Just before the young man lost his balance and tripped to the pavement, Barney Potz saw his face, expectant and stunned, a second away from fear, aware that he was about to be hit. This young man with the flash of yellow hair had darted out from behind the tall hedges, his boney arms reaching high for a football. Potz had been doing less than the speed limit, a fifteen-mile-per-hour crawl, craning his neck to spot the mailboxes on the right, trying to find number eighty-three—a belligerent woman with a kitchen sink that would not work, that somehow, she said, defied known physics and shot water from the drain to the ceiling—and when he turned back to the road in front of him, this young man was there, inches from the grill of his van: moving, falling, yellow hair suspended, and then he was gone. Potz felt the left front tire bump over the body as he jabbed quickly at the brake pedal. The pipes and fittings clanged and clattered in the back of his van; wrenches crashed and metal toolboxes tipped over. He noticed the leather football bounce and wobble to the curb, where it stopped on the gutter grate and did not move.
His foot still on the brake, he tried to swallow the mass lodged in his esophagus and then registered the dread expanding through his stomach. Afraid to move, to crack open the door and look, Potz crouched in his seat to see where he was: a secluded, hilly neighborhood high above the interstate; ancient white oaks along the road, the new houses mostly colonials and capes or sprawling ranches with horseshoe driveways and long sod front lawns; the dried leaves of mid-October blowing sideways across the empty road; the scents and shades of autumn everywhere. He cut the engine and opened his door.
The young man lay bloodless and dead, wedged beneath the driver’s-side door, his legs pinned by the tire, his new Converse sneakers untied, a reddish-purple welt spread over his left temple like a wine stain on white cloth. Potz mumbled the names of God and Christ, then several curses, then brought his hands to his flushed cheeks. He looked up and around—cumulus clouds were speeding east across a polished sky—and then back down at the body on the asphalt.
The young man’s father, who had thrown the football too far, appeared behind Potz now. He wore a gray Rutgers sweatshirt and sweatpants, the drawstring dangling from the elastic waistband. His blotched skin was nearly as white as his hair, but he looked fit, possibly a swimmer or a runner. Potz’s breathing became erratic now; the look on his face said, I don’t know what just happened here; I’m as confused as you are, and more frightened than I’ve ever been in my thirty-three years. He had had an intense fear of heart failure ever since his father unexpectedly died at the age of sixty-one. If Potz was to suffer coronary failure as well, now was the time—his ribcage could hardly contain the pounding. He needed to urinate.
The father did not speak; he kneeled by his son and tried gently to shake him back to life. He put his ear to the young man’s chest, and then to his mouth. Potz said what he could: I didn’t see him, he dashed out from behind the hedge, he tripped in front of me, I wasn’t speeding, I didn’t see him. Potz knew that the father, trembling and no doubt sick through his intestines and up into his chest, could not hear him now. What were words worth in the face of this? He wanted to say, I’m just a working man, a plumber trying to make a living. This shouldn’t be happening to me. I don’t deserve this. I pay alimony to a crooked ex-wife. I’m just a working man, I tell you.
The mother showed up a moment later and stood behind her husband, who was still kneeling at the body. She, too, wore a Rutgers sweatshirt and sweatpants. Her hair and skin were just as white as her husband’s, and somehow, despite the clamor in his head and the constriction in his chest, Potz took note of this—they were a ghoulish pair, nearly albino. The mother did not throw herself down at her son in convulsions and sobs. She turned to Potz rather coolly and asked what had happened. Her voice did not match her appearance; it was hoarse, almost smoky, perhaps Southern. It would have been sexy ten or twelve years ago.
Potz repeated what he had told the father just a minute ago: I didn’t see him, he dashed out in front of me . . . Her eyes were a beguiling shade of gray, a gray Potz had never before seen in nature. She covered her stomach with one arm, and brought a hand up to her mouth, as if trying to prevent a howl. A human howl, Potz thought. I do not want to hear that. The tears dangled and then dripped from her lashes.
The father remained kneeling by his son; he scratched his head and then rubbed the back of his hand across his unshaved chin. Several times he looked at the sky, as if instructions were written on it. Potz heard himself say, What do we do? What do we do now? He was most desperate for this information, the fear still mushrooming inside him, a hurtful hunger, both gaseous and acidic. A muscle twitched somewhere in his back; a sickening warmth was loose beneath his skin. I’m having a nervous breakdown, he said, and thought: I am not fit for the earth.
