More Languages Gone

“Seven seconds,” said the sphinx.

Colleen was shivering on the corner and couldn’t place the voice for a second. It was cold and she was hungry – or she wasn’t hungry, but she knew she ought to be. She was empty with the memory of hunger. “What?” she said.

“Between lights,” repeated the sphinx. “Seven seconds. Except during rush hour, when it’s longer – thirty seconds even – and after ten, when it depends on where the traffic’s coming from. Average time between changes in absence of traffic is twelve seconds and a half.”

Colleen filed this information away. It didn’t seem to mean anything, but she was learning that everything meant something. There were connections even in the empty places.

The sphinx was tiger-striped and brunette and stuck up on the front of the metal switching box next to the crosswalk sign. Its eyes were wide and blank. Oriental. Its voice was full of corner noises, cars gearing up, men whistling, women humming, heels tapping against the concrete, water gurgling down the storm drain. Metal rattle of the switching box. “The light’s changed,” it told her. “Aren’t you going to go?”

“Hold on,” she said. “I’m counting.”