The snow fell in quick, bunching clusters carried on a brisk, darting wind. Willow Rosenberg unconsciously tugged her green flannel robe more tightly around her slender body as she glanced out the window of her single-story Craftsman home. The weather was quickly becoming inclement, something not uncommon in Oswego during the mid-winter months. Still, Willow preferred the blustery winters of upstate New York to the bitter, biting cold of her parents vacation home, a modest cabin on an acre of modest land, in central Montana.
Of course, she had been invited to join them, but this year she just couldn't bring herself to leave already cold weather for intolerably cold weather just for the sake of lighting the menorah. Willow sighed inwardly, why couldn't she have normal parents? Ones who had a vacation home in Florida, and not No Man's Land, MT: population three freezing Jews. Well, only two freezing Jews this year, she thought to herself. She chuckled as the first line of father's old joke flickered across her mind, "What do you call a frozen Jew?"
"An Oy-sicle", she said aloud, and couldn't help but snicker.
Walking away from the window, she crossed the cozy living room, complete with a lively fire in the fireplace, and turned on her circa 1950's radio with a deft flip of her wrist. The genial voice of the on-air talent snapped and crackled and finally came into tune, filling the room with the latest weather report.
"....sidents of the following counties are under a severe storm warning until 2 'o' clock tomorrow morning, thanks to the blizzard that is definitely, that's right folks, definitely, on its way, so if I mention your county name, please don't make any plans to do any traveling tonight. And if you've made traveling plans, break them. Okay, the counties under a severe storm warning are: Otsego, Madison, Onondaga, Oneida, and Oswego. This warning is in effect until 2 a.m. tomorrow. So please, if you're inside, stay there and if you're outside, get inside. Again, the counties are: Otsego, Madis--"
Willow switched the radio off again. The report had been nothing new. The local meteorologists had been forecasting the storm for the past couple of days, and Willow was well-prepared for any snow-driven calamity that might occur. She padded to the kitchen in her gray, kitty-shaped slippers and set a kettle on the gas range to boil.
Glancing up at the digital display of her microwave oven she noted the time: 9:03pm.
A fierce and undeniable yawn gripped her face, and she had no choice but to let it out.
"No, no, none of that," she said to herself, "it's too early for that." She shook her head, trying to clear away the urge to curl up and sleep. Tucking an errant strand of her red hair away from her face, Willow crossed away from the stove and to the cabinets next to the sink; opening the first door she pulled out a mug and set it on the counter top.
She had to admit to herself that the reason she was so tired was because there was nothing remotely interesting happening, despite the storm. All of her books had been read, and re-read; all of her videos watched, and re-watched. The only thing showing on television was the 67th re-play of "A Christmas Story" on CBS, or the 208th re-play of "It's A Wonderful Life" on ABC, and if Willow wanted something to view that was even vaguely Jew-centric, the only option was to tune into the wildly depressing 29th re-play of "Schindler's List" on Fox.
Stupid Fox, she thought to herself and sniffed her nose indignantly.
Gripping the handle of a nearby cabinet, she tugged it open and reached for the box of Swiss Miss cocoa mix resting inside.
"I wish I had someone to talk to," she sighed.
Instantly, there came an urgent knocking at the front door.
Willow froze. "I wish I had a million dollars," she said, looking about the room hopefully. Nothing. "Just checking."
The rapping at the home's entrance re-asserted itself.
Willow peered out the kitchen door, and down the hallway to the front. The knocking continued.
"Alright," she stated in a voice she hoped was loud enough for her visitor to hear. "I'm coming, I'm coming."
She scurried across the wooden floor and checked through the door's peephole, making out a figure bundled tightly in winter coat and scarf, their face barely visible.
"Who is it?"
"My car broke down," came the muffled reply; a clearly feminine voice. "I'm sorry to bother you, but yours was the only house with a porch light still on. Please, can I use your phone to call for a tow?"
"Oh, sure!" Willow replied, quickly undoing the latch and bolt and opening her door.
