Daniel Karasik

I can pinpoint the moment precisely. I was twenty years old. In the basement of my parents’ house, I had just finished watching a film. I noticed that it was late, that according to the clock glowing by the TV it was 2:43 am, and rose to make my way towards bed. And it was as I rose that I realized with a shock, for the very first time, that I might never in my life publish a novel.

As a child I had been certain that I would one day publish a novel. Every action I took, no matter how banal, seems in hindsight to have been directed towards that end. When I brushed my teeth, or ate a bagel, or picked my nose, and even when I was absolutely devoted to these endeavours, as one can become when one has little else worthy of devotion, and who’s to say that the picking of one’s nose or the eating of one’s bagel aren’t acts worthy of a reverent concentration, yet there always remained a part of me that was considering how specifically such acts related to the eventual publication, at the end of some years and labour, of a novel. To pick my nose, then, was to fill time until the time when I could publish my novel. And to eat my bagel, then, was to promote my survival until then. And to “pick and eat,” so to speak, surely assisted in the latter way as well. I wrote novels as a child, novels that were always perfectly publishable until they were written, novels typically set in the future, because the future, I thought at the age of thirteen, I could craft however I saw fit. And so it was a shock to realize palpably, for the first time, that I might never in that malleable future publish a novel.

I’ll tell you what I did, standing at 2:43 AM in my parents’ basement in such a state: I went upstairs, put on my socks, put on my shoes, put on my coat, took off my shoes, went into the bathroom, peed, put on my shoes, and left the house. It was springtime, a cool spring. I walked. My parents lived, and continue to live, in the suburbs. When I was twenty I had an apartment downtown, close to the university, an apartment I shared with a roommate I knew little and liked less than that, a roommate with such terror of silence that she felt the need to fill every moment with pounding punk rock or the drone of a tv, as though noise for its own sake might provide some comfort in the absence of consoling words or anyone to say them; and every time I returned to my parents’ house, the nighttime suburban quiet struck me as almost miraculous, and I was filled with a deep, radiating joy.

It was in this condition of deep, radiating joy, tempered of course by my deep, radiating distress, that I set forth into the depths of my parents’ neighbourhood at a brisk trot. I walked without direction, thinking: there is great danger in growing accustomed to the slowness of certain processes: the writing process, the publication process, the process of finding a mate, the process of finding meaningful occupation, the process of coming to terms with personal limitations or coming to terms with your denial of the same. The danger, it seemed to me as I hurried on, is that you may begin to write off time, to wait in time as though only certain moments, separated by interminable periods of absence, have significance. You say: oh well, it’s only a month till then, till I’m happy, till I can leave, till I arrive—which is a betrayal of the child you were, for whom a month was without end, the child at once immortal and without any sense that a future would materialize; and then you say, surprising even yourself: oh well, it’s only a year, I can tolerate this madness, this pain, this horror, for a year, or two, or five, and then I’ll be finished, I’ll be ready, I’ll publish; until finally one day you hear yourself, and it is a question of “hearing yourself,” because volition is hard to place here, it’s not the nature of human will to will itself an end—but one day, with surprise, you hear yourself say: oh well: it’s just a life. Oh well, I won’t publish a novel this year; oh well, maybe not next; and if it should never happen, if it should happen for others and not for me, if I should be finally in my own life a spectator to the actions of others, perhaps lesser, perhaps greater persons: oh well. And I walked faster, thinking of the unspeakable horror in patience.

Distraught as I was on that night when I realized for the first time that I might never publish a novel, my suburban wanderings weren’t altogether without an aim. I roamed the streets of my parents’ tranquil subdivision in the hope of meeting a female companion. I wandered in search, it’s probably safe, if maybe a bit reductive to say, of sex. I didn’t have a “girlfriend,” nor did I know any girls who would approve of my waking them up in the middle of the night for reasons erotic or esoteric, nor did I know of any prostitutes who might be found on a leafy suburban street. My search was highly impractical. Yet the truth remains that I sought nothing else, as I walked deeper into my parents’ neighbourhood, but the consolatory company of a girl.

Soon I found myself in the playground of the junior secondary school near my parents’ house, where I swung for a moment on the swings, really no more than a moment, two swings at most, before realizing the futility of such swinging, how I was going nowhere, and slowly—at which point I climbed into a sort of treehouse that exists in the playground. I peered out at the neighbourhood as though I were some sort of near-sighted sentry, unarmed and with bad balance, and sat for a while, peering out, thinking. I grew bored, not surprisingly. I was often bored when I was twenty, not yet having learned the trick of dwelling in the radiance of past glories, in the mind and on the Internet, or perhaps my glories were then not enough or not enough past.

I was reminded of the last time I’d sought refuge in that treehouse, five long years before. When I was fifteen I’d had a rough night—I’d been angry, I can’t remember what about—and in the small hours of the morning I’d ascended to this treehouse, made sure no one was around, and cried. I hadn’t cried in a very long time, hadn’t cried even once earlier in my adolescence, it was as if I’d forgotten how, and so this was an event of some significance, historically speaking. It felt as though I were finding my way again around the strings of a longabandoned instrument. And then, after the momentous crying, as I descended from my perch, I saw a gang of tough youths gathered under the gazebo that faces the playground. I was nervous that some sort of confrontation would ensue, but all I have to report of this encounter, as it turned out, is the gaze that passed between those scrappy individuals and puffy-faced, teary me. I don’t know what that gaze meant to them. To me it meant: there is one of you and there are many of us. We, dissolute or no, are among others. You are alone. This is the orientation you will know always, all your life: you standing exposed in the brightness of streetlamps, turned to gaze in wonder and fear at the others sheltered together in the dark.

And so I waited in that familiar treehouse, on the night when I realized for the first time that I might never in my life publish a novel, for someone, preferably a girl, to arrive. This didn’t happen; but what did happen was equally extraordinary. As I sat waiting, a big black dog appeared on the ground beneath me, wagged its tail while looking up at me, and barked. This dog, I noticed right away, had a very peculiar tail: instead of drooping down to the ground as a typical tail does, this tail curled forward over its canine owner’s rear so that he looked, as he padded around the sand beneath my treehouse, like a question mark with a dog attached. When his tail wagged, which it did, sometimes vigorously, sometimes as though overtaken by an existential malaise, it did not lose its shape. His tail always asked a question. What’s more, he had, and no doubt continues to have, the most arresting face I have ever in my life seen on a dog. This dog—whose name, I would learn, was Othello—had the face of a man. His eyes were spaced far apart and deep, his nose protruding and jolted slightly to the right, his mouth delicate and set in a frown; and he appeared, from my vantage, to have cheekbones.

For a long moment I stared down at this remarkable dog, our gazes locked. He barked, and wagged his tail, questioningly, or at least that was the impression given by the tail’s shape. What do you want? I asked. He barked. I turned from him. I’d climbed into this treehouse to be alone, to reflect, and hadn’t wanted company unless a girl should arrive. Yet why is it that in the hours when our solitude feels most absolute, the arrival of another, whether stranger or friend, can seem mysteriously like a benediction? That this dog should have arrived and lingered in my time of need struck me as almost supernatural.

I descended. My feet met the ground and I wobbled. Othello saw me wobble, I think. When I regained my footing, I looked at him and saw him look away. He was much shorter than me, a fact that shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but did. Had he been taller I think we might have danced, provided no one was there to see us. Dancing being ruled out, I found a stick and gauged its weight, tossing it from one hand to the other, then wrenched my arm back nearly out of its socket and brought it forward with devastating force. The dog was off and running after my stick almost as soon as it took flight. When he had arrived at its landing spot, he circled around it for a moment, not knowing exactly what he was to do. Perhaps no one had ever thrown a stick in his company before, or had thrown sticks for other reasons, reasons in which he was not implicated. Or perhaps the face he had—the face, as I’ve said, of a man, as much as that can be said of anyone’s face—suggested a second nature in him that warred with the canine, that contained something of the human, as much as that can be said of anyone’s nature. And a dog with half a man’s nature could hardly be expected to know to take a stick into his mouth.

I’m embarrassed, or really overwhelmed with shame, to admit that I clapped my hands, twice, in a sort of “come-hither” gesture that I’d seen others in superficially similar situations perform with their dogs. Had the dog been stupid, or stupid-looking, had he possessed floppy ears and a leering canine grin, I would have felt no hesitation at engaging in the less dignified customs of modern dog-man relations, I would have clapped, whistled, jeered, and petted without the slightest discomfort, as I do in the company of most humans. Yet the solemnity of Othello’s face made me feel as though such crassness would be worse than a disgrace—would be, indeed, a betrayal. I walked to my stick’s landing spot, by which the dog sat, puzzled. I’m sorry, I said. Let’s go. And so we set off from the playground, my new canine companion padding along at my side. How lively was the start of our voyage through the neighbourhood! We met cats, some birds, a leaf that I mistook for a frog, a mailbox that Othello mistook for a bitch, and a man dressed all in black watering his lawn in the dark. Unnoticed, we watched this man for maybe fifteen minutes, mesmerized by his quiet, focused elegance. But nothing came of it. We walked on.

And then we arrived at the running track, its surface composed of small and pinkish stones, in the field behind my old high school. As a teenager, I would run on this track with boundless optimism, not yet having realized that I might never publish a novel, still believing that it was only a matter of time before my inability to run with much grace or speed along the track would be overshadowed by the deftness of characterization, the rigour of plot, the primordial resonance of symbol and theme that would mark my sprawling, epic, but very human novels. Which is to say that the track was a positive place for me, a place I associated with exultation. And so it was all the more strange to see what was happening on the track when I arrived there with Othello.

There was a dark, amorphous figure speeding over the stones. I couldn’t tell what this figure might be—it seemed too big to be a man, too breathing to be a machine—and neither did it seem that Othello could come to any conclusions, if I may judge by the way his interrogative tail beat against my leg. We crept closer; and then I saw that what careened around the track was a horse. Yes—a horse, and more than that: from its flanks long shapes were draped, and soon I realized that these shapes were men, five or six of them. One man, seemingly the leader of the group, was mounted atop the horse in the traditional way, a leg on either side, his hands around the horse’s neck. The others had piled on top of it wherever they could find space. The horse bucked and reared; the men hung on. With their free limbs they beat it, driving their fists into its sides, ramming their elbows into its head, with a frenzy that seemed more animal than the beast they beat. They didn’t appear to be aware of the dog and me, concealed as we were behind the bushes, though the horse caught my eye once, beseechingly, a moment that continues to chill me more than I can express.

The horse and its brutal riders were close to us when finally their speeding struggle began to slow. The horse stumbled, and gave a mighty kick; the men held on, struck it. I was strangely unmoved by all this, bewildered but unmoved, until I realized that the violence and suffering I observed were happening in silence, that neither the men nor the horse cried out—and it was this that filled me with rage and horror, it was this that brought tears choking out of me, this silence, the surreal inhumanity of silent violence, of a tormented animal unable to give voice to its pain. The horse faltered, rocked from side to side, and fell, and as it did the men leapt off and then on top of it, pounding into its exposed side with their hands, with their feet, with their elbows, with their knees. I slid to the ground and wept soundlessly, my eyes squeezed shut. A wet tongue made its way around my ear. Opening my eyes, I found Othello’s manly face half an inch from mine, the sloshing of his tongue the only sound I could hear, and overwhelming. Suddenly a savage joy rose up in me. I put an arm around the dog and watched with him as the men before us beat in the head of the horse that lay bloodied, barely moving, in the moonlight. Mostly, after a while, they used their feet.

