Doppler couldn’t see the Russians, but he could hear them through the paper thin walls of his room at the Gulf Breeze Motel. It had to be Russian, the strange language spilling from two voices, male and female. They were arguing—that much he could make out. All those shushes and ooshkas and other strange sounds made Doppler’s head spin, the bizarre twists and turns of consonants and vowels, mish-mashed together as if the alphabet was thrown into a blender and beaten into pudding.

Doppler stuck his ear to the wall and closed his eyes. A maid vacuumed in the far adjoining room, the oscillating whirwhirwhir fading in and out like stock cars careening past the grandstand at Talladega. The Russian woman—perhaps standing only a few feet from his ear—was getting worked up, her words breaking from a trot into a full-on sprint, syllables colliding in a vast pileup that Doppler had no hope of understanding. Her words slowed down and imploded into a fit of weeping, followed by a final burst of shouting from the man, punctuated by the slam of a door. Doppler listened to the girl’s sobs decay into sporadic whimpers. He pushed away from the wall.

Russians. What were they doing here? Not just these two, but all the others he seemed to come across as of late. It was pure insanity, he thought. Who was letting them into the country in the first place? And why on God’s green earth would they gravitate to the Panhandle? Didn’t they prefer cold, gray, dismal weather? It seemed to Doppler that they would be better suited somewhere like Minnesota or Iowa or out of the States altogether, maybe a remote Canadian province. But here they moved, to the sunshine and salty air of northwest Florida. It was a weird fit, to say the least. They’d be lucky to ever get another chance to break out one of those funny looking fuzzy winter hats that Russians always seemed to be wearing.

Doppler sat on the edge of his bed in his boxers, staring at his reflection in the mirror over the desk. It was his second day at the Gulf Breeze. The first motel he’d lived at had caught fire, on account of some assholes cooking meth in their room.

He was thirty-four years old, though he told everyone at the beach that he was twenty-nine. All the sunshine over the last two months had darkened his face, but conversely lightened his brown hair into a dirty blond mane that was dangerously close to a mullet, thanks to that idiot over at Supercuts. He’d lost weight also, thanks to his two jobs: a full time gig at Happy Laundering, picking up dirty linens from a collection of small beachfront motels that didn’t have their own machines, plus a weekend gig on the beach helping Mason Childs run his parasail rental.

At first he’d resented the downgrade back to the service industry after a decade of working as a file clerk at the Covington County courthouse across the state line in Alabama, but after a few months at it he had to admit to himself that he actually liked both his new jobs. Nothing too heavy to think about, just hit the motels and load the van with the gargantuan bags of dirty sheets and towels and haul it all over to Happy’s. Working the parasail was even easier, with sunburn the only real drawback.

Doppler couldn’t help but admire his new tan in the mirror, despite his fear of melanoma. At least these days he had the good sense to use sunblock. As a kid at the beach he suffered terribly from multiple cases of severe sun poisoning. The burned skin on his forearms and shins and the backs of his knees would sprout bubbles that eventually burst, gushing a clear fluid that he’d collect in a Dixie cup and force his kid sister to drink. He couldn’t remember anybody using sunblock back in those days.

Doppler stretched his arms and farted, not feeling in much of a hurry to do anything. Today was a Sunday; normally he would be at the beach already with Mason and Beaker, strapping tourists into a parasail harness before giving the thumbs-up for Beaker to gun the boat out past the sandbar and pull the hapless civilian up into the sky. But Mason had decided to drive up to Ponce de Leon to visit his ailing grandmother, giving Doppler and Beaker the day off.

Today there would be no work to keep his mind off the pending divorce. It was Leah’s call, not his. He had no say in it, so why bother even going there? Still, he couldn’t help but replay the six years of marriage plus two years of living together prior to tying the knot. They’d enjoyed a pretty good life together, he thought, decent jobs and whatnot. But that was the problem, wasn’t it? To her they were merely existing, and not truly living.

For one, there wasn’t a whole lot to do in tiny Florala, plus he wasn’t particularly inclined toward travel, with the exception of trips to the beaches along the Panhandle, which he had loved since he was an infant. At first, that was enough, a simple, small-town life juiced up by the occasional coastal excursion. But it got old for her, and she let him know it. “I didn’t think I was marrying such a homebody,” she’d say when he balked at flying to some big city or foreign country. Then again, it wasn’t like he was some backwards redneck hollering at his old lady to hurry up with the chicken pot pie. He did his share of the housework and cooking, after all. And the sex, he thought it was pretty damn hot for the both of them. But it obviously hadn’t been enough.

“No more,” he said aloud to his reflection in the mirror. Time to shake it off and ease on down the road. Doppler took a deep breath, stood, and vowed that he would forget about Leah once and for all.


            As he showered and dressed, Doppler’s mind wandered back to the Russians next door. They reminded him of his very last beach excursion with Leah. The two of them usually avoided the big hotels when staying overnight, but this time they’d decided to book a room for the weekend at Laguna Dunes, a swank resort hotel in Destin. As they walked through the double doors and into the lobby to check in, Doppler overheard two bellhops talking quietly but with obvious urgency in a strange tongue that he couldn’t make out.

“What are you dragging your feet for, Doppler?” Leah had said, “I’m ready to get in our room and make a nuclear daiquiri.”

“Shhh! Stop, listen.”

“Listen to what?”

“What language is that?”

“What language is what? And why are we whispering?”

“That,” he’d said, dipping his head toward the bellhops. Hear it?”

Leah paused and listened. “I guess it sounds…Russian? Or something similar, like Eastern European.”

“That’s what I thought,” Doppler had said as they moved on to the check-in counter.

“Thought what?” Leah said.

“Nothing. It’s a little weird, is all.”

“What’s the big deal?” she had said. “So they’re Russian. Who cares?”

“It’s not that I care, for God’s sake. It’s just strange for them to be here, this close to us.”

Leah had shaken her head and frowned. “Sometimes, Doppler, I just don’t know about you. In case you haven’t noticed, even the Panhandle has entered the twenty-first century, so maybe you should come on and join the rest of us.”

Over that weekend he discovered more of them around the hotel. He ran into a maintenance man with a tool belt and walkie-talkie. The man stood next to the third floor elevator, jabbering away in a similar foreign tongue. And on the last morning while in bed with Leah, Doppler overheard two more, right outside their door.

“Why are you stopping?” Leah had said.

“Do you hear that?” Doppler said.

“No, what?”

“More Russians.”

“Jesus, Doppler, I was this close,” said Leah.

The strangest encounter of their vacation had occurred during checkout. While Leah finished up her packing in the room, Doppler set out to retrieve their car. On the way to the parking lot he passed a striking blond in heavy makeup standing in the shade near the double doors of the lobby. She wore a miniskirt and impossibly high heels and struck a pose like a department store mannequin. Doppler reached his car and turned to get a longer look.

She was smoking hot, no doubt about it. But why was she loitering out in the brutal heat, dressed up like that, at high noon? She damn sure wasn’t waiting for a ride to church.

Then came the kicker. The same two bellhops from check-in materialized and began to jabber at the blond in Russian. Both men gestured as if giving instructions. She nodded and reached down to scratch a tanned ankle. It hit Doppler right then and there—she was a hooker and the bellhops were her pimps!

He thought it all out: she couldn’t hang around inside the lobby without attracting the disapproving attention of management, but she needed to cast her line in a visible spot in order to lure clients. He speculated that at the very least the bellhops earned kickbacks for allowing a hooker to loiter this close to the hotel entrance.

Doppler felt like he’d uncovered a dirty secret. Russian criminal elements had infiltrated the Panhandle, he ranted to Leah on their drive back home to Florala. It’s bad enough that the beach has already been pillaged by developers and hurricanes, he had said.


            Doppler opened the door and stepped into the crushing sunshine that blanketed the the Gulf Breeze Motel. He tried to squint away the Sunday glare, and leaned over the balcony railing to inspect his van, parked directly below. The battered rusty-red Econoline was all he owned at the moment, along with his clothes and a crate full of old records that he kept for reasons he couldn’t articulate, seeing as he didn’t even have a turntable anymore.

Doppler’s motel sat in a semi-derelict patch of Panama City proper, which was separated from Panama City Beach by West Bay, a span of brackish water where several river systems met the Gulf of Mexico. Living on the beach was out of the question for most locals, who could hardly afford to own or rent property anywhere near the Gulf. Instead, the labor pool that kept the coastal tourist trade running commuted from the inland side of the bay, from trailer courts and apartment complexes and decaying motels that housed line cooks, construction workers, busboys, wait staff, janitors, and maids, not to mention strippers, dope dealers, petty crooks, and hard core tweakers.

Doppler felt suffocated, but he had managed to save enough money to get out of the motel and into something decent within the next week or two, before the season wound down and the Snowbirds descended from Canada.

“Excuse me.”

Doppler turned from the railing. Possibly the most stunning woman he’d ever laid eyes on stood at the doorway of the room next door to his, the room of the arguing couple he’d spied on a couple hours back. She wore faded jeans and a tight-fitting lime camisole with spaghetti straps that revealed enough of her flat belly to make Doppler flush.

Doppler blinked and moved toward her into the narrow line of shade that clung to the stucco wall. “Yes?” he said.

As she drew into closer focus he noticed splotches of acne and a crooked nose and realized his initial appraisal was an illusion. She was striking to him nonetheless, with full lips set beneath high cheekbones framed by blond, straight hair that spilled all the way down to her waist. She had dark, wide-set eyes that Doppler wanted to dive into.

“My name is Elena. I am living here in this room,” the woman said.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Doppler.” He leaned sideways against the wall next to her in the most cool and casual way he could muster and covertly sucked in his stomach.

“Doppler? That is a common name here, in America?” She fixed her eyes on him and raised an eyebrow.

He chuckled and looked down, strangely intimidated by her gaze, discovering that she was barefoot, with glossy, maroon toenails. “Not really,” he said. “It’s pretty unheard of, actually.”

“What do you mean, ‘unheard of’?”

“Oh, I meant that no one ever uses Doppler as a name, for a person, at least.” He forced himself to look back up at Elena and saw for the first time that the roots of her hair were very dark beneath the blond facade.

“Then what is it that your name is used for?” she asked.

“That’s an interesting story, I suppose. You ever hear of Doppler Radar?”

She shook her head, the fake blond hair stirring in the breeze that was beginning to kick up.

“It’s what all the meteorologists use these days. You know, the people who give the weather reports on the TV news. They use Doppler Radar to forecast storms and such.”

“I think I understand. But why would your—how do you say in English—your mother and father…?”


“Yes! Parents. How is it that your parents wish to name you after this weather radar?”

Doppler chuckled. “My father was obsessed with the weather, always reading up on the newest technology. There was something magical to him about knowing ahead of time what was on the way.”

“Yes, like someone who can tell the future,” she said.

“Exactly, and it just so happened that a company near my hometown actually developed the first Dopplers, so in Dad’s mind it was a no-brainer. I don’t think my mother was too thrilled, but she came to appreciate the originality.”

“So, Doppler, you are not from here?”

“I grew up in Slocomb; it’s a small town about an hour north of here up in Alabama.  After high school I moved a few miles over to Florala and settled there, up until this Spring.”

“I am from small town also, near Kiev, in Ukraine,” Elena said.

Doppler thought for a second. World geography was not one of his strengths. Wasn’t that near Russia, or a part of it? He decided to let it pass for the moment. He’d look it up later.

“How the hell did you end up here?” Doppler asked.

“My cousin helped me to come here. She told me there was plentiful work in Florida and she promised me a job at a nice hotel she worked at, but the big hurricane destroyed it.”

“You mean Hurricane Lester, last September?”

“Oh my God, it was so frightening. I had only arrived here a week before.”

“All you have to live through now is a tornado and you’ll be officially indoctrinated,” said Doppler.

“What do you mean?”

“Never mind. I’m just talking out the side of my ass.”

“And what are you meaning by that?” Elena said, cocking her head.

“It’s just an expression, it means that I’m just joking with you.”

Doppler suddenly thought about the man he had overheard in Elena’s room. Was he still around? The last thing Doppler needed was an angry boyfriend getting the wrong idea. “I guess I need to be going,” he said. “It was nice to meet you, Elena.”

“Wait,” she said. “I wonder if you mind to give me ride to the Tom Thumb store.”

Doppler tried to squash the feeling that he really did not want to stop talking to her. “I suppose it wouldn’t be a problem,” he found himself saying, “but what about that guy that was here earlier–is he your boyfriend?”

“Oh, no, no. That was my cousin’s friend, Boris. He is helping out the both of us, my cousin and me.”

“He didn’t sound too helpful this morning.”

“You could hear us? I am ashamed. I didn’t mean to disturb you,” she said.

“Don’t worry about it. None of my business, anyway.”

“When you take me to the store, I can explain,” said Elena. “Please, if you don’t mind.”


