New short story! I’ve actually been working on it for a while, but I couldn’t get the ending right. This is the fourth or fifth attempt, and the first one I don’t hate.
The Voice of the Universe
“Telepathy,” Beth, her face on the table, murmurs through her fallen hair.
“Telepathy. Reading minds.” A twitch, and then her neck cranes up as if she were a puppet, as if the top of her skull were being tugged on a string. “It doesn’t work very well yet.”
“It works?” My voice chirps high, skeptical.
“Not well.” Beth’s head sinks back down, the string cut. “You can only hear surface thoughts. What people are immediately thinking, right? You can’t – dig. Or probe. Or lead. Just hear.”
“Have you tried it?” The drunk part of my brain asks aloud, while the part of me that still thinks it’s sober laughs: this is just some science fiction bullshit. She’s trying to be cute. She is very cute in a nerdy way.
“No, I haven’t tried it.” She glares, ash-blonde hair in her eyes again. A group of hipsters slosh by, knocking her red leather handbag to the floor. “Fucking jerks. And you, do you think we’re in a fucking comic book or something?” Beth gropes for her bag, settles it on her lap. “Of course I don’t get to try Telephrax. They have test subjects. Volunteers. From the military, all of them. And there are procedures. You give – you inject a subject with 20 cc’s, it takes an hour or so to kick in, and then you put him in a room with a few – it’s a whole thing. Anyway, it works. It just isn’t very good yet.” She worries at the clasp on her bag. “They’re pleased – the DoD – that we’ve been able to get this far, but it’s not what they want.”
“What do they want?”
Her eyes widen. “I shouldn’t be telling you this. I should go. I’m sorry, Tim. I need to go.” She staggers, the scarlet handbag swaying wildly from her wrist, all theatrical anxiety.
I grab her hand. “Stay. It’s all right. Who would I tell? I don’t believe you anyway.” We don’t believe? says drunk brain. She’s making it up so I’ll think she’s interesting, but it’s a good story, says sober brain. Cleavage! says penis, and he’s right – as Beth sits back down, her draped neckline is settling low over her breasts. Small breasts, but she’s thin, and very tall, awkward in her height and her entire self. I usually find myself with short, crass, stupid women, and they’ve all been such disasters that when this tall scientist – a scientist! not another marketing girl or wannabe photographer or a film studies student, but an actual educated person, a lady scientist – when she sent a tentative, awkward message to my profile, I responded immediately, asking her out for a drink.
One drink became many. “You won’t tell anybody,” Beth affirms, smiling. She has a lovely smile. Her mouth is long, not full, and the pleased lines of it sweep her bony, horsey jawbones into a pretty triangle. “No one would believe you if you told. It sounds so bullshit, doesn’t it? I’d explain how we developed it but you’re not a science person. You wouldn’t get it.”
“Is that a problem? That I’m a paralegal? That I’m more of a words guy?” I sip my forgotten beer, and she seems to remember the whiskey soda at her elbow. Her tongue curls around the straw, and all parts of me – drunk, sober, and permanently questionable – are transfixed by that red straw and red tongue. She sucks at the straw, then glances up through pale lashes coated with black mascara in quick and sloppy gobs. “It’s not a problem,” she says, and smiled again.
Maybe I’m in love. I shouldn’t say that. I shouldn’t think that – I hope she was telling the truth about never trying – “What was it called? Telephrax?”
She groans and flops onto the table again. “I should never have told you. It’s secret. There are security clearances – I haven’t told my parents, or Vanessa – ok, I told Thoth. That’s my cat. Now you know everything about me. I’m twenty-nine, I haven’t had a boyfriend in forever, and I tell state secrets to my cat. And nice men I meet on the Internet, apparently.”
Nice men. I am a nice man. Sober brain thinks this is either a potential liability or an asset, depending on Beth’s experience with nice men. “Am I still a nice man if I think you’re making up all this – Telephrax stuff?”
“That makes you nicer,” she says. Again, the transfiguring smile.
I drain my beer. “I don’t believe you,” I say, taking her hand, “not because I think you’re a liar -” she makes a twisted face that’s meant to look devious – “but because if someone had really invented a drug that made you telepathic, the government would be all over that. Wait – is that what you meant by ‘DoD’? Department of Defense?”