When they had finished, and little do I know how they decided what constituted “finished,” seeing as their aim seemed not just murder but brutality itself, they stood by their victim’s corpse. Several of them lit cigarettes. One man pulled his jacket tighter about him, zipped it up, and shivered. The sound of his zipper’s ascent cut through the air. I could now tell that the men were five in number. All of them had blood streaked on their jackets, their faces, their hands. One man, the apparent leader of the group, had hands almost entirely covered with blood: dripping, sopping red. He held them in front of his face and stared, transfixed. Only then, for the first time since our arrival at the track, did I hear voices from the group, soft voices, low.

What were they talking about, these men gathered round the carcass of the horse they’d slain? They said nothing of the horse, that’s certain. They spoke about the weather, how it was getting a little cool out now, or had it been cool out to start with. They spoke about their wives, their ex-wives, about their children, those who had children, and several of them did. They spoke about hockey and baseball, about their morning journey to work. It seemed that many of them commuted downtown, some driving, putting up with the oppressive rushhour traffic, some taking the commuter train, on which at least you could read the morning paper, get some work done, have a snooze. Long silences fell between them. I couldn’t tell whether they were friends, whether they had a history together, but it seemed they had little to say to one another, either because they couldn’t understand each other or because everything important between them had already been said. A couple of them seemed eager to leave. They waited for the smokers to finish smoking, which took a little while, since two of the three smokers lit fresh cigarettes as soon as they’d finished their first ones, ignoring or oblivious to the feelings of those in their company who wished to go. The leader, whose hands dripped red and who did not smoke, got impatient, said C’mon already, at which point the smokers tossed their cigarettes to the ground and stamped them out. The men descended together to the parking lot, got into separate cars, and drove away.

When I was sure that they’d gone and didn’t appear to be returning, I scratched the dog’s ears and led him out from our hiding place. Moonlight glinted silver off the horse’s bleeding flanks. And I thought: this is not what I was seeking, this is not what I expected to find when I left my parents’ house at just after 2:43 AM this morning. Why hadn’t I stayed at home, where I was safe, where I could have partaken of the consolations of masturbation and sleep?

We came to the horse’s side. I could see now why the horse had suffered in silence: several layers of electrical tape had been wound round its mouth. I untaped it, sickened. Othello shrank back, whimpering. I had no idea what I was now supposed to do. To whom could I report what I’d seen? The police? What could I say? The nearness of such horror drained me of energy. And my worries, my ambitions, my existential quandaries, once so burdensome, now seemed unbearably trivial. Who cares, for fuck’s sake, I thought, that I might never publish a novel? What use could there possibly be of accomplishing something in time—publishing a novel, planting a garden, having a child, having an orgasm, consequently having another child—what use could there be for any of that if time also played host to such acts as Othello and I had witnessed tonight, if time, if a human life, were the canvas on which were drawn not just acts of exaltation, loving, making, but also, and with equal grandeur, with hands covered in so much blood that the skin was obscured, acts of violation, desecration, primordial loathing? Why live at all? And I decided then that if I must choose—as we all must choose, probably—between being the murderous riders and the murdered horse, I would rather be the horse.

Do I still mean that? Do I retain that much courage? I don’t know. But it was with such despairing clarity that I lay down by the dead horse on that dark morning. And I did not know what had value. I did not know what remained worthwhile to want.

Hours passed. We didn’t sleep, Othello and I, nor did we move from our spot. We were without energy, without desire, without hope. Yet I do remember one positive, compassionate thought that welled up in me, a thought of which I first became aware, vague in outline, as the sun’s hat tipped up over the hills. I thought: though my life’s strivings might lack meaning, though what I accomplish be smeared by the horror of other people and the things that other people want and do, I would not leave the dead horse alone and unburied on the empty morning field, I would stand by it, or lie by it, as the case was, and feel sadness—which I could still feel, for which I’m grateful—and be by the side of a creature who knew in death nothing merciful. And if that impulse was selfish, if I did it because I wanted the same to be done for me in the hour of my death, so be it. I can’t be sure if Othello had the same feeling, but, though he and I lay still, I did see his tongue roll out of his mouth and across the horse’s head, on which the blood had now congealed. Brown flakes came off with each lick. He spat them out. It was, to my mind, in his quiet refusal to let disgust dishonour the violated life, an act of great compassion.

When we had lain there a while longer, the sun having cleared the hills, a long shadow fell. I’ve never been a man to ignore a shadow when one falls over me, and so I looked up, and saw a tall man standing at my feet, his face obscured by the sunlight. That’s my dog, said the man. And all at once I became aware of the warmth of Othello’s breath on my cheek. Othello, said the man; and my canine companion lifted his head, something resembling a tired smile forming on his anthropic lips. (It was at this point, perhaps I need not say, that I discovered the dog’s name.) It wasn’t me, I said, pointing to the horse. Did anybody accuse you? said the man. We both were silent. Eventually I asked him: What should we do? He shrugged. Walk away, he said. I didn’t move. I thought: but will no one stay with it? Will no one take responsibility for it? No, I said. I’ll stay. Do what you like, he said. And he turned and walked away. What an animal, I thought. Othello lingered, sniffing the ground, chasing his tail in circles. Our eyes met. He barked.

I watched his tail wag as he padded after his owner, that tail like a question mark, bravely lifted. I felt the earth under my hands, under my head. The horse and its murderers had trampled the grass for wide swaths of the field: what I saw before me was a great, unbroken flatness. Longing is endless. I could hardly remember my name. What could I do? I curled up in a ball, I shut my eyes. I listened to the wind pass through the arms of barren trees.

I woke to find myself in what appeared to be a jail cell. My eyes blinking open, I saw iron bars before me, forming one wall of the concrete room where I lay sprawled. I wondered why I was in jail, if a jail this was, and for how long I’d been here, and for how long I would remain. Beyond the iron bars was darkness. My room contained a toilet, a cot, and a great deal of dirt. I noticed a small window also, set into one of the room’s other walls where it met the ceiling. I stumbled to my feet and went to where the window was. It was a significant distance above me. I jumped, trying to catch a glimpse of what lay on the other side. I jumped again and again; but to no avail. All I saw was the window. All my jumping did was confirm that the window was there, which I’d known already, and that light came through it, light that could equally well have been sunlight filtered through smudged glass or the glow of a light bulb. I slid to the ground, my breathing heavy, sweat streaming.

A moment later I became aware of a faint sound I hadn’t noticed before. Drawing in my breath and straining my ears, I could’ve sworn what I heard was the sea. I sat on the floor of my cell, listening, and thought of Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” though what coursed through and chilled my body weren’t any of its lines pertaining to the sea, its “eternal note of sadness,” say, which “Sophocles long ago heard,” but the poem’s climactic plea: “Love, let us be true to one another!” This, I thought, sitting in my cell and listening to what might’ve been the sea, this is prison’s true privation: to be denied, indefinitely, even the chance of love, and by love to say the revelation of something worth our fidelity. Such cruelty, having brought a man within earshot of the sea, to leave him alone in a room with no face to which he might direct the feeling those tides call up in him!

I despaired a little. But soon reason took hold in me. Be sensible, I told myself. What you hear couldn’t possibly be the sea. Not long ago, perhaps mere hours ago, you were in the neighbourhood where you grew up, lying in the field behind the high school you attended, and your home is near no coast whatsoever. Be reasonable. Perhaps your jailers are piping in soothing sounds, ocean waves and distant seabirds, to lull you to sleep. This is far more likely than your having been transported, at great expense and for no reason, to a prison by the sea. In this way I reassured myself, and eased myself onto my narrow cot, and waited.

There came a whisper of my name. It came, this whisper, from a raspy male voice. I sat up. Outside my cell, in the dark hallway, sat a short, fat man, maybe my father’s age, his hair all white. He sat on a stool. Seeing me sit up, he tipped his head to me in acknowledgement. There were many things I wanted to ask him, assuming that he was one of my jailors or an associate of theirs, but it was he who spoke first. Did you sleep well? he asked me. I can’t remember. How long have I been here? Not too long. When can I leave? Hard to say.

We stared at each other through the bars. A grisly thing you did, he said, a disgusting, grisly thing. What have I done? Please. No, really, what have I done? You slaughtered a horse. Oh, no—it wasn’t me. Then who? And I proceeded to tell the man what I’d seen. Lies, he said. What need could I possibly have to kill a horse? If it wasn’t you, why did we find you sprawled in the field beside it? I was sitting vigil for it, me and a dog I met. We saw no dog. The dog was taken. By whom? By the man he rightly belonged to. Lies.

He stood. Don’t go, I said. Are you prepared to tell me the truth now? I’ve told you the truth already, I was only a witness, I’m innocent. Then what were you even doing outdoors at such an hour? I was wandering around, I was upset. About what? I had realized for the first time, I mean viscerally, that I might never publish a novel. He frowned. I’ve never published a novel either—so should I also kill a horse? You’re missing the point. Am I, he said. And he began to stalk off into the darkness. Wait! What about my phone call? Don’t I get a phone call?

He stopped, turned back, and regarded me curiously, as though I were a breed of prisoner he’d never encountered before. Then he disappeared from sight, returning a minute later with a cordless phone, which he proceeded to hand through the bars. Make it quick, he said, you’re tying up our only phone line. You’re running a jail with only one phone line? No need for more than that: you’re the only prisoner. And I went cold, sensing a fathomless emptiness all around me. Make your call, he said. And he sat down on his stool in the dimness and watched me, offering no show of disinterest or distraction. Whoever I called, he would hear every word I said.

I called my parents. Who else? But the line rang and rang, and no one picked up. Maybe it was the middle of the day and they were at work. The answering machine clicked on. Immediately I hung up. What message could I leave? That I’d been arrested, put in jail I didn’t know where, for a horrific crime I couldn’t comprehend? No: better they think that I’d returned to my apartment in the city, was with my roommate who feared silence, and that their hearing nothing from me had more to do with indolence than captivity and horror. It wasn’t unusual for days or a week to go by when my parents didn’t hear from me, surely there’d been days or a week when I’d hardly left my solitary bed, when I’d hardly been able to bring myself to put on clothes: times of desperation, yes, but not without their own pleasure.

The guard, seeing that I’d hung up, frowned. Wouldn’t you like to tell anyone that you’re here? I flopped down on the cot. I’m an adult, I said childishly, I’m responsible for myself. You could be here a long time. I’d never kill a horse, I said. You’re making a mistake, a big mistake. I don’t believe in violence, except maybe towards myself, and then only psychological violence, and I think horses are majestic, gracious creatures, or really that’s not true, really I have no particularly strong feelings about them, but certainly no hostility towards them either. That’s what they all say, he said. Really, others have said that? Could be. It disturbs me to think that when you look at my face you see the face of someone who could beat a horse to death. He was silent a long time. I watched him watch me. Finally, slowly, he shook his head. I see nothing special about your face. And he stood and left.

Not much later, I became aware of sounds of struggle and a rattling of metal near my cell. A voice cried out: Who do you think you are, motherfucker?! This was followed by: What gives you the right, you cock-sucking pig’s tit?! Such formulations jarred me, maybe because I’m incapable of street eloquence myself. That the cursing voice was almost certainly female was also unexpected. I stood at the bars of my cell and peered out into the darkness. I could see nothing. There came intensified sounds of struggle and restraint, a jangling of keys, a heavy door swung open, shut. Movement on the other side of one of my cell’s walls. The sound of breath drawn deeply in.

I was glad enough to have company, especially seeing as my company seemed to be a girl, but after a few moments my unseen companion started up the fierce profanity again—You cowardly cocksuckers! Fucking pieces of shit!—and this didn’t sit well with me at all. I wanted, if nothing else, a little quiet.

