It worked. Or Fannie pretended it did.

“You’d make a good father.” She beamed.

“No, I’d be like all fathers, out of mind and out of patience. Those kids should have been doped with beer and slugged into their cots hours ago. Feeling better, Fannie?”

“Better,” she sighed, and shut her eyes.

I went and circled her with my arms, like Lindbergh going around the earth and the crowds yelling.

“It will work itself out,” she said. “You go now. Everything’s all right. Like you said, those kids have gone to bed.”

The kids? I almost said, but stopped myself. Oh, yes, the kids.

“So Fannie’s safe, and you go home. Poor baby. Tell Constance thanks but no thanks, and she can come visit, yes? Mrs. Gutierrez has promised to come up and stay tonight, on that bed I haven’t used in thirty years, can you imagine? I can’t sleep on my back, I can’t breathe, well, Mrs. Gutierrez is coming up, and you were so kind to come visit, dear child. I see now how kind you are, you only want to save me the sadness of our friends downstairs.”

“That’s true, Fannie.”

“There’s nothing unusual about their passing on, is there?”

“No, Fannie,” I lied, “only foolishness and failed beauty and sadness.”

“God,” she said, “you talk like Butterfly’s lieutenant.”

“That’s why the guys at school beat me up.”

I went to the door. Fannie took a deep breath and at last said, “If anything does happen to me. Not that it will. But if it does, look in the icebox.”

“Look where?”

“Icebox,” said Fannie, enigmatically. “Don’t.”

But I had jerked the icebox open already. I stared in at the light. I saw lots of jams, sauces, jellies, and mayonnaise. I shut the door after a long moment.

“You shouldn’t have looked,” protested Fannie.

“I don’t want to wait, I’ve got to know.”

“Now, I won’t tell you,” she said, indignantly. “You shouldn’t have peeked. I’m just willing to admit maybe it’s my fault it came into the house.”

“It, Fannie? It, it!”

“All the bad things I thought you dragged in on your shoes. But maybe Fannie was responsible. Maybe I’m guilty. Maybe I called that thing off the streets.”

“Well, did you, or didn’t you?” I yelled, leaning toward her.

“Don’t you love me any more?”

“Love you, hell, I’m trying to get you out of here and you won’t come. You accuse me of poisoning the toilets, and now tell me to look in iceboxes. Jesus God, Fannie.”

“Now the lieutenant is mad with Butterfly.” But her eyes were starting to well over.

I couldn’t stand any more of that.

I opened the door.

Mrs. Gutierrez had been standing there a long while, I was sure, a plate of hot tacos in her hands, always the diplomat, waiting.

“I’ll call you tomorrow, Fannie,” I said.

“Of course you will, and Fannie will be alive!”

I wonder, I thought, if I shut my eyes and pretend to be blind . . .

Can I find Henry’s room?

I tapped on Henry’s door.

“Who that?” Henry said, locked away.

“Who dat say who dat?” I said.

“Who dat say who dat say who dat?” he said, and had to laugh. Then he remembered he was in pain.

“It’s you.”

“Henry, let me in.”

“I’m okay, just fell downstairs is all, just almost got destroyed is all, just let me rest here with the door locked, I’ll be out tomorrow, you’re a good boy to worry.”

“What happened, Henry?” I asked the locked door.

Henry came closer. I felt he was leaning against it, like someone talking through a confessional lattice.

“He tripped me.”

A rabbit ran around in my chest and turned into a big rat that kept right on running.

“Who, Henry?”

“Him. Son-of-a-bitch tripped me.”

“Did he say anything, you sure he was there?”

“How do I know the upstairs hall light is on? Me? I feel. Heat. The hall was terrible warm where he was. And he was breathing, of course. I heard him sucking away at the air and blowing out nice and gentle where he hid. He didn’t say nothing as I went by, but I heard his heart, too, wham, wham, or maybe it was mine. I figured to sneak by so he can’t see me, blind man figures that if he’s in the dark, why not everyone else. And next thing you know, bam! I’m at the bottom of the stairs and don’t know how I got there. I started yelling for Jimmy and Sam and Pietro, then I said damn fool to myself, they’re gone and you, too, if you don’t ask for someone else. I started naming names, top speed, doors popped all around the house, and while they was popping, he popped out. Sounded almost barefoot out the door. Smelled his breath.”

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray