Echoes Fiction Winners Pt. 2

The Memory Keeper [Fiction]

by Kailin Carter

Runner­-Up for Fiction in the Echoes Writing Contest

The Memory Keeper

        If anyone had been in the room, they would have seen him after their eyes adjusted to the pale orange sunlight blotted out by layers of gauzy curtains that hung over the single window. A man who worked in a way that was at once methodical and frantic, each movement intentional and precise, and yet with an intensity that would have seemed to onlookers, had there been any, to be that of a man who was sure he would not see another sunrise. They might have seen him pause to inspect an object on the dark wooden surface of the desk or make an adjustment to one of the sketches that clung uncertainly to the tabletop held down by smooth rocks or glass jars. If someone had been standing in the middle of the dark room they would have been surrounded by mismatched cabinets and dark wooden hutches. They would have seen jars of organs and animals suspended in yellowing alcohol, bright white bones that seemed to glow in the solemn room, bits of gold and jewels strewn everywhere, paintbrushes, teacups, and tools. If someone had been in that solitary room and if they had dared to look closely, past the man sitting at the desk, then they just might have seen the tiny portrait of a little girl with raven hair and bright eyes. However, no one else stood in the room, and the only eyes that gazed quietly at the soft face of the little girl belonged to the aging man.

****

The Man:

London, November 8th 1766

A half eaten slab of bread sits under a pile of orange rinds on a plate, the drying memories of his last meal, almost two days ago. A steady diet of obsession and forgetfulness has thinned the man’s pale face. In patches his greying hair has been returned to its raven complexion by repeated raking with ink-stained fingers. A smudge of red paint has attached itself just below his dark brown eyes, the consequence of a careless swipe of the hand.

        The man stops for a moment, thinking, and pushes away from the desk, sliding across the knotted wood panels of the floor, disturbing a small black cat that darts to the other side of the little room and jumps onto one of the cabinets. As the cat curls up behind a large glass jar with a pair of lungs suspended in sickly yellow liquid, the man runs a long white finger down a tower of burgundy drawers. He pulls the tooled silver snakehead and the drawer slides outward, revealing rows of ornate glassy wings, butterflies and moths held down by long metal pins, each with a small handwritten label. He leans over the tray, chewing his mouth as he thinks, reading the words he wrote many years before, a mix of complex Latin names and colours. He lets his eyes go in and out of focus, seeing the wings first as wings and then as a mess of vivid colour; bright reds and yellows smear with deep purples and blues. Everything snaps back in to form and the man pauses on one set of wings. In the center of the tray a long pin holds the thick black body of a creature with long midnight wings. He rubs his fingers down the rough wool of his trousers producing a small streak of black from some spot of ink that hadn’t yet dried. Slowly he pulls the pin from the shell of the creature. He stabs the sharp point into the label below the butterfly, Nightwing. The velvety wings are the deep blue colour of a star-less midnight, flecks of black powder their surface growing closer together until, at the tips, it is completely black. The man picks the hollow creature up carefully and places it lightly in the palm of his almost white hand. Against his pale skin the wings seem to be an ink drawing, the precise lines and shading seem to be drawn on his paper thin skin. The man takes a heavy breath of reverence, a silent mourning for the loss of something so beautiful.

        He lays the winged creature’s body down on the desk next to a detailed sketch of a skull with swirling, crazed markings etched into the raw bone. The man takes a roll of thin wire from a cluttered drawer in the desk, and methodically unrolls it so that it reaches from the tips of his bony fingers to the dip on the front of his elbow. He snips off the sections with a small knife. With a flash of phosphorus and sparks he lights a tall candle, after the top has become a reservoir of molten wax, he dips one end of the wire into the hot liquid over and over until the point of the wire is completely hidden under layers of wax. He then carefully picks up the butterfly once more and through the hole left by the pin he threads the wax-less end of the wire. He pulls the thread through until the black body of the creature is resting on the wax pedestal. Holding the end of the wire he suspends the wings high above the desk; he rubs the wire between his fingers so that the butterfly spins, alive once more for just an instant. The man lowers it’s lifeless wings back to the surface of the desk and ties a loop in the end of the wire. He slides it on to the finger of a skeletal arm secured to the top of a jewelry box. The hand hangs past the edge of the large wooden box so that when the man secures the wire-bound butterfly to the bony finger, it hangs over the side and sways in the air. The man leans back in his chair deep in thought, looking at the dark, lifeless wings. The black cat paws at the man’s leg, and the man pulls the small mass of fur on to his lap.

