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Nobody Moves in Winter

by Darci Schummer



For Tom and Brad

“Nobody moves in winter,” Nathan says.  He is with Michael and they are driving down Nicollet Avenue.  It’s been snowing the entire day, and the center line of the road is becoming increasingly obscured.  On the side streets, cars get stuck.  People slip.  Tires spin.  People fall.  And still Michael insists they drive to Northeast to see a house he wants them to buy.  “Nobody.”

“Northeast isn’t another planet.  It’s not that far,” Michael says.

“Are you going to pack?” Nathan says.  “Are you going to load up the U-Haul and drive it?  Because I am not.  I will not drive a godforsaken truck all the way through downtown and over there to old town.”  He gestures vaguely across the river. 

“Jesus,” Michael says, tapping his breaks.  A car in front of them fishtails as it turns off onto 27th Street.  “It isn’t like it was when you were a kid.”

“You weren’t called ‘fag’ fifty times a day by Polish Catholic brats.”

“You were?”

“You know that.  My parents sentenced me to a Catholic school and I was obviously, well—you know—me.  Do the math, Michael.” 

“It’s different now, you know that.  Half of it’s an arts district.  We have been to Art-a-Whirl.”

“Not where you want to move us—all the way by the rail yard.  It’s almost Columbia Heights, almost the suburbs, Michael.  The suburbs.  And you know we’ll be the neighborhood gays.  Do you want to be the neighborhood gays?”

“Cookie, you’re exaggerating.  This is Minneapolis.  I saw R.T. Rybek at a Miss Richfield 1981 show.  Even the mayor is gay-friendly.  Besides, moving in winter isn’t that big of a deal.  We’ve made enough this year to hire someone to do it for us.  They come in, haul out the boxes, drive the truck, the whole thing.  We get hammered off tempranillo and put away our stuff.”

Nathan looks out the car’s window.  He is still wearing his Monroe wig, red lipstick, and blue knee-length angora dress from the show he just performed; in the window, his silver eye makeup catches the light and sparkles.  He poses for a second, studying his reflection.  When he relaxes his face, he notices that fog is beginning to collect at the corner of the window near the side mirror.  He takes the tip of his forefinger, red nail polish slightly chipped, and draws a small heart in the condensation.  The heart travels along Nicollet, through Whittier, and soon will travel to Uptown, where he and Michael have spent the entire 5 years of their relationship.  “I am an Uptown girl,” he says.

“Uptown wasn’t always ‘Uptown,’ you know.”

“It’s always been Uptown for us.”

To Nathan, the situation is more complex:  once you move away from somewhere, you don’t go back.  He had been defined by Northeast once in another life, a life he watched happily expire.  After high school, he moved to New York, reinvented himself in Chelsea, and then came back to Minneapolis as Paige Turner, queen. 

“Northeast isn’t the Northeast you remember.  It’s different now.  Nothing is going to change other than our zip code,” Michael says.

“But I have my places.  I have my people at those places.  I have the girls at Ragstock.  I have the trailer trash lady at Bruegger’s.  I would even miss that old black man in a wheelchair who begs outside of Victoria’s Secret.”

“They won’t go away.  They’ll be right there when you want to see them.  And you’ll have new people and new places.”

Now Pancho Villa, the Mexican Restaurant they always go to on their birthdays, is in the center of the heart.  Nathan’s last birthday was his thirtieth, and to celebrate, he staged a special show at the 90’s.  He had a facial beforehand and bought new gold platform high heels and a new white dress. He performed a classic ABBA song, “Dancing Queen,” having choreographed an entirely new performance, a performance that he felt showcased how far he had come as a queen.  His lips, lined and painted, synced perfectly with each word, his narrow hips, sheathed in a flattering cut, pushed against the air to either side of him.  He drifted off into the lights, his body once a concubine to the music, now married to it.  In his mind, he was in a large performance hall.  There were tiers of people to see him, tiers of people who adored him.  He was beautiful.  His legs shapely, his chest as smooth as it had been when he was just 20 years old.  That is where he performed from, an idyllic little snow globe of which he was the center, a calf jutting out from the slit in his skirt.  At the end of the performance, Michael and the others—people he didn’t even know—threw roses for him.  “They are throwing roses just for me,” he thought.  And when he looked down and saw the flowers gathered at the toes of his platforms, he thought he should be crying.  “They are finally doing it,” he thought, “Finally.”  But the tears would not come, so he simply gathered the roses until his arms were full, and left the bar, feeling he had lost something.      

