You sense some body outside the pigeon coop.

You hear her heart beating, carried on the heating air, just as clearly as the ditty she is humming for company that her generation call music.

Alone -- No  Keystone coppers.

Only her, her long youthful stride: her footfalls lightly crunching the gravel of the adjoining lower rooftop you could only have reached after the sun would have found you. A door in a bunker there that you will try for come nightfall. Clotheslines laid out like No Man's Land.

Hang-ing out the wash-ing on the Sieg-fried Line -- Your ditty from another war. You can't in the moment recall one from the First. An old habit. You hum yours, as she does, for company. You have already fed, and do not need to kill. And you might have to. And a child.

Sunworshippers, pigeons queue up across the blazing slots above your lowered head.

Then her shoe strikes metal, ringing it like a bell.

Of course -- a ladder -- joining the lower and upper rooftops.

Go away, child!

There is no washing to hang, no rooftop view worth the climb -- only this place here to come for, under the day -- only these pigeons for this child to visit.

Even one who has lived as long as you can make the stupid mistake -- just the same as being the eager one first up out of the trench when the whistle blows! Swiftly reaching the shut door of the coop ahead of the child as she pauses outside -- but you pull the knob that's too small for the door when you should have pushed.

The morning punishes you for hiding from it so long -- burning through your hands -- through your blinded eyes behind them. You call it Mercy, your fall into blackness.

--

But you don't die. You comprehend this as you wake, hands and face searing, as after lying idle out under an August sun all day.

Could be worse.

Could've been as you had suffered before: after the girl in your watch died and, suicidal, you waited for the sun on a bridge over the Danube.

Chickened out -- as they say!

You don't try your eyes, useless at the moment, as they seem to have liquefied. Pigeons still cooing around your head. One, for its own good reason, goes visiting, from there to there, briefly cooling the burning rind across your face under its beating wings.

Glad for all your fresh company. No finer dovecot for this distressed convalescent!

And glad also you had not turned up your nose last night in the alley. Tiring of the standard fare of the homeless and disheveled, whose taking as a rule hardly registers with the pack, and so makes for easy hunting, you very nearly passed over that one -- and would not now have the healing benefit of a meal in your belly.

Instead, you had an eye on that painted stick of a club-girl: fashionably vampiric herself. She might even have enjoyed being nibbled upon for a bit!

Pretty eyes.

But she left with the unwhiskered weed who set the joint a'jumpin' to the hammering tuneless emissions from his computer and pair of speaker towers.

"Thank-you, sir." you offer, to the memory of last night's meal, hidden under trash in the alley.

Your hands and face by tomorrow will already be mostly useable. Your eyes, too.

Then -- shock hits like a bullet -- MY WATCH! -- Not in your fused claw of a hand.

THE CHILD! -- It reaches for your face from the fog, a ghost before your cooked eyes running like ruined Murano glass. The husk you call your heart trips over itself in your hollow chest, like a fool tumbling down and down winding dizzying stairs.

"Shhh -- You're safe -- You're okay -- I hung a tarp over the pigeon house -- The sun can't hurt you again -- Be still -- Be still."

She coos over you -- just like the zoo-keeper you remember from Berlin, honey-voiced so not to ruffle the collection. You sit still only because you've cornered yourself, back to the wall. She stabs your face -- again, again, again.

"Just a little distilled water. Clean, so there's no infection. Help you heal, you special one."

Milk -- Her breath on your face.

"You are special -- I see that. No hospital for you -- Don't worry -- No worry. You and I both know they'll wanna keep you when they see you. See how ... unique you are. And I won't let that happen to you."

Soap -- The heat of her body so close you could do something about this -- either gentle enough, or savage -- if you could only gather your senses!

"So white you are. Must be so different where you're from. You're like an angel -- That's how you seem to me. And my birds like you."

Child's mad -- or worse, a poet!

"You'll be safe here in my little pigeon house."

Then, her humming again. Oddly familiar. You fall again into blackness.

The End

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