A jolt in the leg caused him to stir — she kicked frantically in her sleep, running away from nightmares yet to become part of her reality.
He pulled himself up in the bed. Rays from the morning sun had bounced off the white Denver streets to find a home on her naked shoulder, as if God had only raised the sun so He himself could better see her.
Each morning he opened his eyes to the sight of her, serenity overcame him. He was just a young man, but it was the first prolonged cessation of sickness he had ever experienced. He attributed this to her, and for that loved her deeply.
He slipped out of bed, covering himself with the comforter from the second Queen, and pressed his palm against the hotel window. Icicles, the largest he had ever seen, hung from the awning of their balcony.
The storm had delayed their flight — the conference paid for an extra night in the room. They would have a few hours to tour the city before traveling; a 3:00 a.m. arrival and 6:00 a.m. clock-in awaited them the following day.
He let her continue sleeping while he stepped outside. It was the first true snowfall he had seen in five years. The Rockies loomed in the distance, though he paid them no attention. His fixation was the lifeless lot 16 stories below.
The lot, some 100 feet long and 50 wide, was a repository for hotel trash. It had the character of a late-night spot reserved for drunken hotel rendezvous and thick-skinned vermin, a place of conception for bastard children and opiate addictions.
That morning, a white blanket covered all but an idle service car and dumpster. There was no trace of the asphalt canvas, or of the cigarette butts and broken bottles that adorned it. He could only see snow — virgin, unspoiled snow.
He stood shivering, his bare feet now numb to the pain of the frozen concrete floor. In one night, the natural world had masked the ugliness of man — his faults, vices, abuse and rage. He fell vulnerable to the illusion and, for a brief moment, forgot that the earth had not stopped spinning.
She wrapped her arms around his chest and squeezed, snapping his trance. He turned around and kissed her, his frozen lips warming to her touch.
She smiled. The wind slapped her long brown hair against her pale cheek as she gazed toward the mountains.
“What’s the matter?”
A door slammed. A workman, hauling trash between his truck and the dumpster, threatened to expose the asphalt with each footstep.
With one hand holding the comforter around his shoulders, he reached to the ledge and grabbed a fistful of snow. Raising his shoulder, he hurled the ball at the earth and watched it shrink to a speck.
It splashed yards behind the truck.
Her attempt went nowhere.
They continued like this until one ball hit directly in front of the man, causing him to glance upwards.
She peeled inside laughing; he ducked under the concrete ledge, grabbed one last bit of snow, and crawled to the warmth of the carpet. He dropped the comforter to slide shut the door, standing frozen and naked before her.
He smiled, ignoring her request. She squealed as he shoved the slush down the back of her shirt and dragged her to the mattress.
“Why are you such a fucker?!?”
She lay on top of him, exposing her bare body as she threw the damp shirt to the corner of the room. Lost in each other, they stayed in that moment, bodies entwined, for the rest of the morning.
He had been staring at the cold, grey wall for four hours.
The man next to him stood, walked to the door, vomited, and shook as he pulled himself toward the bathroom. Dozens of eyes, sunk into battered, scarred faces, followed the withdrawal.
His first visit to the hospital in a decade came months too late, but what was left of him had finally made it. Gaunt and disoriented, he sat slouched staring at the stained linoleum floor — there was nothing else to judge, as he was as sick as the rest of them.
Turning his head, he stared at the dark January sky through a cracked window. Ice still covered the roads, and patches of dead grass stuck above puddles of slush.
A year had passed since Denver, and he had nowhere left to hide. She had left abruptly, deciding that the easiest option was to run. She could no longer put up with the disease and left him to suffer alone. Time, she hoped, would melt away the good memories, which caused her more pain than those of abuse.
It was in this reality where she now lived — far from the transvestite who incessantly shook his prescription bag; far from the the unwashed schizophrenic who spoke of porcelain clowns on a dead phone; far from the vomit that coated the psychiatric ward entranceway; and far from him.
“Last Name: HELMS.”
He picked up his coat and walked through the door. The vibration of its closing shook loose a lone icicle, which shattered on the pavement into a hundred jagged pieces.