Russell Bittner
Will it never end?  I ask myself.

Winter collapses into spring in one long succession of rainy days.  We wait for a break:  in the clouds; in the grayness; in the sound; in the sogginess - the solidly unrelenting wetness of it all while the rain continues to fall… and to run, slip, seep, wash, flood, founder, penetrate, suffocate… and eventually annihilate.

I perch on a dry spot - my sill - and look out from a place of privilege.  In this spring kingdom of wetness, my sill is a throne from which I look benevolently down and out to inspect my soggy realm.

My eyes scan for intruders, for possible pretenders, for those who'd usurp my power to remain high, warm and dry - to remain, in short, a comfortable spectator to the wetness without.  I squint as my eyes settle on a park bench and grocery cart.  My eyebrows darken and lower as I focus on the cart's contents - in which I see scads of plastic amid other odd lots and reams of paper.  But the plastic, I think, is the thing - that no doubt conceals weaponry, instruments of assault, explosives, means to my end.  My spine cramps from the espionage.  But also stiffens with resolve to protect my indomitable domain.

To the left of the cart, lying sentry (no doubt) on the bench, is a mound - unmoving, perhaps unmovable, in rags and more plastic.  A subtle subterfuge!  I think.  But not so subtle as to elude my vigilance.  I suspect intent to attack, sooner or later, and bristle as a sneer crawls across my lip.

I descend to ground level, fully armed, and step to the front door with hammer, nails and planks.  I board up, quickly, then climb the stairs back to my apartment.  Do the same with windows and my apartment door - each nailed tight shut.  Except for a small space - a judas window out of which I once again peer, scan, focus down and slightly to the left, to an unmoving, unmoved mound.  A ragamuffin - from whom I'm now safe and unassailable in my fortress:   my little fortress America.

Days go by, turn into weeks, turn into months - while the mound remains motionless.  Meanwhile, the rain continues to fall.  Yet I stay put:  high, warm and dry in my fortress.

I sleep less.  I eat less - all for the better, I tell myself - as America and I know too much of calories, too little of vigilance.  We've forgotten what it means to be lean and mean.  Life is a little less, but I am safe, happy, secure in my kingdom.

Until one day, another rainy day, when something extraordinary happens.  I've been watching and studying the mound for months, waiting for a move - and now, it finally comes.  I see that the mound's alive as it begins to move right before my eyes - and so to confirm all of my earlier suspicions.  I brace for the assault - the inevitable attempt to usurp.

From my dry sill, I watch as the mound grows green, grows moldy, grows gradually into a thing that seems to consume itself from without.  I'm fascinated by the transformation, by the metamorphosis of tattered rags and black plastic into green mould - all of which recedes right before my eyes.  'Grows tighter, denser - like a nova, like a miniature dark star.  Until slowly, gradually, over the space of only a few hours, the mound is reduced to a small sphere no larger than a pea, then to nothing at all.  A spark is the last evidence I see of the mound before even the spark itself is snuffed out by the rain.  At the same instant, a dark form - little more than a shadow, really - moves up behind the grocery cart and moves it away, down, and out of my frame.

I sleep soundly and without dreams for the first time in months.  I neither murmur, nor whine, nor wince - and am not even once roused from a peaceful, sound, dry rest.

When I awaken in the morning, I'm fully awake from the moment I open my eyes.  I run to my window and peer out.  The bench is empty!  The cart is gone!  But there's more.  The rain has stopped!  That same bench is dry!  The sun, I suspect, is shining like a great, beckoning beach ball in the sky - although my judas is too small to allow an upward glance.

I'm delirious as I tear down planks from all of my windows, from the door to my apartment, then run downstairs to do the same with the planks across the front door to the building - curiously untouched, I only briefly remark - as I set to work.

I open the front door cautiously, then throw it back as sunshine pours in.  I notice that the pavement is dry.  I step out, still cautiously, but my caution is for naught as there are no usurpers, no pretenders in sight.  I listen for birdsong; hear none.  But it's still early - and probably a Sunday morning.  Birds are probably in church, I chuckle.

Tee-dee!   Tee-dah!  I'm safe, secure!  All of what I own is still mine.  Not an ounce of it is gone.  And since what I own is me, I've lost not an ounce of me!  Me!  All of me intact!  Tee-dee, tee-dah!

I throw back the curtains of caution and bound out for a walk.  I notice a dead pigeon, then a second, a third.  Then a rash of pigeons, all dead.  Wariness grows on me like a mold - but only so much as one might think reasonable for a rash of dead pigeons - and I walk on.  Then I notice a heap, covered by a tarp, which I cautiously draw back.  What stares back up at me as I lift the lip of the tarp is skinless, hideous, heinous, human - or at least formerly human.  But it's not, after all, me.  It's not even of my kind.  And so I move on, somewhat subdued.

I'd like to wash my hands occurs to me as I walk up to the corner bistrot.  Bistrot! I think benevolently as I pause for a moment to adore the old spelling - where, but a short while ago, had stood a café.  And a short while before that, a bar 'n' grill.  And before that, a hardware store.  How times change!  I think delightfully.  And how we change with them!  Autres temps, autres mœurs! I further think - quite proud of my cosmopolitanism and of how I've so easily adapted.