He didn’t recognize her at first because she wasn’t wearing her glasses; she didn’t recognize him at first for the same reason.
“But it’s you!” he cried.
They embraced, then pulled apart shyly, taking refuge in the scenery.
“Beautiful day, isn’t it!” said Leora.
“Oh, very beautiful!” Alex agreed.
“Couldn’t ask for better.”
“Not this time of year.”
“It is a bit windy, I suppose.”
“That’s true. A bit windy. But it’s a good bright day at least.”
“Oh, you can’t fault its brightness.”
“Although it could be clearer, I suppose.”
“Yes. I like a few clouds, but this . . .”
“Yes. You might even call it overcast.”
“I don’t think that would be going too far.”
“But at least it’s nice and warm.”
“No question about that. It’s wonderfully warm.”
“Though maybe there is just that slightest bit of a chill from time to time in the wind . . .”
“I wouldn’t want to be out without a scarf and jacket, that’s for sure.”
“And yet,” he sighed, “it is a day. There’s no denying that.”
“Oh indeed, it’s a nice day-ey day, if you know what I mean.”
“We’ve that to be thankful for.”
“Count your blessings.”
They walked in happy silence for a while along the tar-black canal. The autumn’s first rot was in the air, making the world smell almost fresh.
At last he said, “You’ve hardly changed at all, you know.”
She swung her arms girlishly, so that the wedding band was visible. “I hope that’s not true.”
“You hope you have changed? Why?”
“I don’t know. I suppose I don’t care much for who I was.”
After a pause he said, “I did.”
“Well and what about you? Have you changed or haven’t you?”
“I think so,” he said sadly.
“Well then. Perhaps the new you will like the new me.”
“As much as the old me liked the old you?”
“Isn’t it possible?”
It was at this point in her thoughts that the novelist June Cottan ran over a little old lady with her car.
A startled, shriveled face appeared for an instant above the hood, there was a horrible polyphonic thud, June stamped on the brakes, and the car came to an abrupt halt — a more abrupt halt indeed than the stamping-on of brakes could account for. It was as if something had jammed the inner workings of the machine. June sat frozen in horror at what she had done, what she would find when she got out. Finally, with a shudder of resolve she threw herself out of and several feet away from the vehicle, then looked back.
The car had completely swallowed the old woman’s body; only her angry white head protruded from the gap between the front tire and the wheel well. June’s fingernails floated up and sank into her mouth, cheeks, and eye sockets. She’d killed someone! She’d killed someone! She was a killer! She was —
When the old woman spoke, June fainted, briefly.
“Don’t just stand there gawping, dummy! Fetch me my walker!”
Years of being ignored and flouted (as the old woman saw it) had honed Reginalda Drax’s voice to a razor-edged implement for the extraction of compliance. June complied. All that remained of the walker, however, was a gnarled skein of metal projecting from the car’s grille.
“I think it’s broken.”
“Broken my eye! You just don’t know how to use it. Give it here!”
June didn’t know what to do. Her scalp tingled, colors seemed brighter; the very street was suffused with momentousness. This mattered. But she didn’t know what to do. She felt criminally remiss — as if this exact situation were one for which she should have prepared. Why had she never taken a first-aid course, for example? She dithered, flapping her arms helplessly and prancing in place, till Reginalda growled, “Give it here!” This was something June could do. She blew on her hands, planted her foot on the fender, and tugged at one of the twisted bars. When it came loose she staggered backwards — not realizing for a moment that the car had lurched too. It began to roll away downhill, gathering speed. June screamed and chased after it, without any idea what she would do if she caught it. The old woman’s head rotated with the tire, smacking the pavement loudly with each revolution. Reginalda, slightly confused by recent events, had the impression that she was being jostled. Loudly she muttered that people nowadays had forgotten what manners were. Then the car rolled into an intersection, causing several noisy collisions and partaking in several more.
June, breathless and sick with remorse, followed the convoy of ambulances to the hospital in a taxi.
June Cottan was a fundamentally cheerful person. That is, most days she felt happy, and when she did not, she felt it her duty to put on a happy face for the sake of others. When she took her dogs for walks, she waved at her neighbors and smiled kindly at strangers because she believed that other people were fundamentally cheerful too. When evidence to the contrary reached her in the form of a frown or a grumble, she chose to believe that these people were merely having a bad day — and her heart went out to them as she imagined in detail the sort of nasty rotten bad luck that could make you frown at someone who smiled at you. She smiled extra widely at these people, but with a wrinkle in her brow to show that she understood them.