“Constance. No!” I yelled.
But she was out there only to be sick, bending over and leaning down and letting it all come out, as I much wanted to do. I could only stand and watch and look from her to the great mountain where we foothills had stood a moment before.
At last Constance stopped.
I turned, for no reason I could imagine, and went around Fannie and across the room to open a small door. A faint cold light played out over my face.
“Sweet Christ!” cried Constance, in the door behind me. “What’re you doing?”
“Fannie told me,” I said, my mouth numb. “Anything happened, look in the icebox.”
A cold tomb wind blew out around my cheeks.
“So I’m looking.”
There was nothing in the icebox, of course.
Or rather there was too much. Jellies, jams, varieties of mayonnaise, salad dressing, pickles, hot peppers, cheesecake, rolls, white bread, butter, cold cuts, an Arctic delicatessen. The panorama of Fannie’s flesh was there and how it had been planned and steadily built.
I stared and stared again, trying to see what Fannie wanted me to see. Oh, Christ, I thought, what am I looking for? Is the answer one of these? I almost shoved in to hurl all the jams and jellies to the floor. I had to stop my fist, halfway in.
It’s not there, or if it is, I can’t see it.
I gave a terrible death groan and slammed the door.
The phonograph, with Tosca gone, gave up and quit.
Someone call the police, I thought. Someone?
Constance was out on the balcony again.
It was all over by three in the morning. The police had come, and everyone had been questioned and names taken and the whole tenement was awake, as if someone had started a fire in the basement, and when I came out the front of the tenement the morgue van was still parked there with the men trying to figure out how to get Fannie out and down the stairs and away. I hoped they wouldn’t think of the piano box that Fannie had joked about, in the alley. They never did. But Fannie had to stay in her room until dawn, when they brought a bigger van and a larger carrier.
It was terrible, leaving her up there alone in the night. But the police wouldn’t let me stay, and after all, it was a simple case of death from natural causes.
As I went down through the levels of the house, the doors were beginning to close and the lights go out, like those nights at the end of the war when the last conga line, exhausted, drained away into the rooms and down into the streets and there was the lonely walk for me up over Bunker Hill and down to the terminal where I would be taken home in thunders.
I found Constance Rattigan curled up in the back seat of her limousine, lying quietly, staring at nothing. When she heard me open the back door she said, “Get behind the wheel.”
I climbed up front behind the steering wheel.
“Take me home,” she said quietly.
It took me a full moment of sitting there to say finally, “I can’t.”
“I don’t know how to drive,” I said.
“I never learned. There was no reason, anyway.” My tongue moved like lead between my lips. “Since when can writers afford cars?”
“Jesus.” Constance managed to prop herself up and get out, like someone with a hangover. She got out and came around walking slowly and blindly and waved. “Get over.”
Somehow she started the car. This time we drove at about ten miles an hour, as if there were a fog so you could only see ten feet ahead.
We made it as far as the Ambassador Hotel. She turned in there and drove up just as the last of a Saturday night party came out with balloons and funny hats. The Coconut Grove was putting out its lights above us. I saw some musicians hurrying away with their instruments.
Everyone knew Constance. We signed in and had a bungalow on the side of the hotel in a few minutes. We had no luggage but no one seemed to mind. The bellboy who took us through the garden to our place kept looking at Constance as if maybe he should carry her. When we were in the room, Constance said, “Would a fifty-dollar tip find the key and unlock the gate to let us in the swimming pool around back?”
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