            Doppler tossed back the tequila and slapped the bar top three times. “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,” he said in unison with the slaps. Three was his lucky number, and superstition—fused with a mild, self-diagnosed case of OCD—dictated that he perform the three-slap ritual after every shot.

“God doggitt, man, you’re on fire tonight,” Miles said before throwing back his own shot. He did not slap the table three times, so Doppler did it for him. “Curly, Moe, and Larry,” said Doppler.

“Come on, Doppler, that ain’t fair. You get the Trinity and I get The Three Stooges?” Miles cocked his head and narrowed his eyelids as if receiving a transmission. “That kinda says it all about what you must think of me.”

“Don’t be such a baby,” said Doppler. “I’ll give you a kickass trio for the next round, if you’ll finance it.”

“I told you I was buying shots until we fall down,” Miles said as he motioned the bartender for another. The two of them sat under what was advertised as the largest tiki bar in the Panhandle, out on the back deck of the Bull Shark Beach Club. Behind them, not more than a couple hundred feet away, the blackened gulf waves surged and ebbed under a canopy of new moon stars. “Now, back to this Russian chick.”

“Ukrainian,” said Doppler.

“My bad. This Ukrainian chick—you’re saying she claims she ain’t a hooker or a stripper?” said Miles.

“Nope, not yet, anyway. But apparently, this guy Boris is leaning on her to start up. She owes him money that he lent her, and the interest is adding up quick.”

Miles scratched his tangled beard. “Why don’t she go out and get a damn job to pay him back?”

“She says she doesn’t have a work visa, and without it the only way she can get a waitress gig or some other legit job is to go to this guy who supplies restaurants and hotels and such with cheap immigrant labor. This dickhead has a valid tax I.D. and takes the paychecks, somehow cashes them. He portions a huge cut for himself, then doles out the scraps to the worker. According to Elena, there’s hardly anything left to live on, much less pay back a huge debt.”

“I see,” said Miles. “No visa means she’s an illegal alien, Doppler. You do understand that, I hope.”

They’d grown up together in Slocomb before diverging, Miles off to the army to fly helicopters while Doppler moved just a scosh over to Florala. They lost touch for the better part of a decade, only bumping into one another over holidays. Miles had eventually quit the army after Desert Storm, earned a fixed-wing license, and moved to the beach, where he flew a tiny Cessna back and forth over the coastline most days, pulling a hundred-foot ad banner over the marinating tourists. $3.95-A-DOZEN OYSTERS at BUBBA’S SEAFOOD!!!  was the ad of the week.

“Tell me something, Miles, have you noticed all these Russians and Ukrainians moving in?” said Doppler.

“To be honest, I ain’t one to ask that question. Truth be told, all I do around here is fly the plane all day then go home and watch TV until I pass out. Funny, isn’t it? I finally get to live in paradise, and I barely ever put my feet in the water.”

“Well, if you’d ever pick up your phone,” Doppler said, “I could get you off the couch every once in a while.” He took a deep pull from the longneck he nursed between tequila shots. “So, you still tying it on, up in the air? I’m no expert, but that’s probably why you conk out by sundown every day.”

Miles stared at him sheepishly. “You must have been blessed with the Third Eye, Doppler. Yeah, I still keep a flask up there with me. And a couple of hoglegs to smoke, just to take the edge off.”

“Jesus, Miles. Weed, up in the plane? What if you get caught?”

“Ain’t nobody over at municipal airport gonna ever know. They’re all scared of me anyway.” Miles picked at his teeth with a dirty thumbnail. “Back to the subject at hand—you in lust with this girl or what?”

“I don’t know. Yeah, she’s pretty hot in a sense, but at the same time she’s got a beaten-down vibe about her, like she used to be absolutely beautiful before life got in the way, you know?”

“Sure I know, just like with me,” Miles said, winking at Doppler. “Life eventually beats all of us down like a redheaded stepchild. If you’re lucky it just takes a little longer than for most.”

“I suppose,” said Doppler.

“Suppose my ass, you know it’s the truth. Look at you, all puddled up over your ex. I can read it all over your face, you pussy-whipped son of a bitch!” Miles gave Doppler a shove that bordered on excessive. The pilot screamed for the bartender, for another round. Crosby, Stills, and Nash. Red, green, and blue.

