Range of Motion (Short Story)
Sou'wester 2010, Fall, 39, 1
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The sky is earthen yellow and moldy blue, the air tipped with ice but carrying, with a rip current of smoke, the possibility that the day will warm later. Much later. When he is done with a slow four-hour trek across the streets of his hometown, after he has taken a therapeutic bath--the water as scalding hot as he can stand--and consumed a four-egg omelet cooked in butter and replete with cheddar and parmesan, Italian sausage and chopped jalapenos; after he has read the entire Saturday paper and downed three mugs of coffee; after he has changed the cat litter and switched the radio from news to something else, something more weekendy, something full of smiling comics or sports updates or devil-may-care zydeco. When he has finally warmed back up to human and feels comfortable again in his own skin, even if a residual muscle ache burgeons. He will step outside to fetch a box from his garage, or retrieve a bag of groceries stupidly left overnight in the car, or pick up a garbage can toppled by some feral visitor hours before while he struggled unsuccessfully for sleep against the weight of his recollections. Then, as he moves outside into a cool, clear November afternoon, dressed in a dry sweatshirt and jeans, into air that is at least ten degrees warmer than when he stepped out at six, what will strike him is that it seems colder than it did then, or at 7:30, or 8:25, or 9:40, when his old sweat had chilled his skin, when his breath turned granular in front his face, when his ears had turned a raw, gelid pink, when his thighs and his calves and the bottoms of his feet were building an almost unbearable hurt. It will occur to him that he had been warmer then--that is, now--or simply more impervious, his body more fixed in survival mode, more intent on finishing than feeling, more able to ignore what would be obvious to anyone who happened to be outside early on this Saturday in mid-November: It's damn cold. I can taste the winter. But now he is working too hard and moving too fast (even if not moving that fast at all) to feel the air, to let it catch him, to realize what lurks beneath the surface of his dying outer flesh. It will only be later--in his dry sweatshirt and jeans--that he will stop, that he will shiver, that he will look up at the sky, a rake or something in his hands, and say, "There's no good reason for me to be out here."