The Naming of Things

On the hundredth night and a night the Devil returned in the guise of an old woman and pulled Colleen from the bottom of the reservoir. Air was a slap in the mouth; she spent several minutes just sucking it in and reveling in the heady, exuberant novelty of it. Nitrogen, oxygen, argon, carbon dioxide. She wrapped her arms around herself and tried to keep from shaking apart. Cold didn’t touch her the way it used to, but her body remembers it, and responds.

The Devil watched her with cold, clear eyes. “And what have you learned, my sweetness?”

Memories, of the distribution of raindrops, of traffic patterns along the path to the museum, of the discreet shifts of light as the clouds swirled and thinned but never broke. “Many things,” she said at last, and spoke of the $356.23 in change that had been thrown into the nearby fountain and the way each coin’s fall had echoed sympathetically through the reservoir; of the twenty varieties of water fowl that had rested, however briefly, above her head; of the way words bounced around and through the water.

When Colleen was dry of words, the Devil took her hand and drew her through the air. Three and a half million conversations, arguments, songs, poems, voices pummeled her, and she let herself lose consciousness. The Devil bore her on, through the night.