“It isn’t just my people.”         

“Then what?”

At the corner of Franklin and Nicollet, Michael turns on the blinker, and the clicking fills the car.  Nathan switches on the radio which is set to a station only playing Christmas music.  “Holy Mary mother of god,” he says, “really?”

“Nostalgia,” Michael says, staring off the way of the blinker. 

“I forget that about you sometimes.”  Nathan often takes Michael’s habit of nostalgia for granted—the old Afghans his grandmother made spread on the back of their couch, the wineglasses from his parents’ wedding in their hutch.  It is easy for Nathan to forget because he isn’t nostalgic in the same way, not for family.  Nostalgia, he often tells himself, can be dangerous.         

They drive down Franklin Avenue until they hit Hennepin.  They park by what used to be Birchwood Pharmacy and then start walking toward Lowry Hill Liquors, Michael taking Nathan’s elbow and putting an arm on the small of his back to lead him safely down the sidewalk and into the store.

“Everything would feel so far away if we were tucked back there like that.” 

“We’d find a new liquor store.”  Michael holds the door open for him, “Ladies first,” he says.

Once inside the store, they roam into different territories, Michael into the reds, Nathan into the whites and champagnes.  Nathan looks up occasionally and sees Michael’s back turned towards him, a bottle in his hand, and he wonders at that moment what it is that Michael is thinking.  Just for once he wants to be a small gear inside of Michael; just for once he wants to turn and grind with Michael’s every movement, but not to understand Michael—so that Michael will understand him.

“Miss Paige Turner,” the clerk, a young blonde man says. “How was the show tonight?”

With affectation, Nathan touches his wig, “Simply wonderful.  Great crowd.”  Then he turns and looks at Michael, the affectation gone.  “See?” He says.

Michael rolls his eyes.  “Touché.” 

Once they are both back in the car, heated seats turned to maximum, “There’s no harm in just looking at it,” Michael says.  “C’mon, Cookie.” 

To destroy the heart, Nathan uses the same forefinger he used to draw it.  “Okey-dokey,” he says donning a heavy Minnesotan accent.  “Whatever you say, dear.  You are the boss after all.” 

“That’s more like it,” Michael taps Nathan’s knee twice and winks.

Hennepin Avenue is alight with marquee and headlamp, populated by car and pedestrian, both moving slowly through the heavy mess.  Windshield wipers flap.  Heads shake off snow.  The show goes on.       

“We wouldn’t be that much further from downtown.”


“Farther.  Would that kill you?”

The car is becoming over warm.  Nathan’s feet begin to burn, but he says nothing, figuring it is better to save the heat for when they have to trek into the cold dark of Northeast, the back-aways part in which Michael has found the three-bedroom ranch style with a fully-finished basement.  “We could put a bar and a runway in or a small stage,” Michael had whispered in Nathan’s ear, his hand stroking the soft skin on the underside of Nathan’s arm. 

“But then we won’t leave the house,” Nathan said. 

“So?  I want us to make a life together.  You and me.  I want us to be a family.”

Nathan’s stomach stirred at those words.  It was everything he knew Michael wanted, but hearing it aloud scared him shitless.  Families were not formal to him; real families were pieced together things, leftovers.  He had always been a leftover, the strained relationship he had with his loose knit family completely disintegrating when he came back from New York as Paige Turner.  For five years, he and Michael had been a pieced together family, and now Michael was ready to change that, to sew what had been pieced together.  When he thought about it, he got the same feeling he did when those roses were at his feet. 

The car lumbers over the Hennepin Avenue bridge, traffic diffusing as they travel away from the lights of downtown.  Nathan turns his head so that he can see the cityscape behind him.  It was always more beautiful the farther you were from it, the sky all mauve with snow, the whole thing silenced by geometry and ice. 

Once they cross the bridge and get past St. Anthony Main and Surdyk’s and turn onto University Avenue, Nathan gets the same funny feeling that he always does; an entirely different city lays before him, one that is grainy and dimmer, one that contains the negatives of memories he had thrown in a trash can in New York the day he arrived there.  He releases a wealth of air from his lungs, and Michael turns his head sharply.


