Ursula had been in the stacks looking through books about Ernest Hemingway for an essay when Irene texted her that the snow was really bucketing down and that she was on her way. They’d reduced themselves to just the one car recently and Ursula was happy to have herself a chauffeur, she thought it made her look significant to passersby.
Ursula dressed well for her excursions to campus. At 71, she took pride in slipping into dresses and coats she’d worn in her thirties. She paid attention to what young women wore: leggings, baggy boyfriend shirts, and fluffy sweaters. She was pleased that Dr. Martens had survived. She stood outside in a pool of yellow light and white flurry and waited for Irene.
Irene called to say that the traffic was heavy. “A bit of snow and these assholes lose their minds.” Irene never understood why Ursula wanted to go back and take classes. Ursula thought that had caused some resentment between them—her going back. Irene had had to work in the summers, waiting tables at a diner and taking odd jobs from her uncle to pay for college.
Ursula enjoyed being connected to something. When she thought about leaving college (and she did whenever she felt like a conversation escaped her understanding or a quiz smacked her in the face), she recalled a pamphlet she’d read at a widow's meeting in the months after her husband’s death, which said that reading and learning new things in your old age could prolong your life.
Ursula spotted Irene’s car through the hammering snow. She walked out to Hilltop Ave. to save Irene pulling in and doing the loop to get back out. Snow glimmered on Ursula’s glasses. She felt flakes melting on her face, watched them disintegrate into the fabric of her coat. Ursula had always been taught to walk as though she was balancing a spoon on her nose. She liked holding herself to habits she’d honed in her youth. She plodded through the shallow blanket beginning to stick on the ground. The leaves hadn’t fallen yet, which caused a pink and yellow iridescence in the snow that Ursula thought would be a fashionable color for a dress.
She waved to the car behind Irene’s Toyota Camry, to thank them for their patience. Irene had the heat roaring on the front window and the wipers going ninety.
“Can you believe it?” Irene said. The car crept toward the car in front of them and for a moment Ursula thought she was going to hit it.
“It’s not so bad.”
Ursula had met Irene in college. Irene had been angry at the world then too. At Nixon. At American involvement in Vietnam. Irene’s boyfriend at the time ran the student newspaper and got kicked out for something he published on the matter. Irene never married and rented an apartment in a fourplex where the other units were occupied by mostly male students.
When Ursula’s husband passed, Irene invited her out for coffee, and asked her what she was going to do. She couldn’t stay in that big house on her own.
After six months of keeping up with appearances, Ursula invited Irene to move into the house. She couldn’t sell it, she was certain of that, but she’d welcome the company. Irene moved in two weeks later and hung her Charlie Brown hand towels in the bathroom and placed her grimy cast iron skillet on the stove. Ursula could live with that.
Irene continued inching into traffic. Red brake lights blinked through the snow, which was falling in sheets now. Ursula let down her window and hung out a hand.
“Isn’t it gorgeous?”
“I dare you.” Ursula hadn’t dared anyone to do anything in decades. “Go on. Just try it.”
Irene cracked her window and stuck her fingers out.
“All the way,” Ursula said. She reached across Irene’s lap and let the whole window down.
She sat back again when Irene stuck her hand out, watched it shimmy in the wind while her own turned ruby in the frigid air. A smile split on Irene’s face.
“Now we’re living.”