        “It will be so beautiful,” He marvels to the cat, “she would love it so.” Slowly the slight smile fades from his face. The cat purrs quietly and nuzzles against the warmth of the man’s stomach.

The Letter:

London, November 29th, 1746

The letter came sealed with pale blue wax pressed with an unfamiliar mark. When the man pulled the wax away from the paper he could tell that the looping script of his wife’s hand did not bring happy news. He pressed himself to read the words nonetheless. He shuddered and sank in to the desk chair, the letters seemed uneven as though the hand that wrote them had been trembling. He pulled his eyes across the page.

My Dearest Charles,

      It is so Wonderful, here. Lydia is absolutely Enchanted with it. You would not believe your Senses. The Snow has started to fall.

However, I am afraid I am writing with harsher News, my dear, I have chosen to stay here in the Colonies with my Brother. I wish I was not such a coward, but I worry what the Voyage to England would do to poor Lydia’s Health. She was so miserable on the trip here. I do hope You will join us one day; Lydia misses you desperately. She asks for her Papa almost every day. Why did you have to stay Home? Why did you not come with Us? Oh, my darling, that life of yours. It is no good for the Soul to be with so much Death, and then to come home and make Play of such Awful things. My darling, darling, Charles, I wish you had Traveled with us away from all those nasty things. Was I not enough, was our darling Child, your Lydia, not enough to drag you away from all that Death? Can God pardon your soul? Can He pardon mine for leaving you in such a state? Please, Charles, now is your Chance to make the right choice. I do not ask that you join us, only that you turn to something Brighter in our absence. Do not fall farther into the Darkness you have chosen as a life. Remember our Glowing daughter. She is so happy here, remember that. Do not scorn us for leaving, or staying. I do only what is Best for Lydia.

      My dear, dear Charles, I will Forever be yours,

The signature was smudged; the ink had not been given enough time to dry before the paper was hastily folded and stuffed into the envelope.

        The man read the words over again, tears drawing lines down his dusty cheeks. Every time his eyes traced across the page, the letters ran together, blurring until only six words were in focus. Your Lydia is mine now. Forever. He crushed the letter into the very back of the desk drawer. His entire body trembled with weeping. The little black cat stared up at the whimpering man, as it watched the man seemed to calm himself. Taking a shaking breath the man picked up a cup of cold tea. He turned it around in his hands, running his fingernail over the chip on the rim, and then with one final violent sob, hurled the cup at the wall. As it shattered, the cat skittered to the other side of the room, leaving a gouge in the wood floor. The man collapsed forward on to the piles of paper on the desk. He sat in silence for a few minutes, and then got up, tucked his shirt into his trousers, and straightened his dark hair.

London, September 29th, 1746

        “Papa,” Lydia’s soft voice traveled up the stairs to the man’s ears, “Papa, where are you?” Charles looked up from the papers in front of him. Grabbing the cases beside the desk, he stood up. As he started down the steep stairway another sound crashed through the room. At the familiar rhythmic thumping on the door, he left his luggage in the middle of the staircase and ran the short distance to the door.

        “Constable,” he greeted the tall uniformed man on the doorstep. The officer’s short blond hair was smashed under a thick wool hat that had obviously been made for him by someone who cared enough to protect him from the cold London air. Charles was all but dwarfed standing in front of the young constable.

        “We `ave another one for ya. `E’s laid out in front of some poor lady’s flat,” the young man said through the biting cold, then after a second adding, “sir.”

        “Papa,” Lydia said, peeking from behind her father to stare at the lanky man, “are we going to leave soon?” The girl had just started to grow into her big eyes. Her black hair was almost bone-straight, reaching down to her soft shoulders. One of her front teeth was still missing so when she spoke, she sounded much younger than her eight years.

        Charles nodded to the constable, who turned around to wait by the two-horse carriage that was parked in front of the flat. Closing the door, the man turned to his daughter. Lydia looked up at him with her holey smile. He bent down on his knee in front of her.

        “Papa needs to go to work, darling,” he said, sweetly, to the little girl, “it is very important.”

        “Mother said it is time to leave,” Lydia replied, confusion clear on her face.

