>TO BE ALONE

>All up the street, there was a sound like stillness. Not just the general silence of a Sunday afternoon, but the kind of quiet that only descends after a whole lot of noise. A policeman was walking down the street just at this moment. Only he wasn’t in uniform. He had just finished his shift and had changed into a shirt and shorts for the walk home. He found that people hassled him less if he wasn’t identifiable. Not that he was against helping people, only that everyone had to have some downtime. Even cops. And, for the moment, this 35-minute walk was his only downtime. Paperwork, dullness and under-appreciation—that was what faced him at work. At home, he had the pleasure of passive-aggressive emasculation and an unending presence of deep doubt.

His wife, his wife of only three months, had decided to effect changes to both their lives. Not just new bed sheets or purchase of a pet—which is what he would have settled on—but wholesale improvement of their personalities, a process that seemed to require an endless stream of 8-disc DVD sets, slogan-banded paperbacks and long inverted conversations deep into the night. It was truly horrible. But he loved her, and that was the worst part.

The sun was still up, and still had enough heat to warm the policeman’s neck. He remembered his wife’s hands, strong, thin-veined guitarist’s hands. Back when she was that exotic, black-eyed creature. Her fire, her spirit, now dulled to shoe-shine. He listened to his own breathing. Heavy. Except it wasn’t his breathing. His shoe struck it before he saw it.

The boy’s hand, still small enough that the fingers were nearly triangle shaped. The policeman had learned the smell of blood. The toddler’s face hidden by cellophane sheets of it. The bite-marks at his arm. The dog close by still, somewhere. The policeman kneeled down next to the boy, placing on hand onto his chest to calm him. Okay, he said to himself. Okay.

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