by Ilene Schneider
With the summer heat heating down, a story involving snow seemed like a perfect escape! Miami Snow was first published in Mysterical-E Magazine, Fall 2013, and just won 1st place for best short story at the Public Safety Writers Association conference.
The morning after I arrived in Miami, I opened the window shades in my bedroom and saw eight inches of snow. I guess I should clarify: I was in Miami, Vermont.
I was a several hour drive and a technological century away from my upscale condo in a modern high rise in Boston’s Beacon Hill area. And my new job as an office manager/bookkeeper was even further away from my high powered position as a financial analyst in a top firm. But at least I was also out of range (I hoped) of my stalker of a would-be-boyfriend, who had just been released from prison after being convicted of attempted murder.
I had been the intended corpse.
Tom – his name was Tom Smothers, “but I don’t have a brother,” he would add when introduced – had been released on parole, for good behavior, after only seven years of a twenty-to-life term, which meant he had seven years of pent-up anger that needed an outlet. And I knew who his target would be.
After all, it was my fault for having spurned him, taken out a restraining order, told the doormen to call the police if he so much as walked in front of the building on the other side of the street and then, for good measure, changed the locks on my door, unlisted the number on my land line and refused to answer any calls on my cell from unknown callers. At least that was his defense. If I had only realized that I could find eternal happiness as the sex slave/housewife of a drug-abusing, almost homeless, Wharton School dropout, he wouldn’t have had to go to such extreme measures to ensure I wouldn’t marry anyone else.
Tom’s public defender, who must have barely passed the bar exam, made the beginner’s mistake of allowing her defendant to take the stand without knowing what he would say. What Tom did say, under oath, was that in order to convince me he was my ideal mate; he had traded his last two bottles of gin for a gun and had planned to ambush me on my way to work. When I had the chutzpah to be out of town that day, he settled for entering the lobby of the office building where I worked and shooting at random. So, by his reckoning, I was the one who was responsible for his injuring five people before the defective gun jammed. Maybe if Tom had the money to buy three bottles of gin to barter, he could have gotten a better weapon.
Tom had become an alcoholic in grad school, which was the main reason he dropped out (his version), or rather, been expelled (the true story). His lawyer called an addiction specialist to the stand to testify that all that alcohol had obviously addled Tom’s brain. She was hoping the jury would acquit him by reason of insanity. Instead, the jurors had trouble believing anyone could be quite that nuts and thought he was putting on an act. They thought the same thing of Tom and convicted him. If any of the injured had died, I wouldn’t have needed to leave Boston for a rundown ski resort near the Canadian border. Tom would have likely have been sentenced to life with no chance of parole.
I had been threatened by Tom and had the voice mail recordings, emails and written notes to prove his intentions. I testified against him at his trial, but because he hadn’t actually attacked me, some entry-level, minimum wage clerk decided I didn’t need to be sent a victim notification when he came up for parole. I found out only when one of my co-workers, whose arm had gotten in the way of one of the bullets, mentioned it. I immediately planned my escape. I knew my running away was giving Tom a victory of sorts, but the truth was, I was burned out at work and needed a change.
Okay, the truth was I was hearing too many disquieting rumors of buyouts and layoffs, and decided to leave on my own terms before being terminated. Wrong choice of words, considering what Tom had planned to do to me, but losing a job can feel like a death. In my case, though, it felt like a reprieve.
I had been working at the same job, clawing and backstabbing my way up the corporate ladder since my graduation from Wharton (where I had first met Tom) all those many years ago. It was when I began thinking of it as a job rather than a career that I began considering early retirement and a midlife career change. A few problems, though: 1. I didn’t have enough savings to retire early; 2. I was too young even for early retirement; 3. I was not yet at the stage of having a mid-life crisis, or at least not willing to admit it; and 4. I had no idea what else I wanted to do. I had gotten used to the perks of the high salary: the condo, the clothes, the vacations, the restaurants, the plays. Too bad I never had the time to enjoy any of those things. Also too bad I had spent money rather than saving it.
Don’t get me wrong, I had enough to live on for a while, so long as I scaled back my expenses and got out of pricey Boston. In fact, by getting out of Boston, or anywhere in the metropolitan corridor between there and Washington, I could live quite comfortably for quite some time. So long as I didn’t move to California instead.
It was time to disappear.
Disappearing was relatively easy. I would troll the internet for a new job, one located in the middle of nowhere, in a place as different from Boston as possible. After I found something, I would sublet my condo, fully furnished, close out my credit cards, get a new cell phone, and stop using any social media or email. I already did all of my bill paying electronically with automatic payments. The only snail mail I got was mainly junk: charity solicitations, credit card applications, discount coupon booklets, threats from Tom. I even had a plan for assuming a new name and Social Security number. I had been privy to a lot of confidential information at my job, and a woman my age had died of ovarian cancer a few years earlier. She was an only child, her parents had died, she had never married and never reproduced. I would assume her identity, especially as her details were the same as mine. It works in books and movies, so it must be easy to do, right? It was worth a try.
My first task was accomplished fairly quickly. The office manager job in the weirdly named Miami Ski Resort in the weirdly named Miami, Vermont, was just what I was looking for. I decided not to contact the owners, but just show up and hope I could talk my way into the job. I knew they would ignore my resume, as on paper I was much too qualified. I was much too qualified off paper, too.
I arrived in Miami on a beautiful October day. My Boston friends knew I often took off a weekend to check out the fall foliage further north. I had grown up and gone to undergrad school in western Massachusetts, and missed the spectacle of the multicolored trees against the backdrop of cloudless blue skies. The Boston Commons just didn’t cut it for me. For most of my friends, the Commons and the adjacent Boston Gardens, with the Swan Boats on Frog Pond were more than enough nature, with an occasional foray in the summer to Cape Cod for variety, and no one wanted to accompany me. It was the chance I needed to figure out whether Miami, Vermont, would be an adequate temporary bolt hole, where I could safely hide while planning a permanent escape from Tom Smothers.
I took a few days of vacation time so I could leave early on Wednesday morning. After inching my way through the traffic on I-93, I decided to stop in Plymouth, New Hampshire, a little over half-way to my destination, and enjoy the sights at the White Mountains. The next day, I continued my trek northward, stopping several times to ogle the scenery. I exited I-91 near Newport, Vermont, and then followed a series of increasingly narrow back roads to Miami.
The town was basically a crossroads, with a gas station/convenience store at one corner of the intersection, diagonally across from a white clapboard church. The other two corners boasted three-story brick homes, one with a doctor’s office on the first floor, the second with a barber shop.
Miami Ski Resort was about two miles from the “center of town.” It was beautifully situated at the base of Mount Miami (I kid you not), not all that far from Jay Peak, which is famous or infamous for accumulating the greatest annual snowfall of any ski resort in the east.
No one was in the miniscule lobby when I entered, but there was a counter with one of those little round bells on it. I dinged it and a sullen looking teenager, wielding a mop, came from a corridor off to the side, probably leading to the guest rooms.
“Yeah, whadayawant?” She punctuated her question by popping her bubble gum.
“Are the owner or the manager available? I’m here to inquire about the job as the office manager.”
She looked at me blankly and then said, “I dunno. Wait and I’ll find out.”
While I waited for my interview, I read some of the pamphlets in the lobby, which is how I learned about the snowfall (an average of three hundred fifty-five inches per year, beating out Mount Washington by over one hundred inches). Perfect. Anyone who knew me – including my unwanted suitor who, in the manner of all stalkers worthy of the name, interrogated my friends and Googled me incessantly – knew the main reason I dislike skiing is that it has to be done in the snow. Growing up in western Massachusetts and then compounding matters by going to undergraduate college there, had cured me of any snow lust I may ever have harbored.
The hard part was convincing the owners, Pam and Jan Miami (really), that I did want the job.
I think it was Pam who opened the door to the office behind the counter. She and her partner (business partner? Sister? Life partner?), as I soon discovered, were interchangeable.
“Why, hello, there,” said Pam or maybe it was Jan. “I understand you’re here about a job. Come on in.”
I figured out how to open the latch on the counter gate and entered the office. I’ve seen larger walk-in closets (although not, unfortunately, in my condo). Every surface was covered with file folders – no, that’s not true. There was an area in the center of the desk that had a new looking laptop computer. She (Pam? Jan?) introduced me to her partner (Jan? Pam?). What she actually said was, “We’re Pam and Jan Miami. And you are?”
I couldn’t decide whether Pam and Jan were sisters or a couple that had been together so long they had begun to resemble one another. They were both either well preserved octogenarians or fifty-year-old ski bums who had spent all too much time outdoors without sun block. They both had no-nonsense short white hair and wore identical pant suits, Pam’s in pastel pink and Jan’s in pastel lavender. They were also tall, lean, and fit looking. I later learned they were sisters, never married, born and raised in Miami.
Still not sure who was who, I introduced myself as Marcella Johnson, the name of the deceased young woman whose identity I was assuming. “I saw your ad on-line,” I explained, nodding at the laptop, “and it sounds just like what I am looking for. And before you ask, yes, I do have office administrative experience. I’m also familiar with spread sheets” – another nod toward the computer – “and other aspects of financial management.” Looking pointedly at all the haphazardly piled folders, I added, “I’m also very organized.”
