Summer Snow, Chapter Three

by William T. Hathaway

[ShatterColors is honored to serialize the first three chapters of the novel, SUMMER SNOW (Avatar Publications, ISBN 0-9738442-3-X)]

Click for Chapters: ONE and TWO

Chapter Three

"Go away," Ainoura said through the door when he knocked.

"I'm hit. Let me in." He pushed the submachine gun around to his back so she wouldn't see it.

"No. Men find you here...kill both us." Her voice was choked with fear. "I no want die."

Jeff knew the feeling, but he was in need. He was bleeding from helping her country's air force, and she didn't want to get involved. An old story. "They're gone. They got what they wanted. They won't be back."

"Then police come. Lose my job, maybe jail."

"I'm on the police side."

"No...go away please quick." Her voice had become a hiss.

OK...she could have it her way. It was her place. He'd already left a dribble of blood at her door.

"My watch." His voice showed his resentment.


"My watch...I left it."

She padded away. He waited, listening to sirens from the base wailing uselessly. The door opened a crack, chain on; fingers extended his ancient Rolex, bought on R&R from Nam. He took it; the door closed, dead bolt clicked in.

Jeff's jaw clamped shut and his chest burned. He hadn't expected a ticker-tape parade, but he'd hoped at least for a place to wash off the blood...a gentle hand to soothe the brow, maybe even thanks for trying to stop them from stealing it...whatever it was. Had to be something major for that kind of operation. But he hadn't stopped them: they'd got away with it, they'd won. He'd failed, and now she was through with him. He raised the edge of his hand in a kiss-off salute and started down the steps, woozy from shock. His ears throbbed and ached and rang with sadistic electronic music.

The door across the hall opened a sliver; a woman's voice, Kyrgyz accent softening the edges of her English, asked, "Are you hurt?"

He nodded. He didn't want to go back out on the street.

Cholpon opened the door wider; her eyes took in his singed and wounded body. Who was this tall, bleeding man? His coarse, glowering _expression repelled her but something else about him drew her. Underlying the violent red flaring from his aura were the blue and gold of spiritual potential. He gave off none of the dense, opaque murk that had surrounded the men he'd been fighting. He was very much in need of help that she could give. She gestured him in.

Grateful for sanctuary, Jeff stepped into her hall. Her lustrous dark eyes enveloped him with attention. The gaze was too intense for him, so he looked away, then stole a glance back at her and, despite his pain, was pleased by what he saw. Her face held a delicate symmetry of Oriental eyes, high cheekbones, a little nose, and a small, shut mouth. Straight black hair spilled over the shoulders of her silk robe. The robe curved generously over her breasts, in at the waist, and out again at the hips, alternations of abundance and leanness. She stood erect with her arms down and her hands cupped in front of her. A little over five feet tall, average for Kyrgyz women, she came up to his shoulder.

Seeing the submachine gun on his back, Cholpon's lips pursed into a frown; her hand moved trembling to the collar of her robe. The man's a killer. You saw him kill.

Jeff needed to reassure her. "Spasibo, thank you...for helping me," he said in his lame Russian.

"You are welcome," she said in her much better English. She stared intently into his face, then widened her focus to take him all in. Pondering, Cholpon pressed her palms. He was violent but not cruel...not hateful. He had much light shining beneath much pain. He was the one Djamila meant. It had begun--meet it head on. "Come," she said and walked down the hall.

Jeff followed her, appreciating her shelter, intrigued by her gaze, wondering why she was helping him. They stood awkwardly in her living room. He dropped his arms to his side to look less threatening, but when she saw the shredded, blood-soaked sleeve of his shirt, she winced and clutched her arms. She gave him that appraising stare again, first focusing deep into his eyes, then out to see him whole. As he met her gaze, Jeff could see that stronger than any fear in her was a quiet self-composure. He had the eerie feeling she was examining his thoughts. She motioned him into the bathroom.

He unstrapped the submachine gun and ammo and set them near the door. She chose not to look there.

In the bathroom he took off his shirt and was greeted by the battle-stink of his armpits and the torn flesh of his triceps. Bits of plywood stuck out of the gash. The arm had shielded his head; its hair was burnt away, skin reddened. He thanked it for its fealty.

She wouldn't touch the splinters, so he jerked out a bunch, then yelled and gripped the sink. As pain chased away shock, his fear returned, rushing up in waves. Again he heard the thunk of the grenade, saw the flash, felt the blast, his helplessness as the shack blew apart. Back then, it had been too fast and vivid to be frightening, an existential instant. Now was the time for terror, swelling out of the belly, making him shake and cringe.

Seeing his desperation, Cholpon overcame her squeamishness and began to rub his neck and shoulders. Her small firm hands soothed the tremors. Her murmurs salved the spasms away and calmed him. She held his hand. The dread was still there, but it no longer ruled him.

The prospect of more pain decided him against washing the wound. He'd have to get pumped full of antibiotics and tetanus serum tomorrow anyway. The US embassy doc was on leave, so he'd need to find a local vrach.

