VENUS SPINS THE OTHER WAY
Like wasps flying for their lives, that damn hum started up at 4 p.m. every day. The local boys circled the hills behind the houses, running their snowmobiles full blast around Ring Road. I remember that December well. I was in Vermont with Barbara Jennifer. Jill was in Massachusetts loaded with cancer. Barbara Jennifer was nice enough. She insisted she be called by her two first names at all times. I'd find myself having to say, Barbara Jennifer is coming up for New Year's. Barbara Jennifer hates figs. Barbara Jennifer is being audited, and so on. Even her last name was a first name: Susan. Barbara Jennifer Susan. She was only staying with me for New Year's. I'd invited her. Her mouth didn't open much when she spoke. Her upper lip seemed to barely move, as if unaware that words were sliding out right under it. The lake was frozen that winter. People would often fish on the lake in the warmer months.
Jill had been on my mind ever since I heard she was sick. I really only knew her as well as I knew Barbara Jennifer, but I felt close to Jill knowing she was suffering. I felt guilty being in Vermont with Barbara Jennifer while Jill was dying in a hospital. I remember wishing that Jill could have been with me for the New Year instead of Barbara Jennifer. I wanted to get to know Jill more. I wanted another night with her. Maybe only because I knew she'd soon be gone. Maybe she wanted someone to know her better before she left. I'd never known anyone that I'd fucked to die.
That New Year's there was a snowstorm. On top of that we ran out of propane. We were on a mountain north of Bennington. The guys couldn't get up the road because of the weather until the next day to refill the tank. So, we had no heat. The local boys were shooting off fireworks out over the lake. Barbara Jennifer and I watched some bursts through the window. Golden sparkles blossomed with a bang, warmed our eyes, then quickly faded and fell toward the dark ice. It was before midnight but we decided to get into bed because we were cold.
I began to fall asleep right away. Just before I did, Barbara Jennifer threw back the blankets and said she was going for a hot bath. She was still cold. The water heater was electric. The empty propane tank didn't affect the hot water in the house. I turned over and was soon asleep. Later I woke, sweaty. Jill had died. I knew it. Barbara Jennifer wasn't in bed. I pushed off the covers and rolled onto my back. I tried to make out anything in the darkness. It was so dark I couldn't tell if my eyes were open or closed.
When I woke next it was sunny out and I was wrapped up in the blankets. Barbara Jennifer was still gone, or gone again. I wanted to tell her that someone I knew had died. I wanted to call every hospital in Boston. I had to pee. When I opened the bathroom door I found the bathtub filled with water. I put my fingertips in and felt the water was cold. I sat down on the toilet to pee. I didn't flush.
I went downstairs and saw just how much snow we'd gotten. Through the window I could see Barbara Jennifer standing by the lake. Wind was blowing snow around her like a fog. She was looking down and it looked like she was smiling. I called the propane guys to find out when we could expect them. They said tomorrow. It was New Year's Day after all, and a Sunday. I needed coffee. I filled the kettle with water and set it on the stove. I lit a match and turned on the burner. Nothing.
Robert Overbey is a writer of mostly short fiction. His stories have appeared in Alexandria Quarterly, Sakura Review, and Paris Lit Up. His debut collection, A Life Without Seasons and Other Stories, was published by AQ Press in 2016. He received a BFA in writing from Goddard College. He lives in New York City.