SmokeLong Quarterly

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The Freeze

Story by Virgie Townsend (Read author interview) December 20, 2011

art by Elena Rall

Michael heard once that the stars used to be so close and bright that his ancestors could see the shape of a spoon hanging in the sky. On nights like this one, when he’s walking home from work with his nose buried in his coat, he looks up and tries to find that mythological constellation. He never does—his eyes are too weak and the stars are too distant.

Still, sometimes when he’s tucking his children in under their heavy blankets at night, he tells them he found it: That in a sudden burst, it shone out from the black sky and one day, it will dip down and scoop them up into the heavens. Then they’ll race on asteroids and play hide-and-go-seek in Mars’s canyons. Candela will decorate her hair with ice crystals stolen from Saturn’s rings and Gabe will lasso comets like a cowboy at a rodeo.

Of course, the truth is less interesting for children. The universe expands at an accelerating pace, so the stars will be even farther away for Gabe and Candela’s children than they are for him. The Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies may someday collide and merge as the universe grows. The planets could be thrown into space as their orbits are torn.

These events remain millions of years in the future, but Michael sees their precursors now. Parts of Earth have already grown too cold to be inhabitable, and the remaining areas are now crowded with immigrants who fled their freezing homelands. On his way home, he tries to squeeze past hundreds of other commuters, jostled by pushing limbs and foreign languages. He knows this city used to be considered hot and humid. Now the crowd’s breath rises like a specter into the cold air, and his children share a bed to stay warm at night.

The End is coming, but The End has always been coming.

Michael arrives at his apartment and trudges up the stairs. The children greet him at the door, eager for hugs, stories and a reprieve from their homework. He asks them about school and how many of their assignments are done. When Gabe boasts that he’s almost completed his math homework, Candela announces that she’s finished both math and English, one-upping him. To avoid bickering, Michael distracts them with the promise of a new bedtime tale.

Tonight he’ll tell them a story about days so hot that insects’ backsides would catch fire and glow in the evening—days so hot that people would buy ice cream on the streets to stay cool and put machines in their homes that spewed cold air. Gabe and Candela will listen closely, their awed eyes peeking out beneath their blankets.


Notes from Guest Reader Nancy Au

When asked to select a piece from SLQ’s archives, I immediately thought of ‘The Freeze’ for the line, ‘The End is coming, but The End has always been coming.’ This beautiful and surreal piece of flash showcases the love of a father for his children, and his love of storytelling as a form of nourishment and escape. This piece reminds me of how big and ever-changing the universe is, which is such a healing thought in surreal times like now with the devastating pandemic which makes it feel, at times, as if the world is ending. In this piece, commuters jostle together without fear of intermingling languages or breath. In this piece, even in the coming freeze, there is love and warmth found in storytelling and the forms of dailiness that I hope to no longer take for granted after the pandemic ends.

About the Author

Virgie Townsend’s short fiction has been featured in such publications as Tin House’s Flash Fridays, Gargoyle, and Bartleby Snopes, as well as the anthologies SmokeLong Quarterly: The Best of the First Ten Years and Best of Pif, Volume One. Find her online at www.virgietownsend.com or @virgietownsend.

About the Artist

Elena Rall has been an emerging artist since high school, earning awards in numerous state competitions including the New York State Fair Fine Arts and Scholastic Arts competitions. Since an early age she studied with local artists including nationally acclaimed artist Nicora Gangi.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Four

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