“Why does each man kill the thing he loves?” she’d asked him that day at Dante’s View. Hot and smoggy, the sunset coming a little earlier each day, heady with the scent of laurel sumac, the bright pungent green that was the smell of California, merging with the smell of water in the little oasis. They lay on their picnic tables, shaded with eucalyptuses, guarded by giant agaves twelve feet across, fleshy and blue-gray and edged with thorns. Prehistoric. Her soft dress floating around her thighs as he drew her. Reading The Ballad of Reading Gaol, a small book, an owl embossed on its cover, the pages thin as onion skins. It was about a man on his way to be executed. That line kept coming up. “I don’t get it. Why would you kill the thing you loved?”

The softness of his voice, even now, under the deodars in the Court of Freedom, her feet in the grass over his silent body, she could hear his voice, clear but soft, you had to stop whatever you were doing, and lean close to hear it. And he had replied so quietly it took a few seconds for it to register. “You kill it before it kills you.”

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