An Unforgiving Sun

Posted: January 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

Dry and inhospitable to all those lacking warm clothing, the chilled air greeted the arrival of Cole White without preamble, sweeping down the narrow street like a charge commanded by a general.
Cole adjusted the wool cap on his head, pulling it down over his ears. His hands shook. The air blistered his lips.
Across the street, across the unmarked white expanse of a snowy city avenue before the perfect stillness has a chance to be ruptured and muddied, the restaurant stood monolithic and insurmountable; a peak to be scaled by the most reluctant of heroes. If he had stopped and strained his ears for a moment, perhaps Cole may have been able to make out the sound of the round being chambered. Instead, he coughed slightly into his gloved fist and crossed the street.
A slight ripple of turning heads and the nondescript chime of the bell hanging over the door to the small cafe announced Cole’s entry. Four patrons returned their attention to their food; the fifth raised her hand, signalling the newcomer.
He crossed the floor, seated himself across from the smiling woman, and forced a smile of his own.
“It’s like you haven’t aged at all,” she whispered, reaching across the table. He ignored the gesture, his hands placed firmly on his knees underneath the table. The pink-and-green manicured claws in front of him hung awkwardly for a moment before subsiding back behind the barrier of the table. Cole stared at her.
“Miss Parker.” He nodded politely. “I think you know why I asked you here.”
Her eyes dimmed; already a faded, neglected and threadbare denim blue, their color drained further until they rang hollow and dishwater gray. She swallowed, her smile manufactured quickly from beneath a rattled composure.
“I expected a phone call after all these years, you know,” she pouted, resting her head on her hands and looking into his eyes. “I was glad that you wanted to meet with me.”
“I just wanted to ask you some questions, miss Parker.”
“I wish you’d call me Diane, Cole.” She winks at him in an almost comical, cartoonishly exaggerated fashion. “Just like you used to-”
“I wanted to ask you a question about Liz.”
Her eyes dulled further, retreating back into much darker depths. They blinked slowly, narrowing her gaze as she trained it harder onto Cole.
“I don’t see any sense in bringing up the past, Cole. It’s been four years since-”
“Stop!” he barked harshly enough to turn a couple of heads to their table. He inhaled sharply, steepling his hands in front of him and closing his eyes.
“Just…” Cole pursed his lips, then removed his hat. The cafe was growing warmer. He glanced around at the others in the restaurant; they had gone back to their meals. From the inside of his jacket he retrieved a small pad of paper with a black pen lodged in the metal spiral holding the pages together. After a moment, he bent close to the paper, scrawling something.
He straightened up, looking across the table at Diane Parker. His expression unchanged, he slid the note over to her.
Cole abruptly turned to the window, staring out at the tundra-like urban landscape blanketed with the most pure of elements. He did not want to be the first to mar the view.
“Yes.”
His eyes slide back to Diane Parker. “What did you say?”
“I said yes.”
She slid the note back. He stared at it, as if willing the words on the paper to change from what he had written, for her to have said yes to any other question.
He stood abruptly, the notepad abandoned in favor of the hat clenched in his hand.
“Cole?” Diane Parker stood as well, reaching out toward him. He drew back from her touch.
“I need fresh air,” he stated in a monotone; as he stumbled toward the door, the bell above the door chimed twice as Diane Parker followed Cole closely out of concern.
“Cole- please! It’s freezing out here!”
He stopped, breath ragged and drawn in gasps.
“Cole…” Her eyes are restored to their original color, the cold and concern flooding her with new vitality. “At least put your hat on! You’ll catch a cold!”
For a single, crystallized moment of absolute silence, Cole imagined he could hear the oiled precision of the hammer as it drew back and delivered a powerful blow to the back of a .308 round that blasted the bullet out of the hunting rifle’s long, polished metal barrel and in between Diane Parker’s neatly trimmed eyebrows.
The shattering report of the gunshot echoed throughout the quiet neighborhood, yet it may have been silent for all Cole knew; compared to the explosion of red and gristly white bone fragments coating the snow, the gun’s cry was nothing.
For the twenty seconds before someone felt it was time to inform the police of what had happened, Cole existed in a purgatory that pushed and pulled him between utterly crushing remorse and resounding elation, a celebration and a mourning, the yin and yang of a bittersweetly obtained success. Across the street, Cole watched in a daze as the rifle barrel retracted into the hotel window from where it had been steadied, a snake slitering back into its nest. He dropped to his knees, fingers sinking into the snow and gore to find some sort of support to hold him up; by the time the first of the squad cars arrived, he had lost consciousness.

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