But no one came out.
Alone and special in this thunder-lizard territory, this palace guarded that special cinema queen.
A light burned in one tower window all night and all day. I had never seen it not on. Was she there now?
For the quickest shadow had crossed the window, as if someone had come to stare down at me and gone away, like a moth,
I stood remembering.
Hers had been a swift year in the Twenties, with a quick drop down the mine shaft into the film vaults. Her director, old newsprint said, had found her in bed with the studio hairdresser, and cut Constance Rattigan’s leg muscles with a knife so she would no longer be able to walk the way he loved. Then he had fled to swim straight west toward China. Constance Rattigan was never seen again. If she could walk no one knew.
God, I heard myself whisper.
I sensed that she had ventured forth in my world late nights and knew people I knew. There were breaths of near meetings between us.
Go, I thought, bang the brass lion knocker on her shore-front door.
No. I shook my head. I was afraid that only a black-and-white film ectoplasm might answer.
You do not really want to meet your special love, you only want to dream that some night she’ll step out and walk, with her footprints vanishing on the sand as the wind follows, to your apartment where she’ll tap on your window and enter to unspool her spirit-light in long creeks of film on your ceiling.
Constance, dear Rattigan, I thought, run out! Jump in that big white Duesenberg parked bright and fiery in the sand, rev the motor, wave, and motor me away south to Coronado, down the sunlit coast!
No one revved a motor, no one waved, no one took me south to sun, away from that foghorn that buried itself at sea.
So I backed off, surprised to find salt water up over my tennis shoes, turned to walk back toward cold rain in cages, the greatest writer in the world, but no one knew, just me.
I had the moist confetti, the papier-mâché mulch, in my jacket pocket, when I stepped into the one place where I knew that I had to go.
It was where the old men gathered.
It was a small, dim shop facing the railway tracks where candy, cigarettes, and magazines were sold and tickets for the big red trolley cars that rushed from L.A. to the sea.
The tobacco-shed-smelling place was run by two nicotine-stained brothers who were always sniveling and bickering at each other like old maids. On a bench to one side, ignoring the arguments like crowds at a boring tennis match, a nest of old men stayed by the hour and the day, lying upward about their ages. One said he was eighty-two. Another bragged that he was ninety. A third said ninety-four. It changed from week to week, as each misremembered last month’s lie.
And if you listened, as the big iron trains rolled by, you could hear the rust flake off the old men’s bones and snow through their bloodstreams to shimmer for a moment in their dying gaze as they settled for long hours between sentences and tried to recall the subject they had started on at noon and might finish off at midnight, when the two brothers, bickering, shut up shop and went away sniveling to their bachelor beds.
Where the old men lived, nobody knew. Every night, after the brothers grouched off into the dark, the old men dispersed like tumbleweeds, blown every which way in the salt wind.
I stepped into the eternal dusk of the place and stood staring at the bench where the old men had sat since the beginning of time.
There was an empty place between the old men. Where there had always been four, now there were only three, and I could tell from their faces that something was wrong.
I looked at their feet, which were surrounded by not only scatterings of cigar ash, but a gentle snowfall of strange little paper-punchouts, the confetti from hundreds of trolley line tickets in various L and X and M shapes.
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