Pamela had about an hour before she needed to be on the road. Even with the howling winter storm outside, she’d left herself a nice pocket of time before she’d have to be at the Timmins airport to catch her 9 pm flight to Toronto. Then it was a quick run down the airport to board the passenger jet, and she’d be on her way to palm trees and warm salt water. After the long, freezing winter, wallowing in extra time before she found herself sunning on the beach in Acapulco was actually quite the luxury. She tossed the last few necessities from her medicine cabinet into her makeup bag, watching lipstick, mascara, and foundation tubes arc freely through the air and land on target.
Her kit ready, she tucked it securely into the top of her suitcase. The packing list next to it on the bed had nearly every item crossed off: sandals, heels, one-piece for whenever and bikini in case she met anyone promising . . .
Pamela frowned. “Where’s my cellphone?” she muttered to herself.
Caught up in the excitement of preparing for her vacation, she hadn’t even bothered to take it out of her purse that morning. Pamela wasn’t a believer in staying connected every moment of every day: unlike some people she knew, she didn’t sleep with the thing next to her bed and she wasn’t on Facebook sharing her every meal or her daily dramas. She hadn’t even posted that she was going away for a week’s break. Who knew what immoral bastards lurked online, watching for opportunities like apartments left empty for days? Plus, she was looking forward to posting her photos online and surprising her friends and coworkers. Imagine the looks on their faces!
She wondered if she’d left the thing on her desk at school in all of the hubbub of the last day before Spring Break. It wouldn’t be the first time, but even with — she checked the clock on the stove — forty-five minutes to go, a run up to her workplace was a) a downer, and b) an irritating waste of time. Thankfully she was organized enough that the detour wouldn’t cause much of a logistics problem, but she’d have to forgo touching up her manicure.
Outside, the late winter storm drove tiny particles of snow down her collar and up her sleeves. She cursed as she hauled and wrestled her suitcase down the treacherous steps of her building. Fresh nail polish probably wouldn’t have withstood this kind of torture, anyway, even protected by leather gloves. It was so cold that the metal of her vehicle groaned piteously as she popped the trunk to load her things. Fortunately, the snow wasn’t sticking to the windshield, its layers brushing easily away, but when she finally sat in the driver’s seat, the warm air of the previous day’s driving had created a layer of frost and ice over the interior glass. She wasted another five minutes while the car warmed up, scraping a patch so she could see.
The forecast was calling for a metre of snow, at least, in what they were calling winter’s last gasp. For the first time, seeing the storm for herself, she wondered whether her flight might get cancelled. Few other vehicles were ploughing their way through the streets, and after she fishtailed around the corner, she understood why. She’d drawn the curtains as soon as she’d gotten home and into her packing, so she hadn’t really noticed the accumulation of snow or the early dusk from the thick clouds, or how rapidly the temperature had fallen. It was still going down, too — it was already unusually frigid for March, and the thermometre clicked from -27 to -28 C while she watched.
Acapulco couldn’t happen too quickly.
The school was mostly dark as she pulled up. She left the car running to keep it warm while she plodded through the drifts toward the main door. Inside the glass vestibule, the blasting heat was delightful; less so was the rapid melting of the snow in her collar into cold trickles on her skin. She tromped up the stairs to her classroom and fumbled with her keys in the dimly-lit hallway. It was a newer school, only eight years old, so it wasn’t as creepy as other buildings in which she’d worked, but the blue glow of the security lighting was a bit eerie.
But her phone was on the desk in her classroom, exactly where she’d left it. Unfortunately, it was also out of power, but she had a charger in her car. No problem.
The wind outside shifted, blowing snow against the glass. The sound was startlingly loud. Pamela dropped the phone and winced at the crack it made on the floor. Snatching it up, she rushed from the room and headed back down the corridor, willing her heart rate to slow itself down. No reason to be edgy; it’s just a storm, she told herself. She sighed in relief as she came into the bright florescent lights of the main foyer, laughing at herself for acting like a ninny. I’ve got the jitters from too much coffee and pre-vacation nerves.
It took her a moment to realize what had happened when she stepped into the vestibule again, and the lights went out.
Her reflection showed Pamela the widening of her eyes right before the streetlamp outside also failed. Her heart pounded heavily in her chest. She pressed against the exterior door, but the security locks were dependent on electricity running. Panicking, she pushed again, and again, thumping her shoulder against the latching bar. The headlights of her car turned the swirling snowflakes into frightening shadows. Pamela turned around and tried going back into the school to call for help.
The interior doors were locked, too.
Desperate, now, she looked for a fire alarm to pull, but to her dismay, she saw it inside the foyer on the other side of the glass.