She nods, her hair spilling into her face again. Terrific hair – her best feature, long and wavy and careless. “They want to be able to see inside brains. Reveal secrets. Break people. Surface thoughts don’t help unless someone’s thinking, ‘I hope they don’t realize I’m a terrorist. Also, these are the names of all my contacts and their home addresses.’ People don’t think like that. Someone being interrogated is just going, ‘Please don’t attach electrodes to my balls again.’ They do that kind of thing, you know. Electrocute -” She stops abruptly, eyes widening, as if thinking that a lady isn’t supposed to say ‘balls’ on a first date, twenty-first century or not. Or maybe she thinks she’s said too much. Or maybe, as she stirs her whiskey, she’s deciding that I’m a nice man and too safe, which is why she’s telling me state secrets as though I were her cat. I can be dangerous. I order a dirty vodka martini from a passing waitress. I drink vodka martinis just like James Bond. I once helped pull a groper away from a woman on the subway. With the help of four other people, we bundled him off at the next stop. He stood there on the platform shouting at us, spit flying as he cursed us. I did it. I was part of heroic action.
“Maybe the DoD doesn’t want it,” I say. “But I would. I’d want to know what people think.” I massage her strong, longfingered hand. Her nails are unpainted and bitten down. She wears several silver rings, most set with big stones, one a complicated twist of interlocking links. “I’d love to know what you’re thinking, right now.”
“I think I’ve had too much to drink,” she mumbles. “This is my last one.”
The waitress hands over the martini. I ask her to close our tab. “Last one, too,” I say to Beth. “I’ll drink it fast.”
* * *
Drank it too fast and it kicks me all at once. I shouldn’t have eaten the olives – they were fat, full of salt, and likely soaked in vodka for days. Beth’s head rests on my shoulder, rocking with the motion of the subway train. Taxis make her sick – me too, no one knows how to drive in this city, that’s another thing we have in common, along with being tall and thin and nerdy. Will sex be awkward, our long thin bodies bashed and entangled? Not tonight. She’s too drunk, and I am a nice man. I’ll see her home safe. I’m a knight who rescues women from gropers. I’m a James Bond who can’t handle his vodka.
She’s so drunk she can’t handle her keys. I open the door for her. A streak of grey vanishes beneath the couch – Thoth, I presume. “Ok there,” I say, settling Beth down on the bed. What a tiny studio. What a sad place for a woman alone, a clever woman who probably makes good money on her Department of Defense project. The Village has gotten expensive these days – no more artists and hippies and heroin addicts, it’s all fussy boutiques and pretentious cafes. Not Beth’s style, either way. Why is she here? She’s a smart, classy lady. She should be on the Upper West Side, or the Upper East, or out of this garbage-strewn borough altogether. Maybe someday, we’ll buy a condo in Brooklyn and raise four tall, thin, nerdy, asthmatic kids.
“I’m so stupid,” she moans from the bed. “This is why I don’t date. I make a fool of myself, I…” Tears flow from her grey-green eyes, turning black as they pass through the mascara.
“You haven’t made a fool of yourself,” I croon, tucking the quilt around her. Grab her breast, says penis. Don’t do it, whispers the ghost of sober brain. I’m prolly gonna throw up! squeals drunk brain. “I’m going to go,” I say. “You’re fine. You’re great. I want to see you again. Tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow as in Saturday, or – oh God, it’s only Thursday. I’m so drunk. How will I go to work – oh God…”
“Call in sick,” I say, brushing her forehead with my hand, and then my lips. She stops crying. “Call in sick, and then call me. If you want,” I add, because I’m a nice man, and I’m not giving orders.
* * *
By the time the train arrives, I’ve sobered up a bit. A quick hearty vomit in the stairwell helped. There’s nothing to do but fiddle with my phone while I wait for the train, headphones on so I don’t hear the shouts of disgust as other late-nighters came down the stairs. The train comes at last, half-full of sleepy teenagers and sleeping homeless. But it’s fretting and lurching along the track, creaking and squealing before stopping above the river. It’s only because I’m here, stuck aboveground with good reception, the water glittering with the city’s reflected light, that I decide – on a whim, it’s only a whim – to look up Telephrax.
It’s real. It’s very real. A month ago, there was a big investigative journalism piece in Mother Jones about new and dangerous research sponsored by the DoD. A few other magazines and websites picked up the story. Telephrax is named, as is Oxtraco, Beth’s company. Most sources dismiss Telephrax and other related experiments into telekinesis as a legacy of failed Cold War research into mind-control, or a silly fantasy like the search for a chemical that would make enemy soldiers uncontrollably gay, or a simple example of the bloat and waste of the defense budget. But it’s named. Telephrax is named. And Oxtraco.
So much for science fiction, I think, stumbling off the subway and into the night. It’s all one dark weaving corridor: the station, the streets, the lobby, the hallway, the apartment, my bed. All a piece, all connected, one place leading into another. The entire world is one big house with billions of rooms. Somewhere in the house there’s a room where a soldier sits, sweating, nervous, while the telepathy drug knifes through his body, opening his bloodcells and his mind.
* * *
I wake at about 5:00 a.m., shaking and approaching sobriety, my glasses still on. Stumbling into the shower and out, putting on black jeans and a blue button-up, making coffee, all on complete autopilot. Has to be autopilot, because the human pilot is busy fucking his copilot who looks just like Beth. She arches her back in ecstasy and slams against a control panel. The plane nosedives.
I find her keys as I’m fumbling through yesterday’s jeans for my phone. After I opened her door last night, I must have blindly stuck them in my pocket. Her ID is attached to the keyring. Elizabeth Susan Branford. God, that’s an Anglo name. She sounds like a society lady, not an awkward sexy lady scientist. Oxtraco. Security Clearance Beta. Beta is good. Beta is probably everything but the top people, the Alphas, the ones with access to the really secret freaky stuff. Experiments on chimpanzees to make them brilliant. Experiments on humans to give them chimpanzee strength. Since Telephrax is real, anything’s on the table.
The thought flashes in my mind, but I dismiss it. It’s not until I’m on the train that it comes back in force.
No, I tell myself. I’m going back to Beth’s. I’m not going to try this, it’s stupid. I’m just going to bring her keys back. And her ID, so she can go to work.
It should be just the two of us now – brain, still struggling through the drunken thicket, and penis, sated by the pilot fantasy and the quick satisfying jerk I had over it. But there’s a third voice, a little insidious thing that whispers she isn’t going to work today. She’s going to call in sick. You could try. It’s worth a try. You’re always talking about how bored you are. For once in your life, you could do something interesting. Be someone interesting.
Then, it’s really a serendipitous message from the universe, isn’t it? That the right connecting train just so happens to be across the platform? Before dawn, too – the odds are astronomical, really. When the universe tries to send you a message, Mom used to say, you should pay attention. The voice of the universe is around us all the time. Mom’s an old hippie, now reformed in a gleaming suburban house and manicured herb garden. We just don’t listen.
* * *
Afterward, I vomit in a different subway stairwell, not just from residual drunkenness but also from pure strained nerves. No one will ever make a movie about my life, but if they do, they’ll have to completely rewrite the last hour. They’ll add explosions. A sexy double-agent. A tech guy who just needs a minute, dammit. These are the elements required in a break-in at a top-secret lab, right?
The enemy in an action movie is never a tired old security guard buried in a copy of The New York Post. He had a face like Victor Hugo, all heavy brows and full beard and lines of world-sadness. A face of thick inexpressible grief buried in headlines that scream THUG WALKS FREE AFTER ACQUITTAL and KARA TO WED JEFF. I don’t know the court case or the celebrities, but I think I’ll remember those headlines until I die. And Victor Hugo’s face, and the way he didn’t look up as I scanned Beth’s ID.
At Beth’s door, my hands shaking as badly as hers had last night. There isn’t enough space to slide the keys under the door as I’d hoped, so there’s no choice but to enter and hope she’s still asleep. I know I can try to make it charming – that’s right, I’m a bit absent-minded, isn’t it cute? Just dropping your keys off on my way to work, making sure you’re ok. I’m a nice man. But the truth is that I’m not a nice man at all, not even remotely. I need Beth to be asleep. Victor Hugo might not have noticed me, but the scanner and computer that recorded Beth’s ID certainly did. She told me, early in the date, when we were still exchanging shallow personal details, that the culture in her lab (“I mean, not like a culture, you know, not like bacteria, it’s not – anyway”) is one where a few diehards come in early, or sleep there overnight, but most people prefer to come in late and work late. Beth is one of the late ones. Even if she makes it into work today, the computer already recorded that she clocked in inexplicably early, opened several rooms and a refrigerator, and then clocked out ten minutes later. Someone will probably notice. The only thing that matters now is dropping off her keys before she realizes I had them. Goodbye, Elizabeth Susan Branford. Goodbye, brownstone condo. Goodbye, four asthmatic children. If I were a nice man, you might have existed.
