The talk of the town is audible again.

Normally, the whispers were gone the moment his ears trained on them, little phantoms that taunted his imagination and stoked his paranoia. They escaped down brick alleyways and withdrew behind shuttered windows and car windows blurred over with a driving rain. They wallowed into the gutter, falling into oblivion the moment he reached for them. He pursued, following them to a public place, only to find that place empty and windblown and himself an audience to a statue.

Normally, he could not catch the gaze of other people; they were always turning away, or worse yet, watching him out of the corner of their eyes, offering him the ear to make eye contact with. He sustained his gaze on the objects that earned it, but they revealed nothing to him. Instead, the elaborate buildings and the brick facades, the rusted-out cars and red umbrellas, and the rainbow of oil reflecting back in a puddle told him he was small and unimportant. But now he heard otherwise.

Something had changed in him, or as he suspected, something in the outside world had mutated. A dead magpie smeared on the yellow line dividing the road, feathers quivering in the wind; a radial hub cap ground flat on one edge, smeared with a pungent, viscous oil, and propped up against a tarnished aluminum garbage can; a blue ribbon dangling from a yellow balloon, held back from higher skies beneath the eave on the fourth floor of an apartment building, waiting patiently to deflate and float to the concrete below; a car horn that gives one last upward shriek in its call before falling silent. He perceived all of these things in an instant.

When the lady in the grey overcoat whispered quickly to her companion that the mayor was going to clean the homeless people off the streets, he had no trouble hearing it.


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