martha wasn’t here to solve it. She would have loved it.

Ivanka Fear is a Slovenian born writer and former teacher residing in midwestern Ontario, Canada. She holds a B.A. and B.Ed., majoring in English and French literature, from Western University. Her poems and short stories appear in or are forthcoming in Spadina Literary Review, Montreal Writes, Spillwords, Commuterlit, Canadian Stories, Adelaide Literary, October Hill, Scarlet Leaf Review, Polar Borealis, Lighten Up, Bewildering Stories, The Sirens Call, Utopia Science Fiction, The Literary Hatchet, Wellington Street Review, Aphelion, Sad Girl Review, Tales From the Moonlit Path, Muddy River Poetry Review,  Understorey, Suspense Magazine, Close to the Bone, Drunken Pen Writing, Last Leaves Literary, Analogies and Allegories, The Mark Literary Review, and Blank Spaces. She has completed her fifth mystery/suspense novel, and is currently looking for an agent. You can read more about her at https://ivankafear.wix.com/mysite

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