“Forgive me for asking,” Pam/Jan interrupted, “and I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but from the way you talk and the way you’re dressed, I’m wondering why you want to come to Miami. We’re not exactly the hub of the universe.” Her opposite number chuckled at the oblique reference to Boston.
I hesitated. I wasn’t sure how much to tell them, but for some reason, I decided to trust them, probably because they reminded me of Betty White. Or my grandmother. It was only later that I realized they also reminded me of the Brewster sisters in “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
I finally told them all about Tom and that I needed to get away before he found me and finished the task he had set himself seven years earlier. I figured it was just a matter of time before he committed another crime, had his parole revoked and probably was convicted and sentenced to an even longer term.
I also figured, even after my cursory examination of the resort – I use the term loosely – that the place would go bankrupt and close by the time Tom was back in jail, and I could return to Boston without feeling guilty about leaving the sisters without a manager. But I left that part out during my interview.
I also left out the fact that I hate the snow and am afraid of heights, so there’s no way I would get onto a ski lift and ride up to the top of a mountain just to hurl myself back down on two narrow, slippery pieces of wood.
After telling them my story, Pam/Jan gave each other what I didn’t know then was a significant look. “You’re hired,” said one. “We’re suckers for sob stories. And we won’t even pressure you for your real name.” She grinned. “Don’t look so shocked. We have a satellite dish and get enough crime shows and movies here to know you probably stole someone’s identity. I doubt if we’ll ever get audited, but you should probably give us your fake Social Security number anyway so we can file the appropriate tax forms. We can always pull the helpless old lady act on the auditors and say you defrauded us.” I should have realized then that they were enjoying the idea of helping me out too much. I’m not sure that the final outcome would have been different, though.
I returned to Boston, turned over the furnished condo to a realtor to sublet, tendered my letter of resignation and allowed my friends to give me a farewell party. Tom was not invited.
Although I was sure a ski resort in Vermont was the last place anyone would look for me, I told everyone I was moving to Miami. I just neglected to tell them which state. I did, however, send an envelope to my lawyer, John Patterson, with a cover letter telling him to open it only if he heard of my death. In it, I detailed my plans.
A month later, I was installed in my new job and room and was already wondering what I had gotten myself into. I knew there would be a lot of snow. I just didn’t expect it to begin so early in the winter. Or, rather, late in the fall.
I set myself to work organizing the office and entering all the data onto spreadsheets and into databases. I couldn’t imagine anyone I knew showing up at the Miami Ski Resort, but just in case someone did, I stayed behind closed doors and let the sisters handle the front desk. One weeknight evening, when there were no guests, Pam, Jan, and I sat in the cozy back parlor toasting marshmallows and making popcorn in the fireplace. “How did this place – or you – get the name ‘Miami’?” I asked.
Jan (I had finally figured out who was who) said, “We wondered when you would ask.” She put her feet up on the ottoman and settled back into the overstuffed couch. “It’s actually a pretty prosaic story. Our multi-great paternal grandfather was a French fur trapper. We’re not sure why he came here to begin with – we like to think he was escaping from the gallows – but he was a very friendly guy. He called everyone he met ‘mon ami,’ which later became ‘Miami.’ End of story. And it does put us in an interesting position for marketing.”
“Speaking of which,” I changed the subject now that my curiosity was satisfied, “why don’t you do any marketing? I could set up a website for you and a Facebook page and send notices to everyone I know in Boston.”
“Wouldn’t you be afraid someone you know will see you? You do have to emerge from that office on occasion, if just to go to your room or have a meal.”
I thought for a moment. “I’ll see the reservations when they come in. And if I change my hair color and style, and use my glasses instead of contact lenses, and start wearing flannel shirts, jeans, and work boots, I doubt if anyone will recognize me. Besides, no one notices ‘the help.’ I suppose,” I added, “if someone I know calls in for a reservation, I could always say we’re full. Although that would defeat the purpose of advertising, wouldn’t it?”
Now it was their turn to think. They were able to synchronize their ideas without speaking – although not twins, they were only eleven months apart, and remarkably attuned to each other. Jan gave a slight nod, and Pam spoke for both of them. “If you’re willing to take the chance, then give it a try. You’ve seen enough of our books by now to know we can’t keep going the way we have. If we have another poor season, we’ll have to close up and move to the other Miami. And we hate the ocean.”
