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The Winter of Dalton Cosby

by Brian McTaggart

Part 1 appears
in this issue.


His vision has improved a little. He sees the shape of a large being hovering over the female. It must be a man, the frame is huge, and the female is still remonstrating with the much larger man. “Can’t you see that he is in need of help?”

The large man looks at the woman. “I was only seeing if he was still alive. Anyway, he reeks of drink. Can’t you smell it?”

She is prevented from answering the question by the interruption of a third voice, another male, familiar to her. “Christina, come on. I wondered where you had gone. We’ll be late for our shift.”

“You carry on,” she tells him. “He,” she thumbs in the direction of the large male who had just kicked the man on the ground, “has just stopped to give this poor man a bloody kicking.”

The large male turns to the other man. Dalton is able to comprehend almost all the dialogue between the three beings above him. The larger male is explaining to the woman’s acquaintance that he was merely checking to see if there was a sign of life still remaining, and that he definitely smelled alcohol.

“Oh, I see,” the smaller male replies. “Alcohol? Yes, of course. I understand where you are coming from, friend.”

The woman spins round to face her colleague, frowning on his use of the word “friend.” “We can’t just let him die here, alone and cold. It’s barbaric. I’m going to call for help.”

Dalton watches the huge frame of the large male trudge quickly over to the woman; his hand is raised in order to stop her from taking her intended action.

“You may find my demeanour offensive, but I advise you to listen. If you call the authorities you will be sorry. You must be aware of the law? Alcohol is forbidden to state-funded, non-sanctioned persons, and as such, he would have to have purchased the drink illegally. Doubtlessly with illegal credits within some illegal den in the confines of this city.”

“That’s right, Christina.” Her colleague nods, agreeing with other male. “There’s just a whole load of trouble for you if you help him. And he probably isn’t worth it.”

“Who the bloody hell gets to decide whether this man, or anyone else, isn’t worthy of help?”

“The law does, Christina,” her colleague replies.

Dalton tries to speak, but his throat and mouth are not working in union. He should be dead. The visceral cold is eating into the flesh in his back, worming its way through to other parts of his body. He manages to turn his head and capture the attention of the woman. Their eyes meet.

The two men are engaged in formal dialogue. The large male explaining that he is a retired police officer, on his way to a function. He noticed the woman’s concern for the man on the ground and, recognising his type, feared that she might be about to do something stupid.

The woman seems oblivious to their conversation. She looks inside Dalton, through his eyes, and she envisages a life once lived. She does not know why she feels this, or why she seems to know that there is more to this pathetic creature than a nearly dying man stranded helplessly on the ground. She knows too, that she could never just leave him to die, no matter what the consequences of her actions might reap.

She takes her phone out of her bag and turns to the men. “It doesn’t necessarily follow that he has taken alcohol illegally. He could have consumed it at someone’s house. Family, perhaps.”

“Christina, don’t be so bloody naive. Does he look as if he has a family? For once, will you see some sense? He has nothing.”

“Absolutely worthless,” the large male adds, nodding towards the other man as if they are sharing the same page of the argument. Christina fires an Exocet stare at the large man. He seemingly ducks its explosive impact as he looks at the ground. She stares through him now, and at her colleague, who is shifting uncomfortably, padding his feet in the thick layers of snow, feeling both the cold of its icy whiteness and the antipathy of his fellow worker.

“Richard. I told you to go on without me. I haven’t asked you to get involved, and I don’t need you to. I am not leaving this man. Do you hear me?”

“Yes. I hear you. But promise me you won’t call the emergency services. Please, Christina. Think of yourself. He’s dead anyway. You can see it; I know you can. I’ll tell work that you are unavoidably detained. Your attendance record is exemplary. I’m sure they’ll be lenient.”

She pays little attention to him. Instead, she kneels in the snow, getting closer to the dying man. Richard is walking away, calling to Christina, a last attempt to coax some sense into her.

“Just go, Richard. I’m fine.” She turns her head sharply towards the retired policeman and barks an order at him. “You, too. Just go. I wouldn’t want you to trouble yourself.”

The man nods. He emits a vapour from his breath as he opens his mouth to speak. He thinks better of it, and he starts to walk away from the woman and her crusade, along with her colleague. “Come on, friend. You have done what you can for her.”

Christina feels the forehead of the man on the ground, and she asks him his name. Dalton tries hard to respond but can only produce a muffled gurgle from his throat, his mouth restricted by the part of his brain affected by the trauma. The woman realises that he must have had a stroke, a severe heart attack, or maybe both, and that time is running out.

“I’m here. My name is Christina. I want to help you,” she tells him soothingly. She begins to feel the chronic conditions as her legs, clad only in thick, winter tights, are buried deep in the thickness of snow. Her body is well protected, a thick parka, negating the effects of the biting wind and cold, maladroitly caressing her arms and torso.

She pities Dalton, lying limply beneath her, his frail body clothed in the dirty, worn-out remnants of someone’s idea of charity. She removes her coat and pushes the top layer of snow away from his body. She places the long, padded garment on top of the man, gently patting the fabric to fit around his skeletal frame.

“I’m sorry about my friend, Richard. He isn’t a bad person. He’s just a bit of an officious prat.” She almost laughs, and takes Dalton’s icebox-cold hand in hers. “He could tell you chapter and verse everything that you need, and don’t, to know about the State and its bloody so-called efficient social system.”

Dalton feels almost warm for the first time since his expulsion from the den. The tender touch from the woman is almost too much for him to take. The image of his beautiful Juliet’s face flickers on and off the face of the woman kneeling over him.

She shivers, and then remembers her phone, placed back in her bag, and she lets go of his hands and takes it back out. Without thinking, she calls the emergency number, her breath expunging carbon dioxide, nerves getting a hold of her.

A metallic voice breaks the noise of the ring tone. “Emergency services. Your name and citizen number, please.”

“Christina O’Dowd. 46/HS1902.”

“Thank you, caller. I am logging onto your device to confirm your location and your employment status.”

Christina attempts to hurry the drone on the end of the line, but is rebutted, and told to be patient.

“Your location is sector, City86. Can you confirm this please? If you are uncertain, your mobile device will have the coordinates of your location on your screen.”

“Yes, I am aware of that. And, yes I can confirm my location. But please, I need—”

“Just a moment, caller. I cannot sanction any service without the relevant information confirmation from you. I have you logged as a hospitality service worker. I require your confirmation, and you must inform me of your employment code, which all working citizens are required to know, by state law.”

“Yes, I confirm. I am a bar worker. My employment code is C86-3387001.”

“I am checking that information, caller. It won’t take more than a few seconds.” The briefest of pauses follows, as Christina shivers once more. “You are confirmed as a Class Three Working Citizen, sanctioned and entitled to state-funded services up to and including level five. I am sending an authorisation code directly to your mobile device. Which emergency service do you require?”

“Ambulance ... I think.”

“You ‘think,’ caller?”

“Yes... no... I mean yes. I need an ambulance. A man is down on the ground. I think he looks as though he has had a stroke or a heart attack... or something.”

“Do you have an identity for the citizen concerned?”

“No, he seems unable to speak. He looks credited. His clothes appear to be of state issue.”

“You need to be certain that he is currently state-approved and sanctioned for credits, caller. Otherwise he is not entitled to state help, unless sponsored. You can scan his bar code with your mobile device. It will come directly onto my screen. I can check the validity of this citizen.”

“I can’t,” Christina barks back at the increasingly annoying tin voice. “He is lying on his back. I can’t get to it without moving him. I might harm him if I move him. He needs help. Fast.”

“Of course, caller. I can direct the appropriate emergency service vehicle to your location now. I must warn you that should the credited citizen prove to be non-sanctioned by the state, then you would be required to sponsor any care, including the ambulance call.

“I must further warn you that if you proceed with the request for assistance and then prove to be without sufficient funds to cover such assistance you will face arrest and prosecution under State law.”

A static stillness invades the space around the woman and Dalton. The errant weather abates for a cut in time, allowing her the luxury of suspended emotion. Time seems to have stopped. The stillness of the air, the sudden silence of the roads and pathways, so full of life seconds ago, merging into this tiny, insignificant space occupied by two humans.

They are stranded on an island of their making. The two of them alone. Dalton senses the shift. His heart pumps faster with life. He kicks his leg, fighting hard against the powdery prison engulfing him. The woman feels his effort and she places her hand on the cheek of the good side of his face.

He attempts speech, but she gently shushes him. Yet she sees the intensity caught in his vivid irises. She understands he has felt something, that he has taken a shot of some kind of wonderful. Now she realises that she was right. There is someone behind those eyes, a fine person, and a good human. A human she would have wanted to know. She was suddenly certain of this.

She hears a gargled word from him. It almost sounds like something real. It pricks her, denting further the doubt that he has something to say. She bends closer to him, placing her ear above his mouth.

Dalton rallies with stupendous reserve and effort. “Juliet.”

She hears the name clearly, turns her face around, looks at him and sees the twisted, beautiful smile of the man. She feels the joy in the name he has claimed for his own sake, and possibly, the owner of the name.

He tries one more time, but he sees her shake her head, his Juliet, shaking her head, mildly reprimanding his futile effort. Rest now, my darling. Rest.

“It’s okay,” she whispers to him. And she is faintly aware that he might be hearing different words, and perhaps envisaging another face. She can read his life. It is as if she has walked through a visual pathway of the events and circumstances contained within this man’s existence. She witnesses his beautiful smile transform into a contented, placated grin. And his eyes close.

She thinks rain must be falling; large spots of water trouble the poor, wretched man’s face. Then she realises that the pools swelling in her eyelids have broken their banks, showering her emotion onto his still face.

She is aware of the snow and wind once more. The noise of the city has returned, along with the freezing cold of the night. She is no longer marooned on the beautiful island she shared with the man whose name she doesn’t know. The world and its madness are back. A rescue boat she doesn’t want has dragged her back to this shore, and the sharp metallic voice sings its awful song to her again.

“Caller? Caller? I need an answer from you. Do you require the service?”

Christina strokes the face of the stranger who is no longer a stranger. “No,” she says. “I don’t think it is needed anymore. I think he is better. Yes, I think he is.”

Copyright © 2014 by Brian McTaggart

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