“Get that in you,” I commanded, and suddenly realized my cab driver was in the door behind me, having followed me upstairs, thinking I was a deadbeat and trying to escape.

I grabbed and handed him one mayonnaise jar full of quarters.

“That enough?” I said.

He did a quick estimate, like someone guessing jelly beans in a vat in a store window, sucked his teeth, and ran off with the coins rattling.

Fannie was busy emptying the wine glass. I refilled it and sat down to wait. At last she said, “Someone’s been outside my door every night now for two nights. They come and go, go and come, not like ever before, they stop, they breathe out and in, my God, what are they doing outside an old collapsed ruin of an opera singer fat lady’s door at midnight, it can’t be rape, can it, they don’t rape 38o-pound sopranos, do they?”

And here she began to laugh so long and so hard I couldn’t tell if it was hysteria or an amazed and self-surprising humor. I had to beat her on the back to stop the laughs and change the color in her face and give her more wine.

“Oh, my, my, my,” she gasped. “It’s good to laugh. Thank God, you’re here. You’ll protect me, won’t you? I’m sorry I said what I said. You didn’t bring that dreadful thing with you and leave it outside my door. It’s just the hound of the Baskervilles, hungry, come in on his own to scare Fannie.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Jimmy and Pietro and Sam, Fannie,” I said, and gulped my wine. “I just didn’t want to read obits to you, all at once. Look here. Constance Rattigan will be downstairs in a few minutes. She wants you to come stay a few days and…”

“More secrets,” cried Fannie, eyes wide. “Since when have you known her? And, anyway, it’s no use. This is my home. If I left here, I’d waste away, just die. I have my recordings.”

“We’ll take them with.”

“My books.”

“I’ll carry them down.”

“My mayonnaise, she wouldn’t have the right brand.”

“I’ll buy it.”

“She wouldn’t have room.”

“Even for you, Fannie, yes.”

“And then what about my new calico cat … ?”

And so it went until I heard the limousine shrug in against the curb below.

“So that’s it, is it, Fannie?”

“I feel fine, now, now that you’re here. Just tell Mrs. Gutierrez to come up and stay a while after you leave,” said Fannie cheerily.

“Where does all this false optimism come from, when an hour ago you were doomed?”

“Dear boy, Fannie’s fine. That dreadful beast isn’t coming back, I just know, and anyway, anyway…”

With a terrible sense of timing, the entire tenement shifted in its sleep.

The door to Fannie’s room whispered on its hinges.

As if shot a final time, Fannie sat up and almost gagged on her terror.

I was across the room in an instant and threw the door wide, to stare out into the long valley of the hall, a mile in this direction, a mile in that; endless dark tunnels filled with jet streams of night.

I listened and heard the plaster crack in the ceiling, the doors itch in their frames. Somewhere, a toilet muttered incessantly to itself, an old, cold, white porcelain vault in the night.

There was no one in the hall, of course.

Whoever had been there, if he ever was, had shut a door quickly, or run toward the front or out the back. Where the night came in in an invisible flood, a long winding river of wind, bringing with it memories of things eaten and things discarded, things desired, things no longer wanted.

I wanted to shriek at the empty halls, the things I had wanted to shout along the night shore outside Constance Rattigan’s Arabian fort. Go. Let be. We may look as if we deserve to, but we don’t want to die.

What I shouted to emptiness was, “All right, you kids. Get back in your rooms. Go on, now. Git! That’s it. So. There.”

I waited for the nonexistent kids to retreat to their nonexistent rooms and turned back in to lean against the door and shut it with a fake smile.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray