She indicated at least four oil-rig machineries heaving and sighing out back of the kitchen, wonderful pets for a good life.

“Fannie? She had a lousy love affair which cracked her permanently in half and blew her up to the size you see now. No man, not me, not life, could coax her back to beauty. We all just gave up on that and stayed friends.”

“A good friend from the sound of your voice.”

“Well, it works both ways. She’s a talented, dear, eccentric lost lady. I Chihuahua-caper to her mammoth gavotte. Lots of good honest laughs at the four-o’clock-in-the-morning world. We don’t kid each other about the facts of life. We know we’ll never come back out into it, she for her reasons, me for mine. She saw one man too close, I saw too many, quickly. Retirement takes many forms, as you can see by my disguises, as you can see by Fannie’s Montgolfier balloon shape.”

“The way you talk about men, I mean, you’re talking to a real live one here, now,” I said.

“You’re not one of them, I can tell. You couldn’t rape a chorus line, or use your agent’s desk for a bed. You couldn’t knock your grandma downstairs to cadge the insurance. Maybe you’re a sap, I don’t know, or a fool, but I’ve come to prefer saps and fools, guys who don’t raise tarantulas or yank wings off hummingbirds. Silly writers who dream about going to Mars and never coming back to our stupid daytime world.”

She stopped, hearing herself.

“Christ, I talk a lot. Let’s get back to Fannie. She doesn’t scare often, been living in that old firetrap for twenty years now, door open to one and all, and the mayonnaise jar in hand, but now something’s wrong. She jumps when fleas sneeze. So…?”

“Last night all we did was play opera and try to joke. She didn’t say.”

“Maybe she didn’t want to bother the Martian, that’s one of the things she calls you, right? I know by the way her skin shakes. You know horses at all? Ever see the skin on a horse twitch and jerk when flies land on it? Invisible flies are landing on Fannie all the time now, and she just firms her mouth and shakes her flesh. Seems her astrology chart is out of whack. Her hourglass is malfunctioning, someone has put funeral-urn ashes in it instead of sand. There are odd whispers in her icebox door. The ice falls inside the fridge at midnight and sounds like the wrong kind of laughter. The toilet across the hall gargles all night. The termites under her chair are going to gnaw through and drop her to hell. The spiders in the wall are mending her shroud. How’s that for a list? All intuition. No facts. Would get thrown out of court fast. You understand?”

With nothing trembles.

I thought that, but didn’t say it. Instead I said, “You talked to Henry about this?”

“Henry thinks he’s the world’s greatest blind man. That don’t catsup any beans for me. He hints. Something’s up, but he won’t say. Can you help? Then I can write Fannie or call her through the Gutierrez lady or drop by tomorrow night and tell her everything’s Jake. Can do?”

“Can I have some more wine, please?”

She poured, never taking her eyes off me.

“Okay,” she said, “start lying.”

“Something is going on, but it’s too early to tell.”

“By the time you tell, it may be too late.” Constance Rattigan jumped up and paced around the room, turning at last to rifle-shot me with a stare. “Why won’t you talk when you know Fannie’s scared gutless?”

“Because I’m tired of being afraid of every shadow, myself. Because I’ve been a coward all of my life and I’m sick of me. When I know more, I’ll call you!”

“Jesus.” Constance Rattigan snorted a laugh. “You got a loud voice. I’ll move back and give you air. I know you love Fannie. You think she should come live with me here for a few days, a week, to protect her?”

I looked around at the grand pillows, the bright elephant herd of satin surfaces with goosedown stuffings, so much in shape and size like Florianna.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray