cold bit cruelly as Julian strode across the common. He ignored it. The match, the Royal
Game, had taken precedence againits outcome imminent. He knew this next move was
likely to be the lastif only he could steel himself to see it. No seizures now. His
senses must stay absolutely clear. The pills! His step faltered. Had he taken them?
Yes, swilled down with his morning coffee. His brisk pace resumed.
Melanie, having returned from lunch, was going through her drawings.
She had them carefully arrangedher farewell giftsall around the room: Sisters
Zoe, Dana, Deborah, and Morgan, Mrs. Lowry, Mrs. Soames, and Mr. Jimmy, her six
self-portraits crowned by various coiffures, the sketches of Julian in all of his guises,
and finally Benjaminthe Miniature ManBenjamin, her long-lost friend.
Odd that he had come back into her life. He had owned the shop beneath
their old apartment in the city, before she and her family had moved away. The hours the
two of them had spent together, the wondrous fun! All her fondest childhood memories
seemed drawn from times with himdear, sweet, gruff, old Benjamin. Then one morning
he was gonedied in his sleep, her parents told herthough, at the time, she
found their explanation unconvincing. For Benjamin had promised her that he would be her
friend for always. "For always never ends or dies," he had said.
"So youve revived."
She spun around.
He was standing in the doorway staring. Her first reaction was to cover
up her work. But that was useless; he had already seen. In fact, he stood right beside the
drawings she had done of him. She might as well just let him look, let him choose his
present for himself.
Then she saw what he was holding.
"Hey, thats mine!"
She rushed to reclaim her journal.
He gave it back.
"How could you!"
"Easy; you werent here."
"And so you stole it?"
"Borrowed. I havent even read it."
"Ha, Ill bet."
She turned the pages, as if scanning them for his fingerprints.
Meanwhile, he continued his sidelong appraisal; she seemed strange.
Something in her nature betrayed a subtle alteration. What? A sketch arrested his
attention before he could decide.
"This is wonderful."
Melanie stopped her fussing.
"Youre quite good."
Stunned, and not a little flattered, she put aside her journal to join
him, as he made a pensive tour about the room. His focus was dividedhalf directed to
the work, half to its author. He paused.
"Thats Benjamin. You dont know him."
He studied her closely.
"Hm. The gatekeeper?"
"The whatdidyoucallhim, the Miniature Man?"
She seemed unfazed. He had read her journal, every last word
of itjust as he had memorized her file. More than that, the dream had taught him (in
upsettingly grim detail) about the rape. And toward his own ends, he had used it, used it
all, regardless of its impact on this girlwhose gaze was now a mirror for his
whose mind, at last, had shed its austere guard
whose heart was opening, reaching
out, inching closer, closer, closer. Mentally Julian wrenched away; physically he did not
move. The portraits on all sides seemed to hold him prisoner. From the corner of his
shielded eyes he watched their faces watching
The Game, his
precious Game, the crime of which he stood accused.
Then, eerily, the charcoaled lips began to mouth reproofs:
J u l i a a a a a n.
The portraits called, each voice a breathy whisper.
Youre very clever, Mr. Papp. But are you bright?
Youre evil, Julian. Evil.
What gives you the right to yell at me?
Of what are you afraid?
evil, Julian. Evil.
People who make fun of other people are just covering up for what they
dont like in themselves.
Dont let conceit deprive you of a helping hand; we all can use
one every now and then.
evil, Julian. Evil.
Ill beat you at this game some day.
Youll never beat me, Marcy.
Why do you want to end your life?
Youll never beat me
The smears of black and white increased their contrastblacker,
whiterthen formed ranks, straight rows of alternating squares. Figures crept from
left and right and took up their positions, as pawns, Rooks, Bishops, Queens, and the
rival Kingsthe Knights stood clear, as did six pawns, four white, two blackthe
early casualtiesexpendablein a contest wherein victory was all. The
seconds ticked. The board revolved
upon its pedestal
above the void
or a plateau that stretched to infinity
or rather to the
horizonsun-bleached, shimmering, vaguely visible in the distance, not so distant,
drawing near, revealing earth and grass and tree and leaf and cloudless sky
breathing soft gentle meadowscents and meadowcolors walking (touch me touch me) passing
through the air molecules of air pulsebeat footfall time adrift
(Melanie) yes (touch me hold my hand) the meadow smiling as we walking floating reaching
touch to touching palm to palm two palm prints pressing lines whose fates conjoined
inscribe the way so clear so clear so clear