It occurred to him then that he should apologize for this mess, this problem he had delivered to the day, but an apology seemed inadequate and laughable, even perverse. One does not apologize for vehicular manslaughter; one prostrates one’s self before the bereaved, almost-albino family and begs to be forgiven. Already Potz knew that he would need forgiveness, even as he silently reassured himself that he was not to blame for this. The kid practically dove under his tire.
And then he couldn’t help but think that this accident, after it had sacked his every nerve and transformed him into a vegetable, would ruin him financially. Business this past year had been poor; he could not afford to be sued, to hire a lawyer, to pay court fees, to miss work. The dried leaves scraped over the asphalt and collected at the curb. There were no screams or sirens, no neighbors rushing to bear witness, no passing cars. It was almost peaceful. The mother turned and went inside to get the phone. Potz shook and glanced around for a secluded spot to relieve himself. He could not find one.
Barney Potz sat slumped on the curb with his damp head cradled in his hands. He kept glancing at his watch, the same way the father kept glancing at the sky, as if some answer would be found there, some inkling as to why this mistake had happened. The watch’s tiny battery must have been dying; the second hand stuttered at each number before ticking on. This Swiss Army watch had belonged to his own father. How many years now had he been dead? Potz could not remember; more than five, fewer than ten. It was 9:30 in the morning, sixty degrees and sunny. He hadn’t even finished his coffee yet; it sat lukewarm and cooling in the cup holder.
The father would not rise from his son’s body. He would neither speak nor turn to look at Potz behind him on the curb. This neglect pestered him; he wanted to be beaten with a pole. Every time he glanced at the body beneath his van—he had just bought those Goodyear tires last week—he felt the possibility of vomit. His bladder began to hurt.
Two police cars and an ambulance arrived twenty or thirty or forty minutes later. They removed the body from underneath Potz’s van and placed it on a gurney. When the bearded ems worker unfolded the sheet up over the young man’s face, the mother groaned—a low, animal grown, an unusual sound Potz did not want to remember. The groan of a near-albino, he thought. Where is their pigment? What sort of cruelty is this? Her husband pulled her tight under his arm. Still, no one would even glance at Potz. He sat there on the curb trying to fend off a lethargy that wanted to grab hold of him. As a child he would rake large mounds of leaves in the autumn and then bury himself inside them, often falling asleep for an hour or more. He looked at the scattering leaves and wanted that now, wanted to disappear inside somebody’s womb.
He heard the words head trauma and remembered the last time he had heard that term: in high school, his close friend Wally Jacobs, beamed in the back of the head with a baseball—he fell dead on impact. What had always seemed so mysterious to Potz was that the ball was thrown by Wally’s little sister, and not thrown hard; she was eight years old at the time, her arm a powerless twig. The head, he was told by a neighbor—a gaunt man who had fought in Vietnam and specialized in trauma—is a fragile dome; touch it at the right angle, with the right force, and you’re a corpse.
A baseball then, a football now: sports, Potz thought, are murderous.
His legs were so feeble he doubted he could stand; there was a tremble loose in his joints and tendons. He noticed the grease stains on his pants and boots and for some reason felt ashamed of them, as if his working-man status was somehow responsible for this calamity. The lowly plumber; the struggling tradesman. He listened to what the parents said to the cop: their son, Thomas Stewart, was twenty-three, visiting from graduate school at Rutgers; he and his father had been throwing the football in the front yard; they couldn’t see the van from behind the high hedges, or hear its engine under the rustling of leaves.
When the muscled cop finally came to speak to him, Potz said the only words he knew: I didn’t see him, I turned for just one second, he ran right in front of me. The cop nodded with sympathy, put a reassuring hand on Potz’s shoulder, asked questions, and jotted down answers. Accidents happen, he said. Nothing you could do about it. All of life is one big accident, he said. Scientists have proved that. It is not to be disputed. Some of us are victims of physics.
Potz looked at the cop with wonder, his mouth slightly ajar. It was the second time today he had heard the word physics. Nothing the cop had just said made even the slightest bit of sense to him. He wanted to say, What about the rules of the universe? What about the laws of matter and motion? Newton had something to say about this, Kepler too, didn’t they? I’ve watched pbs; there’s no such thing as an accident. There are laws, I tell you.
