Each morning Angela awoke and looked out at the sky. Then she rose and tapped her bedside table exactly twenty-four times with her forefinger, then put her small feet into a pair of worn velvet slippers that she kept tucked under her bed, toes pointing towards the room’s door as if ready to walk out at any moment. She phoned the Fall River weather hotline and listened as the recorded voice narrated what to expect from the wind and sky.
Then Angela stepped to her wardrobe, which was organized by suitability for various weather conditions. On days that were sunny and still, she could be found in one of only eight outfits—combinations of three lighter skirts and one pair of Bermuda shorts, and four elbow-length shirts with buttons and one without—scuttling along the path from her beige half of a duplex to her beige library office, an umbrella blocking the sun from her exposed forearms and calves, a canvas bag of books she’d spent the night reading at her desk.
On warm and windy days she wore the same shirts with longer pants and left the umbrella at home to avoid turning it inside out. These days, she walked even faster to work, her arms undefended from sunburn and skin cancer.
On days when the weather was rotten, when clouds hung low and dark over Fall River’s buildings, the short sky making the library, the church and the movie theater look even shorter, as if crouching to the earth below a swooping predator, Angela wore her raincoat, which was gray, over her rain pants, which were also gray, and one of the sweaters for which she was slightly famous, complex crocheted works in the gloomy, deep colors of a Munch canvas. On these days too she carried her books and umbrella but did not hurry, savoring the whipping wind and cold journey. She loved the smell of the wet ground, and she loved peeling off her dripping wet raincoat and wide-legged waterproof pants in the library bathroom to find her slacks and sweater dry underneath, stepping out of her galoshes into soft leather loafers that she stored beneath her library desk for this exact purpose. She savored the hours while the rain pounded the low roof and the tall windows, knowing she would soon don her protective outfit and move through the wet again, repelling the rain’s efforts to ruin her sweater and slacks, to dampen her and give her the flu. Once home, she would boil water and pour herself a cup of peppermint tea, eat a biscotti from the Italian grocer, and use the remaining water to fill a red rubber water bottle, which she would place on her stomach as she sat at her desk and read her books.
Before sleeping, Angela removed her slippers and tucked them precisely under her bed, toes peeking out. She tapped her bedside table exactly forty-eight times before shutting off her light.
Unsurprisingly, Angela was very particular about her books. She moved through the library’s catalogue in alphabetical order, by author, then title. It was not that she had read every title on the list, but that the books she selected moved down the list in order; she took orderly tours through the shelves reading at her desk night by night, and selected different works to read each round. On the day of her disappearance, she’d made five circuits from Patricia Aakhus to Markus Zusak, and was working on a sixth. Some books she returned to each time she came to them, like familiar hotels visited whenever one makes a journey, and others she read a single time and vowed to avoid. She never started a book and failed to finish it, but often rushed through volumes she found too boring (few) or too distasteful (many), scarcely remembering the events within, though she marked down the title in her journal. This way, when a library patron approached her with a question about a specific book, she could recall whether she’d read it and offer the patron her rating of the book on a scale of one to eight.
These ratings were frequently unhelpful to the library’s patrons, though many found them amusing. One visitor wondered aloud why a collection of Shakespeare’s tragedies would earn only a four on Angela’s scale, while a book of sonnets scored a rare eight, and a picture book retelling of Romeo and Juliet for children (the violence removed, leaving an abrupt love story in which the couple’s parents didn’t like each other very much) received a six and a half.
“The pictures are excellent,” Angela explained. “And it’s much less sad.”
On days when it snowed, Angela called in sick to work.
The head librarian knew that Angela was not sick on these days, as Angela consistently called in sick on snowy days and on no other days, but Angela was an otherwise dependable employee, and the head librarian needed only to phone the weather line when snow was likely to ascertain whether Angela would soon call and feign a sore throat or cough, and then move down the list of other librarians and volunteers until she found someone to fill in. Many of the other librarians knew to expect such a call on days when snow threatened, and told the head librarian when they planned to take trips north to go skiing or south to leave the snow and ice behind.
We cannot say what Angela did on these days, whether she stayed inside in fear of the elements, or took solitary walks in the woods behind her duplex. From a few hundred feet behind the tree line, sitting on the stump of a great oak and holding a steaming thermos of peppermint tea, she could have enjoyed a fine view of her little house, her beige side and the side painted purple by her neighbor. She might have sat between the silent trees and written poetry, or prayed, or painted still lifes, or frolicked nude. But what Angela did on these days remained a secret all her own.
We curious few know only that she marked these dates in a separate journal, hidden beneath a loose board at the west end of her hallway (which must not be confused with the loose board at the east end of this same hallway, which hid a completely different collection of secrets, which cannot be chronicled here for sake of space, and for the privacy of a woman whom we hope to portray honestly, without casting a shadow over the quiet simplicity of her days and nights, and also due to the precarious nature of several ongoing investigations into the providence of the objects stored within). This journal contained a list of every day that Angela missed work, from her arrival in Fall River in October 1984 to her mysterious disappearance in January 1997 on the very worst day of the most terrible snowstorm of that declining century.
A closer analysis of the dates listed therein forces us to adjust our hypothesis of Angela’s pattern of skipped workdays, noting that the dates are those on which the weather hotline of Fall River predicted snow, and not simply days when snow fell in Fall River; for on certain listed days our records show that snow was expected but did not fall, and days when snow was not expected but fell anyway are not listed, and Angela went to work despite the weather, wearing her typical rain outfit with the substitution of thick-treaded boots and a heavier gray coat with fur-lined hood for warmth.
For the this information we give sincere thanks to the Fall River Meteorological Expectation Society, whose archives record every one of the weather line’s predictions until its discontinuation on a fine, sunny day in April 2008.
The list of dates on which Angela did not attend work at the library due to snow or, more exactly, due to the prediction of snow, is included in Appendix XXIV for interested readers. These readers may note that each of these dates is followed by a number between one and eight—a ranking, we posit, that mirrors Angela’s exhaustive rankings of the Fall River library catalogue. We few record keepers, striving only for accuracy and simplicity of description, working thanklessly in the pursuit of truth, attempting only to sketch the private outlines of a character who, in turn, brightens and haunts the chapters of our chronologies, are pleased to report that nearly every one of these days, these solitary snowy moments that Angela guarded from the world, received an eight out of eight.
Wesley Cohen is a writer and editor living in Davis, California. Her work has been featured by Quiet Lightning, Potluck Magazine, Mad Scientist Journal, and others. She was a 2017 Writing By Writers Newberry Fellow, and she serves as prose editor of Foglifter Journal. Her work can be found at wesleyocohen.com