As Cholpon wrapped the gauze bandage around his shoulder, he appreciated the shapeliness beneath her floral robe, the brush of her breast on his arm, her hip against his leg. Her woman's fragrance wafted a promise of stronger scents and tastes below. He was suddenly glad he'd lived...although lately he hadn't much cared to.

Cholpon tried not to brush against him. He stinks of sex and he's already sniffing me, the randy old dog.

"From the window I saw you." She forced her nervousness away and spoke in her business voice. "You were the only man who went out there. Everybody else stayed inside and hid. I thought, maybe you are Russian soldier and work on the base. But you are American. Why did you fight? You have friends there?"

"No," Jeff said. "Terrorists...I didn't want them to get away with it." His voice turned rueful: "But they did."

She pulled out a strip of tape and began fastening the bandage. "Don't care about yourself?"

He started to say, Not much, but changed it to: "Some things are more important."

"Oh?" She stepped back and beaded him with a look he translated as, Cut the crap.

Jeff mulled over the jumble of reasons that had sent him out there. "I did it...just to do it."

"You do these things before?"

"Not for a long time."

Cholpon returned to taping the gauze. "I am glad they did not hurt you more." She glanced up at him wryly. "We have not so many bandages."

"I'm glad too," he said. "What do you think they took?"

"" she replied.

"Always a good bet. Could be a safe with the air force payroll...couple of million soms. That'd be worth it for lots of people."

She cut a final strip of tape and finished the bandage. "How long you been in Kyrgyzstan?"

"Oh, about eight months."

"Such things like this...they usually don't happen here, even now with the changes." Her voice flowed with musical cadences and the lilt of her accent. She put the medical supplies back into the tin cabinet.

"Good news," Jeff said. "Actually they don't usually happen in the US either. But we put them all on TV. Everybody sees them and thinks they happen all the time." His voice rumbled with bass notes and long Wyoming diphthongs.

The klaxons of emergency vehicles grew louder as they approached from several directions, medleying with the sirens from the base. A police car screeched to a halt out on the street by the gate, its radio blaring frantic dispatches.

He told her he'd like to take a bath. She was embarrassed, flustered, then maybe relieved. Only death reeks worse than fear. She started the tub. With medical authority, she warned him against getting the bandage wet, then left quickly.

Jeff stepped out of his slacks for the second time that night. Aside from the worst headache of his life, the damage wasn't too bad, since the plywood had stopped most of the grenade. He had more shrapnel punctures down his left side, but they weren't bleeding much, already puffing closed, but red and stinging inside. The thought of probing tweezers tomorrow made him clench his teeth. He remembered mortar fragments being plucked from his pulpy arm at an aid station near Ban Me Thuot.

A knock on the door was followed by her hand holding a towel and sheet: his winding cloth, perhaps. Or the closest thing she had to a man's robe.

Soapy water smarted as he washed off blood, stench, and her neighbor's perfume. He wondered if they were friends and if Ainoura knew she'd asked him in.

He came out of the bathroom wearing the sheet like a toga; now it was his turn to be embarrassed. The separation had made them strangers again. Cholpon had brushed her hair and set out cookies, tea, and aspirin. She held up a bottle. "I have some of my father's old brandy. You need it?"

He hadn't wanted a drink this badly in the nine months since he'd quit. Fighting back a thirst that was centered in his throat but scourged his whole body, he resisted the urge to grab the brandy and down it. The liquor would put his ragged nerves to rest, chase away the fright, but after that he knew what it would do to him. Been there...much too often. He'd spent only one year in the bottle, but it'd been enough to break his life wide open. He shook his head. "No, thanks."

She nodded in approval.

They sat in sagging chairs in her living room and sipped the tea, weak and sweetened with raspberry syrup, from white porcelain bowls. His fingers shook so much the tea sloshed out, so he gripped the bowl with both hands. He ate a cookie. It was a local brand from the bazaar, usually bland, but now it tasted fine. He munched several, then swallowed four aspirin. When they hit his stomach, nausea seethed up. He gripped the chair arms and resisted the urge to retch as his mouth filled with salty saliva. Gradually the queasiness passed, and he was able to swallow. Vomiting on her rug was the last thing he wanted to do.

His head swirled with clangor and pain, and he wanted to cry. Don't do that either. Trying to grope out of it, he pulled his chair closer to hers and ventured a glance into her eyes again. Their depth and softness drew him; he seemed to fall through her wide-dilated pupils into a shining black mystery. He saw his own tiny image splashing and playing there. It was too much, so he shifted his gaze to her irises, which were rings of dark brown not as deep as the pupils. He felt dizzy, so he looked out to her face, nestled like a bud in its sheath of black hair. He liked the contrast of her short straight nose to the curving lips below it. She was smiling slightly, and he could feel himself smile back. Her smooth, fine-pored skin was the light yellow of almonds, except for a reddish-brown mole on her cheek.

Nervous and self-conscious, Jeff looked around the apartment. Although clean, it had been cheaply built, probably in the 1950s, and then not maintained: water stains blotched the ceiling, cracks ran down the walls, gray linoleum surrounded a thick rug, its blue-and-red beauty out of place amid the drabness. The furniture was old but could never be called antique: mass-produced functionality in the Soviet style. A stenka, a dark wooden mass of cabinets and shelves, covered one wall.