Beth is snoring, lying on her face with her hair exploding over the pillow. At some point, she woke up and put on a nightgown. A surprising little number: black silk and white lace, riding high up her smooth thighs. I’m going to cover her with the quilt again – after all, I might not be a nice man, but I can make the pretense, I ought to make the pretense – but Thoth’s stationed himself on the bunched fabric. He stares at me with calm unblinking amber eyes, and growls.
A low, deep mrrrrowl – but he’s not moving. He’s just staring. My parents have cats and I know how they are. When Misty – an ancient grey lady and Mom’s favorite – growls at one of the younger cats, her dry old lips peel back. Her hackles rise, her ears flatten. Her sides vibrate. Maybe this noise is an odd sort of purr? Thoth blinks twice. Mrrrrowl again, motionless.
I turn away and Thoth leaps off the bed. Rubbing against my legs, he mrrrowls and meows simultaneously. Then he dashes over to the kitchenette and rubs against a cupboard. MRRROWL, much louder this time. Get out you idiot, before she wakes up. Thoth meows again, then shrieks.
It’s a horrible sound, a scream of annoyance and want. I pivot, an excuse for Beth on my lips – dropping off your keys, used them to do the worst and bravest thing I’ve ever done, by the way, your cat is a demon – but she’s still asleep. He hasn’t woken her.
Thoth scratches at the cabinet door. He meows with his mouth. He shrieks with his mind.
I understand at that moment that I really hadn’t believed. Despite Beth, despite the article, despite what I’d done – I didn’t really think that Telephrax was real. Even as I crept through the lab (surprisingly small, maybe thirty rooms, a lot like an office building crossed with a college chem building, nothing like the florescent labyrinth that I’d imagined) I just – it was just an experiment, look, here’s Tim trying to be interesting for the first time in his timid life, trading a beautiful woman for the chance to live out a heist fantasy. But now here’s Thoth, worming his way against my legs, trotting back to the cupboard and shrieking again, furious that I don’t understand.
It’s been an hour since I found the Telephrax and injected it.
A small key next to Beth’s ID badge opened the refrigerator labeled Telephrax. Inside it were eight syringes, also labeled with Telephrax and the dosage – 20cc’s. I expected nameless steel and chrome and a retinal scan or something, not a plain little refrigerator with clear direct labels. They’ll notice, wouldn’t they, that a syringe is missing? I should’ve put it back – one of the scientists might think they just forgot to fill it. Instead I pocketed the thing and threw it into the trash blocks later. It was stupid but I was still somewhat drunk, God, I’m still drunk, if I hadn’t been drunk I never would have gone to the lab in the first place. Beth won’t just be in trouble – she could lose her job. Maybe tried for treason. I don’t know the rules.
Beth snores on, her hip lifting with every breath, lifting the nightgown with it, exposing more of her thigh. She has beautiful legs, trim and faultless except for a varicose vein puffing up the inside of her right knee. The nicest pair of legs I’ve ever dated. The smartest woman I’ve ever dated, except that she drinks too much and has bad taste in unkind men. Thoth meows again and weaves around my legs. Shriek! SHRIEK! I can’t hear Beth’s thoughts. She’s probably in a dreamless sleep.
As I tuck the quilt around her, her eyelids flicker. She murmurs into her pillow. I can’t make out those words but I can hear the others. Help will go get no stop can’t save Then silence. A nightmare, a vision of helplessness. “I’m sorry,” I think at her. She doesn’t seem to hear me.
Thoth scratches at the edge of the bed, claws grating as he howls, this time vocalizing. Beth stirs and groans but doesn’t open her eyes. I place her keys on the floor and run.
* * *
Sober at last and regretting it. I regret taking the subway to work – as much as I hate cabs, I should have taken a cab. Then it would just be the cabbie’s thoughts. I should have stayed home – a man doesn’t gain telepathy powers every day – but I should try to look innocent in case they come after me. I need to go about my day as though nothing has changed.
