The Susquehanna does not wind its way down stream from two separate sources, neither of which distinctly transcends a fading blur on the map. At best a red line denoting some obscure highway shields its origin, in the north; while its western branch stops dead at some tiny stream named Trout Run. It saunters gracefully toward the city of Sunbury in central Pennsylvania where its two branches join, its placid western branch, its more perilous northern branch. Nor does it meander, for it has purpose. It may deposit silt almost anywhere if it chooses to overspill its banks; or it may gently carry its silts all its distance without giving so much as a hint of suspicion. It can appear to almost withdraw from the very terrain it covers, so calm and silent when it chooses to rest; or it can turn the land for miles around upside down if it wishes. Some say it's when the West branch stirs, while the North branch slumbers, that there is peace; but when the North awakens, there will ensue tumultuous crests ready to sweep aside its very banks; perhaps one day even the great cliffs at Harrisburg rising almost a thousand feet will be swept away. No, it neither winds nor meanders; it moves, not aimlessly; it has purpose; perhaps a species of purpose outside the normal circumference of language, but purpose nonetheless. No thing which can fluctuate between tranquility and violence, so precisely attuned to an inner rhythm, can be said to possess no will of its own. The Susquehanna is a river, on the Eastern slopes of the American continent, four hundred and twenty two miles long, if noted from its Northern source, establishing a drainage basin twenty seven thousand six hundred and fifty five square miles about itself. Its average fall is between four and six feet per mile below Harrisburg. Once home to the proud Susquehannock Indians, it witnessed no less than twice their destruction, their final massacre in 1763 by the Paxton Boys the last it ever saw of them. Relentlessly they were forgotten by the river: it cannot be said even to have babbled for them, unless the Northern turbulence be taken for mourning. A man's bones are quickly washed clean of all trace of identity: more remorseless than the earth itself. No, it does not mourn its losses. In ceaseless stillness does mourning dwell; in perpetual motion there can be no remorse. Upstream from Port Deposit, Maryland a hydroelectric dam at Conowingo stops the river's flow. But only momentarily: perhaps here the waters, clotted with cement, grieve for a time; perhaps, as some have said, the spray rising from the waters' exit through the dam to dissipate in mid-air are the collected tears shed for its lost inhabitants. If they are tears, they are short lived; perhaps instead they arise from pain, that of tumbling through the dam, and not from grief at all. Or perhaps they are not tears at all but spittle: that which can weep can spit as well. US Route Number One crosses the dam at Conowingo, never again to encounter the river. Downstream from Port Deposit, from the dam waters released to continue their movement toward the Chesapeake Bay, US Route Number Forty crosses the river, its path here paralleling that of Route One, despite its being an East-West route while US One is North-South. The Susquehanna River Bridge spans almost three miles of river, just above its mouth. It has spires, has all the intricacies of bridgework, has the same eerily suspended span, gives the same panoramic sweep of country side, terminates in the same tangle of toll booths. It begins in one county, Harford, ends in another, Cecil: it spans more than a river. At Havre de Grace the Susquehanna ceases moving to ride the currents of the Chesapeake Bay; but as neither bays nor the nature which forged them grant free rides, the cost is dear: the Susquehanna must forfeit its identity, its waters, both the calm and the hostile, must become involved inextricably with the bay's own waters, in turn further diluted two hundred miles South in the Atlantic Ocean, and so on, until nothing remains of it. Remorselessness is not confined to rivers, it floats free in global circumnavigation, filtering its way through even the tiniest trickle of stream; and as the waters feed the land and the land its inhabitants, there becomes in time as a universal solvent, omnipresent, a ceaseless movement all along Earth's sloping circumference inimical to memory. Only in the still night heavens overhead is there mourning; nowhere on Earth. It costs, at present, fifty cents to cross the river at Route Forty; it costs nothing to cross Conowingo Dam. Pedestrians are not allowed on the bridge, nor are bicycles. The bridge is patrolled. Electrical power generated at the dam helps service the greater Philadelphia area. Peach Bottom and Three Mile Island, nuclear facilities, have recently undertaken the harnessing of the Susquehanna, but unlike the dam at Conowingo they seek no extraction of energy from the river; rather, they seek containment, they wrap the cool waters about themselves to keep their own energies cooled, thereby contained in safety. Signs of omission added to those of commission farther downstream. Man has always used the Susquehanna for his own purposes, from the earliest Indians down to the present, and doubtless will always seek to do so. A river's waters may be washed clean of their essence at man's constantly busy hands, which weave gracefully toward some mysterious purpose known only to themselves. They enwrap the world. Man is a creature....
On a chilly October evening the toll guard had been inattentive, the traffic was light, those who passed through the toll gates all seemed to have the correct change, so there was little to invite her notice away from the book she had brought with her to work that evening to help obscure the monotony of sitting put eight hours straight. Her cap, her jacket and her skirt were a blue gray gabardine; the hat visor, the belt she wore, the little feminine tie at her throat were all black. She was reading from chapter twelve of her political science textbook; she was a part time day student at Cecil Community College and worked nights. One hand rested on the open book, as a marker, while the other hand held two quarters in change should somebody without the correct change come upon her booth seeking to cross the bridge. Usually it was a dollar, rarely more, so two quarters, as she had discovered, was exactly the right change to have ready. A thing concerning political expediency had caught her eye; as she read she hoped no one would interrupt her; she had a page and a half to go. In general she was heartsick because her life was not going quite right - "Whose was?" a friend had pointed out to her - so this felt good to her, this intense concentration on a problem not really her own. She liked political science; she found it helped her to objectify her problems, not because any of it applied to her directly, but simply because, first of all, it encouraged her thought to pursue a greater breadth and, second, it created in her a finer attunement to rational precepts, both of which in turn seemed helpful both in planning her destiny and in analyzing her own character, each maximizing the other in a somewhat perpetual reciprocality. She was confident the benefits of such an approach to life would outweigh any disadvantages it might entail.
The man took advantage of her distraction to sneak past the toll booths and onto the bridge, entirely avoiding detection. His inebriation made him no less wary; this was an almost nightly activity, one perfected so long ago it could be carried out under the most trying circumstances. Drunk or sober it made little difference. He watched, he knew what to watch for, what telltale signs never failed to give away inattentiveness. It made little difference to his spying that the cubicles were facing him, that it was brightly lit where he must stand, that the light inside the booths was dim, the guards' features indistinct: it made little difference. His natural cunning had over the years of his life taken on an almost philosophical circumspection; to his intuition had been laminated insight, a kind of insight into the pettiest details of human behavior. First he sensed whether or not he was about to be observed, then he watched his prospective observer for even the remotest sign of preoccupation. Even a twitch could warn him of danger; a solid tension, however, unbroken by the slightest movement, indicated safety. Then he would make his move. Like a scurrying rodent he would hasten past the booths, just when it was safe, to quickly fade into the diminishing light beyond. Once past the toll gate, onto the bridge, he could leisurely stroll the catwalk-like siding all the way across. The occasional patrol cars threatened his venture very little, for although the bridge was prohibited to pedestrians, the patrolmen were neither seeking nor expecting to encounter any. He knew instinctively that one rarely saw what was not anticipated, not at so quick a glance especially. Besides, there were innumerable shadows along the way into which he could dart for quick cover. Going the opposite way, as he had earlier in the evening, he simply reversed his strategy, creeping from the diminished light at the bridge's Northern end to spy on the toll booths; then, at the opportune moment, hurrying past into the light. If anything it was easier traveling South. He had never been caught either way; tonight proved no exception. They could not keep him out, it would have been futile effort to try, not so long as he lived on one side of the river and drank on the other side, at the White House Inn, on the left going North across the bridge or, according to the road sign, East on US Route Forty, just minutes beyond the toll gate. Not that there were no bars in Havre de Grace, where he roomed, but he was not known on that side of the river and he would not drink where he was not known. He was from Cecil, not Harford, county; where he resided was simply an accident of circumstance having no bearing on his life. If he could have, he would have returned to where he was originally from, deep inside the county, almost lost in the remote forests encroaching upon the hamlet of Principio Furnace, deep in the Cecil interior. Return was impossible, however; nightly to sneak across the river for a drink was as near as he could approach his own region. He had done too much, there were things which even his own people could never forgive. To live was all there was left; in the middle of the Susquehanna River bridge he spat, as malicious an act as if it were venom he had to spew. "I've killed before and I'll kill again," he swore looking out between the crossbeams of steel at the faint red lights of the dam upstream, almost longing to be there, safe inside the steaming generators, the endless waters of the river churning past to wash his hands and feet clean of their filth. He stood for some moments staring before turning back to continue South. It neither pleasures nor grieves me, he thought as he began again. His eyes caught something on the other side, a pair of approaching lights so situated in space as to evoke recognition long before anything more of the vehicle unfolded its identity from the dark October evening. An old van or panel truck momentarily came into view, stood for a split second opposite his hunched shadow, then sped on by him. He got up out of the shadows, sorted his own from among those of the bridge, and proceeded. Every time he encountered this vehicle his heart began racing and his pulse quickened; it was the one thing on Earth he feared. Its driver could identify him, thereby becoming the instrument of his damnation, so until he could manage one additional murder he lived in fear of discovery. Each evening, but not always at the same time, there was the same risk to encounter, but at least only till the cold weather became well established, at which season there was no market for snow comes. Till then the chance of detection remained a constant in his life; and it would return, too, upon the resumption of warmth. So long as that driver lived there was no safety. He thought of safety as if it were a physical presence, something with a finish line at a racetrack, something he could reach out and touch and, having but once touched was his for life, a claim staked. One dispenser of snow cones stood in his way. The river, gurgling below, brought an echo of death, the muffled scream of the little girl he had murdered. He assumed it had been a little girl; he had not had time to dissect her before becoming aware of someone watching him, but he assumed the gender to be female. He hated the boy who had seen him and scared him off before he was able to complete his work. But even more he hated the driver who approached him almost nightly out of nowhere to plague his existence, for while the boy had seem him only from the back and, unable therefore to identify him, proved no threat to his safety, this driver, this seller of snow cones, had seen him, leaving the murder scene, carrying his bloodied knife, and could identify him. His sixth sense had kept him from turning around when he had felt the boy's eyes on him; his keen ears confirmed for him the boy's nearness. And he had run, safe from the boy, but not from the driver. The boy could live, the driver could not. The echo of death from below soothed him, reestablished tranquility. He loved the river. "I'd swim her if I couldn't cross her," he swore. He only lived in Havre de Grace that he might each night sneak across the river to drink; and because it was safer - but safe or not, he would have maneuvered his life into two opposite corners just the same, would have stretched it to span the river regardless. He loved the river. He sensed a kinship, and he loved the river.
The snow wizard packed up his many assorted flavors from the previous evening's purchase. Not wanting to leave them overnight in his truck, something he had once done but never since, he had unpacked them, as late as it was, taken them inside his house, set them just inside the front door, a little to the side, where some wall space was deliberately kept blank for just this purpose, and, after a quick assurance that none of the glass containers had been broken in transit, he went on to bed. It had been, as all his days, a long one; he was tired and fell quickly asleep. His sleep must have been restless, if the appearance of his covers was any indication; the topmost layer, a thin quilt given him one Christmas by his mother, was nearly all the way off the bed, the one corner clutched in his hand all that kept it from tumbling to the floor; a light, blue, ribbed spread beneath the quilt was also forced to one side, and hung precariously, though less so than the quilt; even the sheet's distribution was unequally weighted in favor of one side while, below the other, his naked rump protruded. The snow wizard always slept in the nude, and nearly always alone. He was not a particularly attractive man, although, at age forty three, his frame was still well kept and trim, his face still youthful, more in the sense of being still boyish than simply looking younger than its actual age, and he still had a full head of hair, dark and curly. He had been at various times described as being of Italian, Arabic, Jewish, Negro, Spanish and Mestizo extraction; he accepted them all, flattered, in turn, by each, regardless the actual intent of the description. They were all names of what he took to be very close knit ethnic groups, and as he felt, sometimes, so alone, he took comfort from the suggestion of belonging each name implied, even if none really applied. As with most people he was a mixture, and one part each of English, German, French, Scottish, Belgian, Slavic, and perhaps more which he had no knowledge of, perhaps even in isolated part one of the names thrown at him - isolated purely because he did not know it existed within him. He did not feel Jewish or Arabic or Spanish or Italian or Negro or Mestizo, but he yearned to. "No one ever called me Hindustani," he awoke to find himself babbling. He threw his cover the rest of the way off and ran to his bureau mirror to look himself in the face for any sign of Hindustani. "Might I be?" he inquired as he studied his features, not really knowing what to look for other than simply trying to recall the features of the boy he had saved. Skin color certainly had no bearing; the boy was fully as dark as if his ancestry had been African. Nor did texture of hair, the boy's, while differing from that of Africans, too narrow a combination of straight and curly to permit analogy with his own, which was curly pure and simple. There may have been some similarity in the nose, except for the somewhat broader flare of the boy's at the bridge, the nostrils not at all dissimilar. The eyes gave no clue at all, the boy's coal black, his own almost hazel; nor did the boy's small full mouth and lips bear much relevance to his large mouth and thin lips. The forehead: who knew anything about foreheads anyway? That seemed a purely individual trait, as did the chin and the cut of the jaw. Leaving only the ears, which would have to remain uncollated: the boy's hair was long, it covered his ears. "And I'm not about to go searching for them," he noted, although, he added simply as a thought, I do wish I could find some point of similarity. Not that I'd study him from head to toe to find something; but I wish there were something. We're both alone. I can't find anyone like me, so it would be nice if someone as alone shared the same background. What I mean is, it would be nice if I had a more definite heritage.
He stepped back from the mirror to get a fuller look at himself. He stood for some moments observing first the top of his head then down as far as his knees, which was as much of his body's existence as his mirror would recognize. He was attractively proportioned, everything harmonized, except for the slight start of a bulge at either side, the spare tire beginning to inflate, the middle age spread slowly unfurling over his body's harmony, which unwelcome action he struggled to forestall, with some measure of success. His body had posed the question to him should one obey nature. He found himself expending ever greater reserves of energy to maintain an equilibrium, a status quo, within his flesh. He had to eat less, he had to exercise more, and he had to sleep longer. It was a more restless sleep for its being lengthened. When he was younger he had thought maybe it was for the ladies he wished an attractive appearance, but over the years it dawned on him that he was not attractive, neither facially nor bodily: that a pleasant harmony was not of itself attractive, not in an alluring, a sexual, manner: that in fact one's looks had little relation to this the primal attractiveness. A strong animal vibrancy was what it took, was what he lacked, so that even had he been strikingly handsome he would still have been unable to entice a mate, certainly for more than simply a night. He had a lady friend, whom his acquaintances called Miss Marcie, her full name Marcia Green. She never spoke of her past; so far as anybody knew she had not existed prior to eight years ago when they had first met, at a local tavern along Route 40 just North of Edgewood. They both knew they would never marry, at least not one another, so they both accepted an essentially platonic relationship. Occasionally they made love, but there was never much fire in it, as there was in the sustaining comfort each seemed to derive from the other. Once he had casually begun a resume of his past; she had hushed him, insisting it had no place in their relationship. He never again breached the subject. So far as she knew, or wished to know, he too had begun existence at their first encounter.
He walked, still naked, from the bureau to the bathroom, which was little bigger than a closet at one corner of the room. Inside, he sat down on the chipped toilet seat; he had to almost get off the seat to reach the roll of toilet tissue for, small as the room was, it had, whether deliberately therefore maliciously or not he could not say, been so designed that its maximum expanse separated the toilet from the toilet tissue roller, while the sink was tucked up almost inside the shower stall, so that the curtain could not close all the way. Every time he showered a little puddle formed outside the shower which, as often as not, he stepped in upon his exit from the shower stall, one of those white metal cubicles sold out of catalogs. This morning he had overslept, so he had no time for a shower, or for breakfast for that matter, taking time only to shave over the little porcelain sink whose pipes wound like silvery excrement from the sink drain to the wall. Splashing some final water on his face, wiping the wetness off onto a nearly threadbare white towel, presumably some other quality of the water remaining, he hurried from the bathroom to get dressed, retracing his step only long enough to flush the toilet, something he had forgotten to do. He grabbed a stale cookie, a ginger snap with white icing, took a quick gurgle of water, then hurried out after grabbing up the boxes of flavoring, three boxes, cartons, of four bottles each, giving him twelve flavors in all to add to his store. He had more flavors stored in his kitchen but he wanted only these twelve this morning, these new ones, to try out and see how well they did. Altogether he had forty assorted flavors, if these new twelve were included in the tally. Once he had left his entire store overnight in his truck, something he swore never again to do.
The morning air was brisk, October one of the three truly brisk months of the year. The door shut behind him. He walked the few steps down a cracked sidewalk to his truck; he set his three cartons down, one on top of another just as he had carried them. He had never understood exactly how to handle quantities of parcels until very late in his life; there was a time when he would have tried to carry one carton in one arm, the other two balanced in his other arm - in fact he had once tried it, and dropped all three, losing twelve assorted flavors to the pavement. For a solid week afterward the dogs had all come around to lap up the thick green and red and yellow and orange and purple syrups, then were seen no more. No one knew where they came from or where they went. He extracted his keys from his pocket to unlatch the rear door of his truck. It was fast approaching seven A.M. so he hurriedly put his cartons inside the truck. Normally he would unpack them and set the gallon bottles into the hollowed out containers built, like a bar, against the side panel; but he was running late this morning, he had to hurry. The school children would all be getting to their bus stops momentarily; any further detainment would upset his delicately balanced schedule. It was pointless starting out only to arrive at his rounds after the school busses had picked up the children. He sold snow cones to the school children of a morning, then, after school, of an evening. He followed the bus routes, in the mornings like some precursor, in the evenings like a scavenger, feeding on the busses' leavings. By mid-November it would be too chilly for snow cones. His business, his truck, his ices, his cones, his assorted flavors all going to hibernation until the spring, mid-spring, about the middle of April, when once again his cones might be dispensed. It was a long season of inactivity, assuaged with whatever odd jobs he could secure. Christmas was no problem, he could always pick up some work cleaning up stockrooms or collecting trash. New Year's to spring, though, was difficult. It was the coldest part of the year, he was at his loneliest then; for some reason his sexual needs seemed to peak in February, around the seventeenth: that was his mating cycle. Plus, work was scarcest that time of year. It was then he always ended up feeling most ashamed of himself, for it was then he became most desperate and would settle for absolutely anything available to him in the way of sexual companionship. At other times of the year he never thought of such things as prophylactics; New Year's to April he never went out without one. In his youth he had misunderstood their application - not their use, but only their literal application. Rather than wait till it might be needed, he would always put one on before going out, early in the evening, long before there even appeared any prospect of needing it. Invariably he would find himself in the embarrassing predicament of needing to urinate long before needing his prophylactic. Most of the sleazy bars he frequented had no toilet stalls, so in the course of arranging to relieve his bladder he became quite often an object of laughter. Quite unknown to him a reputation followed him up and down Route 40 from Aberdeen all the way to the Baltimore county line. "Goulashes" he was nicknamed. "Here comes goulashes," the word would go out as soon as he trudged through the front door. He never went out but what he half expected to end the evening in bed with a "fast" woman, though he rarely did, except for the not infrequent invitations he received purely in response to his reputation. "I couldn't resist seeing for myself," they would say afterward. He was never considered anything of a lover or a stud, it was his sheath they were after. Twenty years later, thanks to some friendly advice from a man, one night, in one of the sleazy bars, who, watching him enter the restroom, followed him in with sexual designs of his own on him, he now kept his prophylactic tucked safely in his pants pocket instead of wearing it. He still went out of an evening half expecting to hit the jackpot each time, except that now he was middle aged, he had lost all illusions about himself. As he saw it, he had made but few gains during his lifetime.
No one but a seasoned man or woman like himself could ever understand his sadness at the passing of summer. In summer he lived a full twelve months' life, he worked a full twelve months' job, he had to somehow earn a full year's salary. All the odd jobs taken together plus the autumn, the school, trade could nowhere equal the summer. Not only were the children out of school, therefore available the live long day, but it was hot as well. It was the season for snow comes. Roadside stands, drug stores, ice cream vendors: all had cool refreshing wares to offer; but none had quite what he had, no one else in the county had snow comes on wheels, that honor was his and his alone, and everyone knew it. No one had to come to him, he came to them. He was everywhere, his truck a moveable feature of the summer, a landmark apt to all locations in Harford County. Come Labor Day he quietly despaired, a desperation which grew all winter until, on February 17th, it peaked and began to slowly recede. He knew spring was on its way when he went out one fine evening without his sheath in his pocket, nearly the same day each year, though usually sometime early on in April. He liked to quip that, like the ground hog, when he unzipped to take a peek out and saw no shadow, spring was thereby forecast; except that the analogy tended to break down near the end. The male organ and the ground hog worked alright, the zipper and the burrow were fine, but there the analogy ended: one has to stretch the sheath quite a ways to get it resembling a shadow; it was more nearly analogous to a cloud cover which, if taken thusly, entirely destroys the whole point of the quip. Another reason why no one ever laughed at his quip, as often as he told it - and it was an annual occurrence in the bars along Route 40, where because of it he was nicknamed "Possum," a term mistakenly interchanged with ground hog by some people - was his reluctance to use any of the various four-letter words generally used to refer to the male sex organ. The quip lacked fire, and it lacked the immediacy, the little stun such words entail. It was not in order to amuse however as much as it was simply to express his own amazement at the uncanny accuracy of his sexual cycle, at its fine attunement to the cycles of heat and cold, that he felt compelled each year to throw out his quip among his fellow patrons of Route 40's sleazy bars. It was excitement too which egged him on: the anticipation of summer. It was the season of the snow wizard.
He got into his truck and after pumping the gas pedal three times started the engine. It started right up. The truck was old, but he cared for it extremely well; he took all possible precautions to preclude damaging the engine or the chassis, and all pains requisite to getting anything fixed if, when, and most importantly as it might need repair. He washed it weekly; changed the oil at least monthly, except in the summer, when he changed it every other week; he bought new tires whenever the tread became worn more than half way. Luckily he had almost no need to drive it during the worst of the winter months, having a second hand automobile when he drove everywhere but on his route, so the road salt proved no threat, and as they never used salt in the parking lot of the El Dorado Motel, where he lived in a small efficiency unit he rented by the week, he could leave it sit virtually all winter without fear of damage. He drove his truck very carefully; he avoided pot holes and ruts and any debris accumulated along his route. The only time he veered from his route at all was to pick up flavors from his distributor in Cecil County of an evening, every evening in the heat of summer's trade, eventually petering down to once a week by the end of October, picking up again in April after the hiatus.
He pulled out of the lot onto Route 40 heading east. His truck was a kind of green blue color, without luster - similar to the outside walls of the El Dorado Motel. The motel had a Spanish look to it, with an orange reddish tiled roof and, in the middle section where it rose for some obscure reason to two stories, a black wrought iron railing at a balcony, below which the sign read "Office." Doubtless the intent was to duplicate a hacienda: there seems to be even in the most blatantly, inappropriately commercial application of styles and architectures and artworks and names the impulse for consistency, so that if an entrepreneur, so far away from Mexico and the old Southwest in Edgewood, Maryland, appropriates a Spanish sounding name, he endeavors also to replicate a concomitant structure. The United States of America is full of haciendas and castles and palaces and wigwams and the like, each with its own appropriate ethnic name emblazoned in neon or argon or some such gas. Whatever absurdities one might encounter in this universe, he may be certain a little German castle name El Dorado or an adobe hacienda named Hausenfraus will not be among them; man, when all is said and done, has but one underlying characteristic: his compulsion for mating language as appropriately to existence as it is within his power to manage. He is forever on the lookout for similarities between words and the things he encounters in real life; when he finds a rock or a tree or a house matching a certain word, presto: they are joined at the seam. It is a hard cloth to cut a pattern from. The snow wizard had once hoped he might become erudite through reading the great works of world literature. He purchased for himself a small library of such books, some from second hand bookstores, some in paperback editions, some at book fairs, a few pilfered from public libraries, in Baltimore, of the Enoch Pratt system. He compiled his library according solely to how important the author's name sounded. He had Bishop Berkely, he had Cicero, Aquinas, Descartes, Pascal, Spinoza, Hegel, Kant, Plato, Aristotle and Charles Pierce in the metaphysics; he had Shakespeare, he had Rabelais, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Cervantes, Dante, Chaucer, Swift, Milton, the Brontes, Sophicles, and he had Henry James, James Joyce and Joyce Kilmer in literature; in history were Heroditus and Plutarch; in mathematics Ptolomy and Pythagoras; and so on, each name chosen entirely by its sound, almost every single one turning out to be in fact great and important and recognized as such by humanity. Purely by chance could the snow wizard exchange name droppings with the best and the brightest of mankind.
On his truck was painted, on either side, the words Snow Wizard in big electric icy blue letters. That poor little girl he thought every time he got into his truck. More than that he had been in his truck when he happened upon the killer escaping from the little stand of woods, more even than that he had sold the little girl a snow cone just minutes, literally minutes, before her murder, a raspberry cone, her favorite (she was one of his regular customers) - but more even than that was the route itself he must take once inside his truck, the route he must service in order to make a living. And the children to whom he must sell and dispense his cones. Each face - no, not that each face was hers or reminded him of hers, but that each separate face represented another potential victim; and each cone - try as he would he could not shake the dread that each single cone he handed out was as a mark, a pretty flavored mark, put upon each child, a homing signal to be ferreted out by some crazed lunatic seeking victims to murder. Nothing could entirely loosen from his mind the sense of conspiracy; he experienced an accessory's guilt which nothing could shake loose. If I hadn't sold her that cone she might be alive today, he thought over and over in the cab of his truck as he headed down Route 24, a right turn off Route 40 two and a half blocks from the El Dorado Motel, straight toward the first stop along his route. He found sweat on his brow, then he could feel it along his armpits and at the seat of his pants and inside his stockings. How, he wondered, can I sell these children my poison, my kiss of death, my devil's brew, my horror show (his fevered brain mixed metaphors faster than his hands would shortly mix syrups and ices). How can I continue selling it? Oh God, how can I do this to them? He turned right from Route 24, or Edgewood Road as it was named, into the Edgewood Meadows housing development, but instead of driving to his first stop just down the road he stopped his truck at the corner, just inside the street, as soon as his turn had been completed. Bayberry Drive. From where he was he could see the children and evidently they could see him for they were all pointing, waiting, finally motioning him on when it became apparent to them he had stopped. Suddenly one child, a boy of about twelve, began running toward him, shouting something which he took as the boy neared to be a question.
"Something wrong with your truck?" the boy was asking. "I said: something wrong with your truck?" the boy repeated at close range, just outside the window at the driver's side. The snow wizard could not speak, so he nodded that no, nothing was wrong. Then, the sweat pouring down his face evidently suggesting a problem, the boy asked "Are you having a heart attack mister? 'Cause I know how to resuscitate you by banging on your chest till your ribs begin to crack! I'll show you!" The boy had the door open and had climbed onto the running board by the time the snow wizared regained his composure.
"Oh, no, no that's alright," he insisted, "I just had a...a..." he groped a second for a word, grabbing at the first one he came upon, "a convolution," he brought out from some half hidden corner of his mind, regretting instantly he had said something so stupid.
"Oh yeah," the boy was saying as he proceeded to get down, "I get 'em all the time. You know: I'm at the age of puberty."
"Hey kid!" the snow wizard called. "Since we're both going the same way, hop in, I'll give you a ride!"
The boy's eyes did one of two things: they either lit up or they registered joy; properly speaking, eyes cannot do both, not simultaneously. "Can I?" he asked, wanting to make sure he had heard correctly.
"You bet!" the snow wizard reassured.
"Oh boy!" he exclaimed as he leaped up into the truck, slipping nicely just behind the driver's seat. "Oh boy oh boy oh boy! This is great! Oh boy this is great! Me, riding with the snow wizard! Oh boy!"
It was only half a block but it had been eminently worthwhile to the boy, who, upon leaping from the truck, went immediately among his schoolmates to spread the word of his great good fortune, not daring to trust solely to his having been seen emerging from the cab. Such a thing had to be proclaimed; somehow it was not complete otherwise. Besides there was always - always - the one chance in a billion that none of his schoolmates had seen him inside the snow wizard's truck, that through some oversight they had missed the spectacle. And sure enough, sight and sound notwithstanding, there were detractors and skeptics among the crowd.
"Was he really in there?" one little girl asked.
"Did he actually ride the whole way?" a little boy inquired.
"Are you sure it was him and not just someone who looked like him?" asked yet another.
"Yeah," added another, "because there are imposters in this world you know."
"That's true," said one more, "everybody has an imposter on the other side of the world who's his look alike."
"No! It's on the other side of the world, not up there in the sky! It's a Siamese twin!"
"No! They cut your head off if you're Siamese!"
"They do not! They sew you back together!"
"Why would they do that smartie pants if they just cut you apart?"
"Because the insurance companies say to!"
"Not the insurance companies the Red Cross!"
"Oh brother!" the original boy, the one who rode in the snow wizard's truck, sneered with all the grown up condescension he could muster. Once you've ridden in the snow wizard's truck, you are above all that; the things you yourself engaged in not ten minutes ago became a bore for which you have only contempt.
"What flavor?" the snow wizard asked his recent young traveler.
"I think none today, thank you very much," the boy said disdainfully as he walked off with his nose high in the air. The rest of the children, while tempted just a split second by their schoolmate's air of maturity, made straightway for the vendor, each one vying with the others for his attention, each one boasting loudly and proudly of his or her esteemed flavor, all of them taken aback by the snow wizard's pronouncement of twelve entirely new flavors.
"Straight from the ends of the earth," he hawked in a voice so authoritative there was immediate anticipation among his patrons. "Never before tried," he went on to proclaim the extraordinary virtues of these twelve assorted flavors. "Sent out by the great ice wizard of the North himself: Boreas Arcticus, in whose stead I was ordered to serve them up to my choice customers. Who'll have one? Step right up: who'll be first?"
"Me!" "Me!" they all cried out. Even the boy whose maturity set him above such things was nearly tempted to join the melee, but as dignity must not be compromised he refrained, a pitiful dejected refrain.
"Blueberry!" the snow wizard called out. "Who'll have it?" It was taken up immediately.
"Sweet Persimmon!" was next to be dispensed.
"Rum butter!" It was gone in the twinkling of an eye.
"Pistachio!" Gone in a flash.
"Tutti fruitti!' At first no takers, the boys refusing outright as it sounded sissified, the girls reluctant to accept what the boys rejected so intransigently. Finally, upon second call, a little girl, very self conscious however, but very independent, handed her quarter to the snow wizard and was handed, not one but a double order of Tutti Fruitti as reward for her courage. She immediately, after but one bite, proclaimed it a bargain at any price. Others among the girls were now clearly disappointed not to have taken it; the boys however remained steadfastly opposed to such a name as Tutti Fruitti.
"Guava!" Here it started to get exotic, the next three flavors casting forth like waves breaking upon the tropical islands.
"Coconut!" It sounded like a Polynesian vacation. But, like all vacations, this one too came to an end.
"Elderberry!" greeted the returning vacationers to home port.
"Banana!" Ah! the memories of the lush tropics. So short, so sweet, so brief.
"Pumpkin!" And it was full circle, back home, back to the mundane; but it too was taken up, as eagerly as the rest, by a little boy with great big glasses and a huge stash of books and protractors and compasses and a slide rule in his book bag.
"My favorite!" he declared in rich practical tones that could have escaped as easily from one of his thick books or from the wire rims of his thick glasses. In his heart of hearts, it was this last cone which the snow wizard dispensed with greatest relish, just as this boy was his favorite patron. Out of all the exotic and wonderful flavors, he had saved what he took to be the best for last. When handed the boy's quarter, he put it separately from the others.
"Good bye!" he said, waving his hand at the school children as he drove off to the next stop along his route.
"Good bye!" they all waved back. He glanced back at them in his rear view mirror just as he turned the corner which would cut him off from them and, through the crowd re-congregating like a flock of geese that had been disturbed in flight, he caught sight of the little boy with glasses munching away on his precious pumpkin snow cone. He thought of all the great names in his library; he felt like he was one of them, if just for this brief instant: he felt important: he had brought pumpkin to a schoolboy, had brought the tropics, had brought the esteemed confections of the great Boreas Arcticus to humanity. He felt like Prometheus, but of another polarity, like an anti-matter world where all things reverse themselves.
It was his lot in life, in the autumn and spring, to keep perpetually one step ahead of school busses. Time was everything, which was precisely why he needed to get an early start of a morning, more so than the afternoon, which saw the reversal of his morning route; where he ended of a morning was where he began of an afternoon, working his way back toward El Dorado. He may as well have traveled with an empty truck as to travel behind schedule: time was everything: timing even more so than time proper; if he had to forget something, he would do better to forget his flavors than to forget his wristwatch. He knew the bus stops along his trade route, he knew the times of pick-ups, and in the afternoon the approximate times of drops. He had to be in a given place at a given time; if too early, the children would not yet be assembled, not enough of them to sustain his livelihood; and if too late, they would either be gone already or interrupted in the process of purchasing their cones. In either case he would miss precious sales. The snow wizard's life was built on timing. He sometimes saw himself as the mouse in the nursery rhyme, running up the clock, running away when it struck one, coming again in a while to run the next cycle. He was late this morning getting started, late arriving at his first stop, late leaving the first stop, late arriving at the second: running late. On little mouse paws. He enjoyed the children, their company, their conversations, their absurd notions about life in general and about one another's lives in particular; his work permitted him no more than a quick brush against their existence then it was off to the next stop. No one who has never attempted to outrun a moving vehicle for a living quite experiences the full meaning of the expression "Time is a harsh taskmaster."
Miss Marcie right now was on his mind, deliberately so. Every stand of children the snow wizard approached reminded him of the poor murdered child he had in some terrible unforeseen way helped guide to her death, and of the crazed murderer running past him, and of the gentle dark boy whose life had been so disrupted for no other reason than that he had happened upon the murder scene. He fixed his mind upon Miss Marcie in order to help block out these memories. He saw her smiling, saw the slight distortion of her right cheek and the right side of her mouth, saw her sad brown eyes, saw the creases crossing her forehead from left to right; he could almost hear her high pitched squeaky voice disclaiming all knowledge of those creases then, after a pause, giving him a seductive look and asking "Worry lines?" as if to seek reassurance against the unthinkable; "No," he could hear himself reply, "not worry lines." She was pudgy, this Miss Marcie, with somewhat curly brown hair cut off just below the ears, but cut unevenly, so that her hair covered one ear completely while the other was exposed at the lobe, about a quarter of the entire ear; and at the back the hair was rather more noticeably uneven than at the sides. Miss Marcie held the opinion that as nobody knew a person's own hair quite as well as they themselves, it was most profitable for them to do their own hair. "They don't have to live with it, do they? And, you'll admit, Popsicle, won't you, mine's more arbitrary than most?" she implored the snow wizard. Not that he like her nickname for him - Popsicle - but he endeavored to tolerate it for her sake, never letting on it bothered him. He loved her. He loved her sexually but as she disdained sexual activity except at the very most opportune moment, and those seemed to have all transpired early on in their relationship, he did not have actually a sexual relationship with her. He loved her in other ways too, but he spent a good deal of time fantasizing about her; and sometimes, when he would find a woman to spend some time with, he would pretend she was his precious Miss Marcie. He felt guilty in a way about it, but he persisted just the same.
All of a sudden he found himself putting his flavors back, getting in his truck again and starting the engine; so, even though he scarcely recalled having stopped at this the second of his stops, or having proclaimed himself the purveyor of everything from blueberry to pumpkin, or having dispensed the requisite number of snow cones, he assumed it had all been done, with or without his conscious awareness. And he was off again, to the third of his stops, his Miss Marcie still in his thoughts, like a peaceful tranquilizer capable of disguising all his memories of death - no small task, for even a woman so substantial in every way. But it was that way with her: she could appear at a moment's notice to fill his mind completely, to help him along his way. So if she would not give him sex, it was alright: what she gave him was so much more.
"Hey mom!" the child cried upon spotting the snow wizard's truck. "Mom, listen: stop up there, please mom, will you?"
"What?" the woman asked. "Stop up there? Why? I though you wanted to give Jeffrey a ride to school. Honey we'll be late if we stop. I promise I'll get you an ice cream after school."
"But mom, you don't understand," the boy protested. "I'll only be a minute, we'll have plenty of time - and we can be a little late for homeroom, Mr Hawkins won't mind. But please stop - please! It's so important - so important! Oh please!"
The car slowed as it approached the bus stop, this the third stop along the snow wizard's route. The children were already crowded around to purchase their cones. The woman, coming to a halt, turned to say to her son once more "But I don't understand."
"I'll explain later mom!" the boy cried as he flung the door open and leaped from the car, running straight for the truck, managing to squeeze himself in front of everyone else.
"Hey!" some of them cried.
"No time! No time!" the boy explained in a voice full of excitement. This seemed to satisfy the children. "Hey mister!" he called to the snow wizard. "How come you never come around no more?"
"What flavor young man?" asked the snow wizard absently, his mind still crisscrossed with shadows of Miss Marcie's various poses, particularly those on the dance floor. You ain''t seen nothing till you seen that gal dance! he put in an evaluative word or two.
"No, no flavor, no flavor! Mister, I live way over there - that way!" The boy gestured North-South-East-and-West all at once. "Let me catch my breath!" he said. "I ran all the way. Mom's waiting. We gotta get Jeff yet. I have my project in the back seat for Miss Waybigtits - no!" the boy screeched in correction, turning a blood red. "That's not her name, that's just what we call her: her name's Miss Waybington I mean. Anyway - oh, just let me catch my breath a minute. See I live way over there and you used to come around but you don't any more. Why? Why'd you stop? That's what my mom said to ask you." This last comment had occurred to the boy impromptu; it added a certain air of authenticity and respectability to his question. He was quite proud of himself for thinking of it: his question would almost certainly have to be answered now.
The snow wizard at some point had recognized the boy's voice. A vague remembrance of a given face which went with it prompted him to look up from his ices and his flavors, if only half heartedly. The boy was just who he thought he was; way over there was just that: way over there. It used to be one of his regular stops, the third from the last in fact, or the third from the start of the afternoon run. Trimble Road just above Edgewood Road: way over there, where it had happened, the little girl's murder. Without a word of explanation he had dropped it from his route. Some of the children still looked for him of a morning, believing he would somehow magically reappear one day. They missed his cones, but even more than that they felt they were somehow being punished for some mortal insult they had unwittingly rendered the snow wizard, and without even a chance to clear their names. He knew it was nothing of their doing, he knew the reason, and he felt guilty himself for having abandoned them; but he also knew that he could not go near there again, never. He had not gone near that stretch of Trimble Road since the murder.
"Mom really was super anxious to know why you don't come around any more," the boy was elaborating, having sensed the wizard's reticence to speak. "I mean it's like she thought maybe we were bad and did something to hurt your feelings. You know how moms are!" the boy pointed out, looking around to the other children, who all made haste to second the awesome implications of the observation. The boy's eyes however did not look like those of a messenger; nowhere was there a trace of indifference. His eyes, as they sought out those of the snow wizard, made it only too plain they were anything but impartial, their look anxious and pleading and a little sad. The boy was eleven or twelve, possibly even thirteen, and while he spoke only of his teacher's breasts in the company of his peers, his eyes, here, spoke of the sudden and devastatingly inexplicable withdrawal of snow cones from his life. It hurt the snow wizard deeply to have to lie to the boy.
"Oh," he offered so feeble an explanation he dared not hope it would be believed, "Oh, they changed routes. They do that all the time. I no sooner get one route started than they go and change it on me. I tried to tell them but, well, you know how it is with big companies. I'm hoping one of these days they'll put me back on my old route - plus this new route!" he hastened to add when the dejected looks on the children's faces warned him they had taken his words quite literally and anticipated losing his services, what with all this business of old and new routes and secret company policies and so on. On at least half a dozen fronts his explanation could be attacked, destruction almost certainly ensuing from any one of them. Fortunately it seemed to both satisfy and reassure his audience; no one asked him anything. They took it absolutely at face value, which while allaying his fears of detection hurt him all the more. That the snow wizard would ever dispense falsehood, intentionally, was inconceivable.
"Okay, thanks," the boy said, starting to go. Then he turned back. "So you weren't mad at us - you know, for mom."
"No indeed," replied the wizard. "I have nothing but the highest regard for each and every one of you. Why I'd as soon be mad at these kids here as be mad at you and your friends. So you tell your mom that. And you can let these kids tell you how well we get along together." The children all hastened to assure the boy there were no better friends anywhere than they and their snow wizard. A huge grin brightened the boy's face. He ran back to his car shouting the praises of the snow wizard, in his excitement adding, before he realized what he was doing, a praise or two for Miss Waybigtits, turning red immediately.
"Oh don't run so fast dear," his mother scolded him. "Look at your face, you're all flushed."
"Yes mom," the boy gladly accepted his scolding. The car drove off, a puff of exhaust smoke trailing after it.
The snow wizard finished dispensing his cones; then, collecting his flavors - his twelve wondrous flavors gathered, as fish are gathered, from all over the world - to put them back in their slots, he hurried off to the next stop. He had slipped still farther behind his schedule; he could sense the school buses bearing down on him from just around the corner or behind the houses or just below the horizon, wherever it was they came from to suddenly appear on the scene. He could almost sniff their pungent exhaust fumes in the still October morning air. He would never make his rounds this morning, he was too far behind schedule; the busses would catch up to him probably mid-way to take his patrons from the streets before he could get to them. He would have to make up for the losses this afternoon, he would need to almost double his afternoon trade. Yet he knew he would not. A thought, or an impulse, had been growing in his mind for some time now, ever since his encounter with the boy from Trimble Road back at the third stop. He had managed to service his patrons at his fourth, his fifth, and his sixth stops, and was heading toward his seventh, across Edgewood Road from the Edgewood Meadows housing development, down Hanson Road on past the county Library Branch, at the Edgewood Park housing development. It was time to start storing up. He found himself wishing this insidious impulse would slow, could be slowed; but it was useless to try. It had hit him, grabbed him, taken hold of him, like the pincers of a Chesapeake Bay blue crab; they were fighters, these crabs. He steamed them occasionally, in the summer, not because he particularly liked them but for Miss Marcie, who relished crab meat above all other foods on earth. To him they were scavengers, little more than spiders; not to her though. To Miss Marcie they were "the angora of seafood." She chose her analogies and her metaphors with her ears, going for the sound rather than the sense. He had watched her eat as many as two and a half dozen crabs at a sitting, a mound of shell and swill building in front of him on the kitchen table. They never went gently into that deep pot; they were fighters, grabbing at his fingers and at one another, claws and antennae left as debris in his kitchen sink when the last had finally been transferred to the steam pot. They kicked and clawed and banged against the sides of the pot when they began cooking, smothered in the gathering steam, and covered in salt and pepper and mustard powder and Old Bay Seasoning. Like these tenacious creatures an impulse to return had taken hold of his mind, and there was no shaking it loose. He wondered vaguely if it might be steamed away, but decided against pursuing the metaphor further, as they were not his forte, metaphors and similes: they belonged more nearly to Miss Marcie, who had no fear whatsoever in their presence, who would reach into the deepest, darkest pit to haul out any chance metaphor lying in wait. It made no difference to her how savory or suitable it might be; she would clean it, boil it or sauté it, then serve it up. Wormy or excremental or sexual or divine or sentimental, it made no difference: her appetite was voracious: an artistic omnivore, Miss Marcie. Leave the metaphors to her, the snow wizard decided playfully. For me, let it simply be stated that I must return. To Trimble Road. This very day; this afternoon. It had taken hold of him, this impulse to return to the place on Trimble Road where the little girl had been murdered; it could not be shaken loose: it couldn't be steamed and seasoned and served up to his Miss Marcie, not this. Nor could it be dissolved, as he had some remote and vague hopes of, in his twelve assorted and exotic and ho-hum flavorings, not singly, not all twelve together, He hoped his route would drive this impulse right out of him, as if it were no more than a matter of leaving it by the roadside somewhere along the route or of covering it with flavor or burying it in ice to palm it off on an unsuspecting patron who might suffer some digestive distress but was young and would soon recover. It had not happened this way though, as he knew it wouldn't. The impulse stayed with him through all the servings, through all the stops along the route. His seventh stop, his eighth, his ninth all within the Edgewood Park housing development at Perry Street, at Banyon Street, at Hornbeam Road. Then it was back again to Hanson Road, to cross Edgewood Road to hit the housing projects just off Hanson Road on this side of town: Meadowood, Harford Square, right on in to Magnolia Road, where his truck would have, and used to circle back again to Edgewood Road, only this time on Trimble Road, except that it no longer went that way, it followed Magnolia, turning right from Hanson Road instead of left, on down to Route 40 heading East till it came at last to the El Dorado. No longer were the children of Trimble Road served their snow comes of a morning or of an afternoon; they had been abandoned, until one of them took it upon himself to approach the snow wizard, to make him see face to face what he had done and to whom. Now the wizard was unsteady: he had been thrown off balance, the poundage of an impulse grew inside him, the increased weight rendering equilibrium a thing of the past.
