The avalanche crashed into the chalet windows with enough force to shatter the glass. Mallory barely had time to look up from her phone, where she'd been scrolling Instagram and searching for inspiration for her own posts. In that instant, the invading snow looked like icing being extruded from a wall of piping bags. She dove under the table just as the crushing confection flowed over her. She found herself wrapped in cold silence, but safe.
She realized that her phone was gone. There was no way for her to call for help. Then she remembered Jason, her husband of five years. He'd stepped away from the table to "use the little boy's room". Mallory hadn't even looked up.
"You okay, Mal?" Jason's voice wriggled in through the wall of snow between them, and his normally happy-go-lucky tone dripped with worry.
"Oh, I'm doing just great. We're buried under a ton of snow, I have no idea where my phone is, and I didn't even get a sip of my hot chocolate. Everything's peaches." She shifted around, a tried to get a sense of the space. It was dark, but her eyes were slowly adapting to the gloom. There was enough room for her to move around, but when she kicked at the snow blocking her escape it felt like she only packed it harder. "Think we can dig our way out?" she asked.
"Hold on. Do you remember that documentary we saw, the one on coal mining? I get that you're a lawyer, so engineering is a little out of your area of expertise, but there's a bit more to digging a tunnel than just burrowing like a badger. First of all, you're lucky that you ended up in a pocket like this. I'm thanking the tables and chairs in the chalet restaurant for that. At any rate, Mal, you go digging some badger tunnels and you're just as likely to get crushed in a cave-in."
Mallory wished that Jason was there under the table with her, just so that she could wrap her hands around his neck and give him a little strangling.
"One day, Mal, we'll look back at this and laugh."
"Laugh?" she asked. "Laugh! You think we're gonna sit around a campfire and have a good chuckle about all this?"
"Listen," he said, "you gotta think positive. Don't you remember what Dr. Liebekker said in therapy? You two don't haf enuv to laugh about!" Jason's terrible German accent was made even worse by the fingers of terror that caressed his words.
"And whose fault is that? We both know Liebekker is a quack. We only went to see him because he supposedly helped your parents get through a bad patch. Well, I've seen your parents, Jason. I don't think he did a damn thing."
"Hey now, don't you drag them into this. We're in enough trouble as it is without my mother here."
Mallory could perfectly envision the frowning, wrinkled face of Jason's mom in the icy shadows, like a carving in the bark of an old oak. Like Jack Torrance at the end of The Shining, angrily frozen with tears of snow, his bottom teeth jutting out in a comical underbite. Mallory stifled a giggle.
"Were you thinking of her just now, too?" Jason asked.
"I couldn't help it," she said. "If she were here, what do you think she'd say?"
"I told you two to go to Arizona for the winter like sensible people!" Jason said, in a close approximation of his mother. He was always doing voices. It was one of his many quirks that drove Mallory up the wall.
"Did I ever tell you that I went to get diagnosed for depression?" she asked.
"I did. It was a few years ago, after I lost that job at Hector and Meyer. You remember, the shitty paralegal thing? Anyway, I went to a walk-in and saw some tired old dude who told me that I wasn't clinically sad, I just needed to exercise more. Oh, and to take my winters in Arizona. Unfortunately, he couldn't write me a prescription for that."
Jason laughed. "Wait, you're serious? Why didn't you tell me?"
"I wanted to deal with it by myself."
"No. But I ended up getting a scrip for some antidepressants and they seemed to do the trick."
"Are you still on them?"
"No. They messed with the wine too much. I think I took them for a few months, maybe just that one bad winter."
"Was it as bad a winter as this one?"
"I think you should try to get some rest. We might be under here for a while. Are you comfortable?"
Mallory shifted around. There was plenty of space in the little pocket that fate had hollowed out for her. The air was cold, but fresh. She thanked herself for having the sense—and cash —to choose top-of-the-line ski gear. She curled herself up into a tight, down-covered fetal ball, and closed her eyes to sleep.
