“I’ve seen you, you know,” he says, “walking around the way you do.” He runs his fingers over the white column under which they sit; they cast a dark shadow against the brilliance of it. His fingers are rough and rugged, the column smooth. Everything is alight with contrast. “What is it that you whisper to yourself?”

“Oh. I… well, I suppose I just get some things…trapped, you know? In my head. It’s like a vault. I guess the things that are trapped up there sometimes escape through my mouth.”

Sometimes, she felt as though the thoughts, rhythms that circled around in her for days, were like many sparrows confined in a wire cage. They bumped against each other, bewildered—their eyes filled with the little fires of those who are bewildered and confined. They circled and circled, raging against the wires, bloodying themselves until they gave up and lie motionless in the pits of her, dead. Maybe they were like phoenixes, she thinks; maybe they burn themselves up with their eye-fire and then, smoldering, rise up from the dead. The ashes sat heavy at the bottom of her, waiting for a resurrection.

“There. You’re doing it now.”

She was mouthing words silently to herself, tracing the lines of her yellow dress with the very tips of her fingers. The sun began to set, alighting itself upon the white column. It glowed with the colors of the sun. His eyes followed the movements of her pink mouth, and he thought of placing his mouth over it, breathing in all those words, letting them escape into him, pushing them violently back and forth between their two bodies, mixing with his own breaths, his own thoughts, for all eternity, for all of time. He thought of covering her mouth. He decided to cover her fingers instead.

“Goodness. I’m such a mess.” She runs her fingers through the spirals that have fallen out of her up-done hair. “You must think I’m crazy.” I’m not crazy, she thought, she mouthed. A bit eccentric. A bit absurd. The sun was setting now in full force. A rhythm jumped into her head, a rhythm she had long since forgotten.

“Did you ever hear that poem, Pied Beauty?” She asks without caring for a response. He nods. His hand still covers her fingers. She has not noticed. She wonders why would we praise God for something not quite beautiful, for something only half-way good. He wonders why she does not hear their praises, why she does not hear him speak to her. The wind blew a chill over them, and the sky turned bright purple. Clouds swirled across them, painted their faces with lavender shadows. Now his mouth is moving; she sees it but does not hear. The phoenix rises and falls in her, rapidly, hurrying. It mimics the movements of her breath. Her chest rises and falls. He is yelling now. She only looks at him.

“I’m not crazy.” She is whispering. “All this time, I thought there was a bit of the absurd in you. Perhaps it was me. Or maybe you died a long time ago, maybe you are shadow that sits beside me. Maybe you cannot be grasped—anymore than that lavender cloud may be grasped, or the yellow sun now setting.”

He is not yelling anymore. He is standing motionless before the sun, his body like the hands on an ancient clock. A shadow bisects her dress. She touches the shadow with the tips of her fingers. “I must leave you,” he says. “Goodbye.”

A wind blows. He is gone, and she is sitting, still, against the column. It is taking on the colors of evening: the yellows faded to lavenders and then to the deep blue-black of night. A streetlamp comes on. Its eerie light falls over her like the center of a flame. The outer edges of the circle of light quiver when the wind blows. Her chest rises and falls. All around is the gray tinge of night: the column gray, the sky gray. A deep beating she can hear in her throat, growing louder and deeper. All at once. All in a rage. Bursting up into flames, and then she is filled with ashes.

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