        “Tell mother I will meet you both at the docks soon,” he said as he dashed out into the cold London morning. He could hear Lydia start to sniffle as she called for her mother.

        “Going somewhere, sir?” the constable asked, as he helped Charles into the carriage. The younger man’s voice was warped by a less than ideal childhood— growing up in the workhouses, followed by many months trying to hide the accent his father had given him, along with the blisters and bruises. His black constabulary uniform, scarred by many nights clearing out the public houses and subduing drunken fights, had been stitched up by hand  with thread that was not quite black enough. Nonetheless his shoes and his face shined with all the pride of a man that had been born wrapped in velvet and silk. Charles had worked with the young man before, and though the work would never be called pleasant, he always enjoyed seeing the determined constable.

        “Visiting my wife’s brother in the colonies,” Charles answered, “quite a treat for my Lydia.” As he spoke, the cold air grabbed his words, spinning them into clouds of ice that hung in front of his nose until the next sound blew them away. He wrapped his charcoal woolen coat tighter, trying to keep the London morning at bay. He shivered a little as he stuffed his exposed hands into the pockets on the worn grey garment. His gloves were tucked away in his luggage on the stairway of his apartment.

* * * *

        When he arrived home, Charles found his bags had been moved to the bottom of the staircase. What he did not find was the small note from his wife, sitting on the step above them:

Charles,

We left for the Docks. Lydia and I will wait for you there. I hope you join us this time. This is the last chance, Charles. We are getting on that boat to-day.

Your loving wife.

                    Penelope

She had had no reason to sign the note, but she hoped that it would remind him. She might have been right, but Charles was intent on writing his notes from the day, that he walked right past the note and fell into the chair at his cluttered desk. He wrote until his eyes closed and his lolled forward over the words.

London, September 30th, 1746

        When the man woke the apartment sat silently around him, its emptiness was as real as the black spot that had spread from the nib of his pen as he slept with it poised on the page.

London, November 8th 1766

        The man wrenches the desk drawer open, rifling through the endless sheets of notes. Finally he pulls the paper he had been looking for out. He runs the crumpled paper back and forth on the edge of the desk, trying to smooth out the ancient wrinkles. The paper cracks in a few places, nearly twenty years has made the old letter brittle, like a week-old orange rind. The man presses the paper down on the desk with hands until it lies flat. He leans forward, reading the words his wife had written, for the first time in so many years ago. Again his eyes can only focus on those six words: Your Lydia is mine now. Forever. This time there are no stinging tears, no shaking sobs. The man stares intently at the words as they spell out a truth he cannot let himself believe.

        He reaches for the plate on the edge of the desk, dumping the crusts and orange rinds off onto the floor. He blows the rest of the crumbs off, and they scatter across the wooden floor. The cat hops down from its perch, behind a glass jar of beads and buttons collected from people that had no need for them. The man pulls the cork out of a bottle of deep black ink. He tips the mouth over the cream-coloured plate, pouring out the pitch-like liquid.

        The man dips his finger into the small black lake and starts to smear the letter with dark swirls. His body starts to shake as his hand moves more frantically over the old words. Again and again he covers his fingertips in ink, circling around six tiny words. He keeps smearing the paper with black until there is nothing but the only sentence that ever meant anything. Your Lydia is mine now, forever. He reads it over and over: your Lydia is mine now, forever rubbing his ink-stained hands together Your Lydia is mine now, forever now the black reaches all the way to his elbow. Your Lydia is mine now, forever he brings his hands to his face, ink mixing with tears.

*************

Perfect Timing [Fiction]

by Tammy Tao

Runner­-Up for Fiction in the Echoes Writing Contest

Perfect Timing

I was happy to be able to escape from the end of volleyball season celebration that includes so many unavoidable small talks with twenty parents of my teammates, because it was awkward for both sides. The parents were thinking, it must be hard for me to play my best in every game without support of my family, so they tried extra hard to find topics to discuss with me, since I am always being considered as a Chinese girl who is too quiet to be in American society. However, they usually failed. I may look lonely, but I enjoy being an introvert on my very own small little tiny planet. The worst thing is, I can’t refuse the parents by saying, “Sorry I don’t want to talk to you”. That is mean. That is not polite. So most of the time I just keep a smiley face. Everyone loves a smiley face.