It seemed like no time had passed at all when Mallory opened her eyes again. The chill had crept in during her brief rest. Her bones felt like frozen concrete.
"You awake?" she called out.
"Still here," he replied. "I don't think I slept much. Still warm, though."
"I think this is how igloos work. Or something. Like, if the space you're in is small enough, your body heat gets trapped. The snow is a kind of insulation."
"I think it's got more to do with fires and thick furs, Mal, but I've never been an Eskimo."
"They prefer Inuit. At least, the ones in Alaska do. I think it's language dependent."
"Really. I'd hate to offend, so thanks for the correction. I'll try to keep it in mind the next time I'm trying to make light of a horrifying situation."
"Again with the funny. You know, Jason, you always were kind of an asshole."
"So why did you marry me?"
"Maybe I thought I could change you."
"Or maybe you liked it. You know, you're not exactly a soft-hearted sweetie yourself. It comes with the whole hard-ass lawyer thing."
"True, but I like to think that I've managed to keep my assholishness under wraps."
"You'd like to think."
"Okay then, tell me one time I've been an outright bitch in say, the last three weeks."
"Last three weeks? Hell, how about the last three days? When we checked in to this resort, you remember how you treated the receptionist?"
Mallory swallowed. She felt her face get hot despite the chilly hollow where she was trapped. "That... that was a perfectly justifiable response to a complete lack of professionalism!"
"It was a computer error, Mal. That poor girl had nothing to do with it, and you spat hot venom all over her day. I've been coming here for years and I've never seen incompetence this bad!" Jason's imitation of her actually rang true.
"Did I really get that shrill?"
"Mal, the girl wilted like a dying flower. And you were staring right through her the whole time. It reminded me of that scene from 101 Dalmatians, where Cruella is trying to run down the escaping puppers in that long black car of hers. All wild-haired and crazy-eyed. That was you going off on a twenty-something part-timer who was probably on winter break and trying to earn a few extra bucks to cover her tuition. And that's not the only time in recent memory. There was the gas station attendant on the way up this godforsaken mountain. They didn't have an Air Miles program, so you flipped on him. I believe you threw out the term 'yokel', even though there's as many people in this ski town as there are in your own home town. Hell, you even shat a little on the waiter in this chalet when he brought you a less-than-scorching hot chocolate."
"Okay, okay. Enough. I get it. I'm as much an asshole as you."
"If this is a contest, or we're having some kind of 'who's the biggest jerk' competition, I'd say you've got more of a passion for pissing people off than I do. It's why you're in prosecution instead of defense law. Think about it."
It was true. Mallory had lived for the satisfaction of destroying her opponents all her life. It was in her blood. From winning playground arguments in grade school to demolishing debate teams in high school, she'd loved breaking down other people with whatever weapons she'd had at her disposal. And now that she had wealth and status, those had simply become tools to swing at whatever obstacles stood between her and her victories. Had Jason become just another speed bump on her personal superhighway?
"If I wasn't this way then I wouldn't be able to function," she started, and hated the uncertainty that had crept into her voice. "You have no idea what it's like to stand up in those courtrooms and face down judges, lawyers, and juries. The whole apparatus is against us."
"Women, I mean. Sure, it's a pretty even split for associates, but partners? It's three to one! And that means I've gotta be three times the bitch if I'm going to get to the top of my career."
"Okay, but does that mean you've gotta be that way with me? Or the fucking gas station attendants? Come on, Mal."
"Do you think we'll starve or freeze first?" she asked. She was answered with a long silence that was filled with the grim thought that Jason had already met either of those two fates.
"I'd like to think we'll get dug out of this," he replied at last. "I'm trying to keep things positive over here."
"So, we just sit here?"
"You just sit there. Come on, Mal. This is a famous resort. 'Only the best for Mallory McLean,' right? I bet there's rescue teams hard at work trying to figure out a way to get us out of here. There's gotta be."