Something else seemed to pass between them, but they didn’t voice it. I would later be sorry I hadn’t asked.
The next day, I began designing the website. Within a week, I had it up and running, complete with Facebook links and ads. We got only a minimal response, though. People seemed to prefer the larger resorts in the area.
It was around then that I began to feel ill. It was nothing I could put my finger on, just some vague aches and pains, especially in the pelvic area. I had a history of ovarian cysts, and thought it might be another one. I knew I had to take the chance and make an appointment with my gynecologist in Boston. She had a branch office in Sharon, a suburb about twenty-five miles from Boston. I was becoming concerned enough to call and make an appointment in Sharon, using my own name.
I didn’t tell the sisters why I needed a few days off, just that I had some business to take care of, and I wouldn’t be where anyone I knew would see me. I hoped. They exchanged that enigmatic look again and gave me their blessing.
My few days extended longer than I expected. I stayed in a cheap motel in the area, while my doctor ran all kinds of tests. It wasn’t an ovarian cyst. It was ovarian cancer. Stage four. I decided I didn’t want any treatments – all they would do is make me feel worse, and at the end I’d be just as dead. Instead, I returned to Miami, Vermont, to figure out how to spend my few remaining months.
The sisters were too astute. They knew right away something was wrong. Finally, one night, as we sat again in front of the fireplace in the otherwise empty resort, I told them.
“You can’t stay here,” Pam said. “You have to go back to Boston, be among friends, relatives.”
“My parents died a few years ago. I’m an only child of only children. So, no family. As for friends, I have colleagues and acquaintances, no real friends. Except the two of you.”
They both had tears in their eyes as they hugged me. “How sad,” Jan said, “to be so ill and to have only two old biddies like us as companions. Pam,” she turned to her sister, “we have to give her a present.”
“Don’t be silly. You don’t have to do anything for me. Just let me stay here and, when things get really bad, have me admitted to the nearest hospice so I’m not a burden to you. That’s all I want.”
“Oh, no,” said Pam. “We’ve been thinking about this since you first told us about Smothers. I think you’ll like it.”
I had no idea what they were planning. I wasn’t sure I would like it. As it turns out, I didn’t.
I felt okay for a while, worked on marketing for the resort, took care of the rest of the organizing of the files. Then, one day, I glanced out the open door of the office and saw a familiar person emerge from a car.
“Jan, Pam!” I yelled. “Get in here – now!”
They rather sheepishly entered the office, an unusual look for them. I closed the door behind them. “What the hell is Tom Smothers doing here?” I asked, not too politely.
“Oh, don’t worry, dear,” said Pam. “We let him know you were here.”
“We have a little surprise planned for him,” Jan added.
“Stay here and lock the door,” said Pam. She glanced at the window next to the desk. “And close the shades. We’ll go out and greet him and take care of everything.”
She bent over and took something from the bottom drawer of the file cabinet. She and Jan blocked my view of just what it was. When Pam stood up again, the object was secreted in her pocket.
As Han Solo was wont to say, I had a bad feeling about this.
Thirty minutes later, the sisters returned. Pam knocked on the office door. “You can come out now, dear. We’ve taken care of everything. Tom won’t be bothering you anymore.”
“What did you do?” I asked, unlocking the door. Looking out the front door, I added, “And where’s his car?”
“You know Bottomless Ravine?” Pam asked, mentioning a deep gorge a mile or so from the resort. “It’s at the bottom. With Tom inside. Oh, don’t look so concerned! He’s not suffering. We shot him first.” She patted her pocket. “I’m a damned good shot, even with a small pistol. Especially when the intended victim doesn’t expect a doddering old lady to be armed.”
“It’s not the first time we’ve helped out a woman who is being battered or abused in some way,” Jan explained rather smugly. “You’d be amazed at all the bodies at the bottom of that ravine.”
“Now you can go back to Boston and get proper care. We’ve decided to close up the resort. After all these years, Miami, Vermont, will have no Miami family living here.”
“Where will you go?”
“Oh, I think it’s better if we don’t tell you, don’t you?”
I did return to Boston. My condo had not yet been sublet, so I moved back in. When I went onto hospice, I decided to say I was in more pain than I was so I could get larger doses of morphine, which I stockpiled. When the pain got too much to bear, I planned to take it all at one time.
The time arrived today. I have just taken the morphine and am already feeling drowsy.
And, so, John, I’m sending you this email to let you know I am now dead. You don’t need to open the letter I sent, as I’ve recounted all the details here. Don’t bother contacting the police – I’m sure the Miami sisters have covered their trail well. I just hope they didn’t change their names to Abby and Martha Brewster.
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