First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys. Not that all months aren’t rare. But there be bad and good, as the pirates say. Take September, a bad month: school begins. Consider August, a good month: school hasn’t begun yet. July, well, July’s really fine: there’s no chance in the world for school. June, no doubting it, June’s best of all, for the school doors spring wide and September’s a billion years away.
But you take October, now. School’s been on a month and you’re riding easier in the reins, jogging along. You got time to think of the garbage you’ll dump on old man Prickett’s porch, or the hairy-ape costume you’ll wear to the YMCA the last night of the month. And if it’s around October twentieth and everything smoky-smelling and the sky orange and ash gray at twilight, it seems Halloween will never come in a fall of broomsticks and a soft flap of bedsheets around corners.
But one strange wild dark long year, Halloween came early.
One year Halloween came on October 24, three hours after midnight.
At that time, James Nightshade of 97 Oak Street was thirteen years, eleven months, twenty-three days old. Next door, William Halloway was thirteen years, eleven months and twenty-four days old. Both touched toward fourteen; it almost trembled in their hands.
The seller of lightning-rods arrived just ahead of the storm. He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day, sneaking glances over his shoulder. Somewhere not so far back, vast lightnings stomped the earth. Somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth could not be denied.
So the salesman jangled and clanged his huge leather kit in which oversized puzzles of ironmongery lay unseen but which his tongue conjured from door to door until he came at last to a lawn which was cut all wrong.
No, not the grass. The salesman lifted his gaze. But two boys, far up the gentle slope, lying on the grass. Of a like size and general shape, the boys sat carving twig whistles, talking of olden or future times, content with having left their fingerprints on every movable object in Green Town during summer past and their footprints on every open path between here and the lake and there and the river since school began.
‘Howdy, boys!’ called the man all dressed in storm-coloured clothes.
The boys shook their heads. ‘Got any money, yourselves?’ The boys shook their heads.
‘Well – ‘ The salesman walked about three feet, stopped and hunched his shoulders. Suddenly he seemed aware of house windows or the cold sky staring at his neck. He turned slowly, sniffing the air. Wind rattled the empty trees. Sunlight, breaking through a small rift in the clouds, minted a last few oak leaves all gold. But the sun vanished, the coins were spent, the air blew grey; the salesman shook himself from the spell.
The salesman edged slowly up the lawn.
‘Boy, ‘ he said. ‘What’s your name?’
And the first boy, with hair as blond-white as milk thistle, shut up one eye, tilted his head, and looked at the salesman with a single eye as open, bright and clear as a drop of summer rain.
‘Will,’ he said. ‘William Halloway.’
The storm gentleman turned. ‘And you?’
The second boy did not move, but lay stomach down on the autumn grass, debating as if he might make up a name. His hair was wild, thick, and the glossy colour of waxed chestnuts. His eyes, fixed to some distant point within himself, were mint rock-crystal green. At last he put a blade of dry grass in his casual mouth.
‘Jim Nightshade,’ he said.
The storm salesman nodded as if he had known it all along.
‘Nightshade. That’s quite a name.’
‘And only fitting,’ said Will Halloway. ‘I was born one minute before midnight, October thirtieth, Jim was born one minute after midnight, which makes it October thirty-first.’ ‘Hallowe’en,’ said Jim.
By their voices, the boys had told the tale all their lives, proud of their mothers, living house next to house, running for the hospital together, bringing sons into the world seconds apart; one light, one dark. There was a history of mutual celebration behind them. Each year Will lit the candles on a single cake at one minute to midnight. Jim, at one minute after, with the last day of the month begun, blew them out.
So much Will said, excitedly. So much Jim agreed to, silently. So much the salesman, running before the storm, but poised here uncertainly, heard looking from face to face. ‘Halloway. Nightshade. No money, you say?’
The man, grieved by his own conscientiousness, rummaged in his leather bag and seized forth an iron contraption.
‘Take this, free! Why? One of those houses will be struck by lightning! Without this rod, bang! Fire and ash, roast pork and cinders! Grab!‘
The salesman released the rod. Jim did not move. But Will caught the iron and gasped.
‘Boy, it’s heavy! And funny-looking. Never seen a lightning-rod like this. Look, Jim!’
And Jim, at last, stretched like a cat, and turned his head. His green eyes got big and then very narrow.
