The wave rolled towards the shore, slow and slushy. It was not completely frozen — not yet. Determined, it tried to reach the wide, sandy beach and break, just as it had done for a millennia. However, there was no glorious white cap of water followed by a crash. No. The wave was low and dull, the crystals of frozen water tumbling like a Slurpee machine and reflecting the moody sky above. I heard it strike the shore, a steak slapping against a marble counter. I did not think of it as a wave at that moment. It was something unnatural — a thing that did not have a name. It retreated, and there was a brief moment of silence before it repeated.
These were my days. I spent them watching the ocean, the sky and the direction of the wind. I knew there were worse places I could be. Yet, sometimes I thought it would have been more merciful to be at home when the Froid happened. I imagine I would have been outside on a wintry day, with my long hair tucked inside my warmest cap, trudging in the early morning to the grocery store to get coffee filters and an almond danish. I know myself well enough to predict that I’d be out of filters by that time and would not have planned ahead by buying them the night before. Besides, those almond danishes were temptingly sweet. The thought of them alone would have rousted me out of bed, though more likely it would have been the dog licking my face, begging to go out for a pee.
If that had happened — if I had gone to the grocery store — I would have frozen solid, maybe mid-stride, without even understanding what was going on. I would have never known about the Froid.
However, that had not been the case. I had been on vacation, wanting to get away from the grip of winter. The irony of it was that I rented an apartment for a week, and I never left. The owners didn’t contact me; I assumed they froze somewhere up north. The local management company went silent. I presumed they just didn’t see the point in harassing me for more money.
There were the initial news reports. I hated thinking about them, but I kept finding myself searching for answers in those final blips of moving electronic images. “Sudden Freeze,” read the headlines in English and “Le Grand Froid” in French. All were followed with talking heads discussing the phenomenon, some denying that there was climate change at all by referring to a sudden blizzard recorded by pioneers in the Dakotas and a frozen lagoon in eighteenth century France.
If it had been fleeting, I might have been inclined to believe the skeptics. But the Froid persisted, spreading its icy fingers across the rest of the U.S. and Europe, even those areas that were mild, until most of Earth was arctic. The final news reports stated that electricity in most major cities was down, and there was rioting over food and oil supplies. I can’t say what happened afterwards because the news stopped broadcasting.
It was more peaceful in the Caribbean, where the Froid was slower — more nefarious, some here would say. It seemed to get a little colder everyday. We watched mostly from our windows.
Yesterday, I went to buy pain sucre from my neighbor, Jean, who sold bread from his kitchen. I wrapped myself in blankets and hooded my head in towels. I ran as quickly as I could, feeling the sharp sting in my lungs from being out-of-shape and equally sharp pricks in my fingers and toes from the cold. The beach village, painted in bright Creole colors, was quiet, except for the slapping of the slushy waves and the wind threading through the curving streets. Garbage bags were piled near the fence line. All the Citroens and Peugots had flat tires. We’d run out of gas ages ago, and of course there was no trash service.
Along the way, I saw a purple orchid near the hedges, preserved in a crust of clear ice. I paused to study it, my breath twisting like smoke into the air. It had roundish petals with dark purple veins that were lighter at the edges. In the center was a yellow lip splashed with whites and electric violets. A creeping vine sprouted from the orchid’s side with another small bud that never had the chance to bloom. I’d run by the orchid countless times. How had I never seen it? I wanted to pick it up, but my hands were too cold. I stuffed them beneath my blanket and hurried on.
“Jean!” I said, bursting into his tiny apartment with a view of la plage. “Did you see the frozen orchid?”
“Comment? Tu parles trop vite.” His shorts were dusted white with flour; his skin so much paler than it used to be.
I repeated myself in French.
He replied that oui, he’d seen the orchid many times. He was surprised that I had not. Then he kissed me as he always did.
I was like that — not very observant. But I thought that I was becoming better. I had time to sit and watch now. My mind was becoming more still. I was preparing for death as the creep of the cold slipped over my head like a wool sweater.
Today, the wind was stronger than usual, and it was blowing in from the north. Certainly, this was a bad sign. I suspected the temperature would plummet even further that night. I wondered if the last of the palm fronds would fall as a result. Most of them had already broken off, though there were still a few stragglers.