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Forty-one short stories
by Holly Gramazio

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29 across

Where's he gone?

The passengers on the bus are too loud for Megumi to fall asleep, and in any case, nobody sleeps in public here. She's noticed the windowsills, spiked with metal to keep everyone off, and the benches, segmented, too narrow to lie on. Sometimes, if she walks through the university, she'll see students curled on lawns, resting their heads on piles of books or on other students' stomachs, and she'll feel homesick.

She gets off the bus after two stops, pushing through backpacks and children to the door. She's tired, and she wants to go home, but the noise is too much; she'll get a coffee and catch a later bus.

The coffee shop's no quieter. The tables are surrounded by earnest conversation, and the cushions and sofas are wasted on wide-eyed magazine readers. She takes her cup outside and keeps walking, past laughing schoolgirls and rubbish bins, past a man who obviously canít even see but who keeps his eyes open anyway, crossing into Hurtle Square and listening to the cars as they blur through the puddles. The benches are wet, and the grass is too, but she finds a patch of dry ground at the base of a tree and sits.

The square's nearly empty. There's a man on a bench across the road, unfolding a timetable, and someone walking a dog down the other end. She leans back and wonders whether she should have stayed on the bus, and whether she'd be home by now, but then the timetable flaps past. When she looks across the road, the man is leaning his head backward, mouth half-open. He's asleep.

She smiles, and wishes the dog would stop barking. It might wake him up. It gets louder, and she leans around the tree to see what's happening. It's circling a flowerbed, trailing its lead behind, but she can't see the owner, she thinks; where's he gone? Oh: he's in the flowerbed, lying on his back, displacing the petunias and almost hidden from sight. After a moment he rolls over onto one side, and then back again.

She leans against the tree and looks around. In the coffee shop, just within sight, people shut their magazines and nuzzle into cushions. In a nearby restaurant, and then another and another, waitresses tiptoe around their customers, lifting plates from under bowed heads and piling them in the kitchen next to curled-on-the-floor chefs. In a theatre on the other side of town, audience members sink down in their chairs, leaning on other people's shoulders while the actors slide towards the ground.

Seagulls edge closer to half-eaten afternoon teas. Art-gallery attendants are straight-backed in their chairs, and visitors stand below marble statues with heads tilted back, but nobody's moved for half an hour. Anaesthetists slump over their dials in operating theatres while insomniac nurses lie down with the patients and close their eyes.

Megumi listens. The traffic's motionless, the motors rising and falling with enormous snoring rumbles; she can see half a dozen cars, stopped in front of red traffic lights, the drivers asleep before they changed back to green. A cyclist leans against a telegraph pole. On the river, hidden behind a dozen intervening streets, ducks circle a drifting paddleboat, and now even the waitresses sit down, the last few plates finally cleared away. Only the bus drivers and the railway attendants are awake, steering their passengers in gentle loops around the city.