Apr/May 2010  •   Fiction

Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

by Don Skiles and Peter Cherches

I had recently bought a small car, and one summer evening, a Friday, I remember, I was to drive up to my friend Cole's cabin in the mountains, not so far from where I was living at the time. Thirty miles, forty at most. But a sudden summer thunderstorm came through just as I was about to leave, with great flashes of lightning and heavy, booming thunder. Gusts of rain buffeted the house, sounding more like sand than water.

When it hadn't let up for an hour, I called Cole and told him I wasn't coming. I had no sooner hung up the phone than the rain, and the wind, stopped abruptly. I walked around the house throwing open all the windows. I still remember the freshness.

Nearly forty years my senior, Cole was a friend and a mentor. When I was new at the university he had sort of adopted me. He had just retired after the spring semester. He was now "emeritus."

As it turned out, I was never to see Cole again. He died about six months later, two days after his seventieth birthday. I had spoken with him on his birthday. "My biblical allotment," he had said with a laugh. "Three score and ten." He knew he was ill, it turned out, but he didn't let on. He was discovered by some neighbors out for a walk, alerted by the incessant barking and whimpering of his dog.

The day I got the news, from his estranged wife, of all people, it was snowing. I was watching the flurries through my window and listening to the radio when the phone rang. AM radio. There was only AM those days, really. Cannonball Adderley's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" was playing. It had made the Top 40. Very rare for a jazz recording.