Paula plucks her pap from Pierpont's gums (he steals a breath) and makes an offering of its un-depleted twin (which he engulfs). Her vulva, simmering in volcanic mode, is on the verge of climax, bliss maternal recast carnal by the birth cum death extremes to which the raven—lodged in Paula's ribcage un-caged—is subjecting them; Crow hops forthwith out and up and onto Alex's scrawny shoulder to affect a parrot's pretense (though funereal, still, in hue), his human hand-like talons perched on skin precipitately cadaverous—Alex clad in nothing more now than his skin's unsightly wrinkles, juxtaposed to those of the bed sheets, crimped and crinkled, creased topography that extends across the mattress like some pale alluvial plain, from him to her who likewise wears no clothes in a show of surreality, Ms. Glomotski, backbone bolstered by the bed's expansive headboard, upright torso half occluded by the babe-in-arms assuaged, her flesh the source of all that ebbs to the boundaries of Oblivion—held at bay the while its avian agent plots his prey's demise.

"Paula wanna cracker?" Crow intones with mock frivolity, as the nurse regards his anthropoid parts: girl's breasts, boy's cock, fist-feet, bemused by the jester's cap, as well, set askew on the raven's skull-like head, his wry locution one Ms. Glomotski chooses to ignore, deigns no reply, in truth takes umbrage with the bird's disrupting sweet salubrious salvos spawned by Alex siphoning milk derived, she knows not how, from glands designed for giving suck but heretofore bereft (if not incapable), disconnected from the nervous network linking breast to lap that so transports her, in the current instance; even Crow's distraction fails to stem the surging discharge spewed then oozed then spewed again, an ease and clench of snug contractions taking turns with hot secretions overwhelming Paula's uterus with sensations so sustained they mimic wet dreams she remembers having had in adolescence when the need to pee and the urge to come converged, prolonged the interval wherein pleasure was maintained the while release could be forestalled, except the shadow spreading grayly, underneath her cradled burden, through the linen that absorbs her shocking output, ranges wide, expands with every pulsing tremor from her galvanized vagina unbelievably enraptured, irresistibly enthralled, a nether hemorrhage underway beyond her wherewithal to stop it, indisposed to stop it, loathe to stop it, stop it! Stop it! Please! We are about to meet our Maker, Alexander. Act accordingly. Meaning 'fantasize' more respectably. You are eighty years, not days old; cease this infantile nostalgia and concede the stiff protuberance you are sucking is your thumb.

The scolding inner voice of Alexandra jars eyes open. Alex staggers back to consciousness like a drunkard from a binge, his bloodshot survey of surroundings slow to grasp the implications of a room that seems to have but one inhabitant, namely him, and though the lamp nearby his bed is lit, a book lies open on the nightstand, and upholstery, of the chair beside it, bears a fleeting dent, Paula—neither clothed nor unclothed, substantive nor transparent, leaching mother's milk nor soaking sheets with an excess of ejecta—is, beyond a modicum of doubt, absent without leave. And more embarrassing...the appendage he has feasted on, gormandized, lewdly ravaged, is indeed his right hand's digit—summarily disgorged.

Abashed, he weeps...
Devoid of outcry, Pierpont's grief escapes in trickles, tandem teardrops tracing hollows, grooves, mock laugh lines in his sallow, sunken cheeks, pervading stubble on his grizzled chin before anointing chest hairs with a steady drip, drip, drip—at Chinese water-torture pace—each splash confirming he has lost control entirely of his wits (the real and unreal indiscriminate, fact with fantasy swapping roles) without a snowman's chance on Guam of mounting a recovery.

Why persist? How had he talked himself—and her, who was and is himself, if latent—into hanging onto life no matter what? To hope? To cling? For it is hoping things will somehow turn around, in combination with ones clinging to the ever-shriveling remnants old age wreaks that causes cowardice to prevail, to countermand self-determination bent on self-elimination when the time to take ones leave informs the mind the body fails and vice versa; bravery blocked, the only course of action open is...inaction, staid acceptance of a status quo that reaps diminishing returns. And D.N.R.? Had he tattooed DO NOT RESUSCITATE on his chest as a badge of courage? Hardly. Fear had been its impetus, fear of a vegetative state that might prolong a living Hell of drug-defrayed affliction. "AGING AIN'T FOR SISSIES" he saw scribbled once on a wall. Is it with fortitude or complacency one stands up to tribulations? Are a senior citizen's ills and injuries borne with pride or guilt? Is it ennobling to endure the insults hurled by rank decrepitude or demeaning? Why ask now? The end is nigh, is why. "Dead soon." The point made moot. The end foregone. The argument unavailing.

And still he hesitates. With death so close he can almost feel its mortifying specter, sense its open arms like mantling wings unfurled, enlarged, outstretched to bid him welcome, cast their shadow to enshroud perforce embrace him, serve as escort out of sentience into numbness...non-existence...for, no matter death's demeanor, disposition, or the lack, its curb on consciousness is an outcome unavoidable; brain waves caught in stasis cease to generate cogent notions, even free-flow senior moments stop once neurons yield their ghosts, so why grasp straws when dwindling vital signs give rise to memories, eidolons merely multiplying the sum of his admittedly venial parts, his vices magnified, virtues minimized, open tabs on misdeeds run, inured to prospects of redemption or salvation?

Thus resolved, informed by an insular lucidity he is well aware may vanish—nevermore to be glimpsed through the mist of his senility—Alex aims to act while he is certain of his faculties, with the strength of his convictions—or forever hold his peace...his piece...his gun, he now in the closet? No; he moved it. Where? The mattress. Fully loaded? Yes; or at least with a single cartridge. Déjà vu. He fights the fog that waits offshore, with dense impatience, to return, reclaim the landmass briefly cleared by his rallied wits, eclipse his functions with a pall in lieu of the pall, cloak reality so that terminality yields to idle flights of fancy.

Think! Resist! Instruct your arm and hand to arm, with the at-hand firearm, force your fingers, make them close upon the butt—no ifs, ands, buts to intercede, impede employment of the means by which existence, minus meaning, might be put out, once and for all, of its long-drawn misery, and point the steely barrel at your temple—better yet—stick it in your mouth and pull the





r. muir