“I can never be the man I was again,” the man called Baxter said.
“Why?” I sat with him on a bench near the skating pond in February. We both wore parkas that made us look twice as large in the chest and shoulders as we really were, and our breaths looked like steam rising from the hot springs a quarter-mile downriver. Perhaps a dozen people skated on the frozen pond, the winter sun dazzling, the sky a whitened blue.
“I was a monster. I can’t let that out again.” He pulled a flask and took a draw, then offered it to me. I took a mouthful and held it until the burning stopped, then swallowed.
“Crown Royal,” I said.
He nodded. Took his flask back. “I did things no man should do.”
“Killed her.” I didn’t even have to watch him to know.
To his credit, he nodded and squinted into the sun. “Worse, though.”
He took another swig and grimaced. “I enjoyed it. It felt good and right. But it’s not. It’s as wrong as a man can be.”
“You think you’ll do it again?”
He nodded and blinked, as if his eyes watered.
“That’s why you hide? Take on a new skin? Pretend you’re not the man you are?”
He nodded again. “My own witness self-protection program.”