Victor Franks, because he worked nights, and perhaps because his metabolism, as his ex-wife once suggested, was slower than average, did not function very well in the morning. He was a man who lacked the few simple habits that breed contentment. Thus, when he found himself awake before noon, as he did today, he was not able to walk through the rituals of coffee-making or pet-feeding with his eyes half-closed, the way most of us can, and take a modest comfort in the performance of these small duties. He had loosened his grip on things too far for that. He did not own a coffee-maker, though he intended to get around to buying one soon; and his sheep dog. Milt, had been hit by a crazed Pontiac back in October, the week after Victor’s divorce papers came through. He found himself more sentimental about the dog than he would have believed possible. Certainly more than about his wife, or so he took pleasure in thinking. It was rare of late for thinking to afford him anything but pain, so he was not above indulging himself in this particular bit of fancy.

He lay upstairs in the darkened bedroom. His wife had taken the curtains with her and so he had affixed towels over the windows. They were heavy cloth, and he had nailed them in hastily, and as a result they admitted only a meager portion of light and fresh air —he could scarcely smell the plum trees in the backyard. One more item he needed to take care of.

A news spot came over the radios. He kept a little Sony in the kitchen, a giant Philco in the living room, and, on the bedtable next to his head, a cheap GE with a digital clock, and they were always on — they supplied the small, sparsely- furnished adobe house with a measure of energy and warmth —even at times, like these, when he’d have preferred to be sleeping. The news warned of refugees, wars of attrition, economic cabals. The world was full of commotion and collision; it seemed to require his full attention. He felt restless; he badly required a cigarette. But he was slow to get up. A nausea had stalled inside him, a washy flotation that afflicts the elderly and the indolent when they find only blank space on that easel in the mind that should hold the sketch of the day’s campaign. He put a hand to his swollen stomach and sighed heavily. He was thirty-eight years old. The idea struck Victor with peculiar force, though he had been thirty-eight for several months now and should have long grown used to it. He remembered his father at that age, and shuddered. It was still mid-morning—he shouldn’t even have been up for a couple of hours —and it was already feeling to Victor like the dog end of a bad day.