Melissa had waited impatiently, hearing snowblowers in the adjoining courtyard. Her sewing-room window overlooked the courtyard paths to be cleared. High beyond Berne, the tips of the Alps whence the storm had come appeared over the roof. At last the roar neared; great arcs of white powder heralded the arrival of two men, beginning as always on the long diagonal toward the main door. It must be cold: They were swathed in parkas, fur-trimmed hoods drawstringed tight around faces, their mouth-steam swept away on the same wind that scattered dense jets from the machines into diaphanous cascades.
Reaching the doorway, they turned back in practiced echelon. To avoid blowing the snow into the wind and so back in their faces, they skillfully cranked the chutes as they pivoted.
After widening that central walkway on a second pass, she knew, they would split up to clear the narrow walks along the courtyard perimeter to the emergency-exit doors. They would consider it as absolument certain that that none of the elderly residents would venture out in such weather, so might not clear the few feet from the sidewalks to each patio door.
Melissa needed them to go beyond their routine, lest her poor Yorkie be left snowbound. Named Peanut at home, but called by everyone here Le Petit, he had ventured out once already, peeing hardly outside the doggie-door and nonetheless returning with snow-matted hair to shake off on the rug.
Melissa had put a sign on the patio railing, hand-lettered in red Sharpie – POR FAVOR UNE PISTE POUR LE CHIEN.
One of the men started down the walkway toward her. The clatter grew. She rapped on the window with her ring as hard as she dared, but could hardly hear it herself against the blat-blat-blat.
Sure enough, he passed right by, face buried in the hood, thick-mittened hands gripping the handles. The chained wheels might drive the machine, but it must take strength and concentration to keep the bucking monster straight ahead.
There was time: He would come back from the emergency exit. She grabbed a pot and ladle from the kitchenette, hurried to the patio door and wrenched it open, hammering the pot.
He looked up, did something to stop the machine, saw the sign, and gave her a smile out of a snow-rimed face. While he muscled the snowblower into the patio opening, she went inside to drop the pot and bring Peanut out in her arms. The man finished, looked up again, and gave the dog a huge grin that transcended a mere sourire smile.
“MERÇI!” she shouted.
He gave her a mittened thumbs-up, and was gone in a fresh cloud of blown snow.