I had more of the day to wait to go see Crumley.
And Cal was not exactly the greatest lure in the world.
The elephants lumbered and groaned their machineries and shook the pavement, on their way to devour the fun house and the horses on the carousel.
Feeling like an old Russian writer, madly in love with killing winter and blizzards on the move, what could I do but follow?
By the time I got to the pier, half the trucks had lumbered down on the sand to move out toward the tides and catch the junk that would be tossed over the railings. The others had headed out toward China on the rotting planks, sawdusting the wooden mulch on the way.
I followed, sneezing and using Kleenex. I should be home lying with my cold, but the thought of going to bed with so many fog and mist and rain thoughts slogged me on.
I stood amazed at my own blindness, halfway down the length of the pier, wondering at all the people here I had seen but never known. Half of the games were nailed shut with freshcut pine planks. A few stayed open, waiting for the bad weather to come in and toss hoops or knock milk bottles down. Outside half a dozen stalls, the young men who looked old or the old men who looked older stood watching those trucks growling out on the sea end of the pier, getting ready to tooth and nail sixty years of past time.
I looked around, realizing I had rarely seen behind the dropped flat doors or the rolled-down and battened canvasses.
I had the feeling again of being followed and spun about.
A big plume of fog came along the pier, ignored me, and passed on.
So much for premonition.
Here, halfway to the sea, there was a small dark shack that I had passed for at least ten years without seeing the window-shades up.
Today, for the first time, the shades were raised.
I looked in.
My God, I thought. There’s a whole library there.
I walked swiftly over, wondering how many similar libraries were hidden away on the pier or lost in the old alleys of Venice.
I stood by the window, remembering nights when I had seen a light behind the shade and a shadow-hand turning pages in an invisible book, and heard a voice whispering the words, declaiming poetries, philosophizing on a dark universe. It had always sounded like a writer with second thoughts or an actor slipping downhill into a ghost repertory, Lear with two extra sets of mean daughters and only half the wits.
But now, at noon this day, the shades were up. Inside, a small light still burned in a room empty of occupants but filled with a desk, a chair, and an old-fashioned but huge leather couch. Around the couch, on all sides, towering to the ceiling, were cliffs and towers and parapets of books. There must have been a thousand of them, crammed and shoved up to the ceiling.
I stepped back and looked at the signs I had seen but not seen around and above the shack door.
TAROT CARDS. But the print was faded.
The next sign down read PALMISTRY.
The third one, in block letters, was PHRENOLOGY.
And beneath, HANDWRITING ANALYSIS.
And to one side, HYPNOTISM.
I sidled closer to the door, for there was a very small business card thumb-tacked just above the doorknob.
I read the name of the shack’s owner:
A. L. SHRANK.
And underneath the name, in pencil not quite so faint as canaries for sale, these words:
A sextuple-threat man.
I put my ear to the door and listened.
In there, between precipice shelves of dusty books, did I hear Sigmund Freud whispering a penis is only a penis, but a good cigar is a smoke? Hamlet dying and taking everyone along? Virginia Wolf, like drowned Ophelia, stretched out to dry on that couch, telling her sad tale? Tarot cards being shuffled? Heads being felt like cantaloupes? Pens scratching?
“Let’s peek,” I said.
Again, I stared through the window, but all I saw was the empty couch with the outline of many bodies in its middle. It was the only bed. Nights, A. L. Shrank slept there. Days, did strangers lie there, holding on to their insides as if they were broken glass? I could not believe.
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