The magnificent oppression of getting things done. Such as sitting in the waiting area of the automotive tire place. He felt such time-sucks as a huge gargoyle sitting on his shoulder until it got done. What he'd rather have done instead with the time was hard to say.

A flat tire was the equivalent of an assassination for him. One of many kinds of assassinations of weekly living.

There's only one other customer in there, a slightly older black man. Whatever that meant, slightly older. Fraught with implications about sensitivity to his own age. Like joking in front of teenagers about how old you are: that's when you really called attention to it, and making them notice. Not that they didn't notice, but being aware of your joking about it made this wall, and he knew that if he was the kind who really didn't care about them noticing, he wouldn't joke about it. But he did. And could not make himself stop.

Something about looking at magazines that had thumb prints all over them.

He sat in the synthetic-rubber odor of the waiting area, hands on knees. The music, with no visible source, was too loud. Country music. He felt like a target. Unreasonably, he knew that, but allowed himself to feel it.

The man was holding, and actually reading a newspaper. Martin's gargoyle grew palpably lighter, almost poised to take flight.

Even though the paper was thick, not local.

He felt virtually warm to the man, a decent-looking type who looked as if he'd weathered the vicissitudes of life with grace.

"Makes it hard to resist the urge to slap your knee, huh?"

"I'm sorry?"

"This music. Can't believe they play this kind of stuff. Not like they give you a choice, either. Don't exactly want to hear about the virtues of hound dogs and black-eyed peas while waiting to get my tire fixed, huh?"

"I actually kind of like it."


"Might be a presumption to think I wouldn't, you know."

"I didn't mean--"

"It's OK. No harm taken."

"No really, I wasn't thinking, because you-- I just have such a strong aversion, that is."

"That don't mean the next step is I have all of Charley Pride's recordings."

"No, I would never. And some of it's pretty good, I don't mean the more pop stuff, the older, I mean more . . . authentic--"

"I prefer the artists who have a little, say, sophistication. Occasionally the knee-slapping charts can get a little complex. And I doubt you will find better artists of the guitar in any field, save purely classical ones." The man flipped the page over and gave Martin a smile, a kind of benevolent one. Fatherly, say. No harm taken.

What in the hell was taking so long out there? If his own face was black it wouldn't feel so relentlessly red.