She was tall and beautiful, blessed and cursed with the preternatural aura of a black-and-white movie star. He stalked her through the labyrinth of broken city streets, up broad thoroughfares and into dark, glass-strewn alleys, determined never to lose sight of her, not even for a second. The night air seemed strangely fresh and pungent; he could feel a tang of the salt sea breeze in his nostrils, teasing him with fond memories of the coastal shore, and of conch shells and slippery barnacles and plentiful coral polyps, plus the most peculiar marine forms, dream-like hybrid things, grotesquely entrancing to behold; though the rational part of his brain admonished him that there had never been a coastal shore, there was no ocean, no authentic scent of breeze filling his nose and lungs-merely the dream of an ocean, any ocean.

And she, was she just a phantom too? He knew, of course, that she was corporeal, solid, existent, genuine in her consciousness. But what was the nature of his connection to her? Did he even have one? He'd thought he'd known her at an earlier phase of life, during his happy, carefree youth. But maybe that memory was as fraudulent as all the rest. Maybe she was a total stranger, and he'd invented it all, the shadowy connections, the subtle feints of intimacy, a shoddy simulacrum of romance. If he came behind her now and took her gently by the arm, how would she react? With fear, with anger, with loathing, or with recognition and love, and a renewal of healthy affections?

She came to the terrace of an old-fashioned café, and sat down beneath the colourful striped awning. It was a clear warm night, no rain for once, thank God, no acid rain steaming up the streets. She sat there waiting for someone, and soon enough she was joined by a middle-aged man wearing a drab, disheveled seersucker suit. They began to converse in affectionate tones, her rich voice overpowering his frail one, and then the waiter stopped at their table, and they ordered coffee. She was fully relaxed now, carefree, and observing her from the sidelines, from far off at the edge of the stage of her life, her stalker experienced a desolating sadness at the center of his being, in the dead meat that was his human, all-too-human heart. She was the woman of his dreams, all right, but he was not the man of hers.

He was about to turn away and depart from the scene, but just then she glanced up from her companion's face and caught his eye. Her own eye winked like a cat's eye, like a cut gemstone, in the larger brilliancy of anonymous night. She seemed to recognize him, and to know the depths of his weary soul. But she did not speak. She watched, silent and serene, from the bustling café terrace. And he was glad of it.