A frigid rush of cold, windy air flew in, followed swiftly by the bundled traveler. Willow rammed the door closed, not wanting anymore of the outside to come in.
"Thank you", said the coat and scarf, respectively, for Willow still could not make out their owner's face.
"Don't mention it," the redhead shrugged, "the phone's right down the hall, in the kitchen."
Two mittened hands rose to the hood of the winter coat and pulled it off the traveler's head, revealing long blond hair, rosy-apple cheeks, and bluest pair of eyes Willow had ever seen. The mittens then moved to the scarf, tugging it down to show a wide and gentle smile.
"Thanks," the blonde said gratefully, "You're a real lifesaver! It's freezing out there, eh?"
Willow nodded, "There's been a blizzard on the forecast for the past couple of days, I guess it finally decided to show up."
"A blizzard, eh?" echoed the girl. "Well, that's no good."
"Let me guess, trying to get back to Canada?"
"Yeah, I know the accent's pretty thick," she laughed good-naturedly, "no matter how hard I try I can't seem to drop the damn 'eh's'."
Willow started to giggle, but quickly tried to stifle it, not wanting to appear a goof.
"I'm Tara, by the way," the stranger stated, extending her hand.
"Willow," the resident replied, taking the offered mitten in a gentle shake. "I was just making some hot cocoa. Would you like some? Help you warm up while you wait."
"That'd be great, thanks!"
Willow pointed the way to the kitchen and Tara moved down the hall ahead of her.
As they entered the room, Willow pointed to the phone hanging on the wall by the fridge. Tara turned toward it, and found herself suitably impressed. "Wow", she said, "that's some phone there." It was a mint-condition, circa 1940's Gray Company payphone, complete with rotary dial and three-slot coin drop on top.
Willow smiled as she reached into the cabinet for another mug. "Thanks, it's one of my favorites."
Tara grinned and lifted the handset to her ear as her other hand rose to dial the rotary, and hesitated. She looked to her hostess. "Ok, how much do I need?"
Willow paused, confused. "Um, for what?"
"Nickel, dime, quarter," Tara went on, "how much does it cost?"
"The phone, how much does it cost to use?"
"Oh," replied Willow, catching on, "it doesn't. The coin system has been bypassed. Just dial away."
"Well," said Tara, "I'd like to, but I can't seem to get a dial tone."
"What?" Willow crossed hastily over to her visitor's side and gently took the handset from her hand. Lifting it to her own ear, she listened a moment, tapped the disconnect lever in the cradle a few times unsuccessfully, and finally hung up. "Well", she sighed, "it looks like the phones are out. Must be the storm."
"Maybe just the landlines are down," offered Tara, "do you have a cell phone? I'd use mine but the battery died a while back down the road."
Willow blushed. "I don't have a cell phone. I guess you could say I sort of have classic tastes."
For the first time, Tara really began to take in her surroundings. She glanced around the kitchen and then back down the hall. Indeed, the entire home appeared be furnished with mid-20th century pieces. Though she was certainly no connoisseur, she made the educated guess that, save for a few household items here and there (like the microwave), nothing in the home was from after the late 1950's, or early 1960's.
"Hm," the blonde vocalized. "Well, I guess I'll just have to wait things out; if that's ok with you."
"Oh, yeah, sure! It's awful out there; and it's certainly no trouble." Internally, Willow's heart did a little flip of joy. She was going to have company, perhaps for several hours, and this company certainly was a sight for sore eyes. "Can I get you anything? Besides the cocoa, I mean."
"Oh, no." said Tara, "You've already been so nice. I just wish I had a way to let my family know I'm stuck stateside."
Willow looked thoughtful for a moment. "We could always use my telegraph machine."
Tara raised an eyebrow.
"I'm kidding," the redhead relented, eliciting a chuckle from them both. "Not only don't I have one, we'd still need the phone lines to be working." The Canadian merely nodded. A moment of awkward silence passed. "So, um," said Willow, finally, "can I take your coat?"