The voices…they’re like a radio I can’t turn off. Like the official radios in North Korean houses that have no power button and can’t be muted. I try to block the voices out with music for a few stops. With the Strokes as loud as I can stand them, the voices become an annoying buzz, the words indistinguishable. I’m dizzy, feverish. My head’s an iron collar choking a restive straining animal. I should have asked about the side effects. “Beth, I’m a terrible person and I’m going to steal your secret government project. I’m not a spy, just an asshole. Can I have a list of the potential side effects? Listen, at what point should I call my doctor?”
The seat next to me opens up. A dumpy middle-aged woman is about to take it, but a young woman in headphones and a pretty dress slides in, oblivious. FUCKING STUPID BITCH the older woman screams silently above my music kids paying no attention to anyone how would you like it if I wrapped those headphones around your neck you SKANK I should choke your life out you WHORE
I get up and stumble into the next car. There’s one empty seat, but it’s next to a ragged homeless man crouched over himself, holding out his hands as if for balance or prayer.
Jesus JESUS I won’t let them near me again CIA wants to stick me with a needle again NSA FBI KGB NHS FDA Bilderberg they all want me for my powers I’m the strongest no one knows I’m the strongest there ever was I won’t let them mindcontrol me again no stopit STOPIT
So loud. He’s so loud. Everyone’s so loud. I take off my headphones and it’s like Niagara Falls, a thousand voices roaring, clamoring, begging, moaning.
My head blazes with pain. Go home no they’ll catch me I can’t Was that my own voice or someone else’s? I should have asked Beth more about it. How long does it last, Beth? Is it a few hours, a day or two?
The woman clutching the pole is thinking about her shopping list. Cherry tomatoes. The organic zucchini. Fresh buffalo mozzarella. And oh, that Roquefort, the expensive one, everyone was so impressed last week. But if I get the same one again! they might think I’m a GREY a GREY Not words – she’s thinking of a grey vocal blur, an expanse of nothing, a blurt of meaningless noise. Whatever she’s afraid of being, she can’t even describe it to herself.
There are thirty or fourty people in the subway car. Some are asleep. Some are listening to music and thinking only of it. Some people don’t seem to be thinking of anything at all. I prefer that to the obese man a few feet away and his disgusting erotic fantasy Ooh you’re bad you’re such a fat fucking slug we’re gonna forcefeed you raw beef until you
I move through the car, ducking around people what’s wrong with this guy why can’t he stand still it’s too early in the morning for this shit
The telepathy seems to have a range of maybe five feet. I escape the fucked-up fat man and find a clear space – three napping women and a suited man intent on his Kindle. He’s a well-built guy, his suit pinstriped and elegantly tailored, his blond hair threaded with silver. There’s a Cartier on his wrist. Probably a corporate lawyer, or an advertising guy, or some other highpowered important thing. I listen to him read. His mental voice is crisp and clear:
“To this celestial tenderness, he opposed pride, which is the fortress of evil in man. He felt dimly that the pardon of the priest was the hardest assault, and the most formidable attack which he had yet sustained; that the hardness of heart would be complete, if it resisted this kindness; that if he yielded, he must renounce that hatred with which he found satisfaction; that this time, he must conquer or be conquered, and that the struggle, a gigantic and decisive struggle, had begun between his own wickedness, and the goodness of man.”
The man smiles as he finishes the paragraph. Isn’t that Les Miserables? I haven’t read the book since college but I’m pretty sure that’s it. What are the odds that on the same day, this big day, maybe the most important day of my life, I see a man who’s a dead ringer for Victor Hugo and another man reading Les Miserables? The universe is trying to tell me something,
The man looks up. Now what is this freak staring at? His mental voice descends into an unintelligible growl, then back to This is why I don’t take the subway.
Beth, I’m done. I want it to go away now. When does it stop?
Now the fucking psycho is talking to himself, thinks Mr. Cartier Watch. I’m trying to read my book in peace. Half the population should be locked up. Again his voice descends into a growl like a torrent of brackish water. It eddies off into nothingness as the doors open.
It’s a major transfer stop and a lot of people crowd on, bringing their breath and their smells and their body heat and their voices, which crash and roll and crescendo over each other. I’m beginning to feel sick again, my forehead tight and feverish, contracting around my skull.
Everyone’s pressed in tight and I can’t reach my headphones.
The woman closest to me, her voice is whitewater rapids fierce and pressurized everyone else is talking it’s too much it was all a mistake why can’t I take it back.
Got to get why is it so hard to forgot my fucking scarf I hate him oh I can’t fucking believe I forgot he didn’t mean it no what if she notices ungh and then he moves his hand up ungh yes so tired bitch get the FUCK OUT OF MY FACE
Crowd of anonymous squalling strangers. A river of selves interweaving. I can’t see I can’t hear myself in the cacophony it no longer matters. I hear everything. I hear nothing.
* * *
The universe had been in tune with Trudy that day. When she walked into the lobby sandwich shop, there had just been one vegan avocado wrap left: three hundred calories, low fat, very low carb. Trudy wasn’t a vegan but she was dieting, or trying as best she could. It wasn’t easy when people brought in cookies and donuts all the time. But Trudy had avoided the sugary minefield all morning and there it was, a beautiful lunchtime reward, the very last healthy sandwich.
She ate it in the park because it was lovely out and she was tired of eating at her desk. Since it was the first warm spring day, everyone one else had the same idea and the park was packed. Trudy was only able to find an empty bench because there was a homeless man lolling in the one next to it, and no one else had been willing to get close. But Trudy wasn’t the sort who was afraid of the homeless – she’d volunteered in shelters when she was younger, and always gave a dollar to beggars when she had cash. It drove her husband crazy – you’re enabling them, they’re just going to spend it on booze or crack – so Trudy had compromised, and stopped being charitable in his presence.
The homeless man sprawled on the next bench was tall, gaunt, and younger than most. His clothes looked like they had been nice once, but now they were filthy – truly filthy, the blue cambric shirt crusted and stained, and he stank. Gaping holes in his black jeans revealed pale legs fuzzed with grimy hair.
He was so young. Trudy thought he wasn’t much older than her son Nick, who was doing much better, thank God, it turns out that a year off from grad school was good for him. It wasn’t what her friends had thought – Nick didn’t have a drug problem, he was just stressed out and doubtful about his future, can you blame him? None of her friends had suggested anything, of course, but they’d all had that same expression your child is a mess how rough that must be you poor dear. Trudy was very good and reading faces – she prided herself on it. She’d read her friends’ gleeful concern and watched it flicker into disappointment and smug doubt as she explained.
Trudy finished one half of the wrap and started on the other. If the homeless man had stirred, she would have offered him the other half, but he hadn’t and she was glad of it, she was hungry, this sticky mess of avocado and hummus was barely enough to tamp down the floating burn of hunger.
The poor man was probably hungry, and he was also probably a drug addict. The torn and filthy clothes meant he wasn’t sleeping in a shelter. Trudy knew about the horrible conditions in men’s shelters but at least they were places to sleep, places to get into the system and maybe get some help. This man was probably too sick and paranoid for even that.
Trudy wasn’t the only one watching the homeless man – across the path, a black-jacketed man sat typing on a black laptop, glancing up every few seconds to stare. “A writer exploiting someone else’s misery for his own ends,” thought Trudy, hating him.
But maybe he wasn’t a writer at all, because he had a companion, probably a girlfriend though she was a bit young for him. She was a tall stringy blonde, her face a tense mask except for her rapidly blinking clumped lashes. She stared at the homeless man too, then down at the red coffee cup she gripped in clawlike hands.
“Well, if that is her boyfriend,” thought Trudy, “He ought to pay more attention to her, she seems like a nice girl.”
The homeless man stirred, and looked at Trudy. He had hollow, pained green eyes, deep-set and made deeper by fear and exhaustion. Trudy finished the last few bites of her wrap, feeling guilty that she hadn’t tried to offer him the other half. “Because then you could have justified buying another sandwich,” said the snippy voice of her selfishness, what little she had of it. “Something with meat and bread, since you’re going to be hungry in an hour. Don’t pretend this is about altruism.”
“Maybe not,” Trudy replied to herself, then took out her phone, intending to read the news for fifteen more minutes before heading back to the office.
She glanced at the homeless man – he was still staring at her, his mouth open slightly. There was a look on his face of absolute want – the way her son had looked at her when he was an infant, when he needed to nurse but couldn’t express his hunger.
“Poor guy,” she thought as she hurried away.