Banford Mickley had not seen a pair of tail lights for ten miles, and now he was unsure of anything in front of him. Like walking down the aisle of a darkened movie theater except it was white. Everything was covered in blowing snow. White. White. White. Banford Mickley, despite common sense telling him to stay in Columbus, was driving northeast, home to Perrysburg, headlong into the blizzard of ’78.
He knew from his many trips up Route 23 that he would soon come upon the exit for Bucyrus. He put on his flashers and slowed to a crawl, gripped the steering wheel of his ’68 Buick Skylark. His teeth chattered. Finally, he spied the exit just feet before its soft turn. He pulled off the highway, and then off the exit ramp so that he wouldn’t be hit. He stopped because he couldn’t see. Icy snow coated the windshield wipers, useless anyway in this whiteout. Isn’t that what we always do, Banford thought, we stop when we can no longer see.
The frigid wind rocked the Skylark, and every now and then Banford Mickley would see a blue-green shimmer outside the passenger side window, which was shielded from the snow. It made him think of the Northern Lights, though he had never seen them in real life before. He didn’t know how bad the storm would become. The weatherman mentioned something about barometric pressure dropping, but what did that mean?
Though he tried not to, Banford Mickley thought of the war. His friends would find it ironic that he survived the Battle of the Bulge with its frozen graves only to die here, in the middle of America, maybe five miles from a motel, a phone call away from help. At 58, Banford had heart disease, was overweight and probably suffered from diabetes (he didn’t want to find out); walking in this blizzard, just as driving would, posed a high probability of death.
He had spent most of his life since the war weighing probabilities, even though he was bad at math. He relied on hunches. Typically, he ran his fingers through the thick mop of gray hair on his head and waited for a decision to pop up, like that Magic 8 Ball his kid once had: It is decidedly so. In the war, for example, he lost five buddies out of a company of 150 or so men. He didn’t count the other men who were not his friends, the replacements he didn’t know. He counted maybe 25 men as close friends, so the odds were high in his mind that he would die. One in five. It wasn’t statistically accurate but that’s how his mind worked.
Now, alone in the Skylark with nothing but white and wind surrounding him, Banford kept returning to the war. The wind was a bomb whizzing overhead; the clacking trees were the bones of the exhumed dead of Ohrdruf. The white snow blowing everywhere was smoke in the fields of France.
In the years since the war, he had avoided most sounds. He shut his door when the secretaries outside his office typed because, all together, they sounded like machine guns. In this white tomb, the war flashed and rattled. Red snow, limbs of trees and men, teeth chattering with fear and cold, rubble and fire, bowels undone.
In the war, too, he stopped when he couldn’t see. He stopped and hid because he couldn’t see what was around the corner of a stone house, though he heard his pal Phil screaming for cover as he ran toward danger. He never told anyone. He never said aloud that he stayed behind the stone house; Phil had known and would keep that secret for him in death. The shame lived on, of course. It lived in this Buick Skylark as the doors froze shut and the drifts of snow piled up and around the beige contours, as the battery died and the heat dissipated.
Around noon, when the Ohio National Guard arrived and pried him out of his car, Banford fought them off with his frost-bitten fingers that would soon be amputated. He fought them in what a doctor would term a delirium. But Banford had found peace in what he thought was to be an ignoble death, frozen in the middle of nowhere, like a rabbit in the woods of the Ardennes.