Locust House Variations, A Weekly Fiction Column by Adam Gnade, “Winter Triptych, the Week of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine”

In the winter, the cold seeping through the windows and you sit on the couch and watch the snow fall and you wait. In the winter, at night, the sound of the snowplows scraping the road, distant, then closer. In the winter, ramen shortage, paper shortage, microchip shortage, lumber shortage. In the winter, the moon like a lovely copper coin after the snowstorm. In the winter, at noon, it’s just above freezing thank god with a glorious sun out and you’re watching the icicles drip like diamond knives. In the winter, Russia invades Ukraine.

In the winter, the radio is on all day and it’s Zelensky, the Oligarchs, sanctions, death tolls tallied, countries taking sides. In the winter, Frankie group-texts you and Alison to say, “They’re reporting Kyiv might fall tonight.” In the winter, you stand in the kitchen stretching your back then bend forward to touch your toes while you listen to the news about airstrikes and Putin’s nuclear threat and you think, “What can I do?”

In the winter, you think of home, of California, of friends distant, of air so still you feel golden, of the sea, the sunny streets in Golden Hill, the warm blacktop. Warm blacktop is the smell of kerosine, molasses, and shipyards. It’s the smell of mineral dirt, the smell of summer days, the smell of free time, the smell of lightness. It’s the smell of open possibilities, the smell of quiet, the smell of easy mornings and the smell of walking alone through a neighborhood you know well but not enough to be sick of. Not yet anyway. You will (get sick of it, I mean) and you will leave and be gone half a lifetime and then (older) you will think of it fondly as you sit by the window listening to war news on NPR, the snow drifting down in fat white flakes. –Adam Gnade