Where's Billie?

They say freezing to death isn’t so bad. You start to hallucinate that you’re hot and you take all your clothes off, then just go to sleep and never wake up. I made a mental note to keep my clothes on. I’d be embarrassed to have someone find me naked and dead.

 I had always pictured myself dying of old age, trying to remember the names of all my great grandchildren. I saw myself surrounded by family and friends as I slipped away, not alone, frozen in the newspaper’s car that didn’t have a cigarette lighter for a phone charger.

As I envisioned those surrounding my death bed, I saw the girls and their husbands, sobbing. I didn’t see Michael there.

Would Michael remarry? Probably. Would his new wife be good to my girls? He wouldn’t marry someone who would become a wicked stepmother, I hoped.

Would she repaint my living room? Probably, the bitch.

That cinched it. I had made too many trips to the paint store to come up with the perfect dusky rose color for my living room. The only hue that flawlessly complemented the carnelian stonework around the fireplace. The best possible choice to set off the wide-planked oak floors. Nope. Not gonna leave that color to some blousy woman who no doubt would change it to chartreuse, and that was final.

Watching my thoughts, because there wasn’t much else to watch, I realized that my worry about the color of the living room was my version of whistling while walking past a graveyard.

Then I got serious. What was I doing with my life? Why was I working so hard to find the daughter of a woman I didn’t even like, while spending too much time away from my own daughters? Did I really believe in what I was doing? What if I did die here? And what was going on with Michael and me? It felt like so long since we’d talked. Not just talked about the debris of life, but talked about our lives. Was this what I really wanted in a marriage?

Examining your life is tough, especially when you’re really cold. At thirty-six, I haven’t accomplished anywhere near what I want to accomplish. My girls still needed me—I could even argue that Billie Berry needed me.

It wasn’t my time to die yet, I decided.

I had to figure a way out so I tried the cell phone again. I pushed the button that said “end”—I’ve never understood why “end” should turn a cell phone on, but no matter—causing it to vibrate while a windmill spun on the screen and a bell chimed. Just as I was about to dial 911, the damn thing gave off three beeps, then another message: “battery low. Recharge.” Then it went dead.

OK, I thought. Plan B. What is Plan B? It was hard to think as I began to shiver uncontrollably. I would have shouted, but I knew I was totally alone, and no one would hear.

At the beginning of every winter, the Citizen tells Minnesota drivers they should carry survival kits in their cars, packed with handy items like a flashlight, jumper cables, blankets, and flares or reflective triangles. For good measure, I remember reading, drivers are supposed to pack kitty litter for traction and a small shovel for digging out of snow, an ice-scraper, water and food, and a first-aid kit. I wondered if the folks who run the newspaper’s fleet of cars actually read the newspaper and heeded the advice.

Finding no survival kit in the back seat, I hoped there would be one in the trunk. I didn’t want to go outside again, so I climbed over the back of the front seat, hoping I could pull a latch on the back seat and get into the trunk that way. Fortunately, that worked and I found myself crawling, exhausted, into the filthy trunk, which was packed with big, thick Sunday editions. If I didn’t find a blanket, I could always make a warm nest of the newspaper, I figured. That wouldn’t be so bad. I love the smell of ink-to-paper and our printing plant uses soy-based ink, which doesn’t smudge on clothes.

It had been a long day in what was already a long week. I was plenty tired. I toyed with the idea of taking a little nap. Then I gave myself a quick slap in the face and remembered the living room walls. The thought got me moving again.

The only light came from highway overheads that reflected off the snow and through the backseat windows. It wasn’t much as I began to grope around the trunk with bare hands. I had taken off my mittens because I wanted to improve my sense of touch. Just as my fingers were starting to turn to ice, I put my hand on a metal box. Lying on my side in the trunk, I opened it with a prayer that it would contain some kind of a reflective square, and some food. Half my prayer was answered. A Day-Glo square piece of cardboard with the words “SEND HELP” printed on both sides glistened in the box. Apparently there had been food in there at one time. I found empty wrappers from three Mars Bars.

As I cursed the previous user of the car who had eaten my candy bars, I heard a thumping on the trunk and voice shouting, “Hello—anybody here?”

I flipped the latch on the trunk, the door opened, and I found myself on my back looking up at the most handsome state trooper I’d seen in my entire life.

“Hello, Gorgeous,” I said, giving the line from Funny Girl my best Streisand impression.

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