Because he hadn’t been speeding or drunk, Potz could not be charged; manslaughter was not mentioned. The ambulance left for the morgue with its red lights twirling in silence. Potz considered the oddity that all of this was happening without much sound: where were the sirens and screams, the banging and the bells? He had always thought catastrophe would be loud.
The officer gave Potz his documents and told him he was free to go, to return to work if he wanted, someone might be in touch. He nearly objected to this, nearly blurted out that he wanted to be arrested and punished. He needed to apologize, be forgiven. Surely the death of Thomas Stewart meant that Potz’s day was ruined; he could not just return to work, to fix the gravity-defying sink of an angry woman. Why was the water shooting from the drain to the ceiling? Water is pulled down unless propelled up. What was propelling the water from this woman’s unruly sink? Potz could not guess.
The parents stood at the mouth of the driveway, next to their mailbox that pictured three mallard ducks descending on a pond. They watched the ambulance drive slowly away and then vanish down the slope in the road. One police car left, and then the other. The parents, without once glancing at Potz, turned to walk back to their house, the mother still under the arm of her husband. And Potz understood that grief can look like this, that shock is always silent. He stood alone in the road next to his van, waiting for someone to come and speak to him about this, accuse him, accost him, ask him to apologize. But no one did; they had all seemed so eager to get rid of him.
Minutes passed. The planet, it seemed, had been knocked off balance. Something had happened to physics.
In the driver’s seat of his van, his hands white-knuckled on the wheel, consumed by the fear that his life was now in ruin, Barney Potz sat inert and staring into the space before him, feeling vaguely poisoned, gripped by a spell. He had felt this way only once before, years ago in a drug-induced stupor his then-wife had encouraged. Just a few minutes earlier he had watched the Stewarts drive away in their white sedan: first from the garage, then down the long driveway, then along the road until they dipped out of view.
His heart and breathing had calmed but his head was still bobbing far above his shoulders, a balloon on a ribbon. His body had become gelatin in that seat. He wanted to be spoken to, a cop or some official dictating his next move. He considered calling his lawyer, the same half-incompetent man who had handled his divorce, but he had left his cell phone on the kitchen table that morning. He could not squash his dread of being sued. Was there still such a thing as debtors’ prison? Life altering, he thought. My life, altered. Somebody do something about this. Where had all his friends gone? He needed to sob, he was certain of that, but the sobs would not come; they were jammed together somewhere in his sternum, connected inside him the way certain molecules bond. The skin draped over the muscles and bones of his body did not fit well. Suddenly his scalp itched; his stomach was a cavern; he could feel the bats flitting about.
Potz was not certain what should transpire now; going home to brood and shiver seemed incorrect to him. Should he drive to his mother’s, beg to be held, breast fed? Ten or twenty minutes later he discovered himself in the driveway of the woman who had called him that morning, the angry widower with the unruly kitchen sink who lived directly around the corner from the Stewarts. He felt his legs ambling along her walkway, then up her front porch, and then his finger touching the lighted dot of the doorbell. Her wrinkled face and blue puff of hair answered the door and said, You’re very late.
I’m Potz, he said. The plumber.
You’re late. The sink is this way, and she moved aside.
Potz, no more than a drone, scraped his clean boots on the welcome mat and entered the spotless vacuum of the woman’s cathedral foyer. Spine-bent and bathrobed, she led the way down the hall to the kitchen, a bright expanse of tall windows and white granite countertops. It’s there, she said, and pointed. You’ll see. Let it run a minute and water shoots from the drain to the ceiling.
Exhausted in a way he had not felt before—not even during the ugliest episodes of his divorce—Potz stood before the sink and simply stared at it as if trying to determine the function of an artifact from antiquity.
It won’t turn itself on, the woman said.
When he lifted the handle would the water really defy gravity and spray the ceiling? Newton, he knew, was not a magician. It terrified him to be a witness to altered physics, and Potz wished he had driven home when the ambulance pulled away. Turn on the water, Mr. Potz.
And when he did, nothing. They waited. The water pooled in the drain and vanished. Pooled and vanished. Give it a minute, she said. His throat constricting from dryness, Potz wanted to ask for a glass of cranberry juice with ice. The woman hobbled around the granite island and stood next to Potz. It’s not doing it now, she said. Wait another minute, you’ll see.
But the water never sprayed the ceiling. Shouldn’t you check under the sink, Mr. Potz? Isn’t that what plumbers do? Look under the sink?
