a short story
Glen Davis

Glen Davis is an EIU graduate student in English with a concentration in Creative Writing. Cold is the title story of a collection which won the 2008 Vehicle chapbook contest.

arvey Benson turns the key one more time. It used to click when he did that. Just thirty minutes ago he could hear the starter solenoid click from under the floor of his pickup truck. He knew the battery was failing, even planned on picking one up to replace it. He just hasnít gotten to it yet. There seems to be a lot of things that Harvey hasnít gotten to recently. Thereís always something that slows him down. Sometimes itís just little things; the dog got out yesterday and it took him an hour to get her back in the fence. More often though, itís larger things; arthritis and old age creep up on him and keep him indoors when he should have been changing that old starter on his truck. Harvey considers cursing at the truck and the junk battery but just looks out the windshield.

He should be able to see for miles across the barren corn fields, if it wasn't for the snow. Heís looking for a house, any house would do. The neighbors are all pretty nice around here. He isnít lost, he knows where he is. He also knows there arenít any neighbors within walking distance. None within walking distance on a bitterly cold day like today. Heís hoping that maybe someone built a new house that he isnít aware of. It happens sometimes. Heíll be driving along on a road heís driven hundreds of times and all of a sudden thereís a house that wasnít there the year before. Usually just some yuppies who want a place big enough to keep horses, but theyíd still have a phone. They'd have one of those security lights that he could walk towards, with it getting darker now, even in this snow.

He should have gotten one of those cell phones. Seems like everybody has one, but it probably wouldnít work out here anyway. His friend Bill has one and just as soon as you get a few miles from town, the thing stops working. Still, it would be something. Harvey opens the glove box and looks around in it for something. He doesnít know what heís looking for; heís just hoping heíll find something in there that he can use. He pulls out a Kentucky state map. Harveyís never been to Kentucky, the map came with the truck when he bought it four years ago. Thereís a cigarette lighter, but itís out of fluid. Harvey quit smoking two years ago. He digs around a little more for the cigarettes that used to be next to that lighter, but finds nothing. He knows his grandson lifted them a long time ago. He sure could use one of those cigarettes right now.

Harvey reaches under the seat and pulls out the jumper cables. Maybe someone will come by. He pops the hood and hooks up the cables so theyíll be ready if someone comes by. If he could get some charge into the battery, maybe they could help him push start the truck. He can see traffic on the state road just before the horizon, but no oneís turned off in the forty minutes heís been here. Harvey brushes the snow off of the fender and gently hangs the open ends of the cables over the fender of his truck, making sure the ends donít touch even though the battery is almost completely dead. He left the headlights on just a little too long trying to see into the ditch that drains this field.

There was a lot of rain just before everything froze up. The field he stopped to look at always collects water and when it freezes it canít drain off. Itís just a big sheet of ice for about three acres. He was able to free it up last year by cutting away a couple of fallen trees. This year there isnít anything blocking the ravine, it just froze before it could drain off. It will take twice as long to get into this field in the spring if that water doesnít drain off.

Harvey wasnít prepared to actually work on the ravine at all today. He was just trying to see what the problem was so he could bring the right tools tomorrow. It was too late to start any real work† now anyway. He planned on coming back tomorrow to fix whatever was keeping the water on the field. Heíd have his coveralls and thermals on instead of the horribly inadequate jacket he left the house in this evening. He'd have gloves, winter boots, a warm hat, and a thermos of coffee for when the cold crept in on him.

The seat in his old Ford tilts forward and opens up a little storage space. There is usually an old work coat back there, but his wife took it in to wash it a couple of weeks ago. She always does that. No matter where he leaves his jackets, she finds them, washes them, and replaces them clean and smelling of fabric softener. She probably has the extra jacket hanging up near the door, expecting to put it back in the truck when he returns. There are still some gloves back there, but the fingers are nearly worn through and they arenít winter gloves. Harvey pushes the seat back into position and gets back into the truck. The heater has been off for almost an hour, but getting inside keeps most of the wind off of him. Thereís still quite a breeze coming in through a rust hole just below the firewall and he tries to kick the floor mat up to cover it. The radio stopped working when the battery went dead, but he clicks it on anyway in the hopes of hearing some good news about the weather. The radio lights dimly for a minute and goes out. An hour ago the weather guy reported a temperature of three degrees, with a ten-below wind chill. He canít get anything from the weather guy now.

Ten below is just about cold enough to allow for thirty minutes of exposure if you had a really nice coat, some good gloves and a nice hat. Harveyís wearing a flannel jacket, worn out work gloves, and an old John Deer ball cap. He didnít put his thermals on this morning. The heater in this old truck works exceptionally well, at least when the truck is running, and it quickly gets too hot to wear a coat while driving. He left his thermals at home so he wouldnít get hot while driving.

He's been watching the headlights from the cars on the state road reflect off of the falling snow as they pass by, timing them. Thereís been one about every ten minutes. Sometimes thereís more, sometimes there arenít any. None of them turn towards the road heís stuck on. Heíll have to walk. There arenít any houses, not even a new one that just popped up when he wasnít looking. Heíll have to flag down one of those cars on the state road. Harvey tries to remember how far it is that a human can see when there arenít any obstructions, when there isn't blowing snow. Seems like it was only one mile, but he knows that the state road can't be much farther away than that. The cornfields add some distance, there arenít any hills to obstruct his view. He always did have good eyesight, but still, it canít be more than two miles to that road. He could walk four miles an hour when he was younger, less than thirty minutes to get to that state road, even now that he is older and slower. Ten minutes to wait for a car. Thatís a few minutes more than the exposure time the weather man gave him, but he isnít likely to just keel over after that time limit. It takes time for hypothermia to set in. Frostbite isnít fatal by itself. Itís the hypothermia that kills you.

Heís thinking about it, looking at his gloves, wishing they were insulated. The snow is falling faster now. It's nearly covered the windshield of the truck, and he pounds his hand against it to knock some of it down so he can see the headlights on the state road again. It hurts his hand more than usual and he realizes that his fingers are stinging. They'll never find him out here, he knows that. The truck has nearly disappeared in the new snow already. Ice crystals have started to form on the inside of the truck's windshield and he brushes them away in a effort to see those distant headlights better. He can't see them at all now. He looks at his boots and wishes for an extra pair of socks, buttons the jacket up and notices the missing button in the middle. Harvey unfolds the Kentucky state map and places it behind that missing button, figuring it might stop some of the wind. He pulls up his collar, and opens the door. The wind nearly rips the door out of his hand. Any warmth that had accumulated in the truck is immediately removed. Harvey steps out of the truck and feels that wind cut through his jacket. Hears the Kentucky state map flutter behind that missing button and starts walking.

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