The Specialist

Fourth floor, walk-up, dusty and faded carpet in a hallway lit by bare bulbs, all the way at the end, knocking softly so as not to aggravate his nerves. Waiting patiently, listening to the muted traffic noise outside and for the shuffling sounds that precede the door opening.

He looks older than anyone you've ever met; he is older than he looks, moreover, which is an accomplishment. His face is lined and carved and hollowed as if sand-blasted by desert winds in biblical times and his hair is a ghostly aura of snow-white wisps. He motions you to come in, he nods and grunts but does not smile or introduce himself: he knows you know who he is, and he doesn't need to know your name.

The apartment appears constructed less from brick and drywall than from books and bookcases. It smells of old tobacco, and slow-cooked sausage, and vanilla. He points to a chair and you sit, waiting.

There are no questions: he knows why you're there, what you need. He pulls out this book and that one, thumping them open on the dining room table between plate and tea service. He traces line by line with a bony finger and a muttered whisper.

He looks at you for the first time, his eyes jet-black and yet still somehow shining. His voice is a sudden crack of shock and power that courses through you to die at the tips of your bones.

"There. No more leukemia. Five Hundred Dollars."

Gimme Shelter

The trees bend to shield her head from the sun,
It is said, because she is good and kind hearted,
But I think it is because they, the trees, are.

Heat Rises

Summer in the boroughs: open windows and gushing hydrants, sitting in the bath all afternoon, sleeping on the fire escape. Picnics on the roof under beach umbrellas that have never felt the sand. Short tempers and broken-down city buses. Sordid newspaper stories cataloguing serial killers.

That's his world, what he's used to. As alien as it seems to us, to him it's mother's milk. He knows nothing of rows of corn or paddocks full of cows, or of forests or ponds. He's never been fishing or skipping stones, he's never eaten wild berries and felt sick, he's never sat and daydreamed on cool moss with the sun dappling him through the leafy canopy.

He'll be lost and bored, at least to start. We have our work cut out for us. He may come to love it, he may not. But we'll love him, and that's half of it right there.