There was one dad who came straight to me, full of friendliness in his eyes when he found me sitting alone next to the window, observing how passengers wrapped themselves with heavy coats and thick scarves in this cold, windy winter morning.

“How are you, Tammy?” That’s the standard beginning of a small talk with my classmates’ parents, which is something I would never know until I came to this American high school, then met a bunch of unfamiliar classmates’ parents during Open House and was forced to pretend that I had great interest in chatting with them. It’s only because, in their point of view, I am first a Chinese, then whatever else. Therefore, I am always representing my country, no matter I want or not.

“Good, how are you?” I smiled. Just to point this out again because it is useful and important: If you don’t know what else you can say, just smile.

He continued, saying, “Great. It’s so nice to see everyone around.”

“Yeah, it is!” Most of my teammates are “lifers” in OES, so they all hang out with their fixed friend groups. I rarely talk with them at school, but I can see that they act differently around certain people. It’s good to see my teammates out of school days, free from kinds of pressure and from being themselves. That’s the only moment when I feel they are real.

Noticing that nobody else is coming around to chat with me, he stayed and asked, “Did you watch the football game? The big one!”

“What?” I could see my reflection in his glasses. My eyes were totally blank.

He went on saying, “The ^$$^^&&*(I can’t remember what were the two team names he mentioned!) versus ^&&^%^%& one…”, then realized that I don’t watch football games. He rubbed his palms, at a loss as to how to pick up the conversation again, with an awkward smile.

I didn’t mean to create this kind of situation, so I quickly added a sentence, “I only watch volleyball games.”

Then I could see there were sparkles in his eyes again. “Oh really? Did you watch the game that &&*^$$^^ university(I can’t remember what were the two team names he mentioned!) played against ^&&^%^%& college?”

“Sorry, I didn’t, and I haven’t watched a volleyball game for four years.” I knew these words were going to bring him down again, but I could not even pretend that I understood him. He frowned, probably thinking “How can you not watch volleyball games when you are a varsity volleyball player?”, then there was that dead silence between us. Awkward awkward awkward.

“Hey, it’s time to get food. Begin with the volleyball ladies.” It’s Jen, my volleyball coach, my lifesaver.

**********

Bridge of Sighs [Fiction]

by Vanessa Le

Runner-­Up for Fiction in the Echoes Writing Contest

January 2016

Bridge of Sighs

The palace. As a child, he imagined growing up in one: the marbled floors of the grand ballroom, clicking and swishing with nobles’ shoes and dresses; every gold-framed painting that spanned the walls and yielded to the curvature of the ceilings; the austere pillars lining the exterior that boasted uniformity and order; and the stunning view of the sun shimmering off the Canal Grande.

        But this was not the case. Cosimo knew intimately the dark side of Palazzo Ducale, the place mothers would close their child’s ears to when spoken about, the place only ever known through hushed whispers. He grew accustomed to its lingering darkness when the sun dipped too low to be caught in the grated windows. The cycle of the days he memorized, but the dates he’d long since forgotten. Those numbers had disappeared with the monotony of the morning chills, the midday swelter, and the perpetual smell of brine in the wood.

        That morning, when they came and said they’d be transferring some of the prisoners, including him, out of the Old Prison, he would’ve leapt in rejoice if his bony knees could still lift him off the ground. The cells in the Old Prison, the pozzi, were less than humane, although it had been a while since Cosimo had been familiar with the term. Still, the grimy wet walls reeked of mold and festering disease, and the pungent oil lamps turned the air in their cramped stone cells into suffocating smog. That, and the smell of human waste, made the cells more a prison than did the thick stone walls, or the uniformed guards prowling the corridors, or the metal grating that snuffed out the light of every window.

        The Prigioni Nuove, they told him, the New Prison. Which meant fresh air and clean walls and maybe even an overlook into the Canal Grande of Venezia, along which shores he’d played and laughed and matured. All day long, Cosimo had pined for the sweet smell of the sun-kissed waters and the view of Venezia’s red-shingled rooftops, all lined up like a patch of the rolling country knolls.

        Whenever he closed his eyelids he’d see the dancing waves, a memory that’d lost color with time. Sometimes there would be fish by the thousands, and sometimes he’d smell the bitter tang of ducats and oily leather that had tempted him in the first place.

