The Coldest Night

The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead Read Free Book Online

Book: The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead Read Free Book Online
Authors: Robert Olmstead
beside him and yet for them it was two different places they occupied and he imagined it would always be so.
    Now that Mercy’s hair was cut short she would no doubt be mistook by some to be a young boy. She wore blue jeans, a black and red flannel shirt and work boots scuffed blond as pine and stained from the muck and manure of the stables. Her clothes and boots smelled of the horse barn, but it wasn’t a few hours down the road before she became the very spirit of flight. She raised her chin until the angle of the sun’s rays were perpendicular to her face.
    She moaned and at first he was not sure why, but then he understood it was simple and overwhelming pleasure.
    “Let’s make our own life,” she said. “Let’s not go back until we’re old.”
    She lay across the seat with her head in his lap and slept in those early hours of flight, making small movements and small sounds. In sleep her fists would clench and then open and then they would clench again. He held her to him and the sounds would subside and then after a while they would start up again and he could feel the rage that was inside him.
    “Would your father ever let that happen?” he asked.
    She did not say anything but responded with a look of fear and anxiety and he thought he’d never hated so virulently. He tried to understand but couldn’t. He’d never wanted to fight someone and beat them down as he did now.
    “It is a conversation I do not want to have,” she said, and then after a time, she said, “I miss the Gaylen horse most of all.”
    As the land flattened and dulled, constant was the mirage of water, blurring and gaseous, and in his head came a clicking sound for some miles and he thought it to be a feature of flatness, or an attribute of mirage, or caused by the blanketing heat until finally he found a throbbing vein in his forehead and pressed his finger to the skin lest it burst and fill his eyes.
    Henry let his hand rest on Mercy’s shoulder. Then he reached down and not wanting to wake her, he slowly pulled up her shirt. He wanted the skin of her back. He had studied her back and learned the names of its parts, and while she slept, and beneath the rucked cloth, he trailed his fingers along the vertebrae that supported her skull, that held her head erect when she stood. He counted her ribs, those long slender spines on heart-shaped bodies and the lumbar of her column, curved, erect, mobile, balanced. Sometimes he thought the only reason to love her was her back.
    Henry pulled over and held Mercy to him as the engine idled and she came out of her dream. Long ago they’d come down from the mountains and crossed the moatlike Ohio River, its surface shiny and combustible. She flexed her body into his, her face to his belly as if inside was something precious she’d lost and then found. She bore no marks from her past, but inside she was like knotted ropes. He held her as tightly as he dared, which was as tightly as he could and felt for the deep muscles of her back, his left hand to the latissimus wrapping under her ribs and his right hand passing over top her deltoid to the teres major. She sighed and went back for better dreams, or no dreams at all, and he thought how holding her was holding himself.
    In her sleep she fetched his hand inside her shirt front to cover her breast and then with her own hand she covered his lap and told him to please keep driving. She wanted him not to be tired but to drive the car and take them away. They were bound for New Orleans where the Mississippi was yellow in the sunlight and slow running behind its high levees. They would live their days in New Orleans, shy and hidden away.
    They crossed the Ohio again and at a diner they ordered milkshakes, strawberry and vanilla, and hamburgers and fries. When they were asked to change tables for no apparent reason they looked at each other, suspicious of the simplest request. Henry scanned the diner for a face he might recognize, a man or woman, a couple

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