Responsibility

   Skinny and his new found friends are soon gone. I should have had their names. Their numbers too. I let them go instead. Honestly wanted them gone. But the key point here was supposed to be that she is dead.
  “Hello?” I say.
   It’s wrong as I say it. If she wants to lay there, that’ll be her prerogative. I’m proud enough that I bought her some time away from the prying of others and here I go prying as much? This will be complex. I take a step back down the road myself, sock squelching in my sodden boot. Start looking for some place to sit. The road is dry enough in places. I park myself and creaking slowly down, and almost immediately feel relieved. See a weirdly new perspective on the same old scene: the dry grasses stand firmer, taller; hefty clouds overhead show off how clear the horizon has become.
  “Wo beautiful ma?” she says. She’s lain her head over on the side to look across at me.
   Trick question?
  “Who are you?” I say.
  “Die wo,” she says. “Die wo hui qu Meiguo ba.”
   First thing anyone wants to know is where I come from. She asked that one already. But no one has yet asked me to take her back to America.
  “Okay,” I say.
   I should just go. Even now I’m not going to find out what she is. I haul off a boot. “We’ll go in a minute,” I say. Her eyes have glazed. She’s stopped moving. I try a last time. I’ll regret it if I don’t. “You’re not a prostitute,” I say. Might look the part, but doesn’t act it. I peel off the sock and haul my foot back up onto my thigh. It’s awkward but I’d rather not get dusty as well as wet. “So who are you?”
   No longer tracking my movement.
   I should just go.

Atonement with the Temptress

   They’re already set up when I get there, to the back room, these people. Neighbours mostly. People I know by sight and as little as possible by actual meeting. (Policing is hardly the task of someone interested in people.) But if I knew these people before, I don’t know them now, lined up as they are like angered performers in local political ballet, backs to me, arms stretching for the far corner of the room where no one stands. A selection of people from the neighbourhood who aren’t already outside or in the front room. As silent and wholly restrained as everyone everywhere else now.
   I like this silence.
   The anesthetic of the plague.
   Now almost as an afterthought they continue to paw.
   Very, very slowly.
   Them too, the inspector and the girl, but they’re not asleep either. They’re upright like me.
   Hi, I say. I comes up off the floor in this forest of filthy white bodies, illuminated only by the torchlight she slashes about the room. She sweeps light across me and I a, blinded for a moment. In the freezer-like cold of the room, she seems to radiate.
   I don’t understand what they’re saying. They appear to be discussing the room, its contents, and from time to time, me.
   From the man bent low at my elbow, jaw upthrust, spittle stays slung halfway out toward where his hand reaches, across the shoulder of the fellow in front of him. His face is contorted in anger. But who can be sure. They’re stopped right as they were some moments ago, and how often does the expression of the moment convey all that the expression over time will? Perhaps he was laughing, joyful, and was caught just now in roaring out approval. The others too. Greasy hair stuck out in unmoving hanks mid swing. Clawed fingers skinny bare branches on winter trees.
   No smell.
   Stop, she says. She looks right at me and thought she’s on the other side of the room she speaks into my ear.
   Stop testing this room, she says.
   If I were to leave, to crawl out from between these statues, what would I find outside? In fact, none of this can last, this sliver of peace won’t stay, and nor should I. When these… people, with their barely abridged violence… all come back, I should not be here among them.
   So where can I go?
   Even now they writhe, I realise.
   The inspector sighs. The humans are mutating, he says. Just keep calm. He draws a revolver.
   There’s something I’d like to try, I say.