Up ahead was Harford Square: Courts of Harford Square, where every road was named Harford Square Drive: an all-inclusive, a total environment. You'd have to already know by sight where your stops were; you couldn't go by the name. The snow wizard of course knew, knew indeed by sight, knew by the children's presence. The first road - court - off to the left was the first bus stop, the first of his stops. Here there were small children intermingled among the bigger, school age children in a kind of free for all, a dire situation for the bus driver, who must cull from among them the proper ones to admit. One cannot go by what they say either, for sometimes the littlest ones maintain to the bitter end their scholastic membership; or by what they carry, since a four or five year old can easily wheedle a book bag out of his parents; or by their size alone. No, it is not as simple as it may look. Fortunately the snow wizard was never called upon to pick and choose; in his line of work there were no right and wrong ones to be separated from one another. They were all his patrons. The only problem was that some had no quarters, some of the smaller ones; those - the cones dispensed to those - were simply written off as loss. The snow wizard denied no one admission into the magical, exotic and humdrum world created from the esteemed and great confections of Boreas Arcticus. Your wish was his command. Bankruptcy was never more than two doors down from his enterprise; and as reality has no sense of taste or propriety, no shame at unconscionable coincidence, and offers no apology for its absurdities, it caused - yes: caused - a bill agency collector to fall on times severe enough to induce his wife and children to abandon him, himself in turn to move from his garden apartment in Havre de Grace to an efficiency at the El Dorado Motel, just two doors down from the snow wizard, on whom he constantly had his eye as a prospective debtor. At certain times this occasionally out of work bill collector had followed the snow wizard on his daily routes, had witnessed the dreadful carelessness with which his business was conducted, had seen - yes, actually seen, with his own eye (for he was blind in his left eye) - the snow wizard handing cones to small children absolutely gratis, without so much as a doubloon in return - actually, a quarter, but for some reason the collector equated debtors with pirates, so it was never mere money they welched on or failed to get in exchange for services or wares, it was doubloons. This bill collector meant to use the snow wizard in order to reinstate himself into his trade, thereby reestablish his reputation, which, owing to his precious want of aggressiveness, of ruthlessness, of unscrupulousness, had fallen into disrepute: his reputation was disreputable - their words, his bosses, not his. The very combination of the two terms in one sentence was enough to send him into a rage. He had found his wife one evening repeating those words to the children and threatened to beat her, so she left. He wore an expensive, hand tailored sport coat of an English tweed material, a pair of plain Australian woolen trousers, Italian cut shoes from Shoetown, Inc, a silk shirt from Hong Kong, a satin paisley tie from France, cufflinks from the Mid-East, and a belt from the Pulaski Farmers' Market down on Route 40. His name was Charles H.R.W. "Tippy" Carrion, and he was fully aware of his name's suitability to his trade - in fact, it was because of the name he entered the business of bill collection in the first place. In his spare time, that is when not watching the snow wizard, he read the Tarot Cards. No one knew how he had come to lose his one eye, or when, so it was the underlying passion of his life to discover that information, which was why he consulted the Tarot. He was a very sentimental man and given to much weeping; he had to weep twice as long as other men, since it was done with only half the number of eyes. He had been found one day, at age four, abandoned on the Susquehanna River Bridge, toward the Cecil County end, from where it was speculated he had been brought initially. All he could remember of his past was the name Principio Funace; but when the authorities checked with the residents, everyone disclaimed knowledge of the boy, and he seemed unable to recognize anyone. Almost all the inhabitants of that little hamlet were related to one another in some way, but none claimed relation to or ever remembered the name Tippy, which, along with Principio Furnace, was all the boy seemed to be able to repeat, so they concluded it was probably a nickname, or else the name of a pet dog; but as no dog in Principio Furnace was found to answer to the name Tippy, it was taken to be the boy's nickname. Purely at random he was assigned the name Charles H.R.W. Carrion to accompany the nickname. The H, the R, the W all stood for nothing, they were just letters. The Charles was because the Chief of Police's wife liked the name; Carrion was chosen in a moment of whimsy, something about the boy making the Clerk of Court think of a crow. So with one eye and three blank middle names little Tippy had been sent forth into the world to seek his fortune, as best he could. Life had conspired to make him a spy, with the snow wizard his quarry. They exchanged the customary amenities of neighbors; occasionally they even dined together as, for example, when they both found themselves in the same restaurant at the same time, it being awkward for even such vaguely acquainted neighbors to ignore one another. They would then manage to seat themselves at the same table so as to exchange a few superficial words, a few furtive glances, perhaps a French fry for an onion ring, or pass the salt back and forth. "Nice place." "Yes," "Come here often?" "No." "Nice weather." "Very nice." And so on. The snow wizard sensed right off that Tippy was blind in his left eye, but never made reference to it, except for one oblique reference to the old cartoon character Smilin' Jack, which Tippy seemed not to comprehend, so the matter was dropped. They never dined formally, however; that is, they never dined together by direct invitation, though at times they seemed to verge on inviting each other for dinner but it never quite got beyond the about to speak stage. Somehow each felt threatened by the other, if only vaguely. The closest they ever got to a personal level was the snow wizard's asking Tippy which, if any, books he read and liked or had, to which Tippy replied that he wasn't aware books could be kept by individual citizens, intimating however that he had toyed with the idea of stealing one he particularly liked from the library, something called "Wizards, Warlocks, Witches and You." The snow wizard, after disclaiming any kinship with the subject matter of that particular book, made reference to the various bookstores, some very nearby, where anybody could for a couple dollars purchase a book. Tippy, however, gave him an indignant look such as one might give somebody just caught in the middle of a big lie, at which all further hope of finding an intellectual companion left the snow wizard as if he had just belched it away into the air. He knew it was useless, but he took one last gamble, asking if Tippy knew or liked the works of Homer. "Homer," Tippy mused. "Homer. Let's see. Homer." It didn't look as if he was going to stop, he just sat there at MacDonald's, repeating over and over again "Homer. Homer," so finally the snow wizard said "never mind: it may not have been Homer after all." "I didn't think so," replied Tippy.
There was a loneliness in the snow wizard's life which nothing had ever been able to relieve. An intellectual emptiness gnawed at him constantly. When he was younger he had, foolishly in retrospect, tried to converse with the teachers at the various local schools, once in a while venturing as far as the universities in the greater Baltimore area: this, after very quickly discovering that his acquaintances at the various sleazy bars he frequented had no interest whatever in such things as the great works of literature which meant so much to him. He decided to go among those who teach. He would stand outside their offices till he saw they were free, then, after excusing himself, enter, perhaps ask to take a seat, and begin conversing. "What do you think of so and so?" "How does his such and such affect us today?" And so on. He quickly learned that such topics were not considered within his province, that without the proper background he was not thought competent to discuss the great works, that therefore his discourse had no valid basis and was unacceptable. He was counseled to initiate various courses of study which would go far toward endowing him with the kind of intellect necessary to such an undertaking as he proposed. His loneliness found no assuagement in the academic world. Those who knew the great works felt as though they had been divinely charged with protecting them from the infidels and those uninitiated into the secret meanings and rituals. "What did gobble-de-gook's discumbable signify in terms of biddily-boo's mar-z-dotes?" This and so much more he had to know before he could even consider getting chummy with the guardians and protectors of the great works. No, no help here. It was hopeless and he knew it, for not in a millenium could he grasp the subtle philological mesh woven skin tightly about the great works. "Skiddily-dizzy too." Wouldn't you?
Miss Marcie brought books and literature into his life, but it was not what he had sought. She offered, if anything, to exchange what he had for what she had. The names which filled Miss Marcie's library, the books on whose covers the names were printed, were not the same as those in the snow wizard's library; not a single one coincided. Most of his books were hard bound, all of hers were soft bound; his were the heavyweights of literature, hers the lightweights: his the sinew, hers the down, and so on. For every Austen in his was a corresponding Mrs Radcliffe in hers, a Delderfield for every Mann, a Cartland for a Balzac, a Victoria Holt for a Gunter Grass, half a dozen to a dozen toggle switches for every peal of thunder, and so on. The romances - ah! the romances! But spelled all in upper case. "Henry James?" she had asked suspiciously when first introduced: "Is he as good as Rosemary Rogers?" The snow wizard nodded a sad "No" and left it at that. Henry James and company all went back to roost on the shelves of the snow wizard's El Dorado library. He had not lied to Miss Marcie though, for indeed Henry James was nowhere near as good as Rosemary Rogers - not to anyone who could ask for a comparison. "You shouldn't keep these around you know," Miss Marcie at one point had noted. A month later it occurred to her to finish the statement, so after a big dinner of steamed crabs, at which she downed only a dozen, claiming not to feel well ("women's matters," she observed with an air of mystery suggesting she was actually revealing far more than she really should), she gave the reason for her recommendation of the previous month concerning the snow wizard's books - but only the reason, without reiterating the recommendation itself. "They breed paper fleas." The snow wizard was astounded by the remark, since the only topics under discussion currently were the crabs and the mysterious allusion to "women's matters." But only for a moment was he astounded, then he considered the source, Miss Marcie's mind, where things seemed to free float without respite and with no apparent moorings to any other ideas or thoughts or sense impressions: float about absolutely at random, suddenly make a dash for her tongue as if seeking to escape, then turn tail at the last minute and head back. "They breed paper fleas" could refer to something said a day or a week or a month ago, or to something from her deeply buried past, or it could have been a brand new thought put in motion that very instant just waiting for something to go with. She seemed to work forward and backward, her every thought and every utterance an intermingling, a tightly woven mesh of tenses impervious to analyzation of any sort. Projections, remembrances, immediate impressions: they all floated in the same stream, hitting at random, shaking loose pieces to float separately, tangling at jagged ends to form mutant strains - they were like strands of seaweed, the pieces of her consciousness, or like DNA or RNA molecules but without innate patterns to direct their chance combination. It was like chaos, it was like the world itself, like watching the world take shape, only without hindsight, without knowing what the shape would be.
"Paper fleas?" he asked.
"Oh let's not talk about such awful things," she answered. "I want to read my Barbara Cartland now while I wait for my bowels. I'll just go sit in your bathroom. You know those Burpee seeds you gave me for my birthday?"
"They were orchids."
"Well they were once Burpee seeds!" Miss Marcie exclaimed in an insulted tone. "Anyway, my Popo ate them so it doesn't matter. They died. That's what I wanted to tell you, they died. My poor Popo was constipated for two days. I hate orchids! My poor Popo."
Popo is a monkey, from the western slopes of the African escarpment, four hundred and twenty-two millimeters long, if noted from the tip of his tail, establishing a territory twenty-seven thousand six hundred and fifty-five square centimeters about himself. He is as ill-tempered a creature as ever inhabited this universe. No one knew where he came from, he just turned up one day on Miss Marcie's window ledge, tilting his cute little head and holding his tiny hands in supplication. She took him in. His average leap is between four and six feet at a bound. He is never still, even when he sleeps his tail or one of his hands or feet or something, always something, about him is moving. He is untrained and untidy and shows no sign of being trainable, certainly no willingness in that direction. Ceaselessly he deposits his filth wherever it suits his fancy to squat; he sits on every piece of furnishing in sight. His greatest mischief seems to be to sneak into the clothes closets to leave his droppings in coat pockets or in shoes or up on the shelves, as far to the back as he can reach his rump; and to wet indiscriminately on lapels of coats, skirts, dresses, anything available. Miss Marcie tolerates his foul habits. The creature is remorseless, never displaying the slightest sense of shame over his conduct or consideration for anything else in existence. He exercises an almost supernatural influence over Miss Marcie who, in truth, is very nearly afraid of him. The snow wizard hates him and is, in turn, of all things most loathsome to him. The creature will deliberately wretch if he hears the snow wizard's truck outside; and there is absolutely no possibility of the wizard's approach let alone his entrance into Miss Marcie's townhouse, for the creature would quite simply assault him with anything and everything it could get its hands on, as indeed it did the one and only time he dared enter. "Poor Popo's jealous," Miss Marcie sympathized, expressing the opinion that they meet elsewhere, which the snow wizard only too readily agreed to, since he vowed secretly to kill the beast if ever again attacked - and indeed he would be attacked if ever again he entered Popo's territory. The creature could somehow sense even when he called Miss Marcie; it would get up to the phone and begin shrieking so loudly they would be compelled to hang up, after which Miss Marcie would console it, fawn over it, express presentiments of its getting hoarse from so much shrieking, and finally give it some delectable treat to pacify it. Once the snow wizard casually remarked to Miss Marcie that she had spoiled the creature, at which she began crying. She looked up at him, a frightened look on her face more than a hurt look, and in an almost terrified voice she told him that Popo had always been like that, from the very first day she took him in: "He's been spoiled as long as I've known him," she said. "Oh I'm so frightened of him sometimes. You don't know - how could you? He'd never let you near. But he just sits there and stares, his tail in his hands or something always moving though, then he'll leap to another perch, stare some more, move his mouth or twitch his nose, then suddenly leap again, and so on, right around the room, so you think he's watching you from everywhere, that he is everywhere, and that he knows everything and can do everything. Oh I'm so terrified sometimes. Then just when I don't think I can stand it anymore, he'll turn his little head sideways and lift those tiny hands of his to me and, oh, it just melts my heart, that little devil. Oh he's just too precious for words. And he'll go and get me my book. Whichever one I'm reading, My Barbara or my Victoria - he knows, he knows. And you know how I cannot bear disorder, so I always put my book away in the china closet with the others - but he always goes and gets exactly whichever I'm right in the middle of reading, whether it's my Barbara or my Victoria or whichever. And he'll kneel there holding it in those little hands of his. Oh, I just love him, I just love him! But sometimes the little rascal pulls it away just as I reach for it. Oh how I hate that! Poor Popo, I know he wishes he could read my Barbara and my Victoria and all my others - I know he does. I know he wouldn't be so peevish if he could just read, poor thing. My poor Popo."
Harford Square Drive finally wound its way back onto Hanson Road, two and a half miles down from where it began. The snow wizard felt two distinct emotions: relief and regret. Relief that, for the present, his work was at an end; regret that it must end where it did. In the old days, before the little girl's murder, he would have gone on around Trimble Road to service the children there, then back to Edgewood Road, where a quick left and a couple blocks and another left, just before coming to the gates of Edgewood Arsenal, the military reservation, would bring him to Brinkman's garage, where his friends were already long at work, and where he would be offered a cup of hot coffee, maybe a donut, and some brief conversation, gossip, shop talk, talk about the various ladies met at the various bars the night before; then finally, along about ten A.M., it would be off again to the El Dorado to park his truck, to get in his old car and go shopping, if he needed to shop that day. He never left his flavors unattended in the truck though, not anymore. He never went to Brinkman's any more either, not since the little girl: he could not bear to be even that close to the murder scene; so he gave up his morning visit, his every visit to Brinkman's. To look at the little complex of shops, one might be tempted to applaud his decision to forsake going there; but, as with everything, one ought not to be too hasty. Even if you can judge the interior by its exterior, you still have said nothing about its worth to any given individual. A row of grayish and beige stone front buildings positioned roughly in a semi-circle, except with angles where they shifted direction instead of smooth curves, separated into several different shops, the separation purely internal as, except for so many individual doors and shop designations, no sign of one building's partition from the next was visible from without, a macadam drive curved to accommodate the semi-circular design, with a row of two gas pumps in front of the central building, the garage; and at the Northern terminus of the complex a dog grooming establishment once a pool hall: this was Brinkman's. This was as dear to the snow wizard as any spot on earth. Perhaps this place did or did not figure into his decision to return, to try to return, this afternoon to Trimble Road and to the spot, about a block from Edgewood Road, where, in a thicket of bushes and a few tall trees last summer a little girl had taken her snow cone, her raspberry flavored cone, her esteemed confection, to taste and enjoy its goodness in the cool shade of a tree, a big locust, her favorite rendezvous with her fantasies, and where a dark gentle boy had happened upon the body, and from which a crazed lunatic brandishing a bloodied knife had emerged straight into the path of his truck. Perhaps, somewhere in his mind, was the thought buried that if he was ever to return to his friends at Brinkman's he must first revisit the scene of the crime.
Left at Hanson Road, about three quarters of a mile, then right at Magnolia Road, another two or two and a quarter miles, then right again, at the traffic light, onto Route 40 heading East, another two to three mile drive, then finally the El Dorado Motel again, and he was home: he went this way, as he did now every morning, he arrived home at eight forty-five in the morning, having been gone one and three quarter hours. He pulled in the parking lot; he saw the curtain at the window two units down from his lifted gently, ever so slightly; he saw the nose and good eye of his neighbor Charles H.R.W. Tippy Carrion following his truck's movements as he pulled up then backed in at his parking space in front of his unit. Sometimes his car was parked right next to the truck, but usually, as parking was everywhere at a premium, it was elsewhere, wherever he could find an empty slot. He debated as he got out whether or not to wave at Tippy: he would have liked someone to talk to, but he hesitated to embarrass his neighbor, which he assumed noting his spying would do. Just then Tippy's door burst open and the spy emerged, stark naked, from his efficiency.
"A good day to you," Tippy said with a smile.
"To you too," echoed the snow wizard, glancing around to see who might be watching. For a moment he puzzled what to do: should he say something, or hurry his naked neighbor indoors, or simply excuse himself and get inside his own unit? Finally, still baffled, he managed to inquire about his neighbor's tweed sport coat. "I see you don't have your coat with you," he muttered.
"No," was all Tippy said in reply. Apparently that was all the explanation he deemed necessary.
"Nor your pants," the wizard added in a strictly conversational tone. This time Tippy merely shook his head in reply. It became apparent to the wizard that other curtains were being raised now, other spies taking up the trade. He finally, in desperation, asked "Shouldn't you better go in?"
"I'm on my way to the store," replied Tippy.
This would never do. "Look," said the snow wizard, feeling that anything either of them could do at this point would only make matters worse, but knowing instinctively that some manner of covering was called for, "why don't you come on in a minute, then we'll both go to the store. I have some things I need to get. What do you say?"
"Sure," said Tippy, following the snow wizard into his efficiency. Once inside, with the door closed behind them, the snow wizard breathed a little easier. He was not sure how one goes about declaring a neighbor's nudity: does one come right out with it, or break it gently?
He began with "Care for a seat? Or some coffee? I have instant," all of which requests Tippy turned down, preferring to stand naked. He decided to simply come right out and say it. "Charles," he began.
"Call me Tippy," he was interrupted.
"Tippy," the snow wizard corrected himself, "I feel that as a neighbor -"
Again he was interrupted. "The best neighbor I've ever had."
"Yes. And as such - especially as such - I feel I own it to you to inform you you're naked."
"Thank you," said Tippy gratefully, then he added "it's very kind of you to tell me." Then he went on to say "If you're ready, we'd better be going, hadn't we?"
At this point the snow wizard was driven solely by exasperation. "Hadn't I better get undressed first?" he asked in as sarcastic a tone as he could manage.
Tippy went and sat down on the sofa and began to weep. "I'm a lonely man," he confessed. "No one seems to find me attractive anymore. I go out of an evening, but no one ever comes home with me. I find I don't care so much for conventions anymore. I've had no luck with them. I went to the store yesterday evening, to the new Giant at Edgewater, I got enough groceries to get a large grocery bag, I came home, I took all my clothes - the coat, pants, shirt, underwear - and folded them, I took my shoes and socks, my belt, tie and cufflinks: all the worldly possessions I have - and put them in the grocery bag, then I took some Scotch tape and sealed the bag shut, then I wrote on the outside of the bag "Goodwill," and set it in a corner. I've tried clothes, they haven't worked for me. I've had no luck with them. I was just driving down Emmorton Road from Bel Air yesterday when it dawned on me I was not cut out for clothes. Isn't it funny how these revelations come upon you when you least expect it? God moves in mysterious ways, my friend, to work His wonders. All my life He's worked mysteriously to get me where He wants me. All my life I've followed. I can't stop now, can I?"
