“it’s a skyhook,” he said, swinging the cord in slow, faintly humming circles at his side.

Culvert watched closely, clutching tight the coin he’d won from the bragging bride in Brixton. (luck. it clings to such small things.) his eyes were fixed on the man’s hands, the placement of each finger and the wrapping of the strand, which seemed too thin to hold the weight of the iron-cast bird he’d entangled. Culvert was beyond being shy about watching dextr’ous displays; his own hands had been mangled in the papermill’s machine, and that gave him warrant enough, he wagered, to stare at any sleighthand-slyman’s scenes.

“whakinna bird izzat hook, t’en?” Culvert laughed, and coughed. “looks a finch, like, t’at ‘n.”

“it’s a sparrow,” said the man, swinging it faster in a butterfly pattern; that hum was edging closer, now, to loud. his eyes were fixed on the sky’s only cloud, a nimbus fast approaching from the north. he was rocking heel to toe now, back and forth. it was near noon. he was whispering “soon.” Culvert leaned in, eyes still on the man’s hands, and began to ask (again) about this stranger’s strange plans when a shadow fell over the hill. the man heaved overhand, overhead, straight up into the belly of the billow, and what Culvert saw then sent him sleepstruck and sideways—sky for bed, and cloud for pillow.

some while later he stood, and blinked, and shook his head, and shut his mouth. far off and high in that blue summer sky, a cirrus floated silently south.

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