This story is by Taylor Kimble and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I stood in front of the tall, red door—a bright candy-apple shade of red—fixating on the bold suite numbers that read 3-0-0. The large brass figures stared at me as if the zeroes themselves were watchful eyes. I felt my heart hammering in my chest and wondered if it could nail a CLOSED sign over the accusing observer.
Unsure of the time I had been playing the staring game with this door, I contemplated if it was too late to leave. I reached towards the door and cocked my wrist into a knocking position. In my hesitation I recounted the pain I have faced behind this door every Thursday at three o’clock and wished today that Cooper stay behind that damned red door. I retracted my outstretched limb and turned to hurry down the long hallway towards the stairwell. A few steps into my retreat I heard the door hinge creak open, and I cringed slightly as I heard the door-handler’s mellow voice,
“Good afternoon, Miss Ryan.”
“Hi Dr. Schull,” I muttered defeatedly as I turned to face him. “Sorry to be late… again.”
“No apologies necessary,” he soothed in his slight British accent, “you’re right on time.” He reached a gentle hand towards me and beckoned me inside. Dr. Schull stood almost half the height of the door, held a comfortably round dimension, and quite frankly reminded me of Santa Claus. The hair above his ears was white and thinning while the hair atop his head was absent, creating a runway strip of bare, freckled, and wrinkly skin. His slender, ice-blue eyes sat softly above his plump and rosy cheeks, exuding a kind and gentle disposition about him.
I placed my hand in his—comforted by the warm feeling—as he led me past the glaring numbers and into his office. Memories of vulnerability hung about the sofas centered in the room, as if welcoming me into their void.
“Why don’t you take a seat on the large sofa today?” Dr. Schull recommended.
“Brianna,” he said as he crossed one leg over the other, “we have been chatting for a few months now… about Cooper.”
“Yes,” I agreed, tugging at the cold ring around my finger.
“Today I would like to go a little deeper into the ‘Teton Incident’,” I gave him a slow nod.
“Good!” he beamed. “When you’re ready.”
I recalled the time when I was care-free and adventurous—when I thought of life as a gift instead of a curse. Years of my life I spent hiking at Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming—mastering trails and blazing new ones—with a husband who mirrored my love of adventure. Cooper and I loved to hike in the snow; the crisp serenity of nature in the winter truly takes one’s breath away. This particular wayward winter had rangers and weather reporters on edge for adventure-junkies like ourselves, recommending to stay indoors due to the foreseen blizzards. It didn’t surprise me to see Cooper all dressed for the hike when I arrived at our cabin.
A few hours into our hike, swirls of snow whirled around us, and though Cooper would not admit it, we were lost. A slight desperation rang in my voice as I urged the severity of the situation.
“We’ll be fine, we always are,” his soothing words calmed me—some. He gently pressed his lips against my forehead, leaving a ring of warmth in that one spot. He took my hand in his warm one, and we began walking against the cold wind once again.
Time passed but the storm did not. The unruly blizzard grew increasingly worse as we fought our way through the knee-high snow. Our bodies froze to the storm’s will. It howled and screamed as it scratched at our exposed faces—reopening blistering wounds that had veined across our cheeks. Dribbles of hot blood strained through the icy cracks but were quickly frozen before feeling a moment of its warm relief. Crystals of ice fused to our eyelashes, making them heavy and further obstructing our vision. All that could be seen was a whirlwind of white. All that could be heard was the shrill cry of winter. All I could feel was the arctic blanket snuffing out every stir of warmth. The only sign I wasn’t alone was the slight tug of a rope that was looped around my waist with the other end leading me forward on a path that wasn’t there.
“COOPER!” I bellowed over the screeching wind. No answer. I yelled once more, this time yanking back on the rope that bound us together.
“What is it, what’s wrong?!” his face was right up against mine now; his eyes full of tender worry. There was no heat emanating from him—the way that heat beams from one lover to another when you are just a breath apart. Nothing but ice.
“We need to find shelter, now!” I cried. His frozen hand grabbed mine, barely able to clasp together. No heat, no warmth. Nothing but ice. He yelled something, but the wind swept his words elsewhere.
A thunderous boom sounded somewhere in front of us, and my heart sank as the reality of our survival grew bleak. I turned to look at Cooper. Though his face was frozen and rivered with glacial gashes, his smile was warm.
A white whale of roaring snow plowed in front me, erasing Cooper’s existence with one easy stroke. I reached out for his hands, finding nothing but an empty rope. Confused and disoriented, I twisted about seeing nothing but white swallowing the world around me—swallowing everything but me. I yelled Cooper’s name and fell to my knees. As the swirl of wind and snow shrieked around me in a tornado of anguish, I looked down at the limp rope in my hands. I gave it a gentle tug, but I was overwhelmingly alone in this desolate tempest.
“Brianna,” I jumped as Dr. Schull’s voice echoed through the blizzard, “open your eyes.” My eyes opened. I stared up at the speckled ceiling of Dr. Schull’s office. I felt dizzy as I realized I was not in a swirling vortex of snow, but safely seated on the stone-blue sofa. A beating inside my head reverberated throughout my body, and I put my hand upon my chest to catch its rhythm.
“How do you feel?” he urged, as if he had repeated the question. I hesitated a few moments.
“Warm,” I said truthfully for it felt like I had just been freezing to death.
Dr. Schull went into an explanation of how he had used hypnotherapy in today’s session to dive into the depths of my grief. His psychoanalysis fingered the air, but my mind fought fiercely to evade his grasp.
“You weren’t in the blizzard,” he said. I sank further into the sofa, examining the ring on my finger. It was alone and insignificant without its twin. Dr. Schull continued,
“It was Cooper, only.” Tears brimmed the edges of my eyes and the marital symbol of eternity began to ripple away. Cooper’s face swam into view as I remembered our true, final moments together:
He stood in the doorway dressed in his snow gear and blew kisses at me through the air. I opened my mouth to reply “I love you”, but a sneeze snuck out instead.
“I must be allergic to… ahh ahh CHOO”—make that two sneezes— “your air kisses.” He walked towards the couch where I sat holding a cup of hot tea and bundled up with blankets. His lips tenderly pressed against my forehead and with a warm smile he told me he loved me too.
Shaking away the memory and tears, the ringed finger came back into focus, and I held hard to the golden halo. I never went on the hike, but Cooper and his oh-so-fearless-self did.
The feeling of warm hands on my own startled me, and I looked up at Dr. Schull.
“I stayed home,” I blurted out. “I was sick, so I stayed home.” He nodded.
“How do you feel?” he asked a third time. I looked down again at my wedding ring, twisting it between my thumb and index finger. The weeks following Cooper’s departure I felt anger crawl through the emotional cracks, pointing its finger at Cooper who left me home alone and at me who allowed him to hike alone. Anger quickly turned into guilt, guilt into more pain, and pain finally into hope. The false, icy memory of my presence in the blizzard slowly began to make sense. It left me with the small, warming comfort that he was not alone in his final moments—that I was not alone now. As long as Cooper’s love beats inside my heart and walks the trails inside my mind, I know that I will survive the cold solitude currently gnawing at my existence.
Dr. Schull coughed, and I realized I had not answered his question.
“Warm,” I said, smiling.