by Paul Becker

A small, grey bird he could not identify, watched him from the top of the fence post as the servant closed the door and he started the walk home. It was too cold for a choking bird.

The first snow had fallen the previous day which had immediately melted and then, in the night, had just as rapidly frozen. That meant the whole town was left with weak, powdery snow over thick, black ice. An old woman had fallen that morning as he walked to work and he had tried to help her back up. The effort had immediately exhausted him and he had also fallen, unable to right himself. Another old lady had to come over to help them both. Nobody had said a word.

In the first light of that morning, cold under his blankets, he had drifted back to sleep, dreaming of a banded snake that coiled itself into a tiger that itself coiled itself to spring at his throat. He had woken with a jump and looked out onto the sunrise. He had spent the day working on a commission, painting a cat with an arched back on a child's wall. As he continued home through the snow, he turned down his eyes in passing the stranger. The stranger stepped aside, drew a pistol, and fired.

Several contrasting thoughts and feelings were parading through his mind at that same moment. He was still ashamed about having to be helped to help the old woman in the snow. He was only fifty but he felt older than the saints. His father was still humping sacks at his age. He should have said something to the two old women. It felt like he had managed to humiliate them as well as himself and all he had wanted to do was help. His eyes never looked into the eyes of the stranger. His throat was sore. He was also thinking about the unutterable perfection in the turn of a woman's ankle, in particular, the ankle of Mrs. Pulaski. These days he had little shame about his erotic life or lack of it, his fantasies, his gentle proclivities. Who cared anymore? He thought about the nature of thought itself and of the terrible relentlessness of everything, like some runaway train.

Sound: Jacek Smolicki