On a table next to a lamp sat a gold-framed photo of an old woman with mountains behind her, wind fluttering her shawl. Her eyes were like Cholpon's, and looking at her calmed him.

"Your mother?" he asked.

Cholpon glanced at the picture and smiled. "My Shayka. But in a way my mother too."

He looked at her puzzled.

"I'm a Sufi Muslim," she explained. "She is my spiritual teacher."

Jeff thought about the rippling robes running at him and the prostrating prayer of death on the airstrip. He imagined the teacher to be a female ayatollah. He fought back a giddy wave of panic. Wanting to change the subject, he asked Cholpon where she worked.

She hesitated, then said, "On a farm." He made the mistake of telling her about a USAID program he worked on that gave insecticide and nitrogen fertilizer to farmers. She looked at him as if he'd turned into a monster. "Nyet!" She sat straighter, chin out, ebony hair cascading back, eyes now blazing, arms open, square hands with short, ringless fingers reaching at him. "No good." She gave him an impassioned mini-lecture about the virtues of manure and natural bug chasers. The chemical way was poison, genetic engineered seeds a fraud. Organic farming made better sense, especially with so many people unemployed.

As Cholpon got more worked up, she slipped into Russian and Kyrgyz, so he understood only part of what she said, but he enjoyed watching her. People always look their best when they're talking about something they believe in. She could well be right. But all he believed in now was his yearning for her, for the refuge she offered from the death outside. Her womanliness was the opposite of the killing out there, and she brimmed with a balm that could wash it away and restore him.

But his attraction to her was more than that. She had an intriguing quality, a fascination he'd never encountered before. Jeff stood up, took her hand, and said, "Let's talk about it on the couch."

They sat together on lumpy springs, and he told her he'd like to discuss it sometime when he could focus on it more. He tried to hold the sheet closed without much success. It was stippled with blood. Seeking solace, he bent to kiss the full lips of her little mouth, more out of neediness than lust. Just to hold her and feel her affection would be enough.

Cholpon flinched and turned away. Part of her wanted his embrace, but not now, not yet. Djamila was right--there was a tie between them...something unfinished. Despite the differences...a deep pull towards this strange man. She'd known him before--another life. But what had he become since then?

As she stroked his hand, a charge of Shakti energy flowed from her into him; too much for him now, it shattered his defenses. The tremors seized him again, but worse. He shuddered and gasped, inner sirens wailing louder than any outside. He closed his eyes to block the tears.

The battle returned in instant replay. Every muzzle flash, each hurtling grenade was aimed at him. A horde of hooded men strove with all their skill to kill him--and he them. They were all death's devotees, serving it worshipfully, eager for their turn to partake of the sacrament. This time there was no high, just the certainty of annihilation.

Out there, part of him had been craving that. Now, touching her, it seemed insane. Wasn't this human creature beside him enough? Didn't her caring make up for the dreck?

His lack of answers made him clutch her like the spinning earth. His sheet fell away, and he was just a naked man, sick of life yet afraid of death.

Pushing her fear aside to tend to his, Cholpon rolled him on his stomach and knelt beside him. She ran her fingers through his heat-crisped, gray-brown hair, and his scalp tingled as it relaxed. Avoiding his puncture-speckled left side, her hands stroked his body in long sweeps, then sought out old horrors knotted in his flesh, thrust into them, kneaded them away. But as they loosened, they spilled long lurking memories. Nam again. Gray men rushed from the bamboo, fleeing the globe of napalm his side had sent them, firing their AKs. As they charged his patrol, he made the same stupid mistake all over again, and John Randall bled to death in the rice paddy because of him.

That brought another, deeper wave of anguish. It was always after him, usually just the grip of withered fingers, now a full-blown strangle. She rode this one too, rubbing his quivering body, purring ancient sounds of comfort, turning off the lamp. Her voice became a song, part lullaby, part chant, its clarity penetrating and soothing--a song he'd needed to hear all his life.

He reached for her. She gazed at him for a long moment, his face glowing in the revolving red and blue lights of the police car outside. Moved by his need and their reawakening bonds of long ago, she gathered him in her arms and held him to her, draining his trauma away.

He sought her ravenously, one hand clutching her, the other parting her floral robe to reveal a nightgown covering her breasts. He touched them, caressed their softness, and finally felt safe: they could erase the memories and heal the wounds. As his lips moved eagerly towards them, Cholpon pulled away and touched her fingertips to his temples with a pulsing motion. She placed one hand on the crown of his head and the other on his forehead and massaged in hard circles, then pressed sharply between his eyes.

Jeff's brain flooded with a rush of clear white light. He shuddered, sighed, and fell asleep smiling at her breasts.

Summer Snow
© 2006 by William T. Hathaway



About the Author

William T. Hathaway's first novel, A WORLD OF HURT, won a Rinehart Foundation Award, and the second, SUMMER SNOW, has just been published. It is set amidst the war on terrorism as an American warrior falls in love with a Sufi Muslim and learns from her an alternative to the military mentality. A selection of his writing is available at


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