“Nothing.  I’m fine.  Don’t worry about me.”

“It’s okay, you know,” he says, “to want something and be scared at the same time.”

“Is there a word for that?”


But that doesn’t seem like the right word to Nathan; it seems horribly inaccurate for what he feels. 

Finally, Michael’s car crawls onto Main Street Northeast.  The snow is dense; when he turns the car, the whole front end quivers.  Dark surrounds them; the rail yard looms, utilitarian, industrial, vacant.  The streets are nearly empty. 

It all feels so final.

“I think it’s at the end of the block.”

But, before they reach the end of the block, they see a small car struggling in the snow.  Michael stops behind it and they watch as the driver tries to rock the car back and forth to get out of the rut that worsens with each acceleration. 

“I should help him,” Michael says.

“Just give him some time.  He’ll get it.”

“He needs help.”

“He probably lives in the neighborhood.  Let’s just go around him.”

“Would you leave me stuck?”

To Nathan, there is a certain problem with getting into the snow, the silly humiliation of slipping around, snow burning skin as it fills shoes or boots.  He is used to carrying himself with grace. 

Michael opens his door.  “I’m going to ask if he wants help,” he says.

Nathan watches Michael trudge to the car and knock on the driver’s side window.  Michael shakes hands with the man in the car.  Then he gestures for Nathan to come over.  Nathan puts his hands in the air, and Michael gestures for him to roll down his window.

“Boots are in the back of the car,” he calls.  Nathan shoots him a look of disbelief, and Michael beckons again.  “Put them on and come help me,” he says.  “And grab the shovel!”

Nathan turns around and sure enough, an old black pair of winter boots is in the back of the car, a symptom of the practical side of Michael’s nostalgia.  It’s better to be safe than sorry, Michael’s mother had said, handing over an emergency kit for Michael’s car complete with matches, a blanket, granola bars, and a small red shovel.  Nathan reaches in the back seat, his dress shifting and riding up, and pulls the boots and shovel up front.  Carefully, he takes off his platforms, and works the boots on over his nylons, struggling to get them on in the tight space of the car’s front seat.  Back in Uptown, he and Michael wouldn’t drive or walk more than a couple blocks in this.  There would be no need.  When he opens the door and steps out into the snow, he can only imagine how ridiculous he must look, his hair and makeup and dress and coat all lovely, then the black, clunky, wool-lined boots sticking out oddly below. Nathan trudges towards Michael in the boots and then hands him the shovel.  The driver puts his hand out, not an ounce of question on his face.  “Name’s Walter. Got myself stuck.”  Walter laughs and then turns away as a figure moves behind the lighted window of a ranch style on the corner. The light in the front room switches off, a light in another room switching on a second later. 

There is something comforting about it.

“Is it—,” Nathan starts.

“It is,” Michael says, smiling. “He’ll steer.  We’re going to push.”

Nathan nods.  They get behind the car, and dig their heels in, pushing as hard as they can.  The car lurches then recedes, Nathan’s wig beginning to slip with the exertion.

“C’mon,” Michael says, “Push.”

“I am,” Nathan says, pausing to adjust his wig.

“Like you mean it.”

As Nathan resumes pushing, he has the urge to stop, to let the car stay stuck in that dirty, snowy track.  He thinks of the rehearsals before the roses, the cold apartments with leaking faucets, running toilets, but beautiful woodwork, he and Michael’s courtship—all the things his life has been crafted from over the past ten years.  He squints into the wind and blowing snow.  He holds his breath as he and Michael push the car forward and then releases it as the car rocks back.  They do it again and again, Nathan sweating and cursing softly.  But when the car finally breaks free leaving empty ruts in the snow, he is filled with an unexpected giddiness, as though he could laugh.

Walter waves and Nathan and Michael wave back.  The car’s taillights fade, and then Michael is at Nathan’s side.  Nathan reaches for his hand, squeezing it twice, as Michael bends over and picks up the shovel.  He plants the handle firmly in the snow, and perches his hand on the red plastic blade.  And they stand there for a moment shoulder to shoulder in the small vineyard of light from the ranch style, filled with the peculiar silence of snow.                                   



Darci Schummer writes, lives, and teaches in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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