’72 Skylark, 14

The television has moved on, at last, from sports; now it’s just an aerial shot of a townhouse catching fire somewhere nearby.

Miriam shakes her head. She won’t look at me. To her, we’re strangers now caught in intense, awkward intimacy. She’d probably like to leave, but she thinks she’s been waiting for someone else. I wish she would say “sorry” again.

“People are what they are,” I say. “From birth, it’s always there.”

“You might be right,” she says, sounding hoarse, “but you’re wrong, too.”

I shrug.

“If people are what they are,” she says, “they can still choose to be the best or the worst version of what they are. You think you’re a coward, but maybe you just knew you didn’t want that kind of suffering in your life. If you hadn’t drowned in self-pity, maybe you would have found something you liked that didn’t have that pain. My brother could have become Robin Hood, or something like that, instead of stealing from the poor or from his family. Same instinct, better outcome.”

Sweet idea, I think to myself, watching the bartender disappear into the back room, either to take a final bump or to hide his stash for the night, keeping it safe for tomorrow night.

That’s when her brother walks into the bar.

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