        “What are you smiling about, Cosimo?” asked the inmate across from his cell, Bartolomeo. He cast Cosimo a leery gaze, no doubt suspecting a sinister reasoning behind the incongruous smile.

        “Prigioni Nuove,” Cosimo replied, with all the reverence of a worshipper. The words felt light on his tongue and he rolled his ‘r’ like a purr.

        Bartolomeo laughed, but it fell on Cosimo’s ears like the harsh cry of a raven. “Lovestruck, are we? I’m afraid the New Prison is nothing but a sneaky vixen, my friend.”

        “Is that so?”

        “A cage is a cage—you go in and you never come back out. That prison might be newer, but at least we know the conditions this one has to offer.”

        “Yes, I know the small windows and dull light very well.”

        Bartolomeo shrugged. “At least this prison has windows.”

        That was easy for Bartolomeo to say; his cell sat on the side of the water, with a barred circle of a window that showed the slightest sliver of blue if Cosimo peered through it atop his bed. During the summer evenings, for about an hour, the circle of light stretched nearly to Cosimo’s cell. If he reached his hand through the metal grate of his door, his fingers could just barely graze the dusty beam of light.

        Before Cosimo could argue, a guard stalked down the hall, lurching to a stop in front of Cosimo’s cell. He swayed and wobbled as he turned to verify the cell’s occupancy, and the smell of alcohol on him overshadowed the stink of the prison—drinking on the job, then. Cosimo felt the same giddiness inside, though intoxicated by excitement rather than by the drink, as the guard opened the door and cuffed him. He made a comment about the smell and Cosimo remembered that not everyone lived in their own filth as he and his fellow inmates did.

        But that was all about to change.

        As the guard walked him down the corridor and up the stairs, Cosimo’s heart jumped in elation. It didn’t stop pounding even as they rounded the corner to the enclosed bridge that spanned the Rio de Palazzo, the narrow arch of its walkway made smaller by the tall walls on either side. It took his eyes a moment to adjust, but when they did, he saw sunlight. Warm, real, yellow sunlight that streamed through the stone fretwork on the windows and splattered against the opposite wall, where Cosimo could reach out his cuffed hands to touch. At the end of the bridge awaited his promised land, but its arched entryway was encased in darkness.

        “Prigioni Nuove?” Cosimo rasped, blinking as though the blackness beyond the bridge was a product of his old eyes.

        “Welcome to your new home,” grunted the guard, holding his hand out down the hall. In the guard’s eyes Cosimo saw something he’d mistaken first for weariness, the side effect of the alcohol. But now, he remembered the look, the same one he’d seen in the eyes of the Venezians three years ago, when he first walked into the darkness of the palace prisons. It was the look of pity.

Cosimo trudged forward on haggard feet, but lingered by the bridge’s window. Through the gaps in the fretwork he saw the lagoon, blinding in its brilliance. The deepest turquoise, the purest white, and familiar ochre all gleamed back at him. Sitting atop the horizon of water glowed the Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore, with such a dome and tower that he could see even from where he stood. He pressed his nose through the hole and managed to intake one full breath of fragrant air before the guard pressed him on.

“We haven’t all day now,” the guard said, and Cosimo continued without pause, though his gaze stayed with the window. As he passed from the light and let the dark take him, he let out one last, wistful breath. A sigh.

******

Bridge of Sighs [Fiction]

by Vanessa Le

Runner-­Up for Fiction in the Echoes Writing Contest

Bridge of Sighs

The palace. As a child, he imagined growing up in one: the marbled floors of the grand ballroom, clicking and swishing with nobles’ shoes and dresses; every gold-framed painting that spanned the walls and yielded to the curvature of the ceilings; the austere pillars lining the exterior that boasted uniformity and order; and the stunning view of the sun shimmering off the Canal Grande.

        But this was not the case. Cosimo knew intimately the dark side of Palazzo Ducale, the place mothers would close their child’s ears to when spoken about, the place only ever known through hushed whispers. He grew accustomed to its lingering darkness when the sun dipped too low to be caught in the grated windows. The cycle of the days he memorized, but the dates he’d long since forgotten. Those numbers had disappeared with the monotony of the morning chills, the midday swelter, and the perpetual smell of brine in the wood.