Camaraderie was evidently getting him nowhere, so the wizard decided to try logic. Logic: hard hitting by its very nature, without kid gloves, like a brisk slap on the face or, in the case of a newborn, on the rump. "Mark my words Tippy," he warned, "you go out shopping like this and you'll be arrested inside of five minutes. You'll be put in jail, Tippy - and, furthermore, made to wear clothes. So you'll defeat your own purpose." An admirable syllogism; however....
"I think once I explain my position they'll understand," Tippy insisted confidently.
It looked like there was nothing left but rudeness, a last step at best, but sometimes a necessary step. It was not the snow wizard's way to engage in such negative tactics as deliberately offending someone, but as this was a clear exception on all counts to normal social intercourse he felt justified. "Listen Charles - Tippy: listen: why not just join a nudist colony and be done with it? Then you can run around naked all day long!" It hurt him in a way to say this: he knew that he was intentionally misrepresenting through over exaggeration his neighbor's position, he knew that actually being naked was the very least, or last, of Tippy's complex of motives; yet he felt called upon to make the statement, even at the risk of being charged with hyperbole. It was clear to him from the sudden look of pain on his neighbor's face that his accusation had taken effect, some manner of effect.
"Then I'd be right back where I started," Tippy confessed, busily sniffling to try and contain his sadness. "If everyone's naked, then I'll need clothes to make myself known. My presence. You know how some people have a presence: I have an absence. I have to be different. You know how some people like to be different to stand out: I have to be different to be noticed at all. You see once I explain it all to the police, and the judges, and whoever, it'll be alright. They'll see there's no lewd intent in my nudity. They'll see I'm not trying to solicit undue attention. Sensationalism and exhibitionism are entirely alien to my being, and they'll see this."
"But Charles -"
"I don't want to hear it, whatever it is," Tippy cut the snow wizard off before he could proceed past the correct appellation. "Once you've heard my reason - and it's a sound reason - you'll understand completely why they're bound to see my point. You see, it's political. What I'm asking - insisting on - is neither more nor less than my God given constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness. And please bear in mind: my idea of happiness is nothing exotic or even erotic, and certainly not indecent. It isn't nudity I seek but a wife and family. Love, warmth, security. Someone to support and protect. A home, a hearth, a down payment on immortality. That's all I want. I don't want to offend anyone with my nudity. I don't want to rape anyone. I don't want to create a public spectacle. I assure you: at all times I fully intend to be a perfect gentleman. I want nothing beyond what is already sanctioned by society."
"But your way of getting it isn't sanctioned," stipulated the snow wizard.
"Nonsense," said Tippy. "I won't force myself on anyone. I'll simply smile if I see someone who seems interested, maybe strike up a conversation, perhaps ask for a date, and then propose. They'll see right away my nudity is not simply a ploy to seduce them. They'll see it's just my way of being noticed. Some men need the added embellishment of a toupee, some a cowboy hat, some flash lots of money, some wear a uniform: you don't see them arrested, do you? With me it's just nudity. That's my embellishment. My trump card. My equalizer. That's all. They'll see it."
The snow wizard gave up. He knew it was useless. He knew so precisely the point at which he began to be won over by the force of Tippy's argument. He not only began to see Tippy's point but actually to agree with him that, indeed, given the circumstances and the context as presented to him, nothing in this world could be more sensible than for him to go shopping naked. It seemed so inevitable, so simple, that his only quandary was how it had managed to elude him. He ascribed to his neighbor an incredibly acute insight into his own life, along with a remarkable sensitivity to both the social and the political dynamics of life in general. The snow wizard, in a word, was highly impressed.
"Tippy," he resolved, "I shall be honored to take you shopping."
"Good," said Tippy, "let's go." He was about to rise from the sofa - it was a brown sofa, of a non-descript fabric, remarkable only in one detail: in its being there at all, inside so cramped a space as the snow wizard's El Dorado efficiency unit, compounded by a television set, of the portable variety, perched atop a black and brass metal stand with a book rack and record holders on the bottom shelf; a portable AM and FM radio sharing a kind of bureau with a lamp, a vase and a plant - the lamp was white, with a china base and a large shade, the vase was medium blue, faded purple, and brown, the plant a Rex Begonia, barely alive in a green plastic pot, while the bureau they shared in a quadra-partite symbiosis with the radio, was grayish, something Oriental looking, bulging in the middle, receding at either end; a coat rack, brown, with six hooks spiraled near the top; and two arm chairs, one tan the other something like a green, both vinyl upholstered. Just as Tippy's rump had cleared the sofa cushion, he was invited to replace it.
"I've got to do something first," the snow wizard elaborated. "I've got to call someone, then we can be off, so please, if you will, just relax a bit longer."
"Please don't take long," Tippy asked, "I've got to get on with my life."
"I won't, I promise." With this the Snow Wizard made his way to the kitchen to place his call.
"Can't you talk in here?" asked Tippy with some concern. "I won't listen in, you can trust me."
"The phone's in here," motioned the snow wizard rather awkwardly.
"Okay, I'll join you in there."
"Well, it's sort of private."
"Oh," said Tippy sadly, with bowed head. "Everything's private." He seemed to be talking mostly to himself.
"It's my girl," the snow wizard explained, disappearing into the kitchen to place his call. He would have liked to shut the kitchen door but he thought that it might add an insult to his apparent injury of his neighbor's feelings so he left it ajar. He dialed. The phone rang, three times, then an explosion of noise shook the receiver loose from his ear.
To the unearthly shrieks of a wild beast was blended the pert, quick and loud voice of Miss Marcie shouting "Hello! Who is it?"
"Ask Popo!" stormed the snow wizard. "He sure knows!"
"Oh Popie, Popie, Popie, Popie!" she cooed sweetly. "I call him Popie when he gets upset like this," she shouted into the receiver, "sometimes it calms him." She paused a moment to assess the effect. "Sometimes it doesn't," she observed.
"I swear, one of these days I'm going to -"
"Oh it's not really you," Miss Marcie hastened to interject. Threats to her precious Popo had to be assuaged point blank, immediately, at whatever cost. "He's not feeling well, poor Popo," she whined in a seductive, little girl like voice calculated to both reassure the beast and placate its threatener. "Poor dear, he ate my custard and anchovy soufflé before it was cooled and I'm afraid he's got a bad old tummy ache. How else can I account for his peevishness when he's usually such a dear? What was it you wanted? You see, I was right in the middle of feeding him his honey and vinegar tonic to cure his mean old tummy ache. So of course my dear's annoyed."
The snow wizard, still shouting to make himself heard, for the beast seemed forever to know precisely when he was about to speak and to begin shrieking anew, explained to Miss Marcie, as well as he could under the strain of having to both choose and magnify his words, that he wished her to accompany him on his rounds this afternoon, explaining too that it was of the utmost importance to him."
"But why?" asked Miss Marcie. "I've never gone with you before."
"I want to return," he said. "To Trimble Road. You know."
"No, I don't know any Trimble Road - how could I?"
"Yes you do. Remember? I told you all about it? Trimble Road." All the while Popo kept up his shrieking. "Where that little girl -"
"Oh!" Miss Marcie cut him off. "Don't talk of it, please, it's all so sordid! That horrible little girl! That monstrous little girl!"
"What?" exclaimed the snow wizard. "How can you say that? She was so brutally, so tragically murdered!"
"Of course, that's what I said. Her condition: so horrible, so monstrous! Oh it's just too sordid. Such an evil little girl! Such a bad thing to have happen to that poor dear child. I just can't bear to go near that place!"
"But you pass there every day going to work!"
"But I don't think about it!" Miss Marcie pointed out. "If I went there with you I'd have to think about it, and I can't, I just can't, my mind simply will not dwell on such sordid things. Why it would just burst at the seams: where the two hemispheres of the cerebrum are joined, you know. From that mild concussion I suffered last year dancing. You remember? When my heel broke and I fell and struck my head on that horrible black man's platform shoes? I shudder every time I think of it! How it's weakened my cerebral cortex. It's just too horrible for words!"
"He wasn't black," the snow wizard, still having to shout, pointed out.
"Well, I've always associated platform shoes with black people, you know that. I'm sorry, it's just one of my prejudices, so it can't be helped. Besides, I couldn't come with you even if it were not for that horrible girl and her hideous dark murder -"
"He was acquitted!" the snow wizard interrupted, so hastily that it threw Popo off guard. The beast failed to shriek this time.
"Well you see," exclaimed Miss Marcie, "you've even stunned Popo with such a ridiculous charge! Just because he was acquitted doesn't mean he's innocent. Besides, whether he's innocent or not it's him I associate with whoever the murderer might be so it's him I accuse. Anyway, I couldn't possibly come with you, not today. I simply must remain at home and attend to poor Popo. He's been so ill all day long."
"For God sake can't you leave that damned monkey out of this?" At this, it hardly bears noting the vehemence with which Popo shrieked and carried on; indeed, he was momentarily seized with a coughing spell as a result, which in turn caused Miss Marcie to shriek into the receiver.
"Oh he's dying! He's dying!" she wailed. "My poor Popo's dying! Help! Help!" However, the crisis soon passed and Miss Marcie was once again calm. "You see?" she said. "I absolutely cannot leave the poor dear. Besides, from the moment you called he's been eying my china closet with such a mischievous gleam that I simply don't dare leave him. Don't you see? I can't! I can't! I'm afraid - terrified - he might take it out on my Barbara or my Victoria - or for the love of God even my Rosemary: all of them! No, I can't, I just can't, I don't dare leave him, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, so very very sorry, but my precious Barbara, my adorable Victoria: whatever shall I do if I come home and find them torn limb from limb and leaf from leaf, strewn all about the room, their precious inks covering the carpet, their words, their metaphors and images all reduced to a pile of rubbish? What then? How does one replace such treasures? Tell me that: how does one replace such treasures?"
"It's impossible," the snow wizard murmured so softly he once again fooled the beast. A tear fell from his eye onto the receiver, dripping into one of the holes of the mouthpiece. "Good bye," he said, half wondering whether it was addressed to Miss Marcie or to his tear. Somehow both seemed irretrievable, the one having slid into a kind of manhole cover from which nothing ever emerged in its original form, and from which some things never emerged, while the other had slipped under the spell of a kind of demon which too had acquired the power of mutation. No, he was not at all sure whom he addressed.
How was he now to return, without his Miss Marcie? For that - to go there, to see once again that awful grove where it had happened - he needed more than Miss Marcie in his heart and filling his thoughts; for that, he needed Miss Marcie in the flesh, seated beside him, chatting away about this or that, happily diverting him from the dreadful feeling of guilt and of remorse. Now there could be no diversion, no Miss Marcie sitting in the cab of his truck, no cotton hosiery riding up past her knees from the backward arch of her rump, no garter starting to show, no fiery red nails gesturing every which way, no great gob of bright red lipstick, no uneven hair straggling past her ears, no extemporaneous comments flowing like kaleidoscopic beads from her tongue, no underlying theme of ruination: no diversion. "All is ruin," she would observe almost everywhere they went. Each and every house or store or park or school they passed she claimed to recall having seen at one time or another in its original perfection, or in the case of historic sites in a much great state of renovation than it was now to be found. Deterioration surrounded her, dilapidation had become the order of the day: she swore this was the case. "They've let it go to nothing," she would point at some or another place along the road and remark. "All is ruin." Even brand new houses, not yet inhabited, she found to be specimens of decay. "I saw when they were building it - oh I expected so much from that house; and now just look at it. Ruined! Distorted, disfigured, everything. They may as well have set fire to it, for it'll never sell looking like that." He might on occasion point out to her that it appeared to have already been sold, at least if the sign meant anything. "If it was sold, they were cheated. Besides, you can't go by signs. They only say they've been sold to drive the price up, everyone knows that. All is ruin, I'm afraid. And they know it too."
There would be none of this this afternoon, however. I can't face it alone, the snow wizard reluctantly told himself. I wanted so much to return, I miss my old route, I miss servicing the children of Trimble Road. What good are my flavors if I can't share them with all my patrons. My God: they think they've been bad somehow, they think they did something to offend me. My God, I've got to get back there, I've just got to. Of what possible value are all the great and wondrously esteemed confections of the great and wondrous Boreas Arcticus - his exotics, his humdrums, his sweet and tart and balmy and homey confections - if they can't be shared? What do I need with twelve brand new flavors? It's the kids they're for. My life is dispensing flavors, not sampling them. I'm only the messenger, and only till the end of November. Oh God how I dread the winter, this winter especially, and February. February 17th. How will I ever get through it if I don't return? I need the dignity that can give me. Oh please, oh please.
He returned to the living room, to find his guest, his neighbor from two doors down, leaning, slumping, back on the sofa, weeping. For just these few moments, in the heat of the telephone call, and in the sorrow of its aftermath, he had entirely forgotten about Tippy; but the sight of him brought it all back. It no longer seemed such a good idea to take him shopping, or for that matter to go shopping himself. He was about to say something to that effect when he spied Tippy's tears. He went over to him and sat down on the sofa beside him. "What is it Tippy?" he asked.
Tippy raised his head toward him and in a voice full of misery said to the snow wizard "You act as if I called you a liar." Tears poured down his cheeks.
"No Tippy," the snow wizard tried to reassure him, "that isn't true." His choice of words was untimely, for they prompted Tippy to begin really weeping now, his face distorted and the tears existing almost faster than his eye could replenish them. It seemed hopeless to say anything more, so the snow wizard simply put his hand on Tippy's shoulder and let it go at that. He heaved a big sigh, kind of wishing he too had someone to lean on at a time like this, resentful in a way that all some people had to do was get naked or some other such eccentricity to receive the compassion they needed while he, if he attempted any such shenanigans, could only expect to be ignored or insulted or in some other way chastised. It isn't fair, he was starting to think; then it occurred to him how much worse it would be to have to dress up in eccentricity in order to be noticed at all. He could approach people and talk, as one person to another, and stood a fair chance of being heard. He seemed to have some measure of control over himself and his life, which was certainly better than having none. He could point to a spot and had a fifty-fifty chance of reaching it. If that was all you could hope for, simply better odds than the next guy, then perhaps he had no business resenting the compassion given the other guy and not him.
"Hey Tippy," he said, hoping to cheer him up, "what do you say we go shopping now?" He still didn't like the idea, but he was willing to go along with it.
Tippy looked up at him and while he did stop weeping his face was still laden with the sorrows of the world. He shook his head otherwise.
"No?" the snow wizard asked. Tippy shook his head again. "Why? I thought you wanted to?"
"Not any more," Tippy explained. "Well, maybe later," he relented a little. "Not right now. You know what I wish I could do now? I wish I could go in and lie down. In there," he pointed toward the bedroom. "On your bed. If you don't mind. I'm almost sure I don't have lice or anything, or pinworms, though I once did, but I don't anymore. I'd like to see, to just sense, how it feels to be somewhere else, someone else. You could go ahead shopping, I wouldn't steal anything: I know I have the temperament, and I did once steal something, or, well, sort of: I stole a look at a naked girl at school in the girls' locker room. I wouldn't steal real goods though, just personal things. And I wouldn't mess up your toilet, you wouldn't have to worry about that, I can only go in my own bathroom, I'm nervous about that. Can I stay?"
"You're welcome to stay, sure," said the snow wizard, "and to take a nap too if you like. But I've decided not to go to the store. I've got some thinking to do."
"Oh, well then you won't want me on your bed."
"Don't you get under the bed to think? I do," Tippy explained.
"No," the snow wizard pointed out to an obviously skeptical Tippy, "I do my thinking anywhere." Tippy's look emphasized the pointlessness of fabricating so transparent a lie; his look, part contempt, part doubt, part offense, made it clear what he thought of such restless boasting, though he sad nothing at first. Finally he informed his host, in a cold formal voice, that he would now retire but, "bombast and megalomania notwithstanding," he said with special disdain, he would vacate the bed when the snow wizard felt it was time to do his thinking. He headed for the bedroom, and as he did, just as he turned around far enough to close the bedroom door, he happened to catch sight of his host opening the front door.
"Off to do some thinking?" he inquired in a heavily sarcastic tone.
"I'm going to get my flavors," the snow wizard replied.
"Why?" asked Tippy, all his collector's instincts combining to help him relentlessly pursue his quarry. "If you're going back out again this afternoon, why not leave them where they are?" He knew he had him this time, right where he wanted him. He could almost see his triumphant return to the collection agency, this man's ices and flavors and cones the trophy's of his victorious foray.
"I don't leave them unattended," said the snow wizard zealously. "Not anymore. Not ever again."
"You left them this whole time," Tippy accused without respite.
"And I've been nervous the whole time," retorted the quarry. Not once did he flinch in the face of his accuser.
"Why? Why don't you leave them unattended?" demanded the accuser, determined once and for all to get to the bottom of this unpleasant business.
"Because I don't." The quarry held his ground.
"Why?" shouted the accuser, banging his fist against the door jamb to strengthen his question.
"It's not important," said the snow wizard with a shrug. "Once something happened to cause me to dread leaving my flavors unattended, that's all. So I never leave them unattended. What happened is long since gone, but its effect continues to linger, perhaps always will. The incident's not important, just the effect." With this explanation, the snow wizard went outside to collect his flavors.
Tippy slamed the bedroom door and threw himself on the bed, thrashing about and screaming soundlessly, all motion but no real, measurable content, so his anger, his frustration and his agony would go unnoticed. Sweat poured off him, but momentarily he grew calm and fell asleep. The hours stole by him, without his knowing it, as though time were a swift flowing stream and he its stuporous bank. He whispered, several times in his sleep, the name Principio Furnace, along with various other words, names and phrases: Tippy, that one over and over again; the full name Charles H.R.W. Tippy Carrion, that one only once, and with considerable force and gnashing of teeth; something that sounded like Potato Town, that one droned all in a single rapid if langorous pace, like a chant of some sort; and, at various points The Bridge; and one other, the single word Susky, said only once but in great fear and trembling of lips. Susky: the nickname, if a river or any other natural resource can be said to possess a nickname, of the Susquehanna River, if indeed this was what in his reverie he referred to or cried out to, for when he said it he might well have said it in supplication, almost as one frightened by the supernatural might beg to a god or to a demon. Whatever it was, this Susky, it came at the termination of his reverie; he awoke with the awesome word on his lips. Trembling and drenched in an icy October sweat, he awoke in a strange room - yet another strange place - in the El Dorado Motel on US Route 40 in Edgewood, Harford County, Maryland, with no idea where he was or who he was or why he was. He sat up and cried out a single word: "Help!"
The snow wizard looked up from the kitchen table where he was sitting, writing. The kitchen door was closed, the bedroom door was closed; still, he was sure he heard what sounded to him like a definite cry for help. He got up, opened the kitchen door to step into the living room, listened again, heard nothing, debated a moment whether to investigate or to return to his writing, decided in favor of the former, went through the living room, knocked on the bedroom door, and, after receiving no answer, opened the door. The first thing he noticed was the cloth on the nightstand beside the bed; the second thing was the time: it was later than he realized, it was in fact going on two o'clock. He barely had time to get going, to make his rounds. Late again, he noted. The whole day had been late; and to make matters worse he had still not yet resolved the matter of Trimble Road. Should he return? Dare he? Even without Miss Marcie? All alone? No, it was useless, hopeless, senseless, meaningless even to consider it; not alone: there was no possibility of facing it alone, why pretend - why torture oneself? And yet: he wanted so badly to return, and to do it now, today, not to put it off: to put it off was to never do it. Today there was every incentive; one by one they would each fall aside, these incentives he felt so strongly, each day would contain one less than the previous day, and so on, until before the month was out there would remain insufficient incentive for carrying out his resolve, and there it would end. The children of Trimble Road would give up expecting or hoping for his return, they would forget him as one forgets the reality of things outside the immediate present, he would come to be safe, nothing would ever trouble him or challenge his guilt, in time he would need no longer to avoid Trimble Road, it will have ceased to exist, there would be no earthly reason for traveling it, the very stuff of his life would preclude any such travels: his world will have logically and very orderly ended at Trimble Road. Trimble Road will be as distant from the pressure points of his existence as the dog star Sirius. It was almost hypnotic; it seemed so perfect.
And yet: a thought came to him: why not Tippy? Why not take Tippy along? It wasn't the same as Miss Marcie, but it was company; he wouldn't be alone. And with Tippy beside him in the truck, and Miss Marcie filling his thoughts, he just might make it. And he wanted so badly to return. Not in order to get the thing behind him; no, if anything returning would weld it onto his existence for him to have to carry around for the rest of his life like a hump on his back. If he wanted it gone from his life, better to ignore it, better never to return. No, not to be rid of it, but for a much simpler reason: the thing was incomplete as it stood, and could be made complete only by returning. So why not Tippy? he asked. I want it complete, not because it's right but because I'm uncomfortable with it as it is. I don't want it to simply vanish, fade away, drop from reality. I want it to be complete, even if in becoming complete it generates sufficient strength to remain, even to infect reality, even to plague me. So why not Tippy?
"I thought," he was busy explaining to Tippy, "I thought I heard you say something." He waited a moment to give Tippy an opportunity to reply, but apparently there was nothing to be said. "Well," he continued, "I'll just be going. I, I have to -" here he interrupted himself. "Are you sure there's nothing wrong?" he asked. Tippy nodded his head back and forth, from side to side of the pillow. "Look, I have to be going," the snow wizard explained. He was about to suggest that Tippy accompany him when suddenly Tippy leaped up from the bed and grabbed hold of his arms, causing him a certain amount of fright.
