Friday, November 20, 2009

Feature: Donna Gagnon Day 6

© Donna Gagnon

This piece was written by Donna during a 12 hour writing marathon to raise money for the following:

Cottage Dreams Cancer Recovery Initiative Inc

Lost in the Cold

© Donna Gagnon


come back from
Christmas shopping and
she's never late; can you please send ..
love of my
life who is always
here in my pounding, frightened heart


The poached eggs were perfect. Not too runny, brightly white and rounded. Annie carried two plates into the dining room.

“Breakfast is ready, hon.”

“Mike's still sleeping.”

Annie smiled. “World of Warcraft.”

“He spends a lot of time on that computer.”

“And he works hard, Bob. You spend a lot of time watching hockey.”

Bob kissed the top of his wife's head. “Shopping today?”

“Three more gifts to buy. I'll go out for a while after I've done the dishes.”

“Leave 'em for me. Mike'll want to eat whenever he rolls out of bed.”

Annie was a Christmas fiend. She loved pulling boxes down from the attic at the end of November, gently unpacking delicate tree ornaments that had such sweet history. Remembering the long, quiet morning of the first Christmas with her husband. Warm candlelight that always shone in Grandma's living room, the glow that picked out red glitter patterns across the pointed beaks of glass peacocks on her Balsam Fir tree. A talking Big Bird that kept Mike mesmerized for days when he was three. The tiny, carved wooden animals that her father tucked into her stocking each year.

“Thanks for cleaning up.”

“Good breakfast, sweetie. Be careful out there. Watch out for the crazy old ladies in the mall parking lot, okay?”
“Robert Forder, is that a dig about my driving?”

“Ummmm ...”

“I'll be back in a few hours, you silly old goat. Love you.”


left her
plate on the
table, coffee in
her big yellow mug, one piece of
everything getting
cold 'cause Dad won't clean up until
back from
buying things

she's been gone for three
days and tomorrow is Christmas


In the crisp morning cold, Annie blew out and watched the small cloud-breath hang in the air. Maplegrove Mall's parking lot was nearly full and she'd had to park quite far away from the main entrance.

“Note to self. Finish Christmas shopping earlier next year.” She made that note every year. One of those holiday traditions that just wouldn't budge, no matter what. There was still a scarf to buy for Aunt Norah, a Future Shop gift certificate for Mike and heavens knows what for her sister Madeline.

“Hey. Is this your glove?”

Annie headed towards the mall and tapped her coat pocket for the fourth time to make sure the car keys were still there. She'd locked them in the Subaru last week and Bob would bug her about it forever. All in good fun, of course.

“Lady! This yours?”

Fingers wrapped themselves around Annie's wrist. She gasped.

“I'm talking to you.”

A young man with watery grey eyes stared at her.


“You dropped this.” He waved a brown leather glove in her face.

“Oh. Well. Thank you.”

She took the glove but the man would not let go of her wrist. Annie pulled back and he pulled forward.

“Let go of me.”

“I did something for you.”

“Yes. My glove. Thank you.”

“No. Words don't buy nothin', lady.”

“Oh. Well. If you let go of my hand, I think I have ...”

The man squeezed harder and leaned down to whisper harshly in her ear. “Just give me your purse, lady. Don't scream. DON'T 'cause I'll make it worse.”

Annie closed her mouth. With her free hand, she reached for the keys in her pocket.


came in
Friday at
nine p.m., husband
reported that his wife had gone
come back
duly filed, I went
home, fed the dogs, had a few beers
dreamed of
blowing snow,
nothing visible
except two red blinking tail lights


The worst thing that had ever happened in Annie Forder nee Griffin's life had been a kitchen accident that involved a freshly-sharpened carving knife and a medium-sized turkey.

“I want that leg, Daddy.”

“Wait, Annie.”

“No, I want it ...”

Her father had always felt guilty about the scar on top of her right hand. He would stroke it sometimes, after the stitches had come out and it had healed into a thin white line that looked like a smile. “Good night, Annie. Good night, scar.”

At the far end of the Maplegrove Mall parking lot, she unlocked the Subaru, got in, started the engine and turned the heater on high. Her hands gripped the steering wheel and she stared at that scar on her right hand. “I'm scared, Daddy.”

The keys were sticking out from between her fingers when she'd quickly pulled them out of her pocket and thrust them into the man's face. He'd yelled a few swear words, let go of her wrist and she'd run.

Before the bleeding, would-be thief could find her, Annie reversed out of the parking space and drove for the exit. Her eyes darted everywhere, waiting for a body to come hurtling towards her door, expecting to hear the sound of pounding on metal, glass breaking, mad spit spraying across her windows ...

