Joe dreamed. He was dozing. Dozing on the sofa from the apartment above the deli. Dozing on the sofa on a hillside all improbable wildflowers and gauzy sunshine. In Italy. He was a shepherd, almost. A shepherd in training. Or maybe a goatherd, Joe wasn't sure which. He hadn't been assigned his flock, though, so Joe was free to doze amid the flowers perfumed like dusty wallpaper.
The grey mutt was in Italy too. "Master. Master."
Joe peeked out the corner of one eye. The mutt came bounding, parting the hillside flowers like a ship breasting the sea. He looked magnificent. An almost-shepherd's, or goatherd's, loyal mutt. He'd call him Mutt, Joe decided. But later. Joe had been bedding down on file-boxes and the concrete floor the past two weeks. He shut his eye, pretended to be asleep.
Panting, Mutt puffed on Joe's dozing face. A not unpleasant puffing, the mix of peppery salami and dog. "Master. Outside. Gotta go pee. And there's a girl."
"Yeah. Pee." Joe lurched to his feet, swaying before the sofa he'd been asleep on in all his dirty clothes.
"Hurry, master." Mutt was spinning circles away from him over the living-room rug.
Joe plodded after him.
One after the other, soap bubble details tapped the edges of Joe's bleary awareness. The apartment lights still on. The window blue-moonless at the top of the stairs. Out the staring window, half the night's stars eclipsed. By...something. Though, beyond the curving edge of the vast eclipsing something, the other half of the universe's stars still dazzled. Even through dirty glass.
Joe grasped at it, the bubble idea most stars still dazzled. He caught the comforting bubble. The shining bauble he'd keep close in his shirt pocket. It was the same assurance he knew was coming at the end of most every Star Trek episode he remembered. The Star Trek with Kirk in it. Most every tomorrow a happier one.
Joe, faintly whistling the Star Trek theme, drifted down the narrow stairs behind Mutt. Down through the door standing open. The shop positively shone. The shelves of brightly labelled tins. The glowing packets. The paper flags of the world, strung over the ceiling. He hadn't switched off the lights earlier.
Behind the shop counter now, Joe first saw the buggy meats case. He flinched, stepped back. Then again, cracking his tailbone against the backwall sink. There was a face, staring in the deli window over the cheese wheels.
A...girl. Woman, actually.
Joe blinked, blinked again at her. Possibly the last woman on Earth. And he recognized her, too, from across the deli. The platinum blonde hairdo. Even though mussed up. His heart flip-flopped. He wished he'd had a shower. She must've spotted him. Marilyn Monroe.