Max awakes, breathes, and warily opens his eyes. This innocent reflex suddenly turns on the pain in his head, his stomach, and his bladder. In the half-light he looks at his watch. It's 6:30. He knows it's time to get ready for work and that thought sparks a wave of hopelessness. Max is a prison guard. It is the best job he could find. He knows he is a fair and reasonable man, but his days are spent being looked down on by thieves, murderers and perverts. He cannot afford a place of his own and lives with his younger brother Alexei. As he sits up in bed he has a vague memory of an afternoon drinking beer, then vodka, with Alexei at the nearby open air café. That's all he remembers. There is no reason to try to remember more.

Ask anyone in the neighborhood about Max and they will tell you he is a loser, a fool, and a drunk. The only person who does not share this opinion is Max himself. He thinks he is a smart, quick witted fellow who is handsome, charming and who would be a good match for a business lady. He would admit drinking too much at times, though he is confident alcohol is not a problem.

When he is dressed in his uniform he looks at himself in the mirror and sees his sagging face. He smells his own breath and feels wobbly. He is still drunk. "Why am I still drunk," he asks himself. Then he leans into in the mirror to take a closer look. Things are not as usual this morning.

Max walks slowly toward the prison camp and work. Although his job is just a few minutes away, he is often late. The problem is that he must walk by the open air café and this is not easy, especially after payday, when Max has cash in his pocket. He wishes his path wouldn't lead by the cafe, but there is only one road. He stops at the edge of the road and says to himself, "I must pass quickly. I shall not stop for a bottle of beer." He thinks about the day last month when he had a beer and never got to work because there is always one more bottle to drink.

He looks at the horizon as he stands at the side of the road and sees the edge of the sun. For a moment he gives thought to the eternal question of whether the sun revolves around the earth or the earth revolves around the sun. He can only think the question. His groping mind cannot produce an answer. He is minutes away from work, staring at the horizon, and all he can do is stand frozen as the great questions of life dance in his head.

Then confusion falls upon him. Something is wrong with the sun. What can be wrong? The sun is the sun, the same immutable heavenly body he sees every day. But today something is most assuredly wrong with the sun. Something is wrong with the people. And something is wrong with the light on the street.

Max wants to run to the café and drink a river of beer and vodka to make this terrible feeling go away. "Everything is crazy and upside down. How can I walk by without stopping for just one beer to calm my mind? How will I get to work on time?" Then he gasps.

Squinting at the horizon he looks at the sun and, to his horror, unexpectedly realizes the sun has reversed its direction. Time is running backwards. The sun is not rising. It is setting. It is not morning. It is evening. Then, as though revealed by flights of angels, everything falls into place and the universe is right again.

"I just slept a few hours," he thinks. "That's why I am still drunk! Alexei and I were drinking and I went home for a nap!"

Never has a reprieved prisoner felt such freedom. Never has a child been more delighted with a gift The burden of Max's job vanishes like steam from a kettle. His reality is now a boundless affirmation of freedom and validation. Max laughs joyously and strides, grinning, toward the café and a good night of manly drinking.


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