Doppler began to regret pounding shots with Miles. The man was volatile in the best of conditions. He’d better switch them both over to ice water soon.

He wondered what Elena was doing. He had driven her to the Tom Thumb as requested, where she had spent almost an hour standing at the phone booth outside the store, using one of those international calling cards, talking to one relative after another (at least according to what she told him later, since he had no way of really knowing, on account of the fact that she was babbling in Ukrainian), begging the relatives to wire her money to no avail.

After Elena made her last call, Doppler had taken her to the beach, where they sat for several hours under an unclaimed umbrella. Doppler was happy to have a woman to talk to, even if her English was so-so at best, and his command of Ukrainian nonexistent. He found himself telling Elena everything, about him and Leah, about how he was starting over, about how he was this close to having enough cash stashed away to get out of the motels and into a proper place to live.

While the bloated sun began its slow-motion plunge into the Gulf horizon, a skinny kid who looked to be barely out of his teens had approached, calling out to Elena by name. She leapt up and embraced him before introducing him to Doppler.

“This is Ivan. He is a friend, also from Ukraine.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Doppler said. Ivan smiled and bobbed his head up and down.

“Forgive Ivan, he does not know any English. He only arrived here a few weeks ago,” Elena said, smiling at Ivan and patting his head like a dog.

“I see,” said Doppler. He sat and stared at the incoming waves while Elena and Ivan babbled on and on about God knows what. He was beginning to feel like a third wheel. The sun dropped lower, casting bluish shadows over the recesses in the sugar white sand. Doppler thought back to his childhood, when his favorite sound was the squeaking his feet made when walking over the towering sand dunes, built from pure white quartz ground into the finest powder. Most of the dunes were gone now, either bulldozed away by developers or swept into the Gulf of Mexico by the hurricanes.

A low engine rumble swelled above the sound of breaking waves. Doppler turned to see a trash crew working their way toward him, stopping to empty the barrels that sat every fifty yards or so along the beach. As the truck drew closer, Elena and Ivan turned and began waving at the crew. To Doppler’s amazement, the driver and two men clinging to the back of the dump truck all waved and hollered back in a gust of Ukrainian/Russian shushes and ooshkas as they passed. Damn, they’re everywhere, multiplying like jackrabbits, he thought.

Ivan said something to Elena, nodded at Doppler and ran after the trash truck.

“He said he is—what is the word—taking a ride with them?” Elena said to Doppler.

“The English word is hitching. He’s hitching a ride with them,” Doppler said.

“Yes, that is it. Hitching.”

They stayed a bit longer and watched the sun set before Doppler announced it was time to get her back to the motel. Elena had leaned over and kissed Doppler on the cheek as he dropped her off in the Gulf Breeze parking lot. He waited a moment before he backed out, watching her ass through the windshield undulate in perfect time as she bound up the stairs.

“You mean to tell me you didn’t even try to close the deal?” Miles asked incredulously. Both men listed in their stools, elbows splayed on the tiki bar. “Hell, I thought your story was about to end with a warmhearted United Nations round of international intercourse.”

“Kiss my ass, Miles. Besides, I don’t want to be sucked into a bunch of drama with a foreign gal on the verge of getting turned out.”

“Hey man, don’t be so judgmental. Prostitution is the world’s oldest occupation, and an honorable trade, at least compared to lawyers and bankers.”

Doppler drained the last of his beer. “Look, Miles, I’ve been stuck in fleabag motels for going on three months now. I’m real close to having enough coin saved up to get into my own place. The last thing I need is a distraction, and don’t forget she happens to be my current next-door neighbor, and you know what I got to say about that.”

“You don’t shit where you eat,” Miles and Doppler declared in tandem, laughing and slapping each other on the back.

“Well, you do have a point there,” Miles said. He rose uncertainly and grabbed for the edge of the bar. “I gotta head out. Gettin’ paid a bundle to fly Trent Bender up to Birmingham tomorrow.”

“That sounds like a nice side gig. He still own half the waterfront on P.C. Beach?” said Doppler.

“Yep, and then some. Word around town is that Bender horned himself into the loop on the new airport. He put up the land and helped Narveda win the bid, in return for a nice kickback for him and his friends in Tallahassee.”

Doppler had completely forgotten about the soon-to-be constructed Panama City International Airport. Before long there’d be all kinds of people flying in from every country imaginable. But foreigners like Elena would never truly belong. They could never call this place home. For God’s sake, had Elena even heard of Bocephus, or Lynyrd Skynyrd? Did she have any idea of how a good American man should treat his woman, opening doors for her and such?

Doppler was overcome by the sudden urge to show Elena the way, to teach her everything. He wanted to see her again as soon as possible, and help replace her harsh consonants with soft, drawled vowels. He could do it if he really wanted. He could make her belong.


            Doppler pulled into the parking lot of the Gulf Breeze and turned off the ignition. Thank God he’d made it back without hitting a roadblock. All that tequila swimming in his head, along with Elena, whose touch he now knew he could not live another minute without. He would knock on her door, even though it was late. She would answer, and he would pull her into his arms.

Doppler struggled to open the van’s creaky door, which had been prone to sticking as of late. He finally shouldered it open and stepped uncertainly onto the sticky asphalt. He looked up to the balcony. He could see under the dim porch lighting that the door to Elena’s room was slightly ajar. He took a deep breath and started forward, floating up the stairs and past the broken vending machines and a darkened recess that held the ancient, humming ice machine drooling out a half-melted chip. He navigated the sharp turn around the corner and stopped at Elena’s door.

Far as Doppler could tell, no lights were on inside. A damp breeze wafted across the balcony. He could still hear the ice machine, harmonized by a faraway police siren. He put his ear to the door and called out her name, first softly and then again, louder.

He pushed the door open and stepped inside, feeling for the light switch. The room was totally vacant. No Elena, but also no hanging clothes, and nothing on the desk or nightstand, either. He went to the chest of drawers and pulled them open. He flipped on the bathroom light and again there was nothing, not even a bottle of shampoo.

Doppler cut off the lights and shut the door behind him. His head was beginning to spin out of control. He felt disgusted with himself, rooting around an empty room looking for that crazy Russian, Ukrainian, whatever the fuck she was. He felt a wave of lonely crash over him. He didn’t know anything about anything anymore. He just wanted to drink a little water and lie down on his lumpy bed.

Doppler fumbled with his room key, stabbed at the deadbolt a dozen or so times before finally hitting the mark. He pushed the door open and flicked on the light. There it all was before him, his possessions, his entire life, stored up in room 204 of the Gulf Breeze Motel. Just this room with his stuff, along with his old Econoline. This was Doppler’s observation in a flash of time that also included a rush of footsteps from around the corner where the ice machine wheezed. He didn’t even have a chance to turn around before the blow landed on the back of his head.

At some point he came to, though at first without knowing who or where he was. Slowly, like filling a glass, knowledge of self poured back into him. He was Doppler, and he was in Panama City. There was no Leah anymore. He tried to move but his arms and legs seemed nonexistent. His face was half buried in the carpet, which smelled like sour milk.

Doppler couldn’t see much from his frozen, prone position. He watched two pairs of blue jean legs busily work their way around the room. A man spoke with a sharp tone of urgency in a strange language as if barking orders. A woman retorted with a flurry of shushes and ooshkas and a single word Doppler could understand. Boris.

It came to him, the replay of him and Elena sitting on the beach, spilling his guts out to her. Dammit, he had told her about the cash he’d saved, almost two thousand bucks. She must have read him as the type to not stash it in a bank account. She had guessed right, because here she was, helping Boris flip over the mattress. He heard a squeal of delight and knew that they had found the money.

Doppler still couldn’t move, but now he could make out a set of maroon-painted toes that came to rest mere inches from his nose. Boris stood behind him; Doppler knew this because he could feel the foreigner’s hands probing his back pockets, fishing out his wallet. Doppler felt the vague, faraway sensation of his left arm being hoisted. My watch, he thought. It had been a gift from Leah on their first anniversary.

He studied Elena’s toes and wondered if she and Boris were going to kill him. Might as well at this point, so that there would be no witnesses. Instead, he felt Elena’s cool hand on the back of his head. She ran her fingers through his hair. Doppler couldn’t believe how good it felt, Elena’s touch. She whispered something in his ear that he couldn’t quite make out, but she said it again, louder this time, stronger, and, he could swear, without any trace of an accent.

“Go home, Doppler,” she said.

Doppler decided he would not try to pull himself up for the time being. He would lie on the floor, his floor in his own room, until he was good and well ready to rise. There was nowhere else to go anyhow, for Elena was, in fact, wrong. He was already home.









Photo by Rajiv Patel