The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
July 23, 1994
The black rental car cruised down the Northway, keeping pace with the Saturday afternoon traffic, zipping from one lane to the next. Tristam sat in the passenger seat with his arms crossed and tried to explain, “Look I’m not trying to sound ungrateful.”
His father kept his tone even but the speedometer crept higher and higher as he spoke, “You don’t sound ungrateful. You are ungrateful. Do you know how much movies cost these days?”
“That’s not the point.”
“No of course not. You and your mother are too damn busy living out of other people’s pockets.”
The car turned on to a familiar exit, the light was in their favor and they merged with the traffic of Central Avenue. Tristam asked, “Where are we going?”
“I’ve had enough of you for one day.” Gawain said.
“This...” Tristam bit his lip, “... this is a disaster.”
“A disaster of your own making. Remember that when you go whining to your mother.”
“I don’t whine to my mother. Look can we just calm down and grab a soda?”
“I’ve already paid enough for a movie soda. What is it now for one of those? Five bucks?”
“I didn’t buy one. Do you want your change?”
“All I’m interested in,” Gawain spat, “is seeing you change your attitude.”
Tristam banged his fist on the armrest in frustration, “I just wanted you to go the movie with me, not drop me off with twenty bucks.”
“First: I hate spy movies. Second: I hate movies starring that muscle-bound Nazi. Third: Don’t beat on a rental car.”
The car found its way onto the side streets and began making its way through Albany. He wasn’t even taking the long way back. “Dad, please listen...” Tristam was desperate to say something, anything that might turn things around. “Don’t drop me off now. Not like this.”
Gawain shook his head, “Besides I have to catch a flight anyway.”
“What?” Tristam said, “You’re supposed to be spending the weekend.”
“Something came up- work related. Just as well considering how mature you’re acting. I sure as Hell didn’t act this way when I was sixteen. I had a job.”
“We were supposed to go up to Lake George.”
“Just as well we didn’t.”
“This is bullshit.”
Gawain shot his son a heated glance, “Don’t think you’re such a big man now that I can’t pull this car over and tan your hide.”
“That’s not…” Tristam gave up with a wave of his hand.
“Mister sixteen year old tough guy.” Gawain grumbled aloud as the car pulled onto Tristam’s street. “If you think you’re such a man you should drop out of that Prep school and join the army. Show them how much of a tough guy you are.”
The car pulled into the driveway, the house was empty – his sister was away for the weekend with her boyfriend and his Mom was out at some kind of a class at the learning annex. His girlfriend and his pals were away for the weekend too, in one place or another. Tristam felt his eyes starting to water but he fought it back.
“Go on.” His father kept his attention on the rear and side view mirrors, “Think about what happened here and we’ll talk about it sometime soon.”
“Have a good flight.” Tristam got out of the car, slammed the door to a close and watched it peel out of his driveway and speed off.
He didn’t even wave. Tristam realized as he stood there in his driveway, He really does think this is all my fault.
The whole street was quiet, on Friday Tristam had seen campers and jetskis in every driveway. Everyone is having a great weekend but me. He pulled his house keys from his pocket and headed in to the house.
A barrage of barks and growls left him clutching his chest. The keys fell from his hand. A tall chain link fence marked the territory between the Bloom family’s property line and their neighbors the Smiths.
Wherever they might be today they had left their dog, a Shepherd Husky mix named Hunter, behind. It leapt at the fence, raking its claws at the metal and snapping angrily at the air.
“Shut up dog.” Tristam said. His keys had fallen into the shrubs.
Hunter was a gentle, even-tempered dog, prone to displays of canine affection to anyone that came within drooling distance. Except Tristam, the dog hated Tristam. Hunter was forever barking at him from behind the chain link fence and if it ever saw him while going for walkies it would strain at the leash, hackles raised until Tristam was well from sight. No one could explain why. The dog was friendly enough to Carol and seemed to be in love with Pam but Tristam had given up trying to befriend the animal after nearly being bitten.
And now it was going berserk, snarling and barking as Tristam tried to find where his house keys had fallen. “Shut up dog.” He said again, a little louder this time.
Where are they? Where are they? What if I can’t find them? How long would he have to wait until his sister or his mother showed up?
Usually Hunter gave up after a few minutes but not today. The sound of his barking went right through Tristam and reached the Cold Inside, that little sliver of fury Tristam always carried with him. Today it seemed to be a living thing, fluttering in his chest. It was a part of himself that Tristam fought to keep in check for as long as he could remember. It terrified and thrilled him all at once.
Did other boys ever feel this way? Did his father? He’d never had the nerve to ask.
His hands blundered across something heavy and rough, without thinking he pulled it free. It was a piece of broken brickwork, a remnant of the autumn three years ago when his mother had part of the front wall taken out and replaced with a picture window. Hunter was still barking and punctuating his abuse with little howls.
“Shut up dog.” Tristam felt the Cold Inside slip free and flood into his limbs and skull, felt it soothe him and coax him on. He stripped out of his short-sleeve shirt and wrapped one end of it around the broken brick.
Someone will see! Someone will see!
The Cold Inside knew better.
“Shut up dog.” He walked to Smith’s side yard gate, swinging the business end of the makeshift bludgeon into his hand with stinging force. Hunter, growled and yelped, his eyes wild, his ears bowed back. Tristam shouted, “Shut up! Shut up!” And he started kicking at the gate.
It always felt good to hit something but today the feel of the impact running up along the muscles of his leg was intoxicating. Tristam was barely breathing now, drawing in air in tiny shuddering gasps.
A hinge broke and the gate clattered open. The dog and the boy stared at each other for a moment in stunned amazement. Tristam moved first, bringing the bludgeon down with all of his might again and again until finally the shirt split apart and the brick clattered free. It seemed as though he was watching himself from far away.
No. He would realize later, Not from far away, from deep inside.
The fugue broken Tristam stood over the still shape of the animal. He was deaf from the pulse thudding in his ears and blinded by weeping. The Cold Inside had him full to bursting, it cooed promises but Tristam’s mouth tasted like bile and there was blood soaked into his sneakers. He pushed the Cold Inside back down; it struggled for a moment and then acquiesced. Clutching the ruined shirt to his chest Tristam stumbled back to his house.
When he looked again he found his keys easily.