Kage Baker hated the cold. No prevarications, no euphemisms – she outright hated the cold. It was her enemy; in her mind, a blue-faced anorexic glamor queen dripping diamonds and tacky furs, leaving windows open and being offensively skinny in large, drafty rooms.
“But look at the beautiful clear sky!” I might cry (winter is a lovely season in Southern California). “Look, the hills are green, the air is clear, the stars are visible at night and the wind is fresh and clean!”
“It’s freaking cold. Shut the window!” Kage would snarl, and wind another coverlet around herself.
“Would you rather it was hot and smoky?” I would ask (very reasonably, I always thought).
“Yes. I would. Bring on the fire storms!”
Kage could be extremely unreasonable on very little provocation. And once aroused to this state, she could go on for hours about the joys of living in in a landscape lit by volcanic fountains and watered by hot springs. She’d usually carry the argument by default – I would get so intrigued by her descriptions that I would stop pointing out the logic flaws and just want to know What Happens Then?
Some of the culture of the Children of the Sun was born on winter days when Kage was trying to write with numb blue fingers. They are fond of flaming cocktails, for instance. Some of them can burst into flame (she always wanted to do that). Hot oil is a spa indulgence, not a war weapon. All of this is due to Kage hating the cold …
There was a constant problem of ambient temperature in our house: thermostat wars. I paid the gas bills, too, and would wax despairing when they quadrupled in January. But we managed. I just got used to sweating in the winter – Kage’s idea of a shirt-sleeve environment was about 80 degrees. Not that she would be in shirt sleeves. She responsibly wore extra sweaters and woolly socks and all the rest of the mountaineer gear one is advised to wear rather than turn up the thermostat. It just didn’t keep her warm enough.
Me, I go about in winter in T-shirts and barefooted, at least indoors. I kept a window open in my bedroom and the door firmly closed to spare Kage the Arctic wind blowing out of my room – and to give me a haven to retreat to where I was not risking heat prostration in December. This still occasioned screams of protest whenever I went in and out, and she flatly refused to go into my room to fetch anything. She said glaciers were forming in there.
Harry the parrot was firmly on Kage’s side. When the room was chilly, he would be perched on her shoulder, as far into her hair as he could insinuate himself, glaring at me. Many an evening the two of them would be folded into her armchair between the heater outlet and the fireplace, wrapped in lap robes, watching telly and giggling … and huddled together like orphans in a snow storm. Parrots like to cuddle, and Kage was the warmest thing in the house.
At the moment, it is very cold in Los Angeles. Oh, the rest of the country would laugh at us, I know – but when your wardrobes and wall insulation are not constructed for the 30’s and 40’s, the cold is pretty biting. The rain storms are briefly in abeyance and what we have now are enormous northern winds: power outages are flickering across the city like earthbound lightning, trees are falling, birds and squirrels are flying backwards through the air. Insane tourists are lining up in Pasadena, risking hypothermia to watch the Rose Parade tomorrow (we natives will watch from our living rooms, drinking cocoa).
My sister Kimberly is set to the same thermostat as Kage, and is wrapped up like a lost Arctic explorer under cats, blankets and a Corgi. Harry, having decided that nephew Michael is now the warmest person around, is snuggled under the corner of his jaw, trying to see how far he can get into Michael’s brand-new beard. I am sitting here (barefoot) on the wrong side of the windbreak: my huge oak desk stops the draft from the pet door in the kitchen from getting all the way into the living room, but it’s rather like having one’s feet in an icy stream …
That’s winter in Southern California, though. And it all has a comforting familiarity to it. I can hear Kage complaining about the draft, and demanding to know if I am sure bringing the barbecue in would pose a health hazard …
Tomorrow: New Year’s Day and memories