At dawn the birch trees are ice-smacked: shocked and glassy. The man limps across the snow, like a toad, his only illness memory. Light presses against his eyes, like a shard of the bottle he broke over the night — though it was the evening, softer than skin, that had tempted him from hiding. He recalls the suckling: iron-bitter as the earth, yet river-silken. Then the black sky: pricked with stars like a medieval device and cold as iron. How the birch trees, pale as naked men, were flayed against them.