“Mr. Shapeshade, you can’t give these to me.”
“You’re a romantic sap, aren’t you?”
“Take, take. Farewell, goodbye. But another farewell, goodbye, out beyond. Kummensei pier oudt!”
He left the diplomas in my hands and trotted off.
I found him at the end of the pier, pointing down and watching my face to see me crumple and seize the pier rail, staring over.
The rifles were down there, silent for the first time in years. They lay on the sea bottom about fifteen feet under, but the water was clear because the sun was coming out.
I counted maybe a dozen long, cold, blue metal weapons down there where the fish swam by.
“Some farewell, huh?” Shapeshade glanced where I was looking. “One by one. One by one. Early this morning. I came running up, yelled, what’re you doing!? What does it look like? she said. And one by one, over and down. They’re closing your place, they’re closing mine this afternoon, so what the hell, she said. And one by one.”
“She didn’t,” I said, and stopped. I searched the waters under the pier and far out. “She didn’t?”
“Was she the last one in? No, no. Just stood here a long time, with me, watching the ocean. They won’t be here long, she said. Week from now, gone. A bunch of stupid guys will dive and bring them up, yes? What could I say. Yes.”
“She leave any word when she went?”
I could not take my eyes off the long rifles that shone in the flowing tide.
“Said she was going somewhere to milk cows. But no bulls, she said, no bulls. Milk cows and churn butter, was the last thing I heard.”
“I hope she will,” I said.
The rifles suddenly swarmed with fish who seemed to have come to see. But there were no sounds of firing.
“Their silence,” said Shapeshade, “is nice, eh?”
“Don’t forget these,” said Shapeshade.
They had fallen out of my hands. He picked up and handed me my diplomas for all the years of my young life running up and down popcorn aisles in the dark with the Phantom and the Hunchback.
On the way back, I passed a little boy who stood staring down at the remains of the rollercoaster lying like strewn bones on the shore.
“What’s that dinosaur doing lying there dead on the beach?” he said.
I had thought of it first. I resented this boy who saw the collapsed rollercoaster as I saw it: a beast dead in the tides.
No! I wanted to yell at him.
But aloud I said, gently, “Oh, Lord, son, I wish I knew.”
I turned and staggered away, carrying an armload of invisible rifles down the pier.
I had two dreams that night. In the first, A. L. Shrank’s Sigmund Freud Schopenhauer tarot card shop was knocked to flinders by the great hungry steamshovel, so off in the tide floated the Marquis de Sade and Thomas De Quincey, and Mark Twain’s sick daughters and Sartre on a truly bad day, drowning in the dark waters over the shine of the shooting gallery rifles.
The second dream was a newsreel I had seen of the Russian royal family, lined up by their graves, and shot so that they jerked and jumped like a silent film projection, knocked, blown away, end over end, like popped corks, into the pit. It made you gasp with horrid laughter. Inhuman. Hilarious. Bam!
There went Sam, Jimmy, Pietro, canary lady, Fannie, Cal, old lion-cage man, Constance, Shrank, Crumley, Peg, and me!
I slammed awake, sweating ice.
The telephone, across the street in the gas station, was ringing.
I held my breath.
It rang again once, and stopped.
It rang again, once, and stopped.
Oh, God, I thought, Peg wouldn’t do that. Crumley wouldn’t do that. Ring once and stop?
The phone rang again, once. Then, silence.
It’s him. Mr. Lonely Death. Calling to tell me things I don’t want to know.
I sat up, the hairs on my body fuzzed as if Cal had run his Bumblebee Electric barber shears down my neck to strike a nerve.
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