Who's Who 11: Proof
The cold was beginning to pierce the thinner borders between gloves, hat and new coat. His toes, shivering at the very ends of his shoes, were slipping into weary numbness. When he breathed out, his teeth gritted to avoid chattering.
Grimacing, he looked expectantly behind him. There was the path leading back up the hill towards work. It was hopeless, There was no end to the stream of cars approaching the single lane, old humpback bridge that waited ahead of him. He still couldn’t cross.
How long had he been here now?
I should check my watch, he thought. Only he didn’t want to pull up any sleeves or pluck his hands from his warm pockets. That would let the cold in. That would let winter win and he wasn’t about to do that. This coat hadn’t been cheap. It was meant to be the warmest one money could buy. It was a camper’s coat. A hiker’s coat. The man in the shop had proudly declared that the army wore some version of it when they went on manoeuvres in The Frozen North. Wherever that was.
It’s winter proof.
That’s what he’d said. As if all other coats should bow before its greatness. As if it was expecting the Nobel Prize for Thermal Comfort anytime now.
Still, he’d been lingering here too long and the coat was starting to feel a little too close for comfort. A little too warm. He was becoming claustrophobic under its many layers of protection. Meanwhile, any part of him that wasn’t covered by its thick mass, was starting to freeze.
It must’ve been well over an hour since he’d pulled on his new coat, laughed off the comments from his co-workers and set off down here. Even the woman on Reception had made some crack about ‘here comes the Michelin Man’.
“You take care out there,” she’d said.
“I’ll be fine,” he’d told her. “I’ll be home in half an hour.”
It must have been longer than that now. His face was burning in the sinking temperatures. His body was exhausted from shivering. Whilst, beside him and beyond the curb, more cars kept flooding down the hill and passing him by. An infinite river of cars. A never ending cascade of commuters.
He squinted in their direction and hoped for a little charity. All he got was a muffled sample of their stereo and a dog end flicked at his feet.
It couldn’t be anyone from work. Although they’d be loving this. He’d declined every lift, said he’d be warmer than them. Which hadn’t been a lie. Strolling down here, his breath twisting in the glare of their headlights, he’d been cosy. Cosy and a little smug, as he’d listened to the rich swish of the thick material. He’d enjoyed the fact that he couldn’t quite get his arms to meet his sides. Everything had been fine, until he’d reached this damn bridge.
In his old jacket, he could’ve nipped over at the same time as a car, but this winter coat had turned him into a wide load version of himself. He needed a clear gap and the night just wasn’t offering him one.
He looked again. More cars. His sigh spelt itself out in the night air. Surely the office had to be empty. This traffic should’ve stopped or, at the very least, thinned out by now. But the cars kept coming. The spacing between them was so perfect. As if someone was standing at the top of the hill and timing every release.
The coat was bright enough. Surely they could see him. He’d picked it for its bright yellow colour as much as its padded form. Not that it was doing him any good. It’d turned him into a stranded winter scarecrow as it slowly cooked his torso in his own clammy juices.
This is what digestion must feel like from the inside, he thought.
He tried to make eye contact with the drivers. He shivered, hopped on the spot. Prayed he’d recognise just one face. Someone who’d know him, let him cross. Maybe even offer him a lift. He’d take a lift now. Happily. Desperately. He’d accept any sort of a lift, regardless of whatever mockery was in store for him. As long as the coat let him fit into their car, of course.
He had visions of trying to clamber into some hatchback, trying to cram in through the door and falling back out again. Maybe taking so long that they wouldn’t wait. They’d screech off and leave him on the curb, beached in his thick, hungry coat. Unable to stand again on his winter ravaged shins.
Car after car kept coming. All he saw were dead eyes. Hands tightly gripping to the wheel. Knuckles clear in the moonlight. Each faceless driver disappeared in a tidal wave wash of blinding light as they drew close.
Overhead, the moon climbed higher. The cobweb clouds admitted defeat and parted. He pushed his hands deeper into his pockets and, for just a moment, he was almost certain he felt the material close around his fingers and tug at the tips.
Looking down, it struck him for the first time that he could looking down at a row of zipped up teeth, running up from his belly to under his chin. The thought brought a worried, if not incorrect, chuckle out of him. It darted away, dancing across the old bridge, leaving him and his hungry coat behind..