"No!" Tippy cried in anguish. "Please: don't leave me! Please, please, I'm scared, I don't want to be alone! I'm so scared, so scared. Don't leave me all alone, please, don't go!"
"What are you afraid of?" asked the snow wizard.
Tippy shook his head at this and made a face as if he had been somehow insulted. "I'm not afraid of anything," he pointed out somewhat pedantically, "I'm just plain scared, that's all, just scared. Don't go."
This was the perfect opportunity. "I've got to go, I have no choice in that -"
"Then, then," Tippy begged in a tremulous voice, "then wait while I get under the bed first, so I won't have to dream any more. Let me just get under here, I'll just be a minute, and I'll, I'll be thinking while you're gone." Here he lifted up the bedspread: darkness there, beneath the bed, and nothing more. He bent down to crawl under the bed.
"Why don't you go with me," the snow wizard suggested, hurriedly, afraid he had all but missed what had appeared the perfect coincidence.
"Oh," said Tippy vaguely, "I have some thinking to do."
"For the rest of your life?" the snow wizard asked pointedly. He had gotten an idea, something a little devious perhaps but he was growing desperate and a desperate man could not help what he did: there was no catchy legal cliché for it, no juris desperatis or the like, no mitigation perhaps at all, neither legally nor morally; only the force of desperation. Laws were for the courtroom, morals for the drawing room: they were carefully drawn tête-à-têtes with life. Fine. But what happens when life gets you by the throat? What happens then?"
"What do you mean?" asked Tippy in some panic.
"I don't know: I don't know what I mean, I don't know what might happen, if I go out alone. I may never come back. I might just keep on going. I don't know." He hated doing this, the snow wizard did, but he had to take the matter in hand, he had no choice. It wasn't right and he knew it - but then, there were a lot of things in this world which were right and were just as reprehensible, just as ugly. If a man killed you and they put him in jail, that was right - but it was abominable nonetheless. No, the sanction of morality was barely one step above that of might or of any other social paradigm. The snow wizard was spared the moral dilemma. His way was to so temper and circumscribe his own self-interests in life as to preclude, as much as possible, hurting - having to hurt - others. He felt no need to call upon morality to arbitrate his actions. Like everyone, he did what he had to do; but his life was structured in such a way that others need not pay the costs.
"Then please, let me go with you!" begged Tippy. "Oh please, I'm so scared. Please."
The snow wizard held out his hand to his neighbor. "Please get dressed first," he said, adding in anticipation of Tippy's objection, "we're not going shopping. It'll just be kids we see."
"But I have nothing," Tippy started to object.
"Then wear something of mine. Besides, that way you can see how it feels to walk in another man's shoes." Tippy's eyes lit up at this. Eagerly he put on the clothes the snow wizard provided him; in a very few moments he was ready. The snow wizard, with Tippy's help, gathered together his twelve special flavors and took them out to the truck, both men carrying six: Tippy the coconut, mango, guava, papaya, banana and tutti-fruitti; the snow wizard the blueberry, elderberry, pistachio, rum butter, sweet persimmon and pumpkin. They shut the door and left, the snow wizard leaving behind, unfinished, his note on the kitchen table. It was a note to his distributor, across the Susquehanna in Cecil County, a few brief words in praise of the new flavors, the twelve exotic and humdrum flavors acquired from the great Boreas Arcticus. More or less a reminder, to himself, to express his satisfaction with these new flavors, just so he wouldn't forget; and if he did forget to tell his distributor in person, he could call him up on the telephone or, if worse came to worse, he could always mail the note itself and let it do the talking for him. It read: "Pumpkin is a flavor, from the practical side of life; coconut, mango, guava and papaya from the exotic slopes of Tahiti; blueberry and elderberry picturesque, quaint, full bodied charm; tutti-fruitti: ah, the tutti-fruitti; rum butter, sweet; sweet persimmon on the sour side; and then there's pistachio, green and delicate, side by side with rich mellow banana. Each and every one a decided success. Rave reviews on all sides. Keep up the good work. Also," The note left off there, the snow wizard had been interrupted by Tippy's cry for help, having no time to return to it before starting his afternoon rounds, so it sat, unfinished, on the kitchen table of the snow wizard's El Dorado efficiency, waiting.
A pair of dark green twill trousers, a brown and tan plaid flannel shirt, black socks and black loafers transformed Tippy into a vague image of the snow wizard, not a reflection, since his shirt was red and black plaid flannel, his trousers black twill, his shoes more in the style of work shoes, with strings, but a kind of an image of him. Where his hair was black and curly, Tippy's was very light brown, almost blonde, and very straight; and while his features were more or less regular, at least in the sense of offering a well suited mix, Tippy's were anything but regular: they were almost perilously ill suited to the point of being a caricature. His eyes were enormous and the irises green, one, however, clearly darker than the other; similarly, his nostrils seemed less than a perfect match, the left one seeming to flare slightly more and most clearly larger at the opening than the right, both openings quite large; one side of his mouth was ever so slightly drawn, an imperfection noticeable mainly when he smiled, which was infrequent; and his ears even seemed mismatched, the right lobe lower than the left. His skin was as smooth and soft as a child's, with very little growth of whiskers, but his eyebrows were quite bushy, and in the middle of each was a patch of gray, more prominent on the left brow.
They got in the truck, after depositing the flavors in the rear; the snow wizard started the engine; in a moment they were off, headed straight for Trimble Road: first, right onto Route 40 heading East, right a couple blocks onto Edgewood Road, and straight ahead, on past his morning turn into Edgewood Meadows. Up ahead: the intersection: Trimble Road.
Around and around the grove, less than three blocks from where Trimble Road met Edgewood Road, a small grove, pitifully tiny without the fullness of summer leaves: merciless October, stripping the trees and the bushes almost bare to suffer the horrors of November's chill rains, it would take December and its frosts to treat the grove, to winterize the stand of a few trees and some scraggly bushes, to bring out the shimmering smoothness of bark, to make it sparkle like ice in the morning sun. All in black she meandered. Around and around the outside of the grove, winding every few times throughout the grove, in and out, circling each bush and tree as if stalking, stopping dead at one certain spot deepest in the interior, at the base of a maple tree, a spot marked by dead leaves and a few twigs, together creating in abstract a carcass. All in black she wound her way among the shrubs and trees and outside. A tall woman all in black: black shoes, with heels, black coat, black hat with a veil, and black gloves, black hair and dark glasses. Her hands were folded as in prayer. The snow wizard pulled off the road half a block away and stopped his truck; he recognized the woman as the little girl's mother. He had seen her, spoken to her, at the dark boy's trial. He had gotten the feeling somehow that she resented his testimony: just a feeling it was, a certain way she looked at him when the trial was over. His calls - he had tried to call on several occasions - were never answered, no one was ever home it seemed, unless somehow she knew it was him calling; this seemed to confirm his suspicion of resentment, this failure to get an answer. Now here she was. Perhaps this was where she had always been and that was why he had gotten no answer. He wished to speak to her, and her being here certainly wouldn't hurt his purpose, if anything it had already helped. Yet what if she did resent him, what if his impression had been correct? It would be awkward. While he was busy thinking these things through, he failed to notice his companion's departure. Tippy had gotten out and was standing beside the grove watching the woman in black, yet, as no intervening steps had caught his notice, the snow wizard, for just that split-second, mistook Tippy for a ghost, and started. Something about Tippy standing there, in profile, his identity blanked from the snow wizard's mind, made him think of someone else: of the murderer, for just that split-second. No sooner did he turn to point out the apparition to his companion than he was made aware who it actually was: Tippy, not the murderer. Yet without knowing, it had been the murderer. No, Tippy was not the murderer, nor did he really look like him; but then, the snow wizard had no clear image of the murderer, he had been unable to retain the face in his memory: he knew only what the murderer did not look like, while what he did look like was a blur, an arrangement of indistinct images and features without the cohesion of a set pattern. Faces best retained should be marble; this one was saltpeter. The snow wizard got out; when he approached, and he did so stealthfully in order not to anger the woman in black, he found Tippy already engaging her in conversation.
"In a very general sense, I mean," he was busy clarifying something he had already stated. Still the woman said nothing, she just stared at him indignantly, as if he were guilty of some species of desecration: that particular species wherein one's actions or words are made to appear sacrilegious solely in light of some highly esoteric knowledge or rite about which one cannot possibly have known. Tippy was persistent, even in the face of the unknown.
"I don't mean handsome, I just want to know if you find me attractive," he reiterated. Still the silence of indignation. "Do you even notice me?" he whispered in a panic. He began to unbuckle the belt of his trousers, at which point the snow wizard, resentment or no, made his presence known. He thought to himself: all I need is him to take his clothes off, and added to my helping free the boy, she'll never hear me out, never, she'll never believe I didn't put him up to it - my God, she might even begin to suspect me as the boy's accomplice!
"May I say something, please?" he asked the woman, at the same time stepping halfway between her and Tippy and taking hold of Tippy's wrist.
"I can't imagine what it could be," the woman all in black, the little murdered girl's mother, answered. "First your colored friend murders my little girl then your other friend here offers to rape me: you tell me, why on earth should I hear you out?" With this she turned and continued her round.
"He wasn't guilty," the snow wizard pleaded, following the woman on her rounds, at a discreet distance. "I swear, I didn't lie. The boy did not kill her. Every word I said was true, I swear it."
The woman kept walking; without even feigning a turn she began replying in a general sort of way to his plea. "My little girl is dead," she noted in a voice appropriate to a chant or a litany, "she lies in her grave, I buried her, I prayed over her casket, in the Presbury Methodist Church I prayed, I pray whenever I can, every Tuesday, on a Tuesday she died, yet no one has been punished, I cannot rest, she cannot rest, God cannot rest, the nation cannot rest, the world cannot rest, until someone has paid, it doesn't matter who, anyone will even the scale, whoever was first charged should pay if no one else is found, someone should pay, no one has been punished, no one has paid." She walked as she talked. Among the bushes and twigs and dead leaves she walked, around the trees, outside the grove, then in it, a pause at the impressionistic carcass beneath the maple tree then on again, dodging limbs of bushes and low ones of trees, in and out, around and around she walked talking of things, of death and murder and of justice and a word or so of morality. "Whoever," she said, "could see a child murdered should offer his own life in restitution whether he wielded the weapon or not, just being there made him surrogate to whoever did it, if whoever it was could not be found he should have offered himself in place, he should have laid down to die so the world could get on, I cannot, as you see I cannot get on, the world cannot, it awaits my small contribution to get moving again, let it wait, but let it not wait too long I think." Here a limb with stickers on it caught her sleeve, she had to stop to free it, but in doing so she lost her place among the trees and bushes and no sooner took two steps than a tree limb struck her full in the face, tearing her veil though evidently not her flesh. She walked on however, as if nothing had happened. "I come here morning, noon and night," she said, taking time to spit out a something or another she had gotten embedded in her mouth when the limb hit her, "I look for her, not for her but for her ghost, I have made a mound where she lay dead. I have fashioned a carcass of leaves and twigs, but I don't look at it." Which was well, for as she walked, not looking at the carcass, a stray dog came up to it, sniffed, lifted his leg, and urinated on it, kicked some dirt with his back paws and ran off. Momentarily a second stray dog came into the grove, only for a different purpose; this one went to a shrub, sniffed, then defecated, unnoticed by the woman in black who was rounding the bend at the opposite side of the grove; it too ran off when finished. A third dog strayed into the grove, sniffed the leavings of the first two and took off in a great hurry: in the course of things, this territory had been already staked; satisfied apparently with its destiny, this third dog turned tail and made a hasty retreat. "No," the woman was saying, "I cannot rest till this thing has been set right, I have ceased my small contribution to the world's progress, someone must pay or eternity is thrown out of sync, mark my words, we will never reach the end of time, the day of judgment, I will never embrace my little girl again, till this is set right." Fortunately, she just missed stepping where the second dog had been; this time around.
The snow wizard stopped following; it was apparent to him it was futile, the woman had not heard a word he had said, or if she did she ignored it, she was too busy talking. For another full round she continued talking, stopping only upon coming around and seeing him heading for his truck with his companion, the gentleman rapist. "I'd report you, I'd like to," she said, unheard, "but I'd have to break my vigil to do it. Let some other woman deal with the rape, the murder's enough for me, I think. I shall never rest till this thing is set right." Off she went again, deep into the grove. From across the street a pair of dogs watched. The snow wizard and Tippy got back into the truck and drove off, both deep in thought, Tippy apparently, from his expression, sad and depressed, the snow wizard concentrating on the boy he saved while, almost from reflex, he went about his rounds. Would he encounter children here on Trimble Road? And where? At his old stops? Should he stop at his old stops, wait a bit, hope he'll be seen? These were the thoughts he relegated to his hands, or to his subconscious acting through his hands, while he dwelt on other things.
A hot summer evening, a Tuesday evening. He recalled it watching for just an instant the tall woman in black in his rear view mirror, till she disappeared into the grove for good. The county Sheriff's at Bel Air, county seat. Courtland Street. He parked now, on Trimble Road; he had parked then on Courtland Street. He waited in his truck now; he waited in front of a paneled counter then. Children in the distance? Maybe. Hopefully. "And your name?" He told it, the policeman wrote it down. "Height? Weight? Date of birth? Hair and eyes?" "Yes." "I mean the color." Black and hazel. "You say 'yes' for sex," the policeman said with a big grin. "Of course," agreed the snow wizard absently. "Tell us everything you know," the policeman instructed. This request at first puzzled the snow wizard. "Everything?" he asked. "From the top," he was told. He reached up to touch his head; it seemed correct to do it. "What time did it all begin?" the policeman coaxed his reluctant witness. "Begin? I can't say." "When did you arrive on the scene?" For just a second he felt vaguely as if he should now produce his birth certificate; it seemed called for somehow, but he didn't think to bring it with him.
"Let's go back a step," he asked the policeman, "what have I said so far?"
The man replied, holding up his thumb and index finger in the shape of a zero, "Goose Egg."
This puzzled him greatly. "I said that?" he asked, then he realized what it meant and he felt embarrassed, although he was still too stunned by the day's events to blush. "Forgive me," he said, "I'm still in a daze. May I have some coffee - do you have a coffee machine?" The policeman went and got him a cup of coffee, haggling with him over the cream and sugar.
"One or two?"
"One. No, two."
"It's fresh, don't worry."
"Ain't coffee without cream. Last chance."
"One please. I mean -"
"Got you. Here you go. Just ain't coffee without cream though. Hope you don't mind the credit union mug. My wife's. Works on post." "Matcominize" it read, with an owl above the letters, all in red on a white cup, slightly translucent. "I told her I didn't want it, she said take it, I said I won't drink out of it, she said if you get thirsty enough you will. So there, here's mud in your eye. Or as an uncle used to call it, bug juice. You were saying?"
Slowly, painfully, the snow wizard recounted the events from the time he arrived on the murder scene: how he stopped just in time to keep from hitting a careless pedestrian with his truck; how the pedestrian turned out to be a murderer, or a suspect anyway, he was corrected by the policeman; how there was a bloody knife in the man's left hand; how the man looked up at him and sneered; how the man ran off; how a moment later a young man emerged from the same tiny grove out of which the first man had come running; how the first man had meanwhile run off, unnoticed, his attention diverted by the second man; how the second man had cried out "Stop him! He killed her! Stop him!"; how the boy then looked up at him and seemed to be pleading; how, then, the police arrived, almost as if they had known it would happen. He managed to get it all told.
"Is your dad a policeman?" the snow wizard asked a little boy who, happily, had seen his truck parked along Trimble Road, down by the grove, and hastened to alert the entire neighborhood so that by the time it pulled up to his old stop, his first old stop of the afternoon, the last old stop of the morning, there was a vast congregation on hand to greet him. His hands and feet did it; they seemed to know on their own exactly what to do, where to stop, how to get out of the cab, how to go about preparing cones, per order, moving here and there dispensing them once prepared. They were good workers. Even his tongue seemed to know how to manage without his conscious direction. Had he been aware of his various activities - the moving about, the careful preparation of the ices in the little white paper cones, the infallible selection of just the right flavor, the small talk with his patrons - he might well have been forced to ask what they needed him for, his hands, feet, tongue and various other parts, they did so well on their own: but then whoever said it was they which needed him and not vice versa? They allowed his mind to wander; they evidently knew what he was thinking too: the boy's father, the policeman, was at that precise instant on his mind, and here he was asking the boy about him, not because he knew the boy to be the man's son but solely because of a similarity of appearances.
"Yes sir," the boy was saying, "he works for the sheriff." He looked back at some of his friends and informed the snow wizard, very pointedly, that "he's going to get me my very own gun too!" It was only too apparent by his intensity that his friends had had trouble believing that. He turned back to receive his snow cone, banana instead of the apple he had first requested, saying, in a lower voice, "mom says no, but I know I can talk her into it anyway. How come you don't have apple? You always used to."
The snow wizard was busy watching elsewhere; still he managed to respond, informing the boy of the brand new twelve flavors he wished to try out for a couple days to see how they did. "They'd do a lot better if you had apple, take it from one who knows. I'm the only kid in Miss Chessick's class that gave her an apple, everyone else gave her either cookies or oranges or shrimp salad and one kid gave her Kosher dills - he tries to pretend he's Jewish, but you know what he thinks? he thinks Mary Magdeline was Christ's sister-in-law: dumb, huh? He's no more Jewish than my sister's cat Ream or he'd know, wouldn't he? And I'm the only one that got an A, and I owe it all to an apple! Bye now!"
The snow wizard was busy watching the boy's father while the man watched a sheet of paper on a table in front of him, on a hot Tuesday in July. "Wait right here," he had been told by the first policeman he talked to, the one at the desk, to whom he managed to relate his tale of the murder. "We want to get a sketch," the policeman added as he left. In another moment the second policeman entered, the police artist, the father of his patron here on Trimble Road who recommended apples so highly. He still had his coffee; he looked down at the owl on the mug. They looked so innocent, he thought, when they're drawn on coffee mugs, yet I've seen their work, I've seen a man's face ripped almost to shreds, his eye almost torn out, and the infection afterwards; he almost died. Used to be a nice guy till that happened, then he got mean, talked hateful to anyone. Me, I think I'd have gone on a rampage and killed every owl I could find; him, he took it out on other people. And now I come to find out that with a little wisdom you could Matcominize. And an owl shall lead the way. I just don't know.
"I want to get this man and I want to get him bad," the police artist was saying as the snow wizard took one more sip of coffee. It had grounds in it. "I live over that way," the man kept on, "my kid went to school with that little girl. Could of been him. Unless it was sexual. Even then it could have been him. Yeah, you can bet on it: I want to get him bad. Okay, let's start with the general outline." That presented no problem; the man's face was squarish. "Good so far," encouraged the artist. "Let's go for the eyes. How were they? Narrow, distant, big, small, close set, hooded, far apart: what would you say?" The trouble began here. The trouble was, he couldn't say. Not about the eyes, not the nose, the mouth, the ears: anything. "But he had to have features!" the exasperated artist protested, looking down at his squarish outline of a head devoid of topography. "Look I'll just begin drawing, at random, and maybe when you see something you like you'll begin to remember, okay? Got nothing to lose. I want him bad, real bad. So look: here's a nice ugly mouth, you know you said he was sort of crazed, something about him made you think of a lunatic? So let's give him a mean old twisted up mouth. How's that?" All he could do was shake his head; it just didn't look right. "I got erasers," the artist assured him, "don't worry - please don't panic - I got erasers. See: just like magic, gone." Except for the smudge and the few eraser shavings. "How about the eyes? I know we can get the eyes if we just work on it. No matter what else you don't remember about a person you always remember the eyes! I'm going to make them mean, and I'm going to make them crazed, and big - big big big; and they're going to stare out at you. Don't be afraid. Keep telling yourself: it's only a drawing, it's only a drawing. There. How's that?" Again, he could only shrug and nod; first the shrug, then the nod, or first the nod then the shrug: he used them all before the night was out. "I want him, I want him! We'll give him a nose, God damn him we'll give him a nose to end all noses! Ugliest damn son of a bitch you've ever seen! How's that? Scares you just to look at it, don't it?" This sequence it was first the nod, then the shrug, with a throwing up of the hands thrown in, after which he picked up his mug and finished his coffee. "Whew!" the artist expressed relief, "I was afraid for a minute there you were about to dump that on my drawing. It's looking good though, it's coming along fine, just fine, it's starting to take shape. I want that man bad, I think you know it, and I think we're getting there, we're on the right track now, I can feel it, it's coming soon, coming right along. Another few touches and we'll have him, I can almost picture him in my mind right now, it just needs a little more. Maybe I'll give him some whiskers, let's try that. There. Perfect. Just the touch it needed. Yeah, it's starting to look like him now. I think his eyebrows should be a little bushier. There. Just like that. The son of a bitch! Oh boy do I want him! I knew he'd be ugly, but nowhere near that ugly! I think I'll give him a scar right down the right temple, like this. There. God damn him he's mean! And a cleft chin, don't you think?" The snow wizard could only: 1) shrug; 2) nod; and 3) throw up his hands. "Well, we'll make it just a tiny cleft," expressed the police artist with admirable restraint. "There. You know what he needs? And I bet you neither of us even thought of it either: he needs a deep deep furrow between his eyebrows. How in the world could we have overlooked that? There, now we got him. Yeah. Right where we want him. Shouldn't have any trouble finding him. There can't be but one human being in all the world looks like this, can there? I know how bad you want him and by God we're going to get him for you. I want him too, I know just how you feel, I got a kid myself. I put child molesting right up there with the best of the crimes myself. You too I bet, huh? I'll tell you this much: we couldn't have done it without you. God bless your soul we couldn't have done it without you. Tomorrow the picture'll be in every squad car in the state, and every news paper. And I'm telling you something mister: it's thanks to you and you alone that we'll get him. We'll bring this little buddy to justice, don't you worry about that. It's citizens like you that make us proud we've got on this uniform. I'd salute you, but you're a civilian. Oh what the hell. 'Tention!" The police officer stood up, clicked his heels, gave the snow wizard a mighty salute, clicked his heels again, took up his pad and pencils and erasers, turned, and left the room.
By the end of the week the artist's rendering of the wanted man had been circulated throughout Maryland, Delaware and Southern Pennsylvania, Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia: the Delmarva peninsula plus the Southeastern counties of Pennsylvania: York, Lancaster, Chester and Adams. The newspapers had it, the local television station had it, the squad and patrol vans of the various state and local police agencies had it, the radio stations had it, some enterprising disc jockeys using word of mouth description over the air to help locate the suspect and, as an afterthought, to help boost their ratings; there was even a reward offered by one radio station, and a contest started by some big city disc jockey, a clever variant of the old "Mr Potato" child's game: where you had had little plastic eyes, ears, noses and mouths which you pegged into a common potato or a Styrofoam simulacrum, here you had some descriptive words which you could call into the radio station (not a toll free number however: that was the only drawback), the very best of all being awarded a pass for two at a swank restaurant, the winning composite drawing read over the air on a specified date. The whole thing fizzled though when, a full week having gone by, no one had been apprehended: if you couldn't at some point in time compare your findings to reality, what good were they? Neither the FBI nor the Post Office got involved at all as no Federal statutes had been broken, the murderer careful not to transport the corpses across the state line or in any way kidnap them or, since she was a child, deprive her of her civil rights: one school of thought held that children per se and qua children had no civil rights, theirs being merely an extension of their parents, while the other school held that hers had been scrupulously upheld right up to the point of her death; no evidence of discrimination was ever found.
They drove on to the next stop. It was all coming back to him: the old stops, the old patrons, the same flavors requested. He grew less and less anxious with each subsequent customer; the anxiety was still there, diluted perhaps; but, like adding raw flavoring to the syrupy base, more could suddenly come, an immense concentration; and the mechanism to release it, introduce it into the medium would be the request, the one inevitable patron's request, for raspberry: her flavor, the little murdered girl's favorite. Raspberry - which he did not even have: he no longer stocked it; his other patrons knew it, even if they did not know why; they had been told, he had suffered the lesser anxieties of telling them, the safer ones, over there, away from Trimble Road: that was behind him now. Eventually he would be brought face to face with the trauma of being asked all over again, however, and being asked here, adjacent to the murdered girl's grove. Even now, as he approached the second of his Trimble Road stops, the patrons, unbeknownst to him, waited. She watched, she knew what to watch for, what telltale signs had never failed to give away his approach; even before she could see his truck in full view, even before the big electric ice blue letters proclaimed it The Snow Wizard's truck, she saw inside the cubicle of the cab, saw the big white dice hanging from the rear view mirror, slowly turning. That was her clue. Miss Marcie's Christmas present to the snow wizard on the occasion of their first Christmas together, a big gaudy pair of dice made of white plastic. "It'll bring you luck," Miss Marcie informed him. "I consulted with Madame Flora, she advised me against anything modern, and dice go back to the early pagans, you know. For me, I shouldn't have Dacron, Madame Flora says it could set off a chain of events. And I've always had woman's problems anyway. "Madame Flora?" he inquired. "My advisor. Didn't I mention her?" "No." "She lives outside Elkton. It's a long way but, you know, they're banned from Harford County. I shudder every time she says she's going South for a visit. I just know she'll have a wreck and they'll find her and see who she is and put out her eyes - oh how horrible! Or even worse." "They don't do that kind of thing." "I know, but it doesn't hurt to worry about it. It's much less likely to happen if there's someone, somewhere, worrying about it. Poor Madame Flora: she's been accused of all manner of ungodly things. Someone told me she was a gypsy. And I myself accused her of being a prostitute. It's just horrible the things that poor woman has to endure. And all because she's a fortune teller. It makes you stop and think, doesn't it?" They dangled and bobbed every time the truck hit a rut in the pavement. She could see the movement, she had the eyes of an eagle; Miss Marcie's dice were her cue. She got ready. "One raspberry," she said with glee, "coming right up!"
"You know," Tippy was saying as the truck slowed up and the children congregating up ahead began pointing and waving and smiling. He too was smiling. "You know: all those kids were staring at me like I was some sort of freak. They didn't know what to make of me."
"Oh I don't think it was that," the snow wizard tried to reassure him. Tippy looked a little dejected at this.
"I hope so," he said. "It felt so good. You think they were looking right through me and not at me?"
The snow wizard collected his wits long enough to realize the blunder he had made; now he had to find a way out of it. Tippy was staring hard at him, preparing evidently for the worst. Then he got an idea. It was pointless to reverse himself, Tippy might not believe him; but he had an idea. "I'm going to be watching them," he informed his companion very authoritatively. "I'll see just exactly what they are up to. That's just what I'll do." Tippy became immediately agitated; his fate hanging like this before him made him nervous.
"Can't you tell right away?" Tippy almost pleaded. "So we don't have to wait?"
"No," was the reply, "I don't want them to know what we're up to."
"Oh yeah," Tippy agreed. The truck stopped, the children surrounded it, moving in, closer and closer. The snow wizard got out. Tippy got out. The children pressed closer. Finally the deed was done.
"One raspberry!" the cry rang out from somewhere amid the silent crowd, a cry so unexpected it caused both men to start. Tippy began to shake. He saw a finger emerge from the crowd and point, from where he was it seemed to be pointing directly at him, and again the cry "One raspberry!" accompanied it. He stood shaking his head back and forth, mumbling "No, no I'm not, I'm a person, I'm me, I swear it, I'm not what you think, I'm Tippy, I am, I swear it." He turned to the snow wizard, who was also shaking, but for a different reason; his face was pathetic as he said "They always think it's someone or something other than me." Then he got very close to the snow wizard and whispered in his ear "I'm not a raspberry, am I?" The snow wizard calmed him, put his hand on his shoulder, told him no, he didn't think so. "Then why'd she say it?" Tippy asked, and was told it was much too subjective and much too literal an interpretation of the cry on his part.
"She means she wants a raspberry snow cone," he explained.
"But you don't have any!" Tippy cried desperately.
"She doesn't know that."
"Then tell her."
The snow wizard turned to the child and told her: "We have no raspberry. It's been discontinued. A shortage or something, they weren't very clear on that, nor did they say for sure when or if they'd have any more." She seemed content; her face, at first vexed with dismay, relaxed as he cast the magic word before her dazzled eyes: they. The magical, exotic, implacable, unquestionable, incomparable "they": the universal solvent, into which all claims, all disputes, all objections dissolve as into a divine acid. It was "they" who decreed the dearth of raspberry, "they" who had mysteriously removed it from his store, "they" and "they" alone who could predict its return. The ultimate authority, whose word was law, was final.
"Oh," she replied, knowing immediately that if it was the work of that species of being known only by the intangible pronoun "they" then it was alright. She took blackberry instead. "Your helper is very strange, isn't he?" she asked, pointing to Tippy. This helped calm him; he smiled. The snow wizard too smiled: he realized how fortunate he was to have had Tippy accompany him, particularly at this crucial point. Caught up in the grotesque absurdity of Tippy's irrational fears, his own paled just long enough for him to slip by them. The gauntlet - the little girl's cry for raspberry - had been hurled at him, the one thing on earth he most feared; and thanks to a mischievously absurd universe it had hit the wrong target. Instead of his own guilt spurting out in a hideous gush to send him a madman shrieking through the rest of his days, as he so desperately feared, it had spilled his friend Tippy's insecurity in a ridiculous dribble quickly soaked up into the first senseless explanation thrown out. The same "they" who satisfied the little girl's demand seemed, incredibly, to pacify Tippy as well. At the mere mention of the word, he grew calm; he looked over at the snow wizard and whispered "They can do that?" in a tone so full of awe and surprise that he instantly forgot all about being taken for a raspberry, so that by the time the little girl commented on his being strange he was back to his old self again, cheerful and bright, his security restored. "And you know," he would say later, riding beside his friend in the truck, "I don't think I'll even need to go shopping naked!" Hasty words, too hastily spoken.
"Did you notice?" the snow wizard asked, just in case the little girl's comment had not of itself been sufficient to reassure him. "They were all looking straight at you Charles - ah, Tippy that is. Not through you - I made it a point to watch for any sign of that - but at you. Remember when the twins took the tutti-fruitti? I paid special attention."
"Because there was a lull?" Tippy prompted.
"Right! the snow wizard was quick to agree.
"I think that was because they forgot which one was which."
"Whatever the reason," the snow wizard hastily steered him away from that, "everyone took that opportunity to look right at you. And I saw them too."
Tippy smiled very big at this, then reflected a moment. "I hope that's what it was," he said finally, in a voice not quite so certain as it had been a moment ago.
"Are you back for good now?" the children of Trimble Road, at each of his stops, asked him. Each time, he replied in the affirmative; each reply brought a smile, occasionally a cheer, from the interrogator. "And him?" they sometimes asked, pointing to Tippy, "is he your new assistant? Will you keep him on? Even though he is so strange?" Tippy was in seventh heaven; so much attention had never been lavished on him. Once he even volunteered this bit of information, in private, when the snow wizard was out of hearing range: "I'm thinking of getting some even newer flavors." "From Boreas Arcticus? it was asked. "No," he replied, "from Janos Principus." No sooner had these words rolled off his tongue than he stopped cold. "What are they?" it was eagerly inquired. "Hey mister what are they?" "Mister? Are you there?" Tippy was in a daze and heard nothing. That name: why that name? Of all the possible names he might invent impromptu, why that one? It stuck in his mind the instant it was said: like a stamp, in a stamp book, it already had a place, it went right to it. The name was real, and it retained a shape, something distant and buried, but something real, very very real, dragged up from the bottomless recesses of his memories. Janos Principus. He was momentarily oblivious to all else, coming around only slowly, a bit at a time, half way out of his daze when he heard someone comment "He's not all there" and point to him. It stunned him, this comment without any apparent context, like a slap on the face. "Not all here?" he repeated in a terrified mumble. There was only one possible conclusion he could reach: "They don't see me. They never have. I go shopping." He started walking down Trimble Road, but he hadn't gotten far when the snow wizard caught up to him in his truck.
"You had me worried," he told Tippy. "I turned around and all of a sudden you were gone. It's just lucky the kids saw you take off. It's a long way back home you know. Glad I found you. Were you getting bored?"
"A little," said Tippy.
"Would you rather I take you home first, then finish my rounds?"
"No, I won't get in the way. Just pretend I'm not here."
"Tippy: the kids asked me if you were going to be my assistant. I'd like to have you. What do you say?"
Tippy looked at him oddly. "Do you owe any money?" he asked.
"Debts you mean? Do I have debts?" asked the snow wizard. Tippy nodded. "Sure, I have debts - who doesn't? Yeah, I sure do. Truth is I owe on this truck yet. I had a bit of work done on it when I bought it. Yeah I still owe."
"Who?" asked Tippy.
"Who do I owe? Brinkman's. They did the work for me. Brinkman's Garage. Why?"
Tippy grinned from ear to ear. "No reason," he said, "just making a mental note."
"I could pay you," said the snow wizard, "if that's what's worrying you. It wouldn't be much. Truth is, it'd be less than minimum. But I can pay you, my debts won't prevent my paying you. What do you say Tippy? I know you want to get back in the collection business - and you will; but just till then, to tide you over. What do you say?"
Again Tippy grinned. "I'd tend my own garden if I were you," he said in a voice which seemed to emphasize the cryptic intent of his statement.
"I don't understand you, Tippy," the snow wizard confessed.
"And never will," added Tippy.
This last comment hurt the most of any. "So I'm going to go back to calling you Charles," the snow wizard retaliated.
"It's not my name!" Tippy insisted.
"And never will be - right?" The snow wizard relented as he drove on from his final stop of Trimble Road, turning right onto Magnolia Road, driving a half mile or so, then turning right again, onto Hanson Road. Right away there they were, the first of his afternoon Harford Square patrons, right on the corner of Hanson Road and Harford Square Drive. Seeing them made him regret his curtness: he can't help it, he thought glancing over at his companion. He's trapped in being Tippy all the rest of his life, he'll never be Charles. Who'd name a kid Tippy anyway? Sounds like a dog's name. Just then he thought of something which so stunned him he slammed on his brakes. The astounded children ran the half block to meet him, presuming this to be a new stop. He turned to his companion, entirely oblivious to the approaching children, an incredibly intense look in his eyes. He had just that instant recalled something Miss Marcie had told him just the previous week; it had never dawned on him till this very instant the connection.
"Tippy," he asked, "this is absolutely vital: do you know a woman in Cecil County, just outside Elkton, named Madame Flora?"
Tippy started at the name, then immediately cried out passionately "No I certainly do not!" and turned abruptly away.
"I just now recalled something she said," he was beginning to say when Tippy leaped from the truck and began shouting "Get your snow cones here! Get 'em while they're hot! A penny a cone - special today: a penny a cone!"
"Yea! Yea!" the cheer arose like a rocket ship blasting off. "I'm first!" "I'm first!" "Me first!" "Me!" "Me!" the chant arose on the heels, or the exhaust as it were, of the cheer. The snow wizard jumped down and went straight to the heat of this melee, at whatever risk: there was no way on earth he could let his cones go for such a sum as a penny apiece.
"I'm sorry children," he tried to explain amidst the noise and confusion. "Listen to me, please," he tried to quiet the mob. "I'm sorry, but there's been a mistake. I'm sorry children, but the figure you just heard was quoted in error. We are not authorized to sell at that price. I'm sorry, I'm genuinely sorry for the misunderstanding, but it's a quarter a cone, as always. I'm sorry."
"But he said a penny!" they cried out in disappointment, in anger, in frustration. "He said a penny!" "A penny!" "Penny a cone!" "A special!" "He said a penny!"
"If he has cones for a penny, then please go to him. I don't. Mine are a quarter. I'm sorry children, genuinely sorry, I wish I could let you have them for a penny, but I can't. I'm sorry."
"Then keep your God damn cones!" someone shouted. "Yeah: you can just keep them!" cried another. "Yeah, we don't need 'em!" "We don't want 'em!" "You can stick 'em up your ass!" "Yeah!" "Yeah!" The children all walked away. The snow wizard turned to get back in his truck. A stone hit him in the back, just a pebble, thrown by one or another disgruntled patron. He turned, knowing he would see no sign of his assailant: they were all turned away from him, but from their midst arose a snigger. He shook his head sadly, turned a second time, got hit a second time, but kept on going, got in his truck and drove on, Tippy having already gotten back in the cab. He waved at the children as he drove past; they gave him what's called "the finger" in exchange.
"You're lucky," Tippy muttered miserably, "they know you exist."
The snow wizard looked at him. "Big deal," he replied. Word traveled with lightening speed. The children at the corner of Hanson Road and Harford Square Drive must have headed right home to call their friends, for no one was there, no one, not at any of his Courts of Harford Square stops. He pulled up to each, stopped his truck, waited, saw nothing, was approached by no one, so he pulled away each time, shunned by his every patron. He could hear Miss Marcie: "You have Saturn in the Tenth House," she had told him his last birthday: as his present she had had his horoscope done by Madame Flora. "That means you're in for a fall. Oh dear, she didn't say what kind of fall, or did she and I forgot, or wasn't listening. Oh poor Popo, I'm so worried about him, his poor little health is ever so fragile. I can't concentrate on anything it seems. And you know me, my mind's as precise as clockwork as a rule, so you can see how distracted I must be. Poor darling, he wants so badly to read it's just eating his heart out. I swear his little heart palpitates. I'm going to Johns Hopkins next month for sure to see if I can't get him a transplant. You know, so many monkeys used to be donors but you never hear of them anymore, and for the longest time I wondered why but of course it's so clear now: they're waiting for a monkey to donate to, poor things. Well they can't wait no longer because my poor Popo needs a new heart. So please avoid ladders just in case that's the kind of fall she meant. Detestable woman! She will not speak in precise clear terms. Did I tell you I think she deals in heroin? Well I do. Don't ask me how or why because you know my mind works in mysterious ways but it's usually right. I just feel it. Whenever I'm with her I start thinking of heroin: why would I think of it if she didn't deal in it? Her and that horrible dog of hers, that Tippy! What a preposterous name for an animal! It sounds like it should be a plant, not an animal, don't you think?"
"Where's she from?" he had asked once.
"God knows where. From hell maybe. It would just kill her to tell you anything good. Like my Mars. I don't even want to think about that."
"Where did you even meet her?" he had once asked.
"Am I being interviewed?" she had snapped. "Or are you just prying? How should I know where I met her? One does not meet such creatures, they descend on one pure and simple. Let me give you an idea what kind of creature she is: she has never heard of my Barbara or of my Victoria! And the things she tells me about my Mars - oh if only he were in another House!"
"Just don't go to her."
"My life is in her hands, I feel it somehow. Her cousin Janos was murdered you know. There was a child, I don't quite understand these convoluted plots, I never did, I prefer the simple, straight forward plots of my Barbara's and my Victoria's heroines' lives. If real life insists upon these horrible convolutions then I'll have no part of it. Why it's like one of those cheap detective novels, it's just awful. If I only had my Mars in some other house I think I could get along without her treacherous advice. A lady I met in Elkton: you know: I stopped into MacDonald's after a reading one day, I don't remember which it was - this lady told me the most hideous piece of gossip. In fact I had to slap her face afterward - it was just that hideous. And God knows I'm more opposed to violence, except for legitimate wars, then anyone I know of! It was just hideous. Even my poor Popo could see how upset I was when I got home. Poor thing, he tried to comfort me. He brought me my Victoria. A page was missing though. 'Naughty boy!' I admonished him. Ah he was furious with me. You remember the scarf I bought? That pretty one with the little red specks against a gray background? Well, he went and ripped it simply to shreds. Poor dear, he was so hurt with being scolded, who can blame him? I don't dare go from one week into the next without my Madame Flora, that's the truth. The way my Mars is poised there on the cup, I could go just like that. Why can't I snap my fingers? I bet if I had my Mercury in my Third House I could. Poor Janos. I saw his picture you know. Very striking. Looked just like a Gypsy too. The lady at MacDonald's - a horrible creature too, why I had to slap her face! - told me Janos was butchered by his own father - can you believe it! Or was it a neighbor? Well, it was someone who should have known better. Dissected: that's the word she used: dissected. Something about potatoes, to determine if he had eaten potatoes. Have you ever heard of a place called Potato Town? It's on Route 40, on the left. Something about Potato Town, I don't remember, it was at that point I had to slap that horrible gossip at MacDonald's. She had a Big Mac and a coke. I had a quarter pounder. But you know me: I always did buy food by the weight, except for crabs. Why don't you cook me some crabs tomorrow night? I couldn't digest my quarter pounder, I kept thinking of that wretched little dog Tippy. I kept wondering if maybe my Ronald ever used dog meat. God knows I loath that wretched little dog but I wouldn't want my quarter pound of flesh just because I hate him. And a coffee. Everyone knows I cannot abide coke, it gives me diarrhea. My poor Popo had it too, he too gets it from drinking coke. I wouldn't have given it to him if I'd had any idea. I shouldn't have taken it in - why it terrifies me now: it might have been poisoned for all anyone knew. Remember, I told you? It was just sitting outside on my porch. The coke man must have left it. He lives at the end of my row - remember, I told you about him? He has a terrible crush on me, but he lives with his mother and she is a diabetic so he has to tend to her every whim. Do you think if I changed the time on my birth certificate I could get a new horoscope drawn up? Mars wouldn't be on my cusp."
"Hey" where are you going?" asked Tippy.
The snow wizard had turned from Hanson Road once again, this time into the Meadowood housing project. "Meadowood," he replied.
"Home's that way," Tippy advised.
"I still have rounds to make," was the reply. "I have to assume the rest of my patrons'll be there waiting. We're already late. They won't wait forever. Unless you want to go home first," he asked. "If you do -"
"No, I won't be any trouble," Tippy cut him off. "You'll hardly know I'm here." His voice took on a sardonic twist here. He sat perfectly still in the cab beside the snow wizard, at first silent then he began babbling, rattling off the names of various foodstuffs. "Nacho cheese, chocolate, caraway, cabbage and mint, gozzleberry, claret carafe, peanut butter demijohn, dingleberry," some of which may not have actually been foodstuffs, although in Tippy's mind they were. These were flavors he was naming, contemplating: the very flavors he had earlier started to offer the snow wizard's patrons at Harford Square. The very mention of their names made his mouth water. Then he stopped; trailing behind these exquisite flavors was the same name which had kept him earlier from stating them, the same intended purveyor: Janos Principus, a name even the thought of filled him with terror. It held no meaning, yet it terrified him.
Meadowood at least was not deserted, the lines of communication mercifully did not extend here from Harford Square, even though they were adjacent; or else, the links had broken down along the way. The snow wizard managed to get these children serviced then to move on, down Hanson Road, to his next stop, then across Edgewood Road to the Edgewood Apartments, past the library, and finally out Edgewood Road again, left from Hanson Road at the Edgewood Shopping Center, at which it was all Tippy could do to restrain himself: he saw women going into the Acme and he ached to present himself to their scrutiny; then, from Edgewood Road, a left turn into Edgewood Meadows and his last stops, his last patrons of the day, the first tomorrow morning. Still the boys would not touch tutti fruitti; still the mathematician with the thick eyeglasses insisted on pumpkin as his favorite; still the debate raged concerning each person's double; still the boy who had ridden in the snow wizard's truck disdained such childish confections, a little less disdainfully however. Then it was all over until tomorrow. The snow wizard made a left at Edgewood Road and, a mile or so later, another left, onto Route 40 going west, rode half a mile to a crossover, here he made a U-Turn which took him back a quarter of a mile eastward to the El Dorado Motel.
"Home at last," Tippy said as he emerged from the truck. He walked right off, without a word of goodbye, and quickly disappeared into his efficiency unit. "Good bye," the snow wizard mouthed the words but did not actually sound them, then he began unloading his flavors, all twelve in the assortment. He felt sad in a way, but in another way very happy and he wanted to celebrate. Sad, for Tippy; but happy for himself, that he had finally conquered his fear of returning to Trimble Road. But sad for Tippy, who had gained nothing from this day, unlike himself: he had at least, if not gone ahead, moved a little less farther behind, which was something. When you considered the nature of things, it was absurd to think in terms of progress per se; you couldn't help losing a little each day, but you could manage to control how much you lost: this was the snow wizard's great achievement today. And when you looked out into the universe and saw the great tempest surrounding you, and realized it was so nearly inside a teacup, for it was heading nowhere - even if you could content yourself that your own life was part of a greater whole, you could not see any purpose at all beyond the universe itself, you saw only eternal expansion or, perhaps more likely, inevitable collapse - then you knew that the snow wizard's achievement was nothing short of stupendous and his day was eminently well spent, as well spent as any day ever lived by any being in this universe, and that any philosopher would do himself proud to retrace his steps, or any poet to relate his movements. You knew furthermore that if ever a celebration were in order, this was the time and the occasion for it. You knew he had earned it.
He called. It was a rough proposition, but he picked up the telephone receiver and dialed. He seated himself at his kitchen table, a metal frame table with laminated gray marbleized Melamine top: you couldn't scratch it if the Supreme Court ordered it done, and three frame metal, tubular steel chairs with gray vinyl seats and back: these you could scratch, the patches of cloth Mystic tape testified to that. He had a cup of instant coffee before him, the freeze-dried kind, but not a national brand, a store brand, in a plastic cup, purplish, Melamine: court orders notwithstanding, unscathable. No wise owl; no enjoinder to Matcominize. A pocket of steam arose, entered his nostrils to lodge among the loose hairs. The snow wizard tried to keep his nose hairs trimmed, but it was a battle. The hair on his head thinned, the hairs in his nose grew like crab grass. He had a pair of little fine pointed scissors with which he trimmed these noxious, but necessary hairs; sometimes he trimmed too closely, got an infection just inside the nostril. He was beginning to get hair on his back and shoulders now too; strange: when he was young and it would have been sexy, he had none; now that it no longer mattered, now that he was beyond his youth, there was the hair turning up. And on the rim of his earlobes, and he had one hair - one hair - that grew from the top of his ear, and grew long and grew rapidly. It had been discovered once by Miss Marcie in trimming his hair. She screamed. "I thought it was a daddy long leg," she panted when she had recovered. "They're deadly poison to me you know. I've always felt they would be. I can take regular spiders, but not daddy long legs, they're like a pin cushion, and I am so terrified of needles I could just die. I won't go near a Singer store. And I get chills every time I go past a tailor shop. It's my Mars, I know it is. Poor Janos, oh poor Janos, to have his stomach and his intestines cut open like that. Why I feel almost as if I know him, poor thing. Murdered by some old derelict. Oh it's horrible, it's horrible!" The kitchen cabinets, the five of them that there were, created a fan shaped spread at one corner of the kitchen, three resting on the floor, one with a built-in sink, two attached to the wall; they were metal, white enamel, but chipped. A window each in the middle of two walls prevented any cabinets from being put anywhere but fanning the corner. Against the smallest wall space, where there was the door to the living room, was the table and the three chairs, while a refrigerator and stove huddled up against the fourth wall. A small kitchen, but better than some of the units which had none at all. The phone began ringing. He took one quick sip of coffee while it rang. He picked up a toothpick when he set his cup down and toyed with it. A very hushed noise came over the line and, before even saying hello, expressed great satisfaction at having been called.
"Thank you Flora so much for calling," Miss Marcie exclaimed hastily into the receiver, going on even before she could be answered or corrected to say "I'll have to speak softly Flora as poor Popo is resting." A little head resting on the arm of the sofa opposite where Miss Marcie sat stirred momentarily then grew still again, though the monkey's tail was all the time fidgeting, as were its tiny fingers. "I'll have to ask you too Flora to be very quiet when you speak so as not to disturb my poor Popo." The snow wizard caught on momentarily. It wasn't that Miss Marcie had mistaken her caller for Madame Flora; it was simply that she took her caller for exactly who it was and wished to make Popo think it was someone, anyone, else. "I just knew it was you Flora, why I no sooner heard the phone ring than I bet my poor Popo it was you." She smiled over at the monkey snuggling up against the curving arm of the sofa. "Now you speak very softly Flora, or I swear I'll hang right up. I will not have my Popo disturbed while he's napping." The beast had the keenest ears of anything on earth; even a whisper he was bound to hear. If there was to be any hope of carrying on a conversation, the snow wizard would have to disguise his voice. Alright, he resolved, I'll be Madame Flora. He assumed a falsetto, as ridiculously awkward a sound as ever came over a telephone wire.
"My dear dear Miss Marcie," he said in a soft squeak, hoping she would recognize or in some way intuit it as being his voice. Popo immediately stirred, listened intently, then curled up again against the arm of the sofa, a rich velour fabric soothing his muscles. "How did you ever know it was me?" Well, that question had effectively been answered already, so it left poor Miss Marcie with nothing to say in response. Popo became again agitated.
"Wasn't it just awful?" Miss Marcie asked in a tone of amazement.
"Yes," was all he could reply. A further pause piqued Popo's curiosity even greater; he was about to rise when, in fact, he leaped right up and began to shriek: this, in response to what he next heard. Still in Madame Flora falsetto, the caller said to Miss Marcie "I'm told the snow wizard wishes to see you tonight." Popo knew that name, he responded instantly and loudly, leaving Miss Marcie no choice but to disdain any contact with the name.
"I will not have that dreadful name spoken in my poor Popo's presence," she declared passionately. "If you persist Flora I shall hang right up on you!" The beast quieted down at this disclaimer, but still waited to see what would happen next, his nap utterly finished now, his furry body poised beside Miss Marcie, his mouth poised to shriek.
"Poor Janos," the snow wizard had the presence of mind to say next. This immediately calmed the beast, which began to sigh and almost whimper.
"And that poor woman," Miss Marcie added. "Oh that horrible, horrible woman, to be killed like that, oh it's just too horrible to think of, and me with my Venus ascending! I simply refuse to talk about it, the way she was butchered. And to think if I hadn't been on my way to see you I'd never have found out about it. I will simply never go near that horrible bridge again! And that awful river! Imagine calling a river Susky - why it's obscene! It sounds like an animal's name, something like a dog or a calf. I shall never touch veal again, I just know it!"
"Yes, it was horrible," agreed the snow wizard in Madame Flora's voice.
"I simply must go dancing tonight Flora," said Miss Marcie, "or I shall never get that poor woman's screams out of my mind."
"Oh I'm sure she screamed - wouldn't you if you were butchered? Why I was so terrified I stopped at Ames on the way home and got a hatchet, a knife and a BB gun, and now I'm terrified of them. What if I've sealed my own doom? No one can butcher you without the proper tools and look what I've gone and done: I've provided them with them, oh how horrible, how terribly short-sighted! Now what do I do? I've just got to go dancing I'm so scared. But you've got to come get me Flora, I don't care how far it is, you've simply got to come get me. "Popo," she turned away from the receiver and said, "your Auntie Flora is coming by for me so I won't have to be afraid any longer." Then she turned back to speak into the receiver. "At eight. Eight sharp. How's that sound?"
"Perfect. Couldn't be better dear. I too have something to celebrate; dancing will be just the thing."
"Celebrate? My God I'm so terrified! I don't go dancing to celebrate anything! I go dancing to drive these horrible thoughts out of my head! Flora, I wonder about you sometimes; your mind must be a living hell, a jungle, a hornet's next. You really should seek help you know. Eight o'clock dear, don't forget. And bye bye for now!"
With this, Miss Marcie abruptly hung up. The snow wizard had no way of knowing whether he succeeded in making his identity known or not; at any rate, he planned to be there at eight sharp to take her dancing, he to celebrate his small victory, she to drive out her horrible thoughts. What murder could she possibly have been talking about? he wondered. One that actually did happen today? or one that happened years ago? or simply a murder she read about in Police Gazette? She kept old magazines around her house: refusing to go to a beauty parlor, she endeavored to give her house the atmosphere of one, therefore the magazines. She always sat for a half hour or so reading Police Gazette before trimming her hair, it gave it the illusion of being professional. The snow wizard smiled, thinking of it. He heard a car start up, from the sound of the loud muffler he knew it was Tippy's. He went to the window and looked out to see Tippy driving off in the twilight; it looked as if he had no shirt on, but it was hard to be sure: five o'clock in late October was a difficult time to be certain of anything you saw outside. It was time for supper. Do I fix something, he thought, or go out? What about a snack now, take a shower, then get something to eat before going dancing? No: you don't want to dance on too full a stomach. Better to eat now, get a shower, then snack later. Yeah.
He threw on a medium weight jacket, tan poplin, but lined, a plaid flannel inside lining; he went out, get in his car and, after several tries, succeeded in getting it started. The battery was low, it would barely crank; it was a Go-Getter battery, a good one but on its last leg, he'd had it for going on five years now. The car was a 1968 model, well cared for, though not so well cared for as his truck. He decided against the fast food restaurants; he had a taste for steak, all day long he'd had a taste for it, a big thick juicy steak from the Ponderosa Steak House. And a baked potato. No salad. Okay, he relented in respect for his health, maybe a salad, a small one. And a coffee. Two coffees. Hell: three, maybe. A quick U-Turn on Route 40, a mile or so Westbound, left into the Edgewater Village Shopping Center, up the hill, and there he was: the Ponderosa.
"I'm going to buy you the biggest, thickest, juciest steak in this county!" His exact words. It may not have been quite as he said; undoubtedly it wasn't: over on Route 1 you had Blue Bell's, at Fallston; the Red Fox on Main Street in Bel Air; the Bel Air Diner on Route 1 almost to town; Hickory Inn up the road on Route 1; right down Route 40, either way, you had any number of restaurants in Aberdeen, Havre de Grace to the East, Joppatowne, Baltimore County to the West: no, it may not have been exactly the biggest or thickest or juciest steak in Harford County, "but it's damn near the best!" he modified his initial evaluation.
The boy smiled at him. "I wish I could. You've done so much for me."
"Then dine with me," the snow wizard prompted. The boy shook his head. He looked quite handsome in his suit; for that matter so did the snow wizard, even if his were rather out of style, dated by its too narrow lapels and padded shoulders. In Bel Air, the County seat, Main Street makes room for the court house; it doesn't nestle however, nor does it languish a flaccid reminder of a bygone era, though it is older than most of the buildings it shares space with: there is a vitality about it, the unusually vibrant red of its brick proclaims an affinity to the present as much as its dignified bulk reveals its link to the past. It is massive for its modest size; two stories, it covers half a block, not a large block, its box shape rising fortress like from the well kept lawn spreading back two hundred feet from Main Street. Black steel bars circumscribe some of its windows; one vaguely wedge shaped corner, at the rear, where Courtland Street is met by Office Street, used to house the County liquor dispensary, now contains a legal library: for obvious reasons, no mention is ever made of spirits of the past haunting the place, though the thought had tried to bore its way into the snow wizard's mind, under disguise of past criminals: he found himself wondering how many others had been falsely accused here, it was their spirits he contemplated; but perversely he was reminded of the dispensary and in no time at all the nature of these spirits had changed. It didn't amuse him: it didn't amuse him at all that he meant to think of one thing, which he believed sublime, and then found himself thinking of something ridiculous. But he had grown used to it.
He had come to feel a kinship with the boy. He wanted, as much as anything ever, for this boy to be acquitted. He hesitated to think of him as a boy, though he was a boy, he was seventeen; but he was dark, and there were dark implications. Still, he felt more warmly toward him as a boy; it seemed all the more monstrous, his having been falsely accused. The boy was Hindustani; but very very dark. His hair was long, past his ears, and he spoke with an accent. Heaven only knew how he had ever gotten to Harford County, other than being some sort of exchange student, in his first year of college. There was nothing official connected with his being here; no American Field Service or the like. He seemed to be just here on his own. His eyes were so gentle. He rode a bicycle: everywhere he went, he rode a bike. You didn't see him without his bicycle being nearby: either he was riding it or it was parked somewhere, and wherever it was parked you knew he was inside the nearest building. He didn't have his bike when he came to court for his trial: he had been held in detention throughout, no bail had been permitted. His bicycle was left sitting, abandoned, on Bond Street in Bel Air outside a run down boarding house, where he lived. A single room, some fifteen by twelve, no closet, no bathroom - the bathroom was down the hall, it serviced all eight boarders: this was his place of residence. Across the street was a parking lot and an office building, the Equitable Trust Building of Bel Air, brick, three floors, a vaguely Spanish design somehow, with a gold color tin roof, or it looked tin. A piece of clear vinyl always covered his bicycle when it was parked outside the boarding house., He wasn't very popular with the other boarders: his dark skin seemed an irritant to their sensibility; his accent only made it worse. They were easily offended, his fellow boarders, very sensitive. He feared for his bike, and that was the extent of it: he understood prejudice, he knew its value as a social adhesive, he had come here because in his own village he was of a caste too low to be educated, though his family had done well economically. No, it was not the prejudice of his neighbors he feared; he just feared for his bike. He had asked the snow wizard to check on it for him from time to time "if it was no trouble." He studied engineering, taking first the prerequisites at Harford Community College, after which he hoped to be admitted to Johns Hopkins; he was otherwise mostly self taught. He rode his bike to school every day, about five miles each way: having just started this September, he had yet to experience the ride in the dead of winter, but a friendly teacher had advised him to get a ski mask as well as gloves and a parka and, especially, long underwear. He had those commodities sitting in a box under his bed, ready for use.
"I cannot," he answered the snow wizard's request to dine together reluctantly, even sadly. "It would not repay the debt, only prayer will do that," he explained. "Besides," he added, "I have sworn to leave this County as soon as my trial ends. Now it is at an end, I must leave. Today. I have only a few clothes, a few books. I have a back pack; they'll fit in it, except the parka. Perhaps I'll wear it; if not, it'll be accommodated somehow. I must leave this County. I have brought shame to my family. I must go where their name is unknown. They say another County lies across the river Susky. They say they have a college too. Cecil."
"Can't you take time to dine?" the snow wizard asked.
"No," the boy replied. "My shame drives me out. I must go quietly."
"It isn't your shame, it belongs to those who wrongly accused you."
The boy smiled, as at a child. This was a peculiar view being offered him; the naiveté amused him. "I shall pray," the boy said, "fifteen minutes every day of my life for you."
"But my heart isn't all that bad," the snow wizard admonished, "I don't know as I need quite that much prayer."
Tears filled the boy's eyes. "Your heart is pure as the sacred waters at Agra. You could bathe in the Ganges without purification were you not a heathen. I do not pray for your heart but for your soul, that it be protected from evil. And I pray because I have a duty. If I have done well by you, in your country you reward me with money, or you give me a job, or you educate me; if you have done well by me, in my country I reward you with prayer. We are a poor people: we are not asked to do more than we have the means to do. I shall pray. You have no holy river in your country, I know, but I shall nevertheless begin my prayers when I am crossing the river Susky. I must go now. You take friendship with you from me, but I cannot dine, I must go."
"May I say one thing? My life is richer for you."
"No," the boy objected, "your life is richer for you. Goodbye. What is it, your title?"
"You mean the snow wizard?"
"Yes," the boy smiled, "the snow wizard. It is a good name for you."
The boy was gone. Not one to give up easily, the snow wizard later that same day stopped by his boarding house to reprise his offer of the biggest, thickest, juciest steak in Harford County, but the boy had already left. Piecing it together from three separate conversations, with three different boarders, he learned that the boy had gotten home at two thirty, which would put it barely half an hour after the verdict was read; had left a deposit with the landlord to cover this his final week's rent; had gone to his room to pack; had emerged, said his goodbye's to his neighbors, and gotten on his bike at three P.M., almost to the minute, and drove off. Three hours ago. If he was headed for Cecil County, he could have gone a couple different ways: he might have followed Route 1 past Conowingo Dam, perhaps the most probable way as it would seem the quickest, though it really wasn't; or he might have taken either Route 22 or 24 to Route 40 - both intersected it, the one at Aberdeen, the other at Edgewood, though it seemed pointless to take 24 as Aberdeen was closer to the Susquehanna Bridge. Route 1 was practically at hand: just go one block to Main Street, from there turn right onto Broadway, left onto Hickory Avenue, or alternate Route 1, and there you were. Logic put the boy on Route 1; but so did feeling. The snow wizard had the boy associated with the Conowingo Dam: just a feeling; so it was that way the boy undoubtedly went.
"Sirloin, baked potato," he ordered at the Ponderosa Steak House. When asked if he wished it rare, medium or well done he answered "Well done." He didn't elaborate, but to his way of thinking meat was not steak, or chops, or a roast until it was cooked throughout; it was just meat otherwise. Tastier rare? he might have been asked. What on earth does taste have to do with it? he would have replied. Meat is cooked, lettuce is eaten raw: and there it rested. He waited till it was done, took his plate, got some salad and a hot cup of black coffee, with one cream just in case he wished to try something different, paid for it all, went to find himself a table, and sat down to dinner. He had not eaten here in a long time. He had wanted so much to take the boy to dinner; the boy's refusal had reached out to block his entry here until just this evening, and even now only because something more powerful had overruled it: his wish to celebrate his return to Trimble Road. His triumph. It tasted good to him, even if it may not actually have been the biggest or the thickest or the juciest steak in Harford County. The motif there was Western, outside it looked like a Wild West town, inside like a saloon: it wasn't the Taco Palace, or the Kosher Deli, or the Leprechaun Bar and Grill, or any other ethnic establishment, it was the Ponderosa, and as surely as a frog catches flies or a caterpillar becomes a butterfly or a wave emits spray, a Ponderosa Steak House radiates a Western atmosphere. You'll never see it otherwise, not in these United States you won't.
He would have gone after the boy; even at three hours' head start he could have overtaken him, probably not till after crossing the dam though. It was slow going on a bike, even for a boy used to it. He could have caught him. But when the boy said good bye to him, he said it like he meant it, not just to be polite but to indicate they would never meet again. So I won't go after him, the snow wizard resolved. I can see him though, peddling, his legs and arms like a potter's fast at work. He was like a brother to me, or a son. I can see him.
"Black devil, he got off!" he had overheard someone outside the Courthouse say. It was said in the tone of a compliment. "Unless there were twins, then this is our man," the prosecuting attorney had expressed it. "We all got us a twin somewhere, so they say," the arresting officer had quipped. This was before the snow wizard's eye witness account rent the state's case right down the middle, or, as the defense attorney put it, "shot it full of holes." There were those who were disappointed that he got off - there are always those who are disappointed with innocence. Some questioned, some even doubted, the snow wizard's testimony; it was suggested that he and the boy were in cahoots: luring little girls to their deaths with pretty flavors, then killing them, maybe raping them too, who knows? He is black, isn't he? And any grown man rides around selling snow cones: there's got to be something wrong with him somewhere, don't you think? But he was gone now, acquitted, and gone.
Throughout the trial the snow wizard found himself wondering where the jurors all came from: they seemed just to show up, as if from nowhere, to clean up this messy affair, set it to rights again, put it in a proper perspective, correct any deficiencies, establish a verdict, put the official seal on it, then take off again, retreat, withdraw, go back to wherever they came from. Like ghosts - spirits. That was all they were here for; thirsty for the truth, they left a residue of justice behind. He didn't remember a single one of their names; they may as well have been the lost tribes of Israel for all the light his months with them shed on their identity. Wouldn't you think at least one face would be familiar? he kept asking. They grew familiar from day to day, but that wasn't the same thing; then one day they vanished. They had to sit unattended a good many times while the Judge decided whether to admit evidence or not. They fidgeted, trying to look preoccupied. They were instructed not to listen until the ruling was made. That's common enough; the strange part was, they really seemed not to listen; this was the snow wizard's impression. At times they seemed so distracted he wondered if maybe they were deaf to start with.
"Objection!" objected the prosecutor. "A snow cone cannot be admitted in evidence in facsimile! We move it be struck from the record!"
"Your honor," protested the defense, "there is in Kaine versus Abell to name just one the very clear implication of admitting facsimiles of items not readily available or amenable to actual presentation before the Court."
"Those were photographs of the murder scene!" insisted the prosecutor, "not scale replicas."
"Your honor, the cone was ingested by the victim before it could be tagged as evidence. The principle is the same as admitting photographs."
"The prosecution disagrees. That which is in the photograph is extant, the raspberry snow cone is not."
"Ah ha! your honor! Got him this time!" exclaimed the defense perhaps a little too enthusiastically.
"Oh brother!" the Judge could not help muttering under his breath.
"What I meant was," the defense backtracked, turning a deep red for the duration, "in the case referred to - Kaine versus Abell - one of the pieces of contested property, an outhouse -"
"I thought it was murder," the prosecution readied as if to deliver some sort of coup de grace.
"That came later, in the state versus Kaine," explained the defense. "Initially it was a civil suit: property, boundaries, et cetera. The outhouse aforeto mentioned had in fact been entirely lost, stolen it was alleged, so that nothing of it but the photograph remained in existence! Furthermore your honor - furthermore - the Court ruled specifically in favor of admitting the photograph of the outhouse - it was not simply a blanket ruling: each separate photograph was contested. The defense tired to contend there never was an outhouse, it was just a trick photograph, but the Court told him where to get off - ah, that is, I mean, the Court passed over his argument, your honor. As I am asking this Court to do now, your honor. To pass over."
