THIS WEEK IN NYC 
 
 
 
She had been so insistent at the time that I finally agreed to buy that cottage so far away from the city with no neighbors and too near the woods. She was totally charmed by the nearby lake that we could perfectly see from the living room terrace windows. Of course, she made wonders, and with time, the cottage became extremely comfortable. I still resented having to drive for so many hours to get there. I presume I am a lazy bourgeois who would rather watch TV with a glass of good wine than enjoy the strong, fresh, windy air of the lake and woods and all the other countryside pleasures. But who could resist Patricia’s charm? One could never neglect her presence when she entered a room. All of us were so sad when she could not continue her ballet career because of that stupid and minor operation that she had on her knee. She could walk perfectly, but she could dance no more.

“Stop it, for Christ’s sake! Haven’t you seen the poor badger? It’s a real wonder that he got away. Look! He safely reached the other side.”

The woman’s shout had been loud but pleasant, like a cold shower to my nerves.

“What are you, one of those ecologists? I didn’t see the darn badger. Can’t you see the storm looming ahead of us? Do you think I care about a stupid animal jumping under the wheels?”

Of course, I did not really mean it. I was actually glad that the badger was all right. The woman was tense, but so was I. I could clearly see by the black sky ahead that we were heading directly into the storm. The poor badger must have thought it was night when he tried to cross the road.

“I’m sorry!” I said.

She nodded, but I felt her tension combined with a sort of sadness.  After all, we are all God’s creatures. I could have been that badger myself, I thought, but I did not say anything more. I just continued to drive, scarcely able to see the road in front of me. A heavy rain soon started splashing its drops at random in the wild wind. The sound of the rain always relaxes me, but this time it was as if someone was whipping the car around with fury. The wind grew wilder and wilder. I would not stop the car for anything in the world, for I desperately wanted to see Patty. I had not seen her for a week. It felt like a year to me.

“Don’t you think it would be wiser to pull over for a while?” she asked candidly.

“And do what, just wait for it to get worse?”

That very moment, I realized that she would take me for a very rude person, but I really did not care. I was thinking of Patty’s embrace, of her soft arms, her curly black hair that was so black I looked dark blue in the light, her warm walnut eyes, so strange, so innocent, and so different from any other woman’s.

Patty’s stupid idea of spending so much time at the cottage made me endlessly drive almost every Friday to see her. How thrilled I was going to be to surprise her and just show up on a Wednesday evening. I even bought two bottles of her favorite Merlot. We would dine gazing at the lake from our cozy living room, not caring about the storm, and then make love all night like some bunch of truant, crazy kids. My sweet Patty! I know that life has not been fair to you, but from now on, I will try to make up for all your misfortunes. I was wrong to put my career before anything. I will treasure you, as you deserve.

“You must accept my apologies for not being too talkative,” I suddenly said to the woman.

“It’s okay. My name is Sandra. I had such a terrible night that I am not sure where I am heading.”

“I’m Michael. I just want to get to my wife, and I am only annoyed with this storm.”

“It seems to be right ahead of us, as if we are driving into it. I’m not afraid, though. I’m from Kansas.”

“That’s good to hear. It almost looks like a tornado to me.”

“Don’t worry. Are you sure you don’t want to stop and calm down for a moment?”

“No. I’ve already told you, I have to get to my wife.”

“You must love her a lot.”

I did not consider it necessary to answer and continued to drive. My eyes dried out with the effort to concentrate on the road. She looked at me with a sort of compassion and then asked for permission to smoke. I nodded. I did not wish to enter into anymore conversation with her. She lit a cigarette, and for a moment, the flame of her lighter brought a strange, powerful light into all that darkness. The headlights were piercing the dense darkness of dust and fog. The rain was stopping and coming again in sequences. The woman’s green eyes were sparkling extremely, like those of some rare wild creature caught by surprise.

“I must admit I’ve known few men who would drive into a storm for someone else’s sake,” she said.

We drove for almost another two hours, and the center of the storm seemed to always be one pace ahead of us.  We saw fallen trees and wires and even waited for almost half an hour until a huge trunk was removed from the road. We passed some houses with broken windows and smashed roofs and were terrified of what more was going to happen since we seemed to be following in the footsteps of this disaster. All this time, I felt a secret bond between Sandra and me. I did not really know who she was, and I did not care. We were now two very close people in the middle of peril, and this was the only thing that counted.

“We are getting near my place. I will speak to my wife, and you can spend the night with us.”

She nodded in that special nonchalant way of hers without thanking me, as if she didn’t care.

I was so happy when I saw my house from a distance and even happier as we drove closer and closer. I realized that, with the exception of some bended trees and a devastated garden in front, it seemed not to have suffered any damage. I told Sandra to wait in the car. When I got out, I could barely slam the car door shut. It was almost a hurricane, and I was like a toy being tossed about, barely able to maintain my balance. Finally, I managed to reach the front porch and to enter into the house after another fight with the front door. Since our kitchen could be seen from the living room, I noticed the broken window of the kitchen door with fluttering curtains and the wind howling in the kitchen. I knew how careful Patty was with these things and could not imagine her being so careless. I rushed into the kitchen and pulled down the shutters to temporarily block the hole. I started to anxiously call Patty, but the howling wind outside covered my voice. I went upstairs and opened the bedroom door.  There they were: her sweet face resting on the shoulder of my friend Jack, her half naked body in his arms under our blue quilt. They were both sleeping, looking like the perfect pair. I closed the door slowly and went back to the car. It was then that I realized that I was actually in the midst of the storm. Until that moment, no damage had been done. We actually met at the cottage, the storm and me.

The storm was no longer ahead of us. Instead, we were now in its very center, and the disaster had only just begun. I managed to get back into the car, and I sped up incredibly fast. All my senses were twice as sharp as usual. I managed to get out of that nightmare with accuracy, which was triggered only by my disappointment and despair, though I didn’t realize it at that time. I left the storm behind without any remorse of what might follow or happen.

Sandra did not ask me anything. Late in the night, when I was still aimlessly driving, staring at the oncoming headlights, she whispered, “You look exactly like that badger that managed to get away.”

 
            Daniela Albu is a novelist living in Bucharest, Romania, Europe.