A long while later he sat back, rubbed his yes, and looked around at the fortress, the encirclement, the Roman encampment of books, and nodded, his eyes wet.
He heard her move behind him.
“What you said, Thomas Wolfe, the title of that book of his. Wrong. Everything’s here. Nothing’s changed.”
“Nothing will as long as I can help it.” she said.
“Don’t ever go away.”
“I won’t if you’ll come back more often.”
Just then, from below the town, not so very far off, a train whistle blew. She said:
“Is that yours?”
“No, but the one soon after,” he said and got up and moved around the small monuments that stood very tall and one by one, shut the covers, his lips moving to sound the old titles and the old, dear names.
“Do we have to put them back on the shelves?” he said. She looked at him and at the double circle and after a long moment said, “Tomorrow will do. Why?”
“Maybe,” he said, “during the night, because of the color of those lamps, green, the jungle, maybe those creatures you mentioned will come out and turn the pages with their breath. And maybe-“
“Maybe my friends, who’ve hid in the stacks all these years, will come out, too.’,
“They’re already here,” she said quietly.
“Yes.” He nodded. “They are.”
And still he could not move.
She backed off across the room without making any sound, and when she reached her desk she called back, the last call of the night.
“Closing time. Closing time, children.”
And turned the lights quickly off and then on and then halfway between; a library twilight.
He moved from the table with the double circle of books and came to her and said, “I Can go now.”
“Yes,” she said. “William Henry Spaulding. You can.” They walked together as she turned out the lights, turned out the lights, one by one. She helped him into his coat and then, hardly thinking to do so, he took her hand and kissed her fingers.
It was so abrupt, she almost laughed, but then she said, “Remember what Edith Whanon said when Henry James did what you just did?”
‘The flavor starts at the elbow.’
They broke into laughter together and he turned and went down the marble steps toward the stained-glass entry. At the bottom of the stairs he looked up at her and said:
“Tonight, when you’re going to sleep, remember what I called you when I was twelve, and say it out loud.”
“I don’t remember,” she said.
“Yes, you do.”
Below the town, a train whistle blew again.
He opened the front door, stepped out, and he was gone. Her hand on the last light switch, looking in at the double circle of books on the far table, she thought: What was it he called me?
“Oh, yes,” she said a moment later.
And switched off the light.
The cemetery was in the center of the city. On four sides it was bounded by gliding streetcars on glistening blue tracks and cars with exhaust fumes and sound. But, once inside the wall, the world was lost. For half a mile in four directions the cemetery raised midnight trees and headstones that grew from the earth, like pale mushrooms, moist and cold. A gravel path led back into darkness and within the gate stood a Gothic Victorian house with six gables and a cupola. The front-porch light showed an old man there alone, not smoking, not reading, not moving, silent. If you took a deep breath he smelled of the sea, of urine, of papyrus, of kindling, of ivory, and of teak. His false teeth moved his mouth automatically when it wanted to talk. His tiny yellow seed eyes twitched and his poke-hole nostrils thinned as a stranger crunched up the gravel path and set foot on the porch step.
“Good evening!” said the stranger, a young man, perhaps twenty.
The old man nodded, but his hands lay quietly on his knees “I saw that sign out front,” the stranger went on. “FREE DIRT, it said.”
The old man almost nodded.
The stranger tried a smile. “Crazy, but that sign caught my eye.