Tears were rolling down her cheeks. She didn’t say anything, but moved the limousine quietly. Soon we were flying steadily down the middle of Venice Boulevard.
I was afraid to ask questions because I feared answers.
About halfway there, Constance said:
“I had this premonition.”
That’s all she said. I knew she hadn’t called anyone. She simply had to go see for herself.
As it turned out, even if she had called someone, it would have been too late.
We rolled up in front of the tenement at eleven-thirty p.m.
We sat there and Constance, still staring ahead, the tears streaking down her cheeks, said:
“God, I feel as though I weigh three-eighty. I can’t move.”
But we had to, at last.
Inside the tenement, halfway up the steps, Constance suddenly fell to her knees, shut her eyes, crossed herself, and gasped, “Oh, please, God, please, please let Fannie be alive.”
I helped her the rest of the way up the stairs, drunk on sadness.
At the top of the stairs in the dark there was a vast in-sucked draft that pulled at us as we arrived. A thousand miles off, at the far end of night, someone had opened and shut the door on the north side of the tenement. Going out for air? Going out to escape? A shadow moved in a shadow. The cannon bang of the door reached us an instant later. Constance rocked on her heels. I grabbed her hand and pulled her along.
We moved through weather that got older and colder and darker as we went. I began to run, making strange noises, incantations, with my mouth, to protect Fannie.
It’s all right, she’ll be there, I thought, making magic prayers, with her phonograph records and Caruso photos and astrology charts and mayonnaise jars and her singing and . . .
She was there all right.
The door hung open on its hinges.
She was there in the middle of the linoleum in the middle of the room, lying on her back.
“Fannie!” we both shouted at once.
Get up! we wanted to say. You can’t breathe lying on your back! You haven’t been to bed in thirty years. You must always sit up, Fannie, always.
She did not get up. She did not speak. She did not sing.
She did not even breathe.
We sank to our knees by her, pleading in whispers, or praying inside. We kneeled there like two worshippers, two penitents, two healers, and put out our hands, as if that would do it. Just by touching we would bring her back to life.
But Fannie lay there staring at the ceiling as if to say: how curious, what is the ceiling doing there? and why don’t I speak?
It was very simple and terrible. Fannie had fallen, or been pushed, and could not get up. She had lain there in the middle of the night until her own weight crushed and smothered her. It would not have taken much to keep her in position so she could not roll over. You didn’t have to use your hands on her, around her neck. Nothing had to be forced. You simply stood over her and made sure that she didn’t roll to get leverage to gasp herself erect. And you watched her for a minute, two minutes, until at last the sounds stopped and the eyes turned to glass.
Oh Fannie, I groaned, oh Fannie, I mourned, what have you done to yourself?
There was the faintest whisper.
My head jerked. I stared.
Fannie’s crank-up phonograph was still turning, slowly, slowly. But it was still running. Which meant that just five minutes ago, she had cranked it up, put on a record, and . . .
Answered the door on darkness.
The phonograph turntable spun. But there was no record under the needle. Tosca wasn’t there.
I blinked, and then . . .
There was a swift knocking sound.
Constance was on her feet, choking, running. She headed for the door leading out to the balcony overlooking the trash-filled empty lot, with a view of Bunker Hill and the poolhall across the way where laughter came and went all night. Before I could stop her, she was out the screen door and to the balcony rail.
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