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My footsteps fall light on the pavement, barely tapping.

I can see the hardiest of the late-night revelersstill in their sleepy cocoons of bright false drunk happiness, bucolic ruddy faces illuminated by swinging tavern lantern-light. There is nothing here for me. I walk on. It is still in the town square. The assembly hall is dark and locked, great bell inside its steeple silent tonight. It will ring again tomorrow and tomorrows after that, its gravitas lessened by its repetitionjust like the conversations that take place here in daytimes light. Meaningless salutations, pleasantries, condolences for someones lost pig, sheep, goat, son, daughter, mother, father, sister, brother There is the church, a picturesque tableau in all its simple whitewashed glory, and soon the townspeople will fill the pews and there will be another baptism of some nameless crying baby, another marriage, bride bedecked in lace and white, another funeral in solemn black. And there will be graveness and sobriety until it all begins anew, for people forget easily that the small baby being baptized is the old manor the young onethey will lay to rest, and that their celebration is merely a procrastination Past the church is the old midwifes house, lit by a single flickering candle in the window. There are dents in her wooden door, from all the urgent knockings there, at all hours of the day or night. Next to the midwifes house is a shorter, wider house, still even in the night a faded Indian red. The garden is slightly overgrown, with vegetables sprouted and overdue for picking before the cold of winter truly sets in. There is only the darkness of shuttered windows on the first floor and on the second, a lone man, hunched over his desk, covering half his facehis aged, bearded facewith his hand. He is staring vacantly downward and blinks slowly, as if to keep a tear from spilling. Frost has lightly covered the thin glass pane, except in one placea soft round circle that frames his face. It is a circle made by the dripping exhausted candle on the desk, that has warmed the window. Soon, I know, he will replace the spent candle with another. The frost will worsen and then go, and he will pick the vegetables in the garden and paint the

house again, paint it a new and vibrant coat of Indian red. Soon the midwife will hear yet another knocking at her door, and there will be a new dent in that soft pliable wood. Soon the church will grow noisy with congratulations on another baptism, another marriage, condolences for another funeral, as will the town square where the bell will toll day after day. I wait for him to blow out the candle, pinch out the spark between his fingers, and retreat into the darkness of the house, and then I take one last glance back to the tavern where I first saw those late-night revelers in their sleepy cocoons of drunk happiness, illuminated by swinging tavern lantern-light. And now I see them, these ruddy bucolic tavern-goers, the hardiest of the hardy, finally succumb to drunken stumblings back to home, swinging their arms and legs out of their tired bright-lit taverns, where doors are closing and lanterns flickering out. I have passed the tavern and the town square and the church and the midwife and my fathers house, and now I stand in front of the plain staid cross which bears my name and the dozens more with others, and the lone red rose laid at my feet by whom I do not know. Everyone has gone to sleep, and I have just come home.

THE END