"But how long does that take? It feels like we've been buried forever."
"At least five years," he said. Mallory shook her head at that.
"Five years? What are you talking about? Our marriage?"
"It was a joke, Mal."
"Always with the jokes, Jason. Jokey Jason. Har har. You know, I never did like your sense of humor. That and the voices."
"What voices?" he asked, in mock surprise and with a tone that sounded precisely like Mallory's.
"Those voices," she said.
"You ever stop to think that maybe, just maybe, Mal, that for me it was a defense mechanism against your overwhelming cold bitchiness? You know, when we first met, I thought you were the most amazing woman I'd ever met. Granted, I hadn't met all that many women up to that point in my life, but nonetheless! You were smart, attractive, driven, incredible in bed, and seemingly willing to go along with whatever adventures crossed our path. Then something changed. It was like... securing me as a husband was just another challenge that you'd set for yourself, and once you'd conquered that, you lost interest. You lost interest in me. You lost interest in us. How could I not start treating everything as a joke?"
"I—" she started. But the cold, the hunger, and the oppressive, crushing weight of the snow that had entombed her finally caught up, caught right in her throat and it was all she could do just to breathe. In the cold darkness, time unwound, like a spring leaping out of a broken, cartoon pocket watch. Sproing! She saw the last five years spiral out behind her, a trail that she'd blazed and hadn't cared a whit about who or what she burned in the process. Including the man on the other side of the night. The man who, for all she knew, could be...
"I only did my best," she whispered. "I did what I thought would make my mother proud. I did what I had to so that I wouldn't be stuck working two jobs just to feed a gaggle of fatherless kids. I scraped and clawed and crawled through broken fucking glass so that I wouldn't end up living in some run-down shithole in the trash part of town with the rest of the human garbage. I wanted to be somebody; you hear me?" She was shouting now. "I wanted to be stronger than her, stronger than you, so strong that I wouldn't need anyone to hold me up. They all doubted me, you know? And the second they gave me even the tiniest bit of rope, I hung them all. Me!
"Do you have any idea the kind of effort it takes to maintain this lifestyle?" She wanted to wave her hands, to stand up and stamp her feet, to put on a show for the jury, but there wasn't any room to move in her frozen tomb. "If I wasn't this way, we wouldn't even be here, spending our winters skiing at luxury resorts. We wouldn't have that house, the cars, nothing! It's all on me. Always has been. I carry this weight. It's my burden to bear. Fuck what Liebekker says about sharing. I put this on myself, and I'll walk with it. And I do all of this out of love."
"Luff vor who?" Jason asked, in that ridiculous accent.
A rescue dog sniffed Mallory out. It was one of those classic Saint Bernards, straight out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, only instead of a keg of liquor it had a bright red first aid kit strapped around its neck. It turned out that she'd only been buried under a few feet of snow, and probably could have dug her way to freedom. They said it was best that she hadn't, echoing Jason's sentiments about collapsing mine tunnels.
It had taken them longer to find Jason's body. He'd been crushed and suffocated by the wave of snow, squashed flat against the far wall of the restaurant. It had been a quick death, they said. Mallory had him buried in his family's plot, on a hill that overlooked their little hometown. There was a tasteful service. Jason's parents, friends, and a few of his co-workers showed up. No one besides the pastor spoke to Mallory. Once everyone had gone, she knelt by the grave and put a gloved hand on his tombstone. It was cold.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm not apologizing for how you died. I know that's not my fault. I'm apologizing for making you a part of my life. You were right, in the end." She laughed an absurd, little laugh. "I don't know if you understood the pressure that I'd put myself under. That drive to succeed. I blame the world for that one. I think you were supposed to get me to ease up. But that might have been mission impossible. I was buried under my past, buried in my work, and finally..." She took a deep breath of the crisp winter air, and savored it. She wondered if it had been a pain in the ass for the gravediggers to work with the frozen ground. Then she stood, brushed off her black stockinged knees, and made her way down the hill.