The water, to the extent you could call it that, was nearly knee-deep and rising. An elderly woman, walking her tiny dog, stopped and picked her up, staring in bewilderment at the flooded crossing. A small gaggle of people looked on, not so much at the spew from the broken main as at the old lady, wondering at the audacity that she would keep an animal for other than a meal. In fact, a few appeared to be harboring their own ill intent towards the trembling little thing.

Those thoughts were quickly dispelled as Pike approached. They gave way but didn’t disperse; Pike was no danger unless you seriously pissed him off.

As he came upon the elderly woman from behind, one of the boys from earlier timidly crept to him, and with a trembling hand offered him the cigarette from his own mouth. Pike accepted it with a nod and a wink, and the kid backed away, smiling as if he’d received a kiss on the forehead.

“He ought not to be smoking anyway,” the old lady said, scornfully but also with a sad tremor in her voice. Pike looked at her: her clothes were old and tattered but they were clean. Her hair was brushed and she even smelled relatively nice. This was a person with dignity, a person who’d somehow maintained a measure of pride since the world ended. A crack in the dignity formed as her lip trembled and her eyes watered, but she held together. She looked at the sky, then at Pike.

“Do you remember?” she asked with a quaver. “Do you remember when you could look at the sky and see something other than… shit?”

The dam burst. She wept, as much out of frustration over her loss of composure as anything else. Pike placed a hand tenderly on her shoulder.

“I’ve seen pictures. It was beautiful,” he said sadly. “Let me walk you home.”

Pike extended an elbow with a smile. He remembered at least that much about a gentleman’s behavior, and the old woman’s expression brightened as she slipped an arm through it.  The onlookers made way as they strolled the way she came.


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