The Winter of Dalton Cosby
by Brian McTaggart
part 1 of 2
The door of an old warehouse creaks on its rusting hinges, allowing a spark of light from within to infiltrate the light-starved alleyway in which it is situated. Dalton Cosby steps through the door, alert for snitches and police vehicles. His vision is impaired; the opening of the alleyway is obscured by a white hue of light.
The barkeeper follows closely behind him, equally alert, eyes fixed on the short walk leading to the street entrance. Barkeep pushes a raggedy man forward into the night. The man’s begrudged welcome has expired; he has spent the last of his illegally obtained credits on the rocket-fuel strength liquor dispensed within the dirty old place.
Raggedy man looks back, pleading for a free one for the road. Barkeep shakes his head and disappears back inside with the heavy slam and lock of the door, confirming raggedy man’s eviction.
The slamming door coincides with Dalton’s entrance onto the city street. He claws at the frayed, threadbare fabric of his State-credited overcoat, desperately attempting to wrap the thing around his emaciated, middle-aged frame. Besieged by a monstrous blizzard, he blinks quickly, and the white hue of the light’s identity is revealed. The city has surrendered to the arrival of deep snow carpeting its streets with a dazzling, pure, virgin whiteness.
He soils the snow’s virginity by stamping down into it with his insubstantially clad feet. He remembers the effort of sympathy locked within the blue eyes of the young woman who credited him with the second-hand, almost worn-out, plimsolls. His feet pay the extra credit as the frozen mulch on the ground infiltrates the ripped canvas of his shoes. His feet burn with hellish cold.
An aggressive growl from his stomach reminds Dalton that it is running close to empty, save for the cocktail of cheap booze and amino acids burning its lining. His shivering body turns around, facing the old warehouse. Going there is not an option. The city shelter is an hour’s walk away in these conditions, and the reek of booze on his breath means some moralising, officious prick at the desk will put paid to his ambition of seeking refuge.
Dalton reluctantly surveys the empire of snow around him. He is a mere black dot surrounded by a panoramic vista of whiteness. He almost laughs aloud remembering the philosophy of Thatcher, so recently revived and fattened by repugnant reactionaries: The deserving poor are deserving of our help. How both he and Juliet despised the deliberate clumsiness of its philosophy. How it informed the uninformed to think. How those fecund words calibrated the debate within the minuscule minds of the gullible.
He pats himself for warmth. The powdery film of snow on his tattered coat scatters into the air, coalescing with the falling blizzard and continuing its campaign of intimidation around him.
The cold, deeper than the snow, cuts razor-like into his lungs with each inhalation of the icy air. But the cold isn’t his only adversary. A boa constrictor has seemingly wrapped itself around his chest. He gasps suddenly, starved of the essential nutrient of oxygen hiding within the chilled air. A palsy contorts his face, realigning his features. The true cost of the moonshine and cigarettes, consumed to forget his beautiful Juliet, now accounted and audited.
The left side of his body paralyses, and he hits at his chest with his still-good right arm, attempting to restart his heart as if it were a recalcitrant motor in a clapped-out old car. The crunching snow accommodates his falling mass, cushioning his descent. He tastes the metallic saltiness of the frozen whiteness as his face buries deep into the thick of it.
His pitiful cry is muffled inside the density of the snow. A searing jolt of pain almost revives his thoughts; such is its malign intensity. Dalton is surprised by his own desire to fight the affliction. Even his miserable existence must mean something. He remembers being someone, once.
He pushes up with his one good arm, finding brawn and the strength he thought had long deserted him. With a last stupendous effort, he rolls on to his side and finally faces up to the grey, heavy sky pissing whiteness down upon him. He is relieved; he will see his adversary to the end. Face his doom.
A halo of hope materialises in front of his eyes. A tall street lamp hovers over him, and the blowing flakes of white are infiltrated by the light of the lamp, causing wind-blown rings of whitish yellow to pirouette across a landscape with mischievous wonder.
