These naked footprints went to my left, east.
I followed them.
I ran as if I could catch up with the miniature storm.
Until I reached the canal.
Where the footprints stopped at the rim.
I stared down at the oily waters.
I could see where someone had climbed out and walked along the midnight street to my place, and then run back, the strides were bigger, to…
God, who would swim in those filthy waters?
Someone who didn’t care, never worried about disease? Someone who loved night arrivals and dark departures for the hell, the fun, or the death of it?
I edged along the canal bank, adjusting my eyes, watchful to see if anything broke the black surface.
The tide went away and came back, surging through a lock that had rusted open. A herd of small seals drifted by, but it was only kelp going nowhere.
“You still there?” I whispered. “What did you come for? Why to my place?”
I sucked air and held it.
For in a hollowed-out concrete cache, under a small cement bunker, on the far side of a rickety bridge . . .
I thought I saw a greasy fringe of hair rise, and then an oiled brow. Eyes stared back at me. It could have been a sea-otter or a dog or a black porpoise somehow strayed and lost in the canal.
The head stayed for a long moment, half out of water.
And I remembered a thing I had read as a boy leafing African novels. About crocodiles that infested the subterranean caves under the rims of Congo riverbanks. The beasts sank down and never came up. Submerged, they slid to hide up inside the secret bank itself, waiting for someone foolish enough to swim by. Then the reptiles squirmed out of their underwater dens to feed.
Was I staring at a similar beast? Someone who loved night tides, who hid in caches under the banks to rise and step softly to leave rain where he walked?
I watched the dark head in the water. It watched me, with gleaming eyes.
No. That can’t be a man!
I shivered. I jumped forward, as one jumps toward a horror to make it vanish, to scare spiders, rats, snakes away. Not bravery but fear made me stomp.
The dark head sank. The water rippled.
The head did not rise again.
Shuddering, I walked back along the trail of dark rain that had come to visit my doorstep.
The small pool of water was still there on my sill.
I bent and plucked up a small mound of seaweed from the middle of the pool.
Only then did I discover I had run to and from the canal dressed only in my jockey shorts.
I gasped, glanced swiftly around. The street was empty. I leaped in to slam the door.
Tomorrow, I thought, I’ll go shake my fists at Elmo Crumley.
In my right fist, a handful of trolley ticket dust.
In my left, a clump of moist seaweed.
But not at the police station!
Jails, like hospitals, sank me to my knees in a faint.
Crumley’s home was somewhere.
Shaking my fists. I’d find it.
For about 150 days a year in Venice, the sun doesn’t show through the mist until noon.
For some sixty days a year the sun doesn’t come out of the fog until it’s ready to go down in the west, around four or five o’clock.
For some forty days it doesn’t come out at all.
The rest of the time, if you’re lucky, the sun rises, as it does for the rest of Los Angeles and California, at five-thirty or six in the morning and stays all day.
It’s the forty- or sixty-day cycles that drip in the soul and make the riflemen clean their guns. Old ladies buy rat poison on the twelfth day of no sun. But on the thirteenth day, when they are about to arsenic their morning tea, the sun rises wondering what everyone is so upset about, and the old ladies feed the rats down by the canal, and lean back to their brandy.
During the forty-day cycles, the foghorn lost somewhere out in the bay sounds over and over again, and never stops, until you feel the people in the local graveyard beginning to stir. Or, late at night, when the foghorn gets going, some variety of amphibious beast rises in your id and swims toward land. It is swimming somewhere yearning, maybe only for sun. All the smart animals have gone south. You are left stranded on a cold dune with an empty typewriter, an abandoned bank account, and a half-warm bed. You expect the submersible beast to rise some night while you sleep. To get rid of him you get up at three a.m. and write a story about him, but don’t send it out to any magazines for years because you are afraid. Not Death, but Rejection in Venice is what Thomas Mann should have written about.
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