He squatted slowly, felt his knees crack, and while pretending to examine the pipes inside the cabinet, he thought only of his own intestines, the kinked loops of digestive track that, if unraveled, would stretch from here to the Stewarts’ home around the corner.
Rising, holding the countertop for much-needed balance, Potz said, There’s nothing wrong with your sink.
But there is, she insisted.
I just killed a boy.
The woman stared and then said, What?
Potz shut off the water. I just ran over a boy and killed him. Thomas Stewart.
Well. People die, Potz. Fix my sink.
I didn’t see him. He ran out in front of me.
My sink, Mr. Potz. I’m paying you to fix my sink.
When he walked out of the house a moment later, he forgot to close the front door behind him.
He returned to the Stewarts’ home, parked in front by the mallard mailbox, and sat there hour after hour as daylight leaked away, as the gelid autumn wind rocked his van, as the purple gloaming engulfed the sky. He dozed, grew warm, and convulsed. After dark, he crawled into the back of his van and fell asleep quickly, curled up tight beneath a stained blanket, a corduroy jacket for a pillow. The jacket, too, like the watch, had belonged to his father.
Barney Potz woke at first light from a tap on his window. He looked up to see the face of the gray-eyed woman, Mrs. Stewart, peering in at him through the back window. His vision then became slightly blurred, and he began to catalog the various problems: his back and legs ached, his tongue was glued to the roof of his mouth, his forehead and face were so hot he was sure the fever would be fatal, he hadn’t eaten in twenty-four hours, and he had killed someone the day before. His sleep all night in the back of the van had been fitful, his dreams too red and warm, and murkier than normal. Influenza in October were the final words that occurred to him before he dropped his head and promptly passed out.
Minutes later, Potz was floating over the lawn toward the front door of the house. It took several seconds, perhaps a minute, for him to realize that he was being carried by the couple. His body felt so light to him, so insubstantial, he wondered if the couple felt it too, or if they were struggling to carry his limp mass into their home. He had come from stock that considered it disgraceful to cause other people inconvenience, to intrude upon their daily regimen. His father would be outraged to see him now, so helpless, upsetting the lives of strangers. But Potz was too weak now to allow the feelings of shame and embarrassment. Since yesterday morning he had lost charge of how his life would proceed. I’m sick, he said. The weakness infused every inch of him, and he soon lost consciousness again.
He became aware of being placed on a firm single bed in what seemed to him a guest room. Through the slits in his eyes he could see bad portraits of people who had been dead for decades, leather-bound books in a mahogany case, various crystal statuettes. The room smelled unused, perhaps undusted. Soon Potz felt his clothes being removed tenderly, his boots pried off; someone put a palm on his forehead. Again he was too weak to feel the shame of his naked body, to be concerned with his fat and hair, his penis shriveled to a prune. But he felt grateful when a long wet towel was draped over him, from his neck to his ankles. Then a cool rag was put on the top half of his face. Several times he tried to speak the words I’m sorry, but his parched tongue, a fish in his mouth, would not come alive. Just as he thought his throat would close and not reopen, someone lifted his head and put a water bottle to his lips. He drank hurriedly; when water spilled from the corners of his mouth he heard the mother say, Easy does it. Easy now. Three pills were then placed on his tongue—Advil, not aspirin—and then he was given more water.
The entire morning transpired this way: Potz blinking in and out of consciousness; the mother lifting his head to give him more liquids, ginger ale and then cranberry juice; the towels on his body remoistened with cool water. He did not know what time it was when he finally dropped off into a weighted sleep. Though the slumber was heavy and deep, he was partially aware of an invisible force hovering just millimeters above him, gently pressing his body down into the mattress. Somewhere in the dense ink of his sleep he was also aware of his father scolding him for causing these strangers such trouble. The tremendous fatigue followed him into the dream and so his lips would not move to make an apology. His father continued to wag a finger and shake his head in disappointment.
It was dark when Barney Potz finally woke. He peeled the cool washrag from his face and knew immediately that he felt better. A small dull lamp was lit on the dresser near the window. His clothes had been draped neatly over the back of an antique chair; even his boxers and socks had been folded, and he felt ashamed that the woman had had to touch his underwear. When was the last time he had changed them? His stomach shifted with hunger and he knew this was a good indication that the worst of his illness was done. The worst, he thought, sitting up in bed, placing his naked feet on the cold wood floor. What is the worst here? The young man is dead.
