The streetlights went out, and night became real — no more passersby to offer change or a dirty look. The temperature fell like a sleeping cat from a balcony — she’d seen that more than once. Mary wrapped herself in soiled charity and moved inside. Mary wasn’t her given name, but she found it invoked more kindness from strangers than her own — the few who cared to ask. A cold moon glowed through the cracks of her shelter, highlighting the lines and folds on her bony hands — a map that no one else could read. Tick-tocking paced the pavement like an old friend reminding her to move on, but where to go? Nowhere now. Her heartbeat kept pace for a while, then ran ahead.
The wind whipped and huffed, threatening her flimsy roof. Her rapid breaths echoed its intensity. She curled up tighter and adjusted her hat, so the holes didn’t expose her ears. The shift released peppery strands of unkempt hair, and she used her shoulder to brush them from mouth and chin. She’d given Sam that hat on their last Christmas together, to cover the baldness. Now it belonged to her, a constant reminder of a life gone wayward. She hadn’t meant to mortgage the house. She hadn’t meant to become dependent on Sam’s pills. She hadn’t meant to sell her soul to save Sam. She hadn’t meant —
Mary’s hunger faded. She knew her safety grew as thin as the cardboard tent she desperately clung to with frostbitten fingertips. The wind snatched her walls like a greedy child, and the time for regret passed away. She watched them go — demented acrobats tumbling down the alley.
She stared into the face of her nemesis now, but the foe proved too great. Her fists shook before they became still. “Rest now,” January whispered.