Down and through my arms, along my hands, and out my cold fingertips onto the page.
In a flood, the darkness came.
I laughed, glad for its arrival.
And fell into bed.
As I tried to sleep, I began sneezing and sneezing and lay miserably using up a box of Kleenex, feeling the cold would never end.
During the night the fog thickened, and way out in the bay somewhere sunk and lost, a foghorn blew and blew again. It sounded like a great sea beast long dead and heading for its own grave away from shore, mourning along the way, with no one to care or follow.
During the night a wind moved in my apartment window and stirred the typed pages of my novel on the desk. I heard the paper whisper like the waters in the canal, like the breath on my neck, and at last I slept.
I awoke late to a blaze of sun. I sneezed my way to the door and flung it wide to step out into a blow of daylight so fierce it made me want to live forever, and so ashamed of the thought I wanted, like Ahab, to strike the sun. Instead I dressed quickly. My clothes from last night were still damp. I put on tennis shorts and a jacket, then turned the pockets of my damp coat out to find the clot of papier-mâché that had fallen from the dead man’s suit only a few hours ago.
I touched the pieces with my fingernail, exhaling. I knew what they were. But I wasn’t ready to face up to it yet.
I am not a runner. But I ran . . .
Away from the canal, the cage, the voice talking darkness on the train, away from my room and the fresh pages waiting to be read which had started to say it all, but I did not want to read them yet. I just ran blindly south on the beach.
Into Lost World country.
I slowed at last to stare at the forenoon feedings of strange mechanical beasts.
Oil wells. Oil pumps.
These great pterodactyls, I said to friends, had arrived by air, early in the century, gliding in late nights to build their nests. Startled, the shore people woke to hear the pumping sounds of vast hungers. People sat up in bed wakened by the creak, rustle, stir of skeletal shapes, the heave of earthbound, featherless wings rising, falling like primeval breaths at three a.m. Their smell, like time, blew along the shore, from an age before caves or the men who hid in caves, the smell of jungles falling to be buried in earth and ripening to oil.
I ran through this forest of brontosauri, imagining triceratops, and the picket-fence stegosaurus, treading black syrups, sinking in tar. Their laments echoed from the shore, where the surf tossed back their ancient thunders.
I ran past the little white cottages that came later to nest among the monsters, and the canals that had been dug and filled to mirror the bright skies of 1910 when the white gondolas sailed on clean tides and bridges strung with firefly lightbulbs promised future promenades that arrived like overnight ballet troupes and ran away never to return after the war. And the dark beasts just went on sucking the sand while the gondolas sank, taking the last of some party’s laughter with them.
Some people stayed on, of course, hidden in shacks or locked in some few Mediterranean villas thrown in for architectural irony.
Running, I came to a full halt. I would have to turn back in a moment and go find that papier-mâché mulch and then go seek the name of its lost and dead owner.
But for now, one of the Mediterranean palaces, as blazing white as a full moon come to stay upon the sands, stood before me.
“Constance Rattigan,” I whispered. “Can you come out and play?”
It was, in fact, a fiery white Arabian Moorish fortress facing the sea and daring the tides to come in and pull it down. It had minarets and turrets and blue and white tiles tilted precariously on the sand-shelves no more than one hundred feet from where the curious waves bowed to do obeisance, where the gulls circled down for a chance look, and where I stood now taking root.
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