The metal thing was hammered and shaped half-crescent, half-cross. Around the rim of the main rod little curlicues and doohingies had been soldered on, later. The entire surface of the rod was finely scratched and etched with strange languages, names that could tie the tongue or break the jaw, numerals that added to incomprehensible sums, pictographs of insect-animals all bristle, chaff, and claw. ‘That’s Egyptian.’ Jim pointed his nose at a bug soldered to the iron.
‘So it is, boy!’
Jim squinted. ‘And those there – Phoenician hen tracks,’
‘Why?’ asked Jim.
‘Why?’ said the man. ‘Why the Egyptian, Arabic, Abyssinian, Choctaw? Well, what tongue does the wind talk? What nationality is a storm? What country do rains come from? What colour is lightning? Where does thunder go when it dies? Boys, you got to be ready in every dialect with every shape and form to hex the St Elmo’s fires, the balls of blue light that prowl the earth like sizzling cats. I got the only lightning-rods in the world that hear, feel, know, and sass back any storm, no matter what tongue, voice, or sign. No foreign thunder so loud this rod can’t soft-talk it!’
But Will was staring beyond the man now.
‘Which,’ he said. ‘Which house will it strike?’
‘Which? Hold on. Wait.’ The salesman searched deep in their faces. ‘Some folks draw lightning, suck it like cats suck babies’ breath. Some folks’ polarities are negative, some positive. Some glow in the dark.
Some snuff out. You now, the two. . .I – ‘
‘What makes you so sure lightning will strike anywhere around here?’ said Jim suddenly, his eyes bright.
The salesman almost flinched. ‘Why, I got a nose, an eye, an ear.
Both those houses, their timbers! Listen!’
They listened. Maybe their houses leaned under the cool afternoon wind. Maybe not.
‘Lightning needs channels, like rivers, to run in. One of those attics is a dry river bottom, itching to let lightning pour through! Tonight!’ ‘Tonight?’ Jim sat up happily.
‘No ordinary storm!’ said the salesman. ‘Tom Fury tells you. Fury, ain’t that a fine name for one who sells lightning-rods? Did I take the name? No! Did the name fire me to my occupations? Yes! Grown up, I saw cloudy fires jumping the world, making men hop and hide. Thought: I’ll chart hurricanes, map storms, then run ahead shaking my iron cudgels, my miraculous defenders, in my fists! I’ve shielded and made snug-safe one hundred thousand, count ’em, God-fearing homes. So when I tell you, boys, you’re in dire need, listen! Climb that roof, nail this rod high, ground it in the good earth before nightfall!’ ‘But which house, which!’ asked Will.
The salesman reared off, blew his nose in a great kerchief, then walked slowly across the lawn as if approaching a huge time-bomb that ticked silently there.
He touched Will’s front porch newels, ran his hand over a post, a floorboard, then shut his eyes and leaned against the house to let its bones speak to him.
Then, hesitant, he made his cautious way to Jim’s house next door.
Jim stood up to watch.
The salesman put his hand out to touch, to stroke, to quiver his fingertips on the old paint. ‘This,’ he said at last, ‘is the one.’ Jim looked proud.
Without looking back, the salesman said, ‘Jim Nightshade, this your place?’
‘Mine,’ said Jim.
‘I should’ve known,’ said the man.
‘Hey, what about me?’ said Will.
The salesman snuffed again at Will’s house. ‘No, no. Oh, a few sparks’ll jump on your rainspouts. But the real show’s next door here, at the Nightshades’! Well!’
The salesman hurried back across the lawn to seize his huge leather bag.
‘I’m on my way. Storm’s coming. Don’t wait, Jim boy. Otherwise bamm! You’ll be found, your nickels, dimes and Indian-heads fused by electroplating. Abe Lincolns melted into Miss Columbias, eagles plucked raw on the backs of quarters, all run to quicksilver in your jeans. More! Any boy hit by lightning, lift his lid and there on his eyeball, pretty as the Lord’s prayer on a pin, find the last scene the boy ever saw! A box-Brownie photo, by God, of that fire climbing down the sky to blow You like a penny whistle, suck your soul back up along the bright stair! Git, boy! Hammer it high or you’re dead come dawn!’
And jangling his case full of iron rods, the salesman wheeled about and charged down the walk blinking wildly at the sky, the roof, the trees, at last closing his eyes, moving, sniffing, muttering. ‘Yes, bad, here it comes, feel it, way off now, but running fast. . .’
And the man in the storm-dark clothes was gone, his cloud-coloured hat pulled down over his eyes, and the trees rustled and the sky seemed very old suddenly and Jim and Will stood testing the wind to see if they could smell electricity, the lightning-rod fallen between them.
‘Jim,’ said Will. ‘Don’t stand there. Your house, he said. You going to nail up the rod or ain’t you?’ ‘No,’ smiled Jim. ‘Why spoil the fun?’
‘Fun! You crazy? I’ll get the ladder! You the hammer, some nails and wire!’
But Jim did not move. Will broke and ran. He came back with the ladder.
‘Jim. Think of your mom. You want her burnt?’
Will climbed the side of the house, alone, and looked down.
Slowly, Jim moved to the ladder below and started up.
Thunder sounded far off in the cloud-shadowed hills.
The air smelled fresh and raw on top of Jim Nightshade’s roof. Even Jim admitted that.
There’s nothing in the living world like books on water-cures, deaths of-a-thousand-slices, or pouring white-hot lava off castle walls on drolls and mountebanks.
So said Jim Nightshade, that’s all he read. If it wasn’t how to burgle the First National, it was, how to build catapults, or shape black bumbershoots into lurking bat costumes for Cabbage Night.
Jim breathed it out all fine.
And Will, he breathed it in.
With the lightning-rod nailed to Jim’s roof, Will proud, and Jim ashamed of what he considered mutual cowardice, it was late in the day. Supper over, it was time for their weekly jog to the library. Like all boys, they never walked anywhere, but named a goal and lit for it, scissors and elbows. Nobody won. Nobody wanted to win. It was in their friendship they just wanted to run forever, shadow and shadow. Their hands slapped library-door handles together, their chests broke track tapes together, their tennis shoes beat parallel pony tracks over lawns, trimmed bushes, squirrelled trees, no one losing, both winning, thus saving their friendship for other times of loss.
So it was on this night that blew warm, then cool, as they let the wind take them downtown at eight o’clock. They felt the wings on their fingers and elbows flying, then, suddenly plunged in new sweeps of air, the clear autumn river flung them headlong where they must go.
Up step, three, six, nine, twelve! Slap! Their palms hit the library door.
Jim and Will grinned at each other. It was all so good, these blowing quiet October nights and the library waiting inside now with its greenshaded lamps and papyrus dust.
Jim listened. ‘What’s that?’
‘What, the wind?’
‘Like music. . .’ Jim squinted at the horizon.
‘Don’t hear no music.’
Jim shook his head. ‘Gone. Or it wasn’t even there. Come on!’ They opened the door and stepped in.
The library deeps lay waiting for them.
Out in the world, not much happened. But here in the special night, a land bricked with paper and leather, anything might happen, always did. Listen! and you heard ten thousand people screaming so high only dogs feathered their ears. A million folk ran toting cannons, sharpening guillotines; Chinese, four abreast, marched on forever. Invisible, silent, yes, but Jim and Will had the gift of ears and noses as well as the gift of tongues. This was a factory of spices from far countries. Here alien deserts slumbered. Up front was the desk where the nice old lady, Miss Watriss, purple-stamped your books, but down off away were Tibet and Antarctica, the Congo. There went Miss Wills, the other librarian, through Outer Mongolia, calmly toting fragments of Peiping and Yokohama and the Celebes. Way down the third book corridor, an oldish man whispered his broom along in the dark, mounding the fallen. . . .
It was always a surprise – that old man, his work, his name. That’s Charles William Halloway, thought Will, not grand-father, not far-wandering, ancient uncle, as some might think, but. . .my father.
So, looking back down the corridor, was Dad shocked to see he owned a son who visited this separate 20,000-fathoms-deep world? Dad always seemed stunned when Will rose up before him, as if they had met a lifetime ago and one had grown old while the other stayed young, and this fact stood between. . . .
Far off, the old man smiled.
They approached each other, carefully.
‘Is that you, Will? Grown an inch since this morning.’ Charles Halloway shifted his gaze. ‘Jim? Eyes darker, cheeks paler; you burn yourself at both ends, Jim?’ ‘Heck.’ said Jim.
‘No such place as Heck. But hell’s right here under ‘A’ for Alighieri.’ ‘Allegory’s beyond me,’ said Jim.
‘How stupid of me,’ Dad laughed. ‘I mean Dante. Look at this. Pictures by Mister Doré, showing all the aspects. Hell never looked better. Here’s souls sunk to their gills in slime. There’s someone upside down, wrong side out.’
‘Boy howdy!’ Jim eyed the pages two different ways and thumbed on. ‘Got any dinosaur pictures?’
Dad shook his head. ‘That’s over in the next aisle.’ He strolled them around and reached out. ‘Here we are: Pterodactyl, Kite of Destruction! or what about Drums of Doom: The Saga of the Thunder Lizards! Pep you up, Jim?’
Dad winked at Will. Will winked back. They stood now, a boy with corn-coloured hair and a man with moon-white hair, a boy with a summer-apple, a man with a winter-apple face. Dad, Dad, thought Will, why, why, he looks. . .like me in a smashed mirror!
And suddenly Will remembered nights rising at two in the morning to go to the bathroom and spying across town to see that one single light in the high library window and know Dad had lingered on late murmuring and reading alone under these green jungle lamps. It made Will sad and funny to see that light, to know the old man – he stopped to change the word – his father, was here in all this shadow. ‘Will,’ said the old man who was also a janitor who happened to be his father, ‘what about you?’ ‘Huh?’ Will shook himself.
‘You need a white-hat or a black-hat book?’ ‘Hats?’ said Will.
‘Well, Jim – ‘ they perambulated, Dad running his fingers along the book spines – ‘he wears the black ten-gallon hats and reads books to fit. Middle name’s Moriarty, right, Jim? Any day now he’ll move up from Fu Manchu to Machiavelli here – medium-size dark fedora. Or over along to Dr Faustus – extra large black Stetson. That leaves the white-hat boys to you, Will. Here’s Gandhi. Next door is St Thomas.
And on the next level, well. . .Buddha.’
‘You don’t mind,’ said Will, ‘I’ll settle for The Mysterious Island.’ ‘What,’ asked Jim, scowling, ‘is all this talk about white and black hats?’
‘Why – ‘ Dad handed Jules Verne to Will – ‘it’s just, a long time ago, I had to decide, myself, which colour I’d wear.’
‘So,’ said Jim, ‘which did you pick?’
Dad looked surprised. Then he laughed uneasily.
‘Since you need to ask, Jim, you make me wonder. Will, tell Mom I’ll be home soon. Get out of here, both of you. Miss Watriss!’ he called softly to the librarian at the desk. ‘Dinosaurs and mysterious islands, coming up!’
The door slammed.
Outside, a weather of stars ran clear in an ocean sky.
‘Heck.’ Jim sniffed north, Jim sniffed south. ‘Where’s the storm? That darn salesman promised. I just got to watch that lightning fizz down my drainpipes!’
Will let the wind ruffle and refit his clothes, his skin, his hair. Then he said, faintly, ‘It’ll be here. By morning.’
‘The huckleberries all down my arms. They say.’ ‘Great!’
The wind flew Jim away.
A similar kite, Will swooped to follow.
Watching the boys vanish away, Charles Halloway suppressed a sudden urge to run with them, make the pack. He knew what the wind was doing to them where it was taking them, to all the secret places that were never so secret again in life. Somewhere in him, a shadow turned mournfully over. You had to run with a night like this, so the sadness could not hurt.
Look! he thought. Will runs because running is its own excuse. Jim runs because something’s up ahead of him.
Yet, strangely, they do run together.
What’s the answer, he wondered, walking through the library, putting out the lights, putting out the lights, putting out the lights, is it all in the whorls on our thumbs and fingers? Why are some people all grasshopper fiddlings, scrapings, all antennae shivering, one big ganglion eternally knotting, slip-knotting, square-knotting themselves? They stoke a furnace all their lives, sweat their lips, shine their eyes and start it all in the crib. Caesar’s lean and hungry friends.
They eat the dark, who only stand and breathe.
That’s Jim, all bramble-hair and itchweed.
And Will? Why he’s the last peach, high on the summer tree. Some boys walk by and you cry, seeing them. They feel good, they look good, they are good. Oh, they’re not above peeing off a bridge, or stealing an occasional dime-store pencil sharpener; it’s not that. It’s just, you know, seeing them pass, that’s how they’ll be all their life; they’ll get hit, hurt, cut, bruised, and always wonder why, why does it happen? how can it happen to them?
But Jim, now, he knows it happens, he watches for it happening, he sees it start, he sees it finish, he licks the wound he expected, and never asks why; he knows. He always knew. Someone knew before him, a long time ago, someone who had wolves for pets and lions for night conversants. Hell, Jim doesn’t know with his mind. But his body knows. And while Will’s putting a bandage on his latest scratch, Jim’s ducking, waving, bouncing away from the knockout blow which must inevitably come.
So there they go, Jim running slower to stay with Will, Will running faster to stay with Jim, Jim breaking two windows in a haunted house because Will’s along, Will breaking one instead of none, because Jim’s watching. God how we get our fingers in each other’s clay. That’s friendship, each playing the potter to see what shapes we can make of the other.
Jim, Will, he thought, strangers. Go on. I’ll catch up, some day. . . . The library door gasped open, slammed.
Five minutes later, he turned into the corner saloon for his nightly one-and-only drink, in time to hear a man say:
‘. . .I read when alcohol was invented, the Italians thought it was the big thing they’d been looking for for centuries. The Elixir of Life! Did you know that?
‘No.’ The bartender’s back was turned.
‘Sure.’ the man went on. ‘Distilled wine. Ninth, tenth century. Looked like water. But it burnt. I mean, it not only burnt the mouth and stomach, but you could set it on fire. So they thought they’d mixed water and fire. Fire-water, the Elixir Vitae, by God. Maybe they weren’t so far wrong thinking it was the Cure-all, the thing that
worked miracles. Have a drink!?’
‘I don’t need it,’ said Halloway. ‘But someone inside me does.’ ‘Who?’
The boy I once was, thought Halloway, who runs like the leaves down the sidewalk autumn nights.
But he couldn’t say that.
So he drank, eyes shut, listening to hear if that thing inside turned over again, rustling in the deep bons that were stacked for burning but never burned.
Will stopped. Will looked at the Friday night town.
It seemed when the first stroke of nine banged from the big courthouse clock all the lights were on and business humming in the shops. But by the time the last stroke of nine shook everyone’s fillings in his teeth, the barbers had yanked off the sheets, powdered the customers, trotted them forth; the druggist’s fount had stopped fizzing like a nest of snakes, the insect neons everywhere had ceased buzzing, and the vast glittering acreage of the dime store with its ten billion metal, glass and paper oddments waiting to be fished over, suddenly blacked out. Shades slithered, doors boomed, keys rattled their bones in locks, people fled with hordes of torn newspaper mice nibbling their heels. Bang! they were gone!
‘Boy!’ yelled Will. ‘Folks run like they thought the storm was here!’
‘It is!’ shouted Jim. ‘Us!’
They stomp-pound-thundered over iron grates, steel trap-doors, past a dozen unlit shops, a dozen half-lit, a dozen dying dark. The city was dead as they rounded the United Cigar Store corner to see a wooden Cherokee glide in darkness, by himself.
Mr Tetley, the proprietor, peered over the Indian’s shoulder.
‘Scare you, boys?’
But Will shivered, feeling cold tidal waves of strange rain moving down the prairie as on a deserted shore. When the lightning nailed the town, he wanted to be layered under sixteen blankets and a pillow.
‘Mr Tetley?’ said Will, quietly.
For now there were two wooden Indians upright in ripe tobacco darkness. Mr Tetley, amidst his jest, had frozen, mouth open, listening. ‘Mr Tetley?’
He heard something far away on the wind, but couldn’t say what it was.
The boys backed off.
He did not see them. He did not move. He only listened.
They left him. They ran.
In the fourth empty block from the library, the boys came upon a third wooden Indian.
Mr Crosetti, in front of his barber shop, his door key in his trembling fingers, did not see them stop.
What had stopped them?
It moved shining down Mr Crosetti’s left cheek. He breathed heavily.
‘Crosetti, you fool! Something happens, nothing happens, you cry like a baby!’
Mr Crosetti took a trembling breath, snuffing. ‘Don’t you smell it?’ Jim and Will sniffed.
‘Heck, no. Cotton candy!’
‘I haven’t smelled that in years,’ said Mr Crosetti.
Jim snorted. ‘It’s around.’
‘Yes, but who notices? When? Now, my nose tells me, breathe! And I’m crying. Why? Because I remember how a long time ago, boys ate that stuff. Why haven’t I stopped to think and smell the last thirty years?’
‘You’re busy, Mr Crosetti,’ Will said. ‘You haven’t got time.’
Mr Crosetti wiped his eyes. ‘Where does that smell come from?
There’s no place in town sells cotton candy. Only circuses.’
‘Hey,’ said Will. ‘That’s right!’