But the man did not reappear. She turned right out of the parking lot, braked in the line up of traffic waiting at the first set of stop lights and began to cry.


I've shovelled
the driveway, talked to
Marge next door, she's as baffled as
who knows
you, Annie
where have you gone, love?

“Dad! The phone. It's that policeman.”


There were many things Annie should have done earlier that day, in retrospect. She should have gone to the bathroom before leaving the house to go shopping. Sobbing, she'd driven away from the mall, turning randomly at intersections until she realized she was driving on a country road and didn't recognize anything. That old barn looked familiar but where had she seen it before? She desperately needed to pee but there was nowhere suitable to stop. No one had built a Tim Hortons or a McDonald's this far out in to the country yet.

She also should have checked the weather forecast. It had begun to snow. Annie wasn't the best driver around and didn't have a lot of confidence in her ability to control the car on slippery roads.

And she should have unplugged her cell phone from the charger in the kitchen and put it in her purse.


south side
Stonechurch Road
yesterday's blizzard
has obscured any sign of tracks


License plate



The world through her windshield turned white and began to narrow. She'd decided to turn into the next driveway or the next sideroad, whichever came first, before her bladder burst. But the road disappeared and the horizon disappeared. Annie blinked, hard, and opened her eyes to ... nothingness. Wind buffeted the car. She tightened her grip on the steering wheel, started to ease off on the gas and felt everything go sideways. Or was it upside down? The car and Annie went dancing in the blizzard, twisting to the rhythm of whoosh-slide-whoosh-slide. And then ... THUD.

Annie tried to drive forward, went into reverse and then forward again. The car was stuck. She turned off the engine and pushed open the door. The wind nearly took her head off. Pulling the hood of her coat up over her bare head, Annie faced the car door while she tightened the strings of it under her chin. She got back into the car, grabbed her gloves off the passenger seat and then she began to walk.

Head down, hands in pockets, feet pushing through growing drifts of icy snow, Annie intently moved towards a farmhouse she'd seen in the distance just before the storm got worse. Her pants were wet and she realized she didn't really need to pee any more.


let's go
fast ... NOW, Dad!
we've got to find her

not in this storm, Mike ... the police ...

to death
before then
no way I'm sitting
here watching you pace around, Dad

wait just
a little
bit longer, okay?
say a few more prayers for her

* * *

hell blasted
snow, you know Mom can't
drive worth shit in the winter time

blame me
for swearing
or sleeping too much,
okay? I'm just really scared now

* * *

keep her
safe, lead her
home to me and Mike
let me hold her tightly again

me for not
being good enough
bring her back and I will pray more


Lost in the cold, Annie saw God. She'd been talking to him for years and she thought it funny that he chose this time and this freezing cold stupid day to finally appear.

“You're fatter than I thought you'd be. Or is that just because you're wearing such a big coat?”

“Heaven's not just a place,” God said. “It's a state of mind.”

Annie shivered. “Yes, I think I know that. Can we go somewhere warmer and discuss this? A coffee would be nice.”

“There are flames in hell.”

“Not sure hell is the place I had in mind, God. Starbucks, maybe?”

“They do speak kindly in there. But I'm not sure I agree with some of their policies. Pay rates, for one. Hold up your hand, Annie.”

“Why? It's in my pocket. I need to keep warm.”

“Just hold up your hand.”

She pulled her right hand out of her pocket and raised it in front of her face.

“Good. Now, touch your thumb with your little finger.”

Annie frowned. “I can't.”

God nodded. “Stage 2 already. Do you feel sick?”

“No. Well ... I did. I was scared. And I've been walking out here for a long time.”

“Mike says hello. He wanted to come and join you but I thought it was best for him to stay in his room. He did use some pretty nasty swear words the last time we talked.”

“My Michael? I've never heard him swear. Heavens. Gee, it's getting warm now.”

“You should sleep now, Annie.”

“Wait a minute. I've got to get this coat off. It's too hot here all of a sudden. Why do women get hot flashes, God? They're really not fair, you know.”

“I only give my children as much as they can handle. Here. Lie down. Sleep before you cross the water.”

“Water? Oh. You mean we're going for a boat ride?”

Annie spread her coat on top of the snow, sank down into the softness and curled up next to God. “I've only ever slept with one man, you know.”

“Yes. I've been watching,” God whispered. “You've been very, very good.”

“I'm in a heavenly state of mind,” Annie giggled.


“Sing me an angel's song, willya, God?”

“I can't sing.”

“C'mon. Everybody can sing. What about 'Silent Night'? Or 'Little Drummer Boy'? You wrote those, right?”