"Yeah, sure," said Tara, removing the garment, "It was starting to get a little warm, eh? Where should I put it?"
"Here, let me," said Willow, taking it, "I'll just hang it up in the hall closet."
She disappeared from the kitchen and back toward the front door. Tara followed after a moment, hesitating in the living room, where she stood, and waited politely for her hostess to return.
"Oh, hi," Willow announced on her return, noting her guest's new location. "Please, have a seat. Get comfortable."
Tara gracefully sat down on one end of the sofa, whereas Willow plunked herself down on the other. They sat in companionable silence for a moment. This time it was Tara who initiated the conversation.
"How long have you been living here?"
"Here in Oswego, or here in this house?"
"Both, I guess," Tara replied.
Willow hunkered down into her throw pillows and began to relate an abbreviated version of her life story. Born and raised in Altoona, PA, college at Syracuse U., (major in Architecture, minor in Art History), she had taken a position with an architectural firm in Oswego directly out of school and had been there ever since. Yes, she lived alone; no, it hadn't always been that way. Her last relationship had ended abruptly when her partner of three years spontaneously decided that they weren't worth pursuing anymore. This of course led to the inevitable question to which Willow predictably answered, "yes, I'm gay."
Willow was delighted to hear Tara's less than predictable, "me too", in response.
"So what about you?" asked Willow, "What brings you this side of the border?"
"I was visiting friends. Or, I should say 'family', but not blood relations. The 'we are family' kind."
"I getcha," said Willow. "Out of curiosity, might I ask whom? I mean, you know how all we gay people know each other, and all."
Tara chuckled, "Oh yes, of course we do. It's, as you know, part of our cunning plan of world domination through the conversion of straights."
"Obviously," answered the redhead, aggressively trying not to laugh. "Have you earned your toaster oven yet?"
"Sadly, no," sighed Tara, "I'm several short. I had the opportunity to go above quota in college, but passed those up, preferring to wallow in quiet self-loathing and fear of inadequacy."
"Ah, I miss those days," Willow noted mock-wistfully.
"Don't we all," the blonde answered dramatically, pretending to wipe a tear from her eye.
They finally let their facades drop and genuine laughter burst forth from their lungs.
"Seriously, though," Tara continued, "my friends and I just got back from a Bahaman cruise. They live in Lafayette over in Onondaga County, so we flew out of Syracuse Airport to the City, and boarded our ship there."
"Impressive," said Willow, "and who did you go with?"
"My ex-girlfriend, her girlfriend, her girlfriend's ex-girlfriend and her new girlfriend."
"Because that's how lesbians travel," the redhead replied, easily following.
They laughed some more, finding themselves more and more at ease in each other's company.
"So, what's your ex-girlfriend's name?" Willow asked, curiosity getting the better of her.
Tara bit her lip dubiously, "Uh, I can't tell you."
The redhead's eyebrows crinkled. "Oh...kay... that's kind of... why not?"
"Well, she's sort of a minor public figure. She could lose her... well, she works for a church."
"Here in Oswego?"
"No, over in Lafayette."
"That's miles away. Besides, I'm Jewish. Mostly non-practicing, but still, not the type to show up in random halls of Christian worship to out prominent members. In fact, I don't think there are any Jews who do that. We have enough guilt in our culture as it is."
The blonde laughed lightly. "Yes, I know, I'm being silly. It's force of habit. You're right, you're right. Anyway, her name is Grace, and she's the minister of the Presbyterian Church there."
Willow pretended to check her memory banks. "Nope, never heard of her. Hey, I thought that the Presbyterians were ok with gays."
"Actually, you're probably thinking of the Episcopalians. Either that or the Metropolitan Church." Tara gazed off into the fireplace, and the flames that leapt off the log sheltered inside. "That's why we broke up. Her church. Or, I should say, her need to stay in the closet as a result of her church. When you're a minister, you don't get a day off. Anywhere you're seen in public, you're under the scrutiny of your parishioners. Whether you're mowing the lawn or going to the market for bread. I mean, it was fine when she'd visit me in Canada; but it was awful when I'd come down here. Here I was just her 'good pal Tara,' eh? I wanted to hold hands, and kiss and cuddle in the park; put my arm around her in the movies; share a sundae with her at the Friendly's. But we couldn't, so we didn't, and we just grew apart. That's the way it goes sometimes, I guess, eh?"