‘Well, Crosetti is done crying.’ The barber blew his nose and turned to lock his shop door. As he did this, Will watched the barber’s pole whirl its red serpentine up out of nothing, leading his gaze around, rising to vanish into more nothing. On countless moons Will had stood here trying to unravel that ribbon, watch it come, go, end without ending.
Mr Crosetti put his hand to the light switch under the spinning pole. ‘Don’t,’ said Will. Then, murmuring, ‘Don’t turn it off.’ Mr Crosetti looked at the pole, as if freshly aware of its miraculous properties. He nodded, gently, his eyes soft. ‘Where does it come from, where does it go, eh? Who knows? Not you, not him, not me. Oh, the mysteries, by
God. So. We’ll leave it on!’
It’s good to know, thought Will, it’ll be running until dawn, winding up from nothing, winding away to nothing, while we sleep.
And they left him behind in a wind that very faintly smelled of licorice and cotton candy.
Charles Halloway put his hand to the saloon’s double swing doors, hesitant, as if the grey hairs on the back of his hand, like antennae, had felt something beyond slide by in the October night. Perhaps great fires burned somewhere and their furnace blasts warned him not to step forth. Or another Ice Age had loomed across the land, its freezing bulk might already have laid waste a billion people in the hour. Perhaps Time itself fixed was draining off down an immense glass, with powdered darkness failing after to bury all. Or maybe it was only that man in a dark suit, seen through the saloon window, across the street. Great paper rolls under one arm, a brush and bucket in his free hand, the man was whistling a tune, very far away.
It was a tune from another season, one that never ceased making
Charles Halloway sad when he heard it. The song was incongruous for October, but immensely moving, overwhelming, no matter what day or what month it was sung:
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
Their words repeat great
Of peace on earth, good will to men!
Charles Halloway shivered. Suddenly there was the old sense of terrified elation, of wanting to laugh and cry together when he saw the innocents of the earth wandering the snowy streets the day before Christmas among all the tired men and women whose faces were dirty with guilt, unwashed of sin, and smashed like small windows by life that hit without warning, ran, hid, came back and hit again.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men!’
The whistling died.
Charles Halloway stepped out. Far up ahead, the man who had whistled the tune was motioning his arms by a telegraph pole, silently working. Now he vanished into the open door of a shop.
Charles Halloway, not knowing why, crossed the street to watch the man pasting up one of the posters inside the un-rented and empty store.
Now the man stepped out the door with his brush, his paste bucket, his rolled papers. His eyes, a fierce and lustful shine, fixed on Charles Halloway. Smiling, he gestured an open hand.
The palm of that hand was covered with fine black silken hair. It looked like –
The hand clenched, tight. It waved. The man swept around the corner. Charles Halloway, stunned, flushed with sudden summer heat, swayed, then turned to gaze into the empty shop.
Two sawhorses stood parallel to each other under a single spotlight. Placed over these two sawhorses like a funeral of snow and crystal was a block of ice six feet long. It shone dimly with its own effulgence, and its colour was light green-blue. It was a great cool gem resting there in the dark.
On a little white placard at one side near the window the following calligraphic message could be read by lamplight:
Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show Fantoccini, Marionette Circus, and Your
Plain Meadow Carnival. Arriving Immediately! Here on Display, one of our many attractions:
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE WORLD
Halloway’s eyes leaped to the poster on the inside of the window.
And back to the cold long block of ice.
It was such a block of ice as he remembered from travelling magician’s shows when he was a boy, when the local ice company contributed a chunk of winter in which, for twelve hours on end, frost maidens lay embedded, on display while people watched and comedies toppled down the raw white screen and coming attractions came and went and at last the pale ladies slid forth all rimed, chipped free by perspiring sorcerers to be led off smiling into the dark behind the curtains.
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE WORLD
And yet this vast chunk of wintry glass held nothing but frozen river water.
No. Not quite empty.
Halloway felt his heart pound one special time.
Within the huge winter gem was there not a special vacuum? a voluptuous hollow, a prolonged emptiness which undulated from tip to toe of the ice? and wasn’t this vacuum, this emptiness waiting to be filled with summer flesh, was it not shaped somewhat like a. .
The ice. And the lovely hollows, the horizontal flow of emptiness within the ice. The lovely nothingness. The exquisite flow of an invisible mermaid daring the ice to capture it.
The ice was cold.
The emptiness within the ice was warm.
He wanted to go away from here.
But Charles Halloway stood in the strange night for a long time looking in at the empty shop and the two sawhorses and the cold waiting arctic coffin set there like a vast Star of India in the dark. . . .