Pamela turned again, leaning her back against the smooth surface of the door. Her phone was dead, possibly broken now, too. Nobody knew she was going away for a week, or that she’d come up to the school after hours during a severe winter storm, when no-one else was around. Could she break the glass with her boots, maybe? What would be the penalty for that? Was her situation really that desperate? After all, she was only going to miss her flight.
She exhaled, concentrating on calming down. Her breath appeared in a white cloud. There was no relaxing now. Ripping off a glove, Pamela held her bare hand up to the heating vent, feeling sick to her stomach.
The wind lashed at the row of glass doors before her, rattling the panes in their frames. She walked the few steps forward toward her car and pressed her hands against the glass, ignoring the biting cold on her bare skin. In the driveway, the snow had drifted up over the fenders and was obscuring the windshield. The heaters were working — she could see that in the bare patches of the windshield — but that didn’t do her any good.
If she broke the glass, she could just lie and say that it hadn’t been her. After all, without power, there wouldn’t be any proof that she was in the building . . .
Whether it was from nerves or the rapidly cooling temperature in her little glass box, Pamela was shivering. Her decision made, she sat by the wall and considered the best point at which to kick the door or window. She thought she recalled someone saying that it was best to attack the middle, or just to the side, where the tension was most compromised. With the wall at her back for some support, she could just get at the side window.
The first kick jarred her leg all the way from ankle to hipbone. It also made zero impression on the glass.
Pamela kicked again.
She pounded the safety glass until sweat beaded on her forehead and she was sobbing for breath. But either her frame was too slight, or her boots weren’t tough enough, or she lacked whatever reserves of crazy strength she’d seen in the few students who had actually managed to break windows in the school.
Then again, she’d never actually seen a student break a window, only heard about it from other people. Sometimes it had been with fists, and sometimes with objects.
Pamela took out her cellphone and hefted it. If it was the 1980s and it resembled a brick, maybe that would work. Still, it would add to the solidness of her boots. She stuck it down into the sole under her heel, and did the same with her wallet in the left boot. The bulk was uncomfortable, but she felt renewed. Lying on her back, she wiggled until her legs were bent against the glass, and then kicked them both out together. Was that a crack, or had she imagined it? Shaking, she did it again.
But the glass held firm. She let her legs fall to the side, sobbing like a child.
Outside, the blowing and drifting snow obscured her headlights and covered the tailpipe of her idling vehicle. The engine choked out. Raising her head, Pamela registered the change in the silence. Without the grumbling background noise of her car, it was just her and the storm against her little glass cage.
Someone would have to come along, she knew. There would be custodial staff, or another teacher who needed to retrieve something from a desk. In the meantime, she had to keep warm. Sitting up and wiping the tears and snot from her face, Pamela crossed her legs, took her wallet and phone out of her boots — pausing to rub her sore feet — and dumped out her purse.
She had her plane tickets, a wad of cash money and traveller’s cheques, a package of Kleenexes, and some tampons. Pamela didn’t smoke, so no matches or lighter. She had a pack of foil-wrapped gum and some batteries that she had intended to drop in the recycling box but forgotten about. Maybe if there was some charge left in them, she could try that trick she’d seen on Orange is the New Black, and light the foil on fire.
She could MacGyver a little fire or something, right by the glass. Maybe the rapid change in temperature would be enough to make it crack?
Pamela tucked her cash and plane tickets back into her wallet and rolled the kleenex and traveller’s cheques into a little stack of paper logs. Then, holding her breath, she folded the foil with shaking fingers and pressed the ends to one of the batteries. The first didn’t work, but the second did. The foil reddened and smoked. She held it carefully to the edge of a ball of Kleenex, praying for the tissue to catch. It was smoky and the stench made her eyes water. Coughing, Pamela waved away the curls of smoke, trying to add oxygen to the smouldering paper. A few tentative flames licked the underside of her stack of pathetic kindling. She thought it was shrinking, so she leaned forward and tried blowing at it.
The strength of her breath scattered the embers and unburned bits of paper and tissue. Crying out, she grabbed at the wisps, thrusting them back toward the window, but it was too late. Whatever fire she might have had was gone. Smacking her head against the glass in her frustration, Pamela finally heard the crack she’d been waiting for. She drew back, ignoring pain in her forehead, and scrambled at the base of the window, brushing away her erstwhile fuel.
At the very bottom of the glass was a small crack, the size of a chip on a windshield.
Moving onto her side, Pamela whipped it with her right heel. She attacked it with renewed vigour, her breath hitching between every kick.