And the wonder intensifies. His heart beats, jerking him, saliva drooling from his lips, almost freezing as it reacts with the night air. He hears a voice above, calling him. It is a soft voice. A woman’s voice. He attempts a smile but his deformed mouth performs a grotesque parody of his intention.
He envisions Juliet, his wife, and he is warm now. He watches her perfect nakedness gliding out of their lovers’ bed and into the shower. Their life was good, and he sees it vividly. He sees his last moment with her. Juliet returns from the shower, her wet hair dripping lightly onto her bare shoulders. Her gorgeous femininity concealed by the bath sheet wrapped around her.
Dalton reaches to peel it away from her body and once again revel in her magnificence. But Juliet backtracks, shaking her head, playfully spraying him with water. And they laugh together. He stretches from his bed, and this time she allows him to grab her. Gently he reels her back, and they look into each other’s eyes.
He knows she must go; she is almost late. She hardens her facial expression, and he allows her to get dressed. She needs get to the office. She hasn’t heard from her source, a whistleblower from the cabinet. She is concerned. She must find him. Her editor has ordered her to forget the story, but she cannot. Dalton fears the lack of support from her boss.
She is back, dressed for the office, her made-up face unable to hide the concern beneath her handiwork. Her face softens for him, always for him. She smiles, seeking to reassure him, and he loves her for that. He counsels caution. She kisses him one last time before leaving. They will not see one another again.
Again, he hears a voice that sets him off on his journey back to Juliet. It is a woman’s voice, but it is not Juliet’s. And she is close to him, her face, a peripheral blur in Dalton’s vision, is hovering above him.
She is talking to him, but a part of his brain is no longer functioning. He hears gibberish instead of stilted concern. Unlike Dalton, she is well insulated. The city and its working occupants were warned of the oncoming blizzard by the Information for Citizens Bureau.
The voice of the woman seems peripheral somehow. Yet it has turned on his senses, and he is aware of other sounds now, sentient and mechanical. The scraping of shovels confirms the labour of citizens fruitlessly scavenging away snow, and he ponders the point. The might of the snowploughs will be out in force to do battle, more of a match for the sprawling acres of snow. No citizen shall prosper idly. He remembers that.
All of the activity and the sounds are rewiring a part of his brain previously deadened. He understands that she is asking him if he is hurt. She takes his wrist in her hand and it feels like a piece of meat fresh from a butcher’s freezer, ready for the block.
* * *
Dalton again drifts back to his former life, his wife, Juliet, missing for days. Her editor, her mother and father were all unaware of her whereabouts. He knows she would not just walk away from him or them. He understood that she might have been deep into something she was unable to fully control.
There were some who shared Juliet’s sense of justice; and her take on democracy: not Michels’ Iron Law of Oligarchy but true representation. Others, perhaps taking the work of Michels as biblically inspired rather than for the cynicism at the core of its principle, thought her a thorn, a boil to be lanced.
The police seemed unconcerned at first. They assured him that women do this sometimes. They must have had a row, or there was someone else. The husband is always the last to know. Then the police suddenly became interested.
A loud knock on the door. Dalton ran towards it, hoping to see Juliet’s beautiful face upon opening it. More pain. Two large, heavy police officers force him to the ground, pushing his face into the floor.
He is interrogated for days, weeks. He tells them they can’t do this; he has rights. He wants a lawyer. They laugh. They don’t seem interested in finding his wife. They are more concerned about what he knows about her work, what she has told him, names, and dates.
He tells them he knows nothing. They laugh again. They say he will crack, eventually. And he cracks, eventually, but not in the way they hoped. They release him, having not seen the light of day for so long, his eyes ping and sting from the experience. His boss has to let him go. He is sure that Dalton understands. The reputation of the company is too important, even for one so highly rated.
The promised references never materialised. The new job never came. A qualified lawyer, he was lucky to be stacking shelves at the local supermarket. No one would return his calls. He simply ceased to be someone worth the time of day.
All he wanted was his Juliet. He is forced back from the past to the present by another pain, a horrible thumping pain in his rib cage. He hears the female shouting at someone, a man he thinks.
* * *
Copyright © 2014 by Brian McTaggart