Annie fell asleep in the midde of a blizzard, smiling to the sound of God's 'pa rump pa pum pum's'.


all day
looking, sir
there's no sign of her
and this storm makes things difficult
rest, we'll
start again
tomorrow morning
there's nothing more you can do now

* * *

on your plate
I have worn a trail
on the living room carpet and
that God will
disappoint us now
you cannot die ... you will come home

* * *

Mom could
survive this
if she's lost out there
hypothermia will kill her
Dad, you can't
let her stay out there
to die all alone in the snow


What the hell Annie Forder was doing driving on Stonechurch Road, way out in the middle of nowhere, heading in the opposite direction of her home in a blinding snow storm, was a question Sgt. Peters knew would probably never be answered.

“Female. Aged 55. Left home at 1000 hours Friday indicating that she was going to do some Christmas shopping. Missing person's report filed at 2100 hours that evening by her husband. Her vehicle was found by Constable Adams, who was off duty at the time, abandoned in the ditch on the north side of Stonechurch approximately two kilometres east of Concession 14. A search crew was dispatched but had to be called back near midnight due to extreme weather conditions.”

By noon on Saturday, Peters had repeated the same speech 32 times to local reporters.

“Storm systems are still passing through this area. We have been unable to find any sign of Mrs. Forder. High winds causing blowing snow are causing a number of difficulties. We will continue the search to the best of our abilities.”

* * *

melts one flake,
ten flakes, forms a hole
in this accidental igloo
Ann Forder
dreaming of pine cones and laughter

* * *

“I'm sorry, Mr. Forder. Our crews will go back out again tomorrow morning. The storm should ease off overnight. We can only hope ...”

Sgt. Peters actually had very little hope that the woman could have survived two days out there. More than 25 centimetres of snow had fallen. The wind chill was at -20C.

“Sarge. What about my dog?”

Peters hung up the phone. “You have a dog, Lambert? Need to go take it for walkies or something?”

“I have two dogs. Couple of purebred labs. Rescued them from a shelter. Been training Binky for months now.”


Ronnie Lambert sighed. “Yeah. Guess I shouldn't have named her after my teddy bear, eh? Seriously, she's a pretty good tracker.”

“You took the call from Bob Forder, right?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What did you think?”

“About the husband? He's concerned, sir.”

“No sense that there's more going on here than a lady going off the road in a snowstorm?”

“Not at all, sir. I had a dream ... oh, never mind. Look, can I go out there with Binky tomorrow and see if she gets a whiff of anything?”

“Yeah. Can't hurt. Christmas Eve tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir.”

They stood silently for a moment.

“How's 800 hours, Lambert?”

“We'll be there, sir. Thanks, Sarge.”

no ... sniff seat
flowers, heat, urine
yes ... nose to ground and follow fast

* * *

There were voices in her head. A young man, snarling. Bob calling to her from upstairs: “Where's my yellow sweater, hon?” Grandma reading from 'A Christmas Carol'. Dad saying: “Sorry, sorry, sorry ...”.
An infant, crying.

“Sing me another song, God.”

There was no answer.

Annie tried to turn her head but couldn't move. At some level, she knew this wasn't right but didn't seem to care. She was warm, oh so relaxed and she was very, very sleepy.

* * *

Ronnie followed Binky as she bounded across the snow-covered farmer's field. The dog was on to something.


Sgt. Peters called out to the search team. “They've found her!”

Lambert pulled Binky back from digging in the snow. “Stay, girl. Peters, get the ambulance.” He knelt down and began to enlarge the opening. “Mrs. Forder? It's okay. You're going to be okay.”

Annie had one eye open. She muttered something.

“Don't talk. The ambulance is on its way.”

“You've lost weight.”

Lambert frowned. “Do you know who I am?”

“God. Right?”

“No, Mrs. Forder. My name is Ronnie.”

“I've been here a long time, haven't I?”

“Yes. Yes, you have.”

* * *

My wife came back to us on Christmas Eve. Well, not directly back to us. Not then. Not for a long time, actually. The doctors had to put her in a chemically-induced coma for a while so she could recover from hypothermia. I saw her in the hospital soon after they put her back to sleep, told her I loved her, held her hand for the last time. They couldn't be saved, you see. Her hands ... her feet. She'd been buried under the snow for three days. It was a miracle, Annie coming back, that dog finding her.

God held her, kept her safe, brought her back to us alive. It was everything I had prayed for and I give thanks every day.

* * *

bumps into
things, talks about God
and how he got to be that fat
teaches Dad
how to poach the eggs
and sometimes I wish Binky had
her 'cause
God drove her crazy,
took her hands, and now she can't hug


  1. Wow, I don't know what to say. Gripping life during illness and putting it into words is fantastic!!! I was glued to this!

  2. Hey, Janet. Thanks for stopping by to read!