Willow merely nodded. They sat staring into the fire for awhile.
The jarring sound of the phone ringing knocked them out of their thoughts.
"Phone's working," Willow stated needlessly, then leapt from her seat and ran to the kitchen to answer.
Tara listened to the muffled one-sided conversation of her hostess in the other room.
"Hello?.... Oh, hi mom.... No, yes, I'm fine.... No,... no...no the phones were out for a little while, that's all.... No, the power has been fine....uh-huh... yes...yes I got the package... and the note.... Thanks for the scarf.... Yes, I really like it.... yes, I really do... mom, please, stop fishing for compliments...yes, it goes well with my jacket...no...no, I haven't... because the note said not to!... I can keep some traditions, mom...I'll open the next gift tomorrow night... yes, I lit the menorah... mom... moooom.... Ok... alright... did you like what I got you?... how about dad?... good....good, I'm glad... are you staying warm enough?... yes, I am too... well, I'd better go... because I have company... a friend... just a friend... you haven't met her...mom.... Mom, seriously, I have to go. Ok... ok... I love you too... dad too... Happy Hanukkah... love you, bye."
Willow wandered slowly back into the living room, only to find Tara gazing at her from over the back of the couch, a small smirk of amusement on her face.
"My mom," Willow stated.
The redhead rang her hands a little. "Yeah, so, the phone is working, if you wanted to call for the tow. Not that you have too" she followed swiftly, "in fact, you don't have to. In fact, you're more than welcome to stay the night if you want; on the couch or something. The roads are probably all snowed over anyway... and, it's so cold outside."
Tara shrugged, "Still, I should probably--"
"Try in the morning!" Willow cut in. She just didn't want to her new friend to leave. Not when they both had so much in common. Not when they had so many possibilities. "Because, it's really late, and like I said, cold, and snowy, and there was a storm warning on the radio before you arrived saying that it won't be safe to travel tonight. And, again, it's so cold outside."
"It's been ages since I've had any company, and I'm really enjoying yours, and you seem to be enjoying mine. At least, I hope you are. Maybe you're just being polite, which I guess is fine, and understandable, considering we've only just met; but what are the odds of you showing up on my doorstep? I mean, honestly, one lesbian to another, it is rather coincidental, don't you think? And besides it is so warm in here and so--"
"Cold outside?" Tara finished, eyebrow cocked.
"Right." Willow finally exhaled, and stood fidgeting in the doorway.
Tara rose to her feet and regarded her new friend with an indecipherable gaze. "Willow, you've been very kind. And it was super good luck that I knocked on your door. But, I really, really need to use your phone."
Willow's eyes dropped to the floor, followed by her heart landing firmly in her stomach. "Yes, you're right. I guess you should call--"
"My family? They'll be worried, eh? If I don't show up tonight? They'll think something bad happened."
"Oh." Said Willow. "Oh!" she said again, this time more brightly. "Right! Your family! Duh. Yeah, sure, go right ahead."
"Thank you." Tara smiled a lovely little half-smile, and breezed past the redhead down the hall and into the kitchen.
"Say, did I mention I really enjoy holding hands in the park?" Willow mentioned casually as she followed behind her guest.
Outside, the weather worsened, the snow sheeting down in a blanket of white. Brave civil servants finished setting up road blocks on the now dangerous thoroughfares, before retreating to the safety of their offices and homes. Families huddled together in small houses, some around fireplaces, some in shared beds, all seeking the warmth and comfort of each other; and in one small craftsman home, in the city of Oswego, two new friends conversed well into the night, getting to know each other, and embracing the possibilities of staying in from the cold outside.