"If it please the Court," the prosecutor managed to get in one final jab, "rulings in civil suits do not carry over automatically into criminal law. I thought it was murder, then all of a sudden it was an outhouse: frankly, I don't want to hear it!"
The Judge turned to the jury, shaking his head rather contemptuously. Again he muttered "Oh brother!" "The jury," he admonished, "will disregard all reference to the Popsicle."
"Snow cone," somebody somewhere corrected him.
"Snow cone," the Judge echoed with some arrogance, "until the Court has ruled on its admissibility. The Court will take this whole matter under advisement. Counsels will meet in my chambers. This Court is recessed until ten tomorrow morning."
"Tomorrow's Passover," somebody said.
"It is not," another said.
"Didn't you just hear him say it?"
"Well so what?"
"Just look at the defendant: can't you see he's Jewish!"
"Yes, Jewish: the cut of the hair, the chin, the fingers - anyone can tell!"
"Bull!" some third party loitering just inside the doorway made bold to observe. "Him? The murderer? He's Asiatic." The three, as well as others of the Court spectators, moved from the Courtroom into the lobby outside.
"You could be anything from Chinese to Muslim if you're Asiatic!" the second party all but mocked the suggestion.
"Or Jewish!" the first added triumphantly.
"I think he's Siamese," a fourth person interrupted, "and I'll tell you why - and don't laugh: it sounds stupid, yes, but it isn't." The individual made ready to explain himself; his hand was darting back and forth as if a snake readying itself to strike. "In the middle of the trial on the very third day - I think it was the third day -"
"Then it wasn't the middle!" some passer-by deigned to suggest, without even stopping. A finger was held up, like the solitary fang of an old snake, behind the passer-by's back.
"As I was saying before so rudely interrupted," this the fourth speaker continued, "I saw - maybe no one else did, but I did - I saw a cat outside the Courtroom window, up on the ledge. And I saw him look right at the defendant. And I'm telling you - and I don't care if God Himself slits my throat for it - I'm telling you it was a Siamese cat! And that's how I know the boy's Siamese!"
"You ever thought he might be just plain nigger," yet another passer-by saw fit to intrude his opinion.
"That's African buddy, African!" a black man from among the spectators corrected the racial designation fiercely. The two were poised to fight.
"Black is black pal!" the one exclaimed.
"And shit is shit!" the other looked him right in the eye and cried.
At this point the Court Bailiff managed to break up the argument. "That's enough you two or I'm calling the police," he said firmly. "The rest of you too," he included all the bystanders, "Court is out for the day. No loitering." He turned, but only after making sure they began leaving: what they did outside, on Main Street, was their business. A cigarette butt hit him on the ear; he turned to the crowd again, angrily, but there was no way to tell who had thrown it. He thought he heard a muffled laugh. He threw his nose right up in the air and walked back into the Court.
Now it was all over, the trial had ended, the defendant had been acquitted, but he was gone, taking his shame with him to Cecil County, across the Susky. For all of it, the snow wizard had but one thing to show, a kind of souvenir: the drawing of the alleged murderer, given him by the police artist after the trial, autographed. "Take this little memento," the artist said warmly: "a little tribute to a first class citizen. And if you ever see this man, I've written our number on the back, see." He turned it over to indicate the telephone number. "If I had just ten citizens like you, I could save this county from corruption. I'm sure of it. Even five - if I could just find five!" Then he too was gone.
He readied for the last bite of his Ponderosa sirloin strip steak. He detected the faintest trace of pink. He got up, took his tray back to the counter and pointed it out to the young lady who had taken his order. She apologized, offering to get the manager, but no, he advised her, this was not necessary, he simply wanted to let somebody in attendance know; then he thanked her for her concern, assured her he was undamaged, since it had only been the one piece left now, and departed the premises. On the way out he encountered a man in a cowboy hat and boots: it gave the place just the right look. Outside, he thought for a moment he saw a man on horseback go past, but the dark had deceived him, it was only a man on a motorcycle. You see pretty much what best fits the moment in this life. It was five forty-five. Just time to go home and shower before picking Miss Marcie up at eight; another five minutes passed before his car would start. Five fifty. Had his car started the first time, he would have seen the commotion at the other end of the shopping center; but by five fifty, when he drove past - it would have been quicker to go back out the way he entered the parking lot, but he enjoyed driving past the various shops first, so he went the long way, which took him past the Giant supermarket - but by then it was all over, the police car had just driven away, with the apprehended exhibitionist in the back seat. As he drove past, he saw his neighbor's car in the Giant lot.
"Well, we finally got you," the policeman was informing him as the patrol car drove off. "Did you think you'd get away with this forever?"
Tippy looked at him as if the man were a foreigner, barely able to speak English, endeavoring to correct everyone else's speech patterns. "You're telling me how to speak?" Tippy asked before realizing it was only a simile, and one did not act on similes, however well they circumscribed what was actually taking place. He was relieved when he got only a confused stare in response. "You guys are going to look pretty dumb when you find I didn't shoplift anything," he said after a moment's pause. Again the same confused stare greeted him.
"You think," the policeman finally pointed out, "you can go around exposing yourself all over town and not get arrested? Huh? No answer? Oh. Okay, first you got the A&P over at Joppatowne, but you got away before we could get you; then the Acme across from the Library, we just missed you there; then Save-a-lot; now the Giant. Let me tell you something in case you didn't know it: the Giant is a big store! You start around there with a shopping cart, there's no way you're getting out before we get you. Am I right? Huh? Am I right? Didn't we get you?"
"And just how do you know it was me you were after?" asked Tippy arrogantly. "Ever hear of a false arrest? If there was a man going around indecently exposing himself, he'll turn up sooner or later. Then you guys are going to look pretty dumb! Mark my words!"
"You trying to say it wasn't you?" the policeman in front asked, suppressing a giggle.
"That's just what I'm saying," Tippy snapped.
"Can you prove it?"
"Proof? You want proof?" Both policeman admitted that they did. "I wouldn't lower myself!" Tippy exclaimed haughtily. "You just call the snow wizard, he'll tell you," Tippy went on to advise, "he's a loser anyway, he don't mind offering proof. He is also a cheat and a thief and a debtor - and I'm sworn to bring him to justice! I'll hound him till the day I die till I've collected every last single one of the debts he's trying to welsh on! I won't rest till he's behind bars, and you can ask him, he'll vouch for me. You just go ahead and ask him. He'll tell you. He's not afraid to dirty his hands on a little proof now and again. He's also a racist. Oh he doesn't say so but I can tell. It takes one to know one gentlemen. But don't quote me on that, I'll deny everything. I just want a little house with a picket fence and a gabled roof, maybe a dormer at the back, and a little orange dog house, and a mound of spruce trees, and three huge arborvitaes at the back porch. At the corner of that street in Principio Furnace. And a little homeless monkey with a huge tail. And my Auntie Flora and Uncle Janos. And I want to grow up and go to work in Potato Town like my grandpapa." Tippy began weeping uncontrollably in the rear seat of the Edgewood town police car on his way to be booked for indecent exposure.
"Got a cigarette," the policeman in front asked his partner nervously. From the back seat a cigarette was handed to him, but a nervous hand dropped it just before he could get it. "Sorry," the policeman in back said; then "Here" as he handed another one across to his partner, followed by "Need a light?" No was the reply: there was a cigarette lighter up front tucked away in the dashboard, above the ashtray, one that worked. No; it's okay; don't need a light.
"I'd like to wear those cuffs," Tippy calmed down enough to say.
"They're handcuffs," the patrolman explained, as if to say "you wouldn't want to wear them."
"I know," said Tippy. "I'd like to wear them. I want to be noticed. I want people to see me being arrested like a common thief, so I'll have witnesses when I sue you guys. I just want to be sure somebody notices. By the way," he added slyly: he was recovered now from his weeping, "either of you guys owe anything?"
"Owe anything? What do you mean?"
"Debts: do you have any outstanding debts?"
"I guess it won't hurt to say, will it?" the driver asked his partner in the rear seat. "No," the partner replied, "won't hurt."
"So?" prompted Tippy. "Start naming." They did, and Tippy took note of every last one.
"Business is booming," he said to himself, "going to be a good year."
The snow wizard showered and shaved and washed his hair. He used Ivory liquid to shower with: he knew better, but he had been given the detergent as a birthday gift: Miss Marcie mistook it for bubble bath. "But I shower," he tried to get out of it indirectly, he didn't want to hurt her feelings. "You could still use it," she said in a disappointed, yet seductive tone of voice. So he did. Luckily she confessed a total inability to comprehend the intricacies of shaving, not to mention "a perfect horror of razor blades!" so she steered clear of shaving needs as gifts; and she had only the vaguest notion of how men cared for their hair. She did buy some Brylcream once, saving the sales receipt however: "If it's the wrong brand of shampoo you can refund it," she advised him. Luckily it had not been a gift as such, merely an instance of something having been on sale "and you know I could never resist a bargain!" so he felt no obligation to use it. Half his life seemed to be spent figuring out ways to make use of her various gifts to him. They were nearly always practical gifts, it was just their intended use that often had to be circumvented. She had gotten him lye once, he had complained of an itch; she warned him, however, to dilute it first: "My neighbor fed some by mistake to her husband; of course he died, so don't use it full strength!" It kept him on his toes, these gifts; kept his wits sharp. It was a good life, he admitted as he stepped from the shower onto the bamboo mat - another of her gifts: "Bamboo is so much prettier than terry cloth, don't you think?" He dried off. He could feel it getting closer to February 17th. The rough season. Your sexual cycle should never peak in mid-winter; that's a fact. He had three kinds of underpants: boxer shorts, briefs, and bikinis; his mood determined which he would wear. He tried on all three, discarding the first two: the boxer shorts, the briefs. He felt sexy, he wanted to look that way. He settled on a red bikini. He hoped someone would see him, if not Miss Marcie then some other woman; he didn't count on it, he just hoped, but he wasn't handsome so he didn't hope too much; he had a good enough body though. "But then can't see the body till they get your clothes off," he reminded himself. "Poor Tippy: he's got it all backwards. He thinks if they see your body then they'll look at your face, it's the other way around. How well I know it." Burgundy polyester trousers, solid color, untextured; a pale red shirt with some kind of brown and white pattern; a black belt and shoes, black socks: this was what had to come off before his body and his red bikini could be seen. "If not Miss Marcie, if not some other woman," he resolved, "then I might go down to the Block, who can say?" He checked his top dresser drawn, under his socks, to see if he had enough money for the massage parlor and who could say? - maybe something else on the side too. He didn't have enough. Maybe enough for a massage, but nothing more: still, that was something, yeah, that was at least something. Better than nothing. He put on a brown sport coat, polyester, slightly textured. Upon examining himself in the mirror he found himself vaguely dissatisfied, but couldn't quite pinpoint its source. He knew he shouldn't wear a brown coat with black shoes and belt; he knew he should wear a tie - but he had no other dressy shoes, no other sport coat, and no tie at all that even pretended to go with his shirt, so he was stuck. Maybe no one'll notice, he hoped as he put on a little Old Spice after shave. Now he was complete, ready to go. Just when he was about to leave he received a phone call. It was seven forty.
"Hello," he said. It was the police. Until he got the story, and found out it concerned Tippy's shopping, he almost passed out his anxiety was so great: he feared it was about his Miss Marcie. Relieved, he promised to stop by the police station to make a statement within the hour. First, he had to get Miss Marcie: it had gotten to be ten minutes till eight. He went out; his car wouldn't start. "God damn it!" he cried as he slammed the car door. There wasn't time to get it fixed, so he took the truck. He hated to do it, but he hated more to keep Miss Marcie waiting, especially when he had such high hopes for the evening. So it was not as private citizen, it was in his public role as snow wizard, that he went out this evening, dancing, and who knew what else? It felt odd to him being in his truck, in the evening, yet not heading for Cecil County. The Susquehanna Bridge, the toll booths, the river far below, broken in two by an island, the lights of Havre de Grace, in the distance light from the dam, perhaps a cloud or two - oh yes, October, most certainly a cloud or two: all this he anticipated the moment his truck started, for just an instant till the artificial context dissipated revealing the real. It wasn't a right onto Route 40 East, straight ahead, it was a right then another at Edgewood Road to circle around behind, Westbound, to Miss Marcie's townhouse. He took Trimble Road, the back way from Edgewood to Joppatowne, where she lived on Shore Drive, Rumsey Island, in the middle of a row. Boldness was fast overtaking guilt; Trimble Road twice in one day where before it had been two months. His lights silhouetted a black figure against a stand of trees, the grove a kind of wall sending the night beyond, separating the past too, the terrible crime committed there. Quickly the silhouette faded sideways into the brush, his car lights bodily moved it, stretching it lengthwise to a ribbon then a blade then finally a pinpoint like a hole in a dead leaf. He kept going: what was the good? The poor woman was trapped, anyone could see it: just keep going. The road wound its way back behind Meadowood, behind Harford Square and on into Joppatowne, finally coming out on Joppa Farm Road, then it was a left, then a veer to the right, then on to Shore Drive, across a tiny bridge covering a channel, part of a network of channels allowing the residents of Joppatowne, if they chose, to harbor boats. They could ride the channels; orangish lights at regular intervals expelled the dark from these benign waters which, even so, had witnessed a number of drownings, even a flooding once: when you use benign to characterize your waters, you do so guardedly (you can drown in your own toilet if you're not careful; indeed, you can drown on a single drop, some say).
It was a couple minutes after eight, barely noticeable, when the snow wizard's truck stopped in front of Miss Marcie's townhouse. She always kept her clocks four minutes slow, as she would never risk being late getting to work; her reasoning was faulty in this, though no one could convince her it was just the reverse. "No," she insisted persistently, "it's spring ahead, fall back: you set it back in autumn, and I sleep an hour later yet still get everywhere on time so don't tell me it's forward!" He knew not to go to the door, he knew not to let Popo see him, so he waited outside in his truck: an age old ritual, except that it was usually his car, not his truck. He just now thought of that. Instinctively he lowered himself as much as he could so as not to be seen, almost ducking down behind the steering wheel: this, so that if Popo should happen to see the truck perhaps without seeing him inside it the creature would be deceived - a dubious ploy at best since Popo knew the truck well. He heard the front door to Miss Marcie's townhouse slam, heard a muffled scream, as of someone being startled, but dared not look, then in a minute, following what might or might not have been the patter of her heels on the pavement, he couldn't tell for sure, he heard Miss Marcie opening the door.
"I thought I'd die when I saw that horrible truck out in front of my house, you can't imagine. How horrible that anyone should do this to me - and my poor Popo: lord how he went on when he saw it! Why look at the poor thing, he's still banging away at the window his poor little feelings are so hurt! 'Your Auntie Flora's there and I'm going now dear,' I said. Now he knows his Miss Marcie lied to him, oh dear whatever shall I do? However shall I make it up to him? Poor dear thing, he'll be traumatized for life. Maybe if we stop and I'll just run into Sav-a-Lot, you know those pretty little covered cherries he loves so much? maybe if I get him some he won't be so traumatized by all this. Oh what that poor creature has to endure, it'd make a saint tear his hair out, the thoughtless things people to to that poor helpless creature! I thought we agreed you were never to bring this truck around here, don't you recall when you first came to see me, you had it, and it simply mortified the poor dear? I thought I'd have to take him to Johns Hopkins for shock trauma treatments that very night! Well I no sooner got out the door than he came to the window to press his cute little face against it so his Miss Marcie could give him a little kiss. Well that's when he saw you and my God! let out a shriek that I just know gave my next door neighbor poor Mr Goodenough a heart attack, you know the poor man's had six just this year alone, I just know I'll find him dead tomorrow morning when I check on him."
"Should I go back?" the snow wizard asked. He had gotten barely to the end of the block when he stopped to ask.
"For God sake why? If he is dead there's nothing we can do, and it'll only add insult to poor Popo's hurt feelings to see us going to Mr Goodenough's rescue. I never could abide a corpse, you know that. Horrible man, with his ridiculous heart attacks, you'd think he'd find something better to do to occupy his time - oh don't mind me, I know it's not his fault, poor man, so just keep on going, he'll be alright. Now don't forget Sav-a-Lot."
"I have to stop somewhere first," said the snow wizard, "but it won't take long."
"Where? What do you mean?" Miss Marcie adjusted her brassiere underneath her blouse as she rode along, taking turns gripping it through the cloth of her blouse and reaching down beneath the blouse to adjust it. "My Suddenly You is suddenly somewhere else!" she quipped in annoyance. "Where are you headed? You missed the turn off to Sav-a-Lot."
"I just told you: I've got somewhere to go first," he explained.
"I know that, but can't you go past Sav-a-Lot anyway, so we'll be sure not to forget? My poor Popo is so hurt, so hurt - God damn this Suddenly You! I'll go back to my Playtex! Just be glad you don't have women's troubles to contend with too. You men think you have it hard with your hernias and your enlarged prostate, but believe me be glad you don't have steel wool strapped around you."
"Well, I scrub my sink, and I just know the fibers get on my Suddenly You when I wash it: it has these hooks and eyes, you know, they attract like a magnet. Where in the devil are you headed?"
"I have to go by the police station, It'll only take a minute."
"You have to go this way?"
"It's shorter. I have to. How was your day?" he asked. Not that he meant to silence her with this innocent question, but he did, remembering only later that evening that it was her day she had set out tonight to forget. All she said was "I'm going dancing," then she began adjusting her girdle, squirming about in the seat, grabbing at her skirt, bunching it up in an effort to move the girdle a little to one side, never quite succeeding in realizing it. "Suddenly Me - ha!" she muttered every few minutes.
"Where is this place?" she cried in annoyance. "I've never seen so hideous a region. It just reminds me so much of Hiroshima. Those horrible bombs, as if people had nothing better to do than get themselves bombed."
"You saw pictures of Hiroshima?" the snow wizard asked, just to make conversation.
"No of course not, why would I want to, I never lived there. I can just picture it being every bit this deserted. It's horrible. And what's that dreadful creature up there doing? And those God awful dogs trailing her - where the devil did they come from? Oh how could you take me on such a horrible route as this?"
"You come this way every day to work," the snow wizard pointed out.
"Well I'm always late, I never stop to see anything along the way, my heavens it's enough just keeping my eyes on the speedometer and gas gauge and the cars up ahead and in the rear view mirror, my God how they ride my bumper, you'd think I was a prostitute the way they come after me! Oh that dreadful woman and her awful dogs back there. She's worse than Madame Flora. And that horrible gossip at MacDonald's, why I simply had to slap her face she scared me so with her talk! All I need's for my heel to break again while I'm dancing, that'd really fix me, my poor bra would come right apart, it's hanging there by a thread I just know it. When are we going to pass Sav-a-Lot? Why are you stopping here?"
"This is the police station. I have to go in. I'll only be a moment honest. Do you want to come along?"
"No, I'd rather not, I've had quite enough police for one day I think. God knows I'm the most law abiding soul I know of, but I prefer to do it without their help thank you. I'll wait here, you go on. Just maybe bring me a coke or something to settle my stomach." She heaved a sigh and started adjusting her necklace, earrings and bracelet, all of which seemed to be giving her trouble. "I'd like to ring your neck Sarah Coventry!" she muttered a few times, with variations commensurate with whatever piece of jewelry she was adjusting at the time. She no sooner got this settled than she opened her handbag and began rearranging her various commodities - woman's things she called them: a pack of sanitary napkins, a compact, a pair of sunglasses sequined around the clear plastic rims, a lipstick, bright red, as was the bottle of nail enamel, a Vicks inhaler and a pack of Kleenex, both of which she insisted were woman's things "or they wouldn't fit so well in a handbag, you know"; in addition there were various mementos such as ticket stubs to movies, printed cards with names and addresses of various business persons, old grocery lists, and so on, among which she discovered an unpaid parking ticket. Just as she was removing her compact and lipstick to realign her mouth she looked up and saw the snow wizard emerging from the police station, with a policeman in tow, walking arm in arm. She thought of her parking ticket, quickly replaced her compact and lipstick, and shut her handbag. "Oh dear," she moaned, "they'll throw the book at me. And me without my Barbara or my Victoria to read in jail! Oh dear, oh dear." She thought of getting out and running, concocting her plan out loud but, in the course of talking to herself, concluded there was "no time for flight." She rolled her window down and stuck out her hands, for the cuffs to be secured. She was spared the indignity of being hauled off to jail, however; this was not a foot patrolman but the police artist from the County Sheriff's office accompanying the snow wizard. He had been demoted to the Edgewood town police, for whom he had already drawn up the portraits of two fugitives of justice so far unapprehended.
"I prayed and prayed I'd have the good fortune to run into you again," the artist was saying as they walked to the truck. "I lit candles and gave to the poor box, now my prayers have been answered. I was all prepared to have a special novena said: nine days, nine days of incantations my friend. Would have ruined me financially but it would have been worth every cent of it. Thank God I found you in time. Ah! give me ten men like you - no, even just five, as I think I've already intimated - and I'll save this County yet! It isn't too late. They infiltrate from Cecil County, you see. Hundreds, maybe thousands - who can keep up with it? Gypsies - what is it that song says? 'Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves?' Well, all three. Plunderers I call them." He drew very close to the snow wizard and whispered this to him: "Assyrians. Shh. This must never get beyond the two of us, but that's what I call them. Assyrians. Old Janos Principus, the outlaw, the bandito: why the very Nimrod of old! I don't mean Janos the younger. The younger seems to have gone into hiding, has not been seen for years. No indeed: