It was still warm when everyone told us it would be cold. They said that the cold would come from the north, which is where everyone already knew it came from. It would come early, stay late, and impose its will on all of us for the entirety of the in between. The men who told us this were the weathermen. There are weather women, to be sure, but not nearly as many of them. This is because weather men start weather college with the goal of becoming an anchor. That’s what they all want to be. So they press their suits, two for the price of one at the mall, and they comb their hair tight. They will be anchors, all of them, except that there isn’t room for all of them. The ones with too much personality, too much giggle in their voice and too much slouch in their shoulders, they become the weather men. Stoic posture and a serious smile is the requirement to anchor, but the absence or squishiness of both is what qualifies for weather man. They all smiled and slouched and then said it would be cold.
They said it would be so cold, so early, that many citizens chose to abandon their posts and flee. Cold Dodgers, that’s what we called them, they left for warmer climes, where the cold would reach but not for very long. The cold mass would march towards them, easily conquering this state and the ones around it, and even the ones under it down south, where most had felt they would be safe. Tennessee never stood a chance, as they fell on a Tuesday when the temperature never warmed above freezing, and the snow that fell on Monday stayed all of Tuesday and into Wednesday. Those in the south saw this coming, and they tried to beat it back. They held the state line, and fought it for most of the day, but at nightfall the attack was too relentless, the pressure too steady. They had only light jackets and regular shoes. “I can’t feel my toes!” The screams lasted deep into the night until they were only muffled pleas that sounded less like fighting than resignation.
Timmy was only 19. This wasn’t his time, and in another time, it wouldn’t have been his time at all. He knew the cold. He had visited his grandmother in Minnesota, once. It was Christmas, and while he can’t remember what he opened on that bountiful morning, he does remember walking from his car to the house. It was so cold. He made it half way, and thought of going back. Back to his car, back to the county road and the interstate system. He thought, half way from that car to that house, that he should leave while he still could. But he didn’t. And that night, he didn’t want to fight. His friends said it would be fun. It would be worth it, they said. Everyone was doing it. It was the right thing to do. So he went out that night, and he stayed out that night. He was last seen near a tire fire in the middle of town, huddled next to it but unresponsive. When his friends said they were leaving, that it was too cold, he just mumbled Minnesota. Minnesota.
Those who were in occupied territory did their best to continue as if nothing were wrong. Those who type for a living still typed, with heaters crowded under their desks to warm their legs. Their fingers were still cold, always cold. They blew on them, they stuck them in their pockets, they held them under the desk. Shirley did that on one late afternoon. The irony of it all was that she wasn’t supposed to be there that day. She was supposed to be at home, with her family, making dinner. But she wasn’t. She stayed on that day, because the snow was blowing and the weather man had said in such a cheery way that people should stay off the roads. So she did. She typed, blowing on her fingers, stuffing them in her pockets. When she reached under her desk, she touched the heater and burned the tips clear off of her fingers. She was only 37.
In the Free Territory, men still golfed. They knew what was going on above the line, and they talked about it like they cared. They had family behind that line, family living under that terrible reign. They talked about the war over lunch, on that patio that people down there have taken to calling verandas. They didn’t play golf last Friday morning, because they said it was too cold. They were so cocky just a few days before, certain that the lines would hold somewhere in the Carolinas and Westward to Georgia. They said there were good men there, men fighting along side their brothers, both the ones they knew and others they didn’t. But Friday morning they didn’t play golf because the line broke. It broke like it always did, late into the night on the heels of so much wind. There was no where that was safe. Maybe they’d play again next Friday, but there was no way to know. The weather man said not to count on it, but he was smiling when he said that. He was smiling the whole time.