I thought I could hear the traffic going by under Mrs. Gutierrez’s window. Crazy. She must have hung up, long ago.

“Thanks for waiting,” I said.

“Hey, man, what gives?” said someone.

I hung up and turned.

A tall, skinny man, with a clear drop of water on the end of his thin nose, came wading through the paper tide. He sized me up with nicotine-stained eyes.

“I called about half an hour ago.” I nodded at the phone. “I just hung up on me.”

He gazed at the phone, scratched his head, and finally got it. He managed a feeble smile and said, “Sheeit.”

“Those are my very thoughts.”

I had a feeling he was proud of never coming back to the phone; it was better to make up your own news.

“Hey, man,” he said, getting another idea to replace the first. He was the sort of thinker who has to move out the furniture before he can bring in the cows. “You, you wouldn’t happen to be the fuzz.”

“No, just the Goofer Feathers.”


“Remember the Two Black Crows?”


“Nineteen twenty-six. Two white men in blackface talked about Goofer Feathers. The fuzz. From peaches. Forget it. Did you write this?” I held out the Janus, Green Envy page with the terribly sad advertisement at the bottom.

He blinked at it. “Hell, no. It’s legit. It was sent in.”

“You ever stop to think what you’re doing with an ad like that?”

“Hey, man, like we don’t read, we just print ’em. It’s a free country, right? Lemme see that!” He grabbed the ad and peered at it, moving his lips. “Oh, sure. That one. Funny, huh?”

“You realize someone just might look up that geek and believe in him?”

“Them’s the breaks. Hey, look, why don’t you fall downstairs outa my life?” He thrust the paper back at me.

“I don’t leave without the home phone number of this weirdo.”

He blinked at me, stunned, then laughed. “That’s Q/T information, like no one knows. You want to write him, sure. We pass mail on. Or he comes, picks it up.”

“This is an emergency. Someone’s dead. Someone…” I ran out of gas and looked around at the ocean of paper on the floor and, without thinking about it, took out a box of small stick matches.

“Looks like a fire hazard here,” I said.

“What fire hazard?”

He glanced around at the year’s growth of paper wadding, empty beer cans, dropped paper cups, and old hamburger wrappings. A look of immense pride overcame him. His eyes almost danced when he saw the five-or-six-quart wax milk cartons busy manufacturing penicillin on the window sills, next to some tossed men’s jockey shorts that gave the place its real touch of class.

I struck a match to get his attention.

“Hey,” he said.

I blew out the first match, to show what a good sport I was, and when he made no further offer of help, lit a second.

“What if I dropped this on the floor?”

He gave the floor a second look around. The paper junk seethed and lapped at his ankles. If I had dropped the match the flames would have reached him in about five seconds.

“You ain’t going to drop that,” he said.

“No?” I blew it out and lit a third.

“You got the goddamnedest sense of humor, don’t you?”

I dropped the match.

He yelled and jumped.

I stepped on the flame before it could spread.

He took a deep breath and let it blast.

“Now you get the hell outa here! You…”

“Wait.” I lit a final match and crouched, guarding the flame, close down to a half-ton of wadded rewrites, old calling cards, torn envelopes.

I touched the flame here and there and the paper started burning.

“What in hell you want?”

“Just a phone number. That’s all. I still won’t have an address, so I can’t get at the guy, trace him. But I do, damn it to hell, want that phone, or the whole place burns.”

I realized my own voice had gone up about ten decibels, to maniac. Fannie was fighting in my blood. A lot of other dead people were screaming in my breath, wanting out.

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Categories: Bradbury, Ray