Touching his clothes, he saw that they had been washed; his Levi’s and cotton shirt were stiff and still warm from the dryer. They smelled of a potent laundry detergent or fabric softener, the kind of fresh scent he used to envy on other kids; his mother must have washed his laundry with a bland, odorless soap. He would ask her about this at Thanksgiving dinner.
Potz dressed slowly; he was weak from not eating, and his stomach shifted again with hunger. The house around him sat in silence: no television or voices of the couple; no movement in the kitchen or upstairs bedrooms; no hot water surging through pipes. After he dressed he buried his face in the bottom of his shirt and inhaled hard.
The parents of Thomas Stewart sat motionless at the kitchen table, beneath the hanging lamp. Potz squinted from the light when he entered the kitchen. The father stared at the pink place mat in front of him, but the mother looked up at Potz and offered him a weak smile. His back was slightly bent; he felt like a man who had been recently beaten by a thug, his identification stolen.
He said, I don’t know what to say. His voice was damaged.
Sit, she said. There’s soup here for you. Her voice was as he remembered it: hoarse, almost sexy. And as he looked to the place setting across from her, Potz saw that there was indeed a deep bowl of soup, still steaming, the spoon next to it on a folded napkin. Meticulous care had gone into decorating the kitchen: clean and cluttered with knickknacks and candles from the Old General Store. Potz looked for a wooden engraving that read home is where the heart is.
Come, she said again. You need to eat.
When the noodles and chicken and broth entered him, he felt it fill his stomach, travel down his legs into his toes, down his arms to the tips of his fingers, and then up into his scalp to the very ends of his hair. As the soup disappeared, he felt himself straightening in his chair, his spine unfolding. He did not look at the couple while he slurped, and he could tell that they were not looking at him, which he appreciated. Soon his head was clearer than it had been in more than a day.
You must have had the twenty-four-hour flu, she said. Thomas had it two weeks ago. It’s going around.
Potz then erupted into tears, into powerful, shaking sobs, saying again and again how sorry he was, how he wished this had never happened, how crazy the world had turned. The parents let him sob. Ropes of mucus hung from both nostrils. He knew that sobbing this way was as good as throwing up a meal of bad meat, and he did not hold back. The mother looked at him with oblong eyes, though the father still could not lift his stare from the place mat. She handed Potz another napkin after he had drenched the one he was crushing in his grip. He blew his nose, trying to be quiet about it, because he knew that’s what his father would do. Nobody wants to hear a person blowing his nose.
When he finally calmed himself, the mother said, We know you’re sorry. We know, Mr. Potz.
He repeated what he had said the day before, that he didn’t see Thomas in the street, that he just appeared there in front of his van. Both the parents looked less albino than they had yesterday; Potz could not account for this. The light, he thought. The light is falling funny. What did Newton say about light?
It was an accident, we know, the mother said.
I just don’t know what to do now, he said, throwing up his hands. I want so badly to make this right but I know I never can. I just don’t know what to do.
The mother reached over and placed her moisturized hand on top of Potz’s; it was the softest hand that had ever touched him. She said, We can’t help but make mistakes in life, Mr. Potz. It’s not the avoiding of mistakes that counts, since that’s impossible. What counts is how a person pays for those mistakes he made.
She took her hand back; Potz looked at her. Pay? he asked. The word frightened him; his underarms turned wet.
Yes, she said, pay.
He glanced towards the father at the opposite end of the table; the man was either napping or praying. The mother studied Potz; she seemed to want a reply. Potz continued to weigh the word: pay. Finally, after swallowing, he said, I’d give you anything I have. Anything at all.
We’re sure you would, Mr. Potz, and that’s sweet of you, it is. But we don’t need things.
The woman’s gaze unsettled him now; he wanted her soft hand on top of his again. He moved in his chair and fell back on the only words that came naturally: I’m just so sorry for all this.
Tell us, Mr. Potz, do you have a child?
No, he said, and watched her turn to her husband. Potz could detect in her expression a trace amount of disappointment.
That’s too bad, she said. A child is really the only reason to endure this life.
His mouth was dry once more; he wanted a glass of orange juice with ice but was too shamed to ask.
Well, a wife then? she said.
No. I’m divorced. She left me.
Hmm, she said. Neither a child nor a spouse. Whatever do you live for, Mr. Potz?