        That morning, when they came and said they’d be transferring some of the prisoners, including him, out of the Old Prison, he would’ve leapt in rejoice if his bony knees could still lift him off the ground. The cells in the Old Prison, the pozzi, were less than humane, although it had been a while since Cosimo had been familiar with the term. Still, the grimy wet walls reeked of mold and festering disease, and the pungent oil lamps turned the air in their cramped stone cells into suffocating smog. That, and the smell of human waste, made the cells more a prison than did the thick stone walls, or the uniformed guards prowling the corridors, or the metal grating that snuffed out the light of every window.

        The Prigioni Nuove, they told him, the New Prison. Which meant fresh air and clean walls and maybe even an overlook into the Canal Grande of Venezia, along which shores he’d played and laughed and matured. All day long, Cosimo had pined for the sweet smell of the sun-kissed waters and the view of Venezia’s red-shingled rooftops, all lined up like a patch of the rolling country knolls.

        Whenever he closed his eyelids he’d see the dancing waves, a memory that’d lost color with time. Sometimes there would be fish by the thousands, and sometimes he’d smell the bitter tang of ducats and oily leather that had tempted him in the first place.

        “What are you smiling about, Cosimo?” asked the inmate across from his cell, Bartolomeo. He cast Cosimo a leery gaze, no doubt suspecting a sinister reasoning behind the incongruous smile.

        “Prigioni Nuove,” Cosimo replied, with all the reverence of a worshipper. The words felt light on his tongue and he rolled his ‘r’ like a purr.

        Bartolomeo laughed, but it fell on Cosimo’s ears like the harsh cry of a raven. “Lovestruck, are we? I’m afraid the New Prison is nothing but a sneaky vixen, my friend.”

        “Is that so?”

        “A cage is a cage—you go in and you never come back out. That prison might be newer, but at least we know the conditions this one has to offer.”

        “Yes, I know the small windows and dull light very well.”

        Bartolomeo shrugged. “At least this prison has windows.”

        That was easy for Bartolomeo to say; his cell sat on the side of the water, with a barred circle of a window that showed the slightest sliver of blue if Cosimo peered through it atop his bed. During the summer evenings, for about an hour, the circle of light stretched nearly to Cosimo’s cell. If he reached his hand through the metal grate of his door, his fingers could just barely graze the dusty beam of light.

        Before Cosimo could argue, a guard stalked down the hall, lurching to a stop in front of Cosimo’s cell. He swayed and wobbled as he turned to verify the cell’s occupancy, and the smell of alcohol on him overshadowed the stink of the prison—drinking on the job, then. Cosimo felt the same giddiness inside, though intoxicated by excitement rather than by the drink, as the guard opened the door and cuffed him. He made a comment about the smell and Cosimo remembered that not everyone lived in their own filth as he and his fellow inmates did.

        But that was all about to change.

        As the guard walked him down the corridor and up the stairs, Cosimo’s heart jumped in elation. It didn’t stop pounding even as they rounded the corner to the enclosed bridge that spanned the Rio de Palazzo, the narrow arch of its walkway made smaller by the tall walls on either side. It took his eyes a moment to adjust, but when they did, he saw sunlight. Warm, real, yellow sunlight that streamed through the stone fretwork on the windows and splattered against the opposite wall, where Cosimo could reach out his cuffed hands to touch. At the end of the bridge awaited his promised land, but its arched entryway was encased in darkness.

        “Prigioni Nuove?” Cosimo rasped, blinking as though the blackness beyond the bridge was a product of his old eyes.

        “Welcome to your new home,” grunted the guard, holding his hand out down the hall. In the guard’s eyes Cosimo saw something he’d mistaken first for weariness, the side effect of the alcohol. But now, he remembered the look, the same one he’d seen in the eyes of the Venezians three years ago, when he first walked into the darkness of the palace prisons. It was the look of pity.

Cosimo trudged forward on haggard feet, but lingered by the bridge’s window. Through the gaps in the fretwork he saw the lagoon, blinding in its brilliance. The deepest turquoise, the purest white, and familiar ochre all gleamed back at him. Sitting atop the horizon of water glowed the Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore, with such a dome and tower that he could see even from where he stood. He pressed his nose through the hole and managed to intake one full breath of fragrant air before the guard pressed him on.

“We haven’t all day now,” the guard said, and Cosimo continued without pause, though his gaze stayed with the window. As he passed from the light and let the dark take him, he let out one last, wistful breath. A sigh.

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