By Thomas M. Disch
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No more than that. His fingers curled round it. Dark veins squirmed across white flesh. She looked away (the lowest clouds were now the color flesh 71 72 / THOMAS M . DISCH should be), but not before she had imagined Arcadius dead, and swarming. No, the historical Alexa would have dreamt up nothing so patently medieval. Ashes? At most. He flung the stone out into the steaming field. Merriam rose to her feet, one arm extended in a gesture of protest. Who was this strange girl, this wisp of a wife?
Out of the long grass, a deep burp. And again the burp. The timer on the oven? No, there was still—she checked her watch—a quarter-hour before Willa's pies came out and her own daube went in. Merriam faded to a gape. Worn strips of maple replaced the damp, elaborate grass, and the toad— It was the garbage bell. Had she remembered? She rose and rounded the bend of corridor into the kitchen just as the platform inside the shaft dropped. Bags from 7 and 8 came down the chute, rattling, and far below, muffled, it all smashed together into the smasher.
They looked at each other. The thought that came, unexpected and so dissembled, was: How old she looks! how altered! The twenty years that had merely nibbled at Alexa (twenty-four, in fact) had simply heaped themselves on Loretta Couplard like a blizzard. In '02 she had been a passably pretty girl. Now she was a fat old hen. Dissembling, Alexa stood up and bent forward to kiss the pink doughy cheek (they would not, so long as a kiss lasted, see each other's dismay), but the earphones reined her in inches short of her goal.