The subject line read, Not sure how to say this. Brian clicked it and read it three times. The bottom was signed, Jennifer. No love, but that was to be expected. He read it again, examining each letter, each punctuation mark. It said the same thing each time, so he shut down his computer and went for a walk.

Outside, bare tree branches swayed against a bitter wind. He pulled his jacket to his neck and tried not to think, but Jennifer’s voice came through. She read the words of her email, enunciating important phrases, such as what we did that night and You didn’t want children anyway. The bright sun offered no warmth.

Others passed him on the sidewalk. Several women pushed strollers with bundled-up babies sucking bright pacifiers. You didn’t want children anyway. Brian couldn’t argue. He had said that. The Jennifer-voice in his head returned: I’m sorry, but it is my body, after all. No argument there, either.

Brian passed a closed toy store on his way to the nearby library. Mrs. Sandy, the gray-haired librarian with the overbite, greeted him. While Brian browsed tall shelves, children chattered over in the kids’ section. Mrs. Sandy admonished them, insisting they use their “indoor voices.” A nearby ceiling fan swung in lazy circles overhead, like a mobile over a crib. Brian carried a John Barth novel over to the checkout counter. Mrs. Sally smiled as she scanned the barcode, and he gave a small nod in return. A tinkling bell on the front door marked his exit.

In the park, he sat on a cold metal bench. After the wind died down, children populated the place. Brian clutched his book and stared at its words. Dueling shouts of “You’re it!” and “Gotcha!” filled the air. A nearby game of peek-a-boo produced high-pitched giggles from a little boy in a Charlie Brown onesie. Brian closed his book and took off down the cobblestone path, unable to concentrate. Everything was so loud.