• As he saw the woman and realized she was going to kill herself, he had just finished wiping his hands with a wet wipe. The dull, loud voice of an exasperated man getting off before him still ringing like a church bell in his head:
    ‘Could we please get off first!’
    In the grimy windows of the restless train he had caught a glimpse of himself. A pale, egg-shaped head.
    There was never any doubt. Somehow he recognized the apathy in her eyes, the drooping shoulders. The way she walked backwards, ready to run towards the opposite track for a final appointment with the square, merciless front of the approaching train.
    What startled him was the realization that there could be time to grab her before she succeeded.

    Until then it had been an ordinary day for Al Owen.
    Upon wakening he had taken a shower, washed his hands and drowned them in disinfectant. After breakfast washed his hands again, put on more disinfectant, brushed his teeth and used dental floss, re-washed, put on skin lotion - since his hands were so dry the knuckles were striped with blood - and after a final application of disinfectant he was ready for work.
    Outside cold, unmistakably clean air. Birdsong and the sound of sobbing.
    On a bench in the playground, a young girl in black jacket with a hood covering everything but some strands of blonde hair. Snivelling into a cellular phone:
    “But why? You know I love you.”
    That’s never enough, he thought. Her words unleashed the unwanted memories of the two women.
    His mother.
    Six years old and fatherless, lying upstairs he heard her laugh. Pant. Cry. The couch downstairs squeaking under the weight of hot, clammy flesh. He needed to pee, but the door was locked. As he opened the window to wet the gravel beneath, he looked up at the stars. Could they break free if they wished to or were they prisoners like him?
    He had thought of his mother as a woman with a constant need to explore new men. It was only when he was seventeen he realized she got paid.
    Convinced he would never have a girlfriend, he met her at a conference. Age 27. They had fallen in love, though in the beginning he wasn’t ready for that hackneyed word. One day he was and decided to surprise her.
    ‘I’d like seven roses. Red.’ Failing to keep his voice steady.
    ‘You know that in the language of flowers this means you love her, right?’ The grey-headed man on the other side of the counter making him feel like a little boy being told he had done something bad.
    He nodded reluctantly.
    ‘Well,’ the man said, ‘I’m sure she’s worth it.’
    As he got to her apartment, he removed the brown paper, entered through the unlocked door and found her in bed with another man. Threw up on a rag-rug on the way out. Died.
    After that he never made love. Instead he emptied his yearning into an inflatable doll. Into a lifeless, bottomless pit. Emotions excluded.
    At 33 he had a job as a gardener in order to be out in the air all day. The trip to work made endurable only by the wet wipes he always wore in the inside pocket of his coat.
    The silent shade of rhododendron and hibiscus had been his workplace for almost ten years when it occurred. When he saw her.

    He made a decision.
    Only that there was no real decision to be made, it was more like the long-awaited breaking of an evil spell. A release.
    The littered platform turned into a river as he ran. The woman who had been standing still - a frozen snapshot of existence – finally took a swift step. Followed by another. A movement towards death.
    He ran, each step becoming lighter, as if he took the last three steps soaring in midair, transformed into a bird.

    When he got home, he emptied the can with disinfectant into the bathtub and threw all the wet wipes.
    Then - with a bang that seemed to shake the earth to its very foundations – the inflatable doll was punctured.
    As if by a shining beak.