I knocked on the wall. Who’s there? my neighbour cried. I’m not sure, I responded. What are you doing here? They think I killed a horse. Why would they think that? I don’t know, I guess because I was sleeping near its body. And you? What do they think you did? They accuse me of killing my little brother, she said. He was sick. He was in the hospital for weeks. He was unable to speak. I stayed with him. I was with him when he died. When he died I said out loud: I’m going to tell everybody, just you wait and see, I’m going to tell everybody what a brutal game this is, you take my brother in such a disgusting, vicious fashion, I’m going to publish what I’ve seen. She was silent a moment. I don’t know exactly what I meant, she said. I was very angry.

Perhaps I fell in love. Together this stranger and I spent hours in conversation so truthful, so rich with feeling that it felt as though we were reinventing ourselves as we spoke. I want to see you, she said finally. How? I asked. Come to the bars of your cell, press your face to them. I’m pressing my face to the bars too: can you see me? I couldn’t. I pressed and pressed, my cheeks and neck began to hurt, but for all my strain I could see nothing, the angle was wrong, perhaps the jail had been designed to prevent prisoners from laying eyes on one another. And then—a glimpse! I could see, just barely, the tip of my companion’s nose. I can see you! I cried. I can see you! And at almost the very same instant came her cry to me, and a cry it was, with tears in her words: I see you! Oh, there you are!

Suddenly darkness fell around us. I don’t know exactly what condition of light had prevailed in my companion’s cell, whether it too had been lit by a single window slightly too high to look through, but at the moment the light failed for me I heard her also cry: Fuck! I stumbled back to my cot, eased myself onto it, closed my eyes. My mind reeled in the silence. Gradually I became aware again of the sound I’d heard on first awakening in my cell: the sound—distant, regular, primordial— of the sea. Waves rolled in, swept back. Soon I felt my breathing align with their rhythm. And there before me, in the darkness, was all that I’d lost, which is to say time, and the chance to live better than I had. I rose. I went to the wall that separated me from my companion and whispered a line of verse that coursed through my body and chilled me, that line of Arnold’s, whispered with urgency, with a faltering voice: Love, let us be true to one another! I don’t think she heard me. How could she? I whispered. I didn’t speak to be heard. I spoke to affirm and sanctify what I felt.

The door to my cell creaked open. I could see nothing in the darkness. Hands seized me, pulled me to my feet. You’re so light, said a voice I recognized. I could just barely make out the glint of the guard’s white hair. What’s going on? came my companion’s voice. Never mind, said the guard. What are you doing to him! she shouted, pounding at the wall that separated us. Go back to sleep. The guard began shuffling me out of my cell. What could I do? I went along. Where are you taking him! she screamed. He didn’t answer. I’m sorry, I called back to her, not knowing what for, not knowing what to say. Come along, said the guard. Don’t go, she said. Don’t go. Enough, said the guard. And he led me down the unlit hallway. Love, I whispered to him, my unshaven face brushing the stubble of his in the dark, let us be true to one another. Please, said the guard, his voice so terribly sad. And by love to say the revelation of something worth our fidelity. Please, he whispered again, please. Double doors swung open in front of us. He led me through into overwhelming brightness.

When my eyes adjusted I saw we were in a small vestibule separating the dark hallway from what appeared, on the other side of a door, to be the outside, daylight. The guard wouldn’t look me in the face. He was much older than I’d thought, ancient, really, with creases in his face so deep it seemed conceivable that within their valleys might be contained, immaculately preserved, the entirety of his life. He reached into his jacket pocket and removed a crumpled pile of Kleenexes, a stick of chewing gum, and a nickel. He placed these in my hands. You’re free, he said. And the charges? There are no charges. But the horse? We know you didn’t kill the horse. And my time? Is there no compensation for the time I’ve lost? No, he said. And he turned and walked away, back through the swinging double doors, into the lightless hallway.