The Coldest Night

The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead Read Free Book Online Page A

Book: The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead Read Free Book Online
Authors: Robert Olmstead
eyeing them, and then turning to confer, maybe it’d be her brother or father. But he did not fix on anyone so his mind gave up the thought and did not care who it was or who it could be or what they wanted.
    I’m not nobody, he thought, and reached across the table so she might twine her fingers with his.
    That night they took a room on the Natchez Trace, all those thick vines and Spanish moss hung by live oak and catalpa outside the room, running alongside the walls. When she went to turn off the radio, he told her to leave it on because he liked to sleep with sound in the room.
    “You are like a little baby that way,” she said. “The way little babies like to have sound when they sleep.”
    “Then turn it off,” Henry said.
    “No,” she said. “I was only teasing.”
    Soon after they fell asleep, he awoke to Mercy making sound again and her body articulating that sound. It was like a cry or a whimper and then she woke with a fright, and when she turned on the light they discovered it was her time of month and she’d bled onto the sheets. She insisted they strip the bed and rinse out the sheets and hang them from the shower rod and they spent the rest of that night on the mattress covered with a blanket.
    In the morning he awoke to find her sleeping atop him. She woke too and asked him if it was morning.
    “What we are doing is not right. We should go back,” Mercy said. “I need to sort things out.”
    In that moment he could no longer imagine another future.
    “Don’t do that,” she said. “Don’t be that way. My determination is fixed to have you.”
    She took his face in her hands. She was telling him her words were true and she was desperate he understand.
    Henry thought how all life must be strange and fantastic to Mercy, life without limitations. Hers was the charmed life.
    Then he was alone and she was gone to make a phone call. Is this love, he wondered, and why did it make him feel so alone even when he was with her? He did not know if he understood what she wanted from him.
    “What are you thinking?” she said when she returned. He was dressed and his satchel was packed and he was smoking a cigarette in a chair by the door.
    “Nothing. I was just away in my mind.”
    “Can’t remember?”
    “No. Not really,” he said, and it was true, he could not remember.
    “My father,” she said, going down on her knees. “He is a thoroughly bad man.”
    In his mind he repeated her words and thought for the first time his own father might be the same, a bad man. It was then he understood his hatred of Mercy’s father, the distillate of so long a love, a hatred, a never knowing who his father was. He’d not so much cared before now, but now he did.
    “You can leave me here,” he said. “I will keep going on my own.”
    “I am always saying the wrong thing,” she said, and raised her hand from his knee to her mouth as if next time to catch the words. He felt her leaning toward him as she spoke. Her words came restive and urgent, as if more for herself, and they incited a dull aching restlessness inside him.
    “I am ready,” she said, reaching around his waist. “We can go now.”
    “Did you make your phone call?”
    “I have given you my heart,” she said. “I am your own forever.”
    “Is that so?” Henry said.
    “I promise.”
    “Who did you call?”
    “I called Walter to tell him we wouldn’t be there.”
    Nothing more was said and they did not talk about it again. He was thinking of love as if it were a place and not a person, not an emotion of the human kind, but where you stood and in the air you breathed. His mind was hopeless with the mystery of her, struggling for reasons why she did what she did.
    Outside their room the sunlit mist was a cloud of light. Before them was the long stretch of southwest highway, the roadsides rampant with vine and so hot the asphalt quaked and fumed.

Chapter 8
    D EEPER INTO THE SOUTH they descended, riding over the dissolving ammoniac land,

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