It struck him as a good question, though her manner of asking it made him uncomfortable. In his feebleness all he could do was shrug: a slow, pathetic shrug that brought his meaty shoulders almost to his ears. He fought back the new sobs that wanted to burst from him.
It’s just you then?
Yes. Just me. Why?
You said before, Mr. Potz, that you’d give us anything if you could, but we don’t want you to make an addition—she glanced quickly at her husband—we want you to make a subtraction.
He tried to compute: I’m sitting at the kitchen table of the people whose son I ran over yesterday; the mother just asked me to make a subtraction; mathematics is underway here, and mathematics is related to physics, and physics is responsible for the mess I’m in.
I don’t understand, he said. He was beginning to tremble.
The woman turned to her husband and said, Show him. He took a nickel 9mm pistol from his lap and placed it in the center of the table. Potz’s stomach dropped several inches at the sight of the gun. He tried to compute again: there’s a pistol on the table in front of me; these people want me to do something with this pistol. He had never been in the presence of a gun before, but understood that the nervousness rising in his abdomen was of the unique, gun-related kind.
Potz thought, Escape route. There was a sliding glass door that led from the kitchen to the deck; he looked at the slider and tried to calculate how fast he would have to move to miss a bullet. Spring back from the table, dart around the counter, unlock the slider, rush outside, hop over the deck’s railing, dash around the house to the road, get into the van, all the while ducking bullets. What if he couldn’t unlock the slider quickly enough? He’d spend many seconds there at the glass, his back in clear view, a broad target.
The father made eye contact with Potz now; touching the pistol had brought him to life. Potz wished he would return his stare to the place mat; peering into his eyes Potz had the distinct feeling of peering into two goldfish bowls with no goldfish swimming inside. His irises were less than gray, or creamy white; they were not there.
The woman said, We understand it was a mistake and you didn’t intend to kill our son, Mr. Potz. But that doesn’t mean you are free from making amends. All a person can do after an accident of any kind is make amends to the best of his ability.
Potz tried twice to get the words out; on the third try he was successful: What do you want me to do?
We wanted you to kill your own child, of course, but we struck out with that. A loving wife would have done, but as our luck would have it, you are alone on this earth, Mr. Potz. You’ve disappointed us. Again.
I’m sorry, he said. I’m sorry I’ve disappointed you, I really am, but this is crazy. There’s a gun on the table. You people are crazy.
You said yourself that the world has gone crazy, did you not?
Yes, yes it has, it certainly has. His upper lip beaded with sweat; the patches of wetness under his arms were spreading to the front of his shirt. He thought about quickly grabbing the gun, but didn’t know how to hold it properly, and was worried about the unpredictability of physics, worried that he might actually shoot himself in the chin or the chest.
I came here to apologize, he said, that’s all I wanted to do.
And all we want is evenness, she said. Take the gun, Mr. Potz, and do the right thing.
The right thing? he said. What the hell is the right thing?
She said, We think you know.
Potz stood abruptly and nearly smacked his head on the edge of the hanging lamp. He backed away from the table in the direction of the front door. The parents followed him with their eyes but they did not speak or reach for the pistol. After pausing in the hallway, Potz said, I’m leaving here, Mrs. Stewart. I thank you for helping me, and I’m sorry for what’s happened, but I’m leaving here now.
You could help us, she said, and Potz saw her eyes fill with moisture.
I’m not shooting myself for you.
It would help us, she said, and the first tear slid from her eye and down around her nostril.
Why? Potz asked. How would it help?
It just would, Mr. Potz. We can’t fully explain it. We just know it would help us.
I’m leaving here, he said again.
The woman took a napkin from the table and dabbed both eyes. We won’t stop you, she said. We’re not killers, Mr. Potz. Maybe after you’ve had time to think about it, you’ll reconsider, and we’ll see you again. Think about helping us.
Driving home, Potz could not remember if it was Friday or Saturday. He kept his window rolled down to feel the brisk October night air on his body. The woman’s question—what do you live for?—nagged at him, and he felt guilty for disappointing the parents of Thomas Stewart. Nobody in the world would miss him; he was certain of that. But would he miss himself? Tomorrow, when orange dawn colored the horizon, he would wake from a restful night’s sleep, reach over to the window, part the heavy curtains, and see the color. He would return to the angry widow’s house. He knew he had to see her sink again, to decipher the mystery, restore normality. He would drive slowly past the Stewarts’ home on his way to help her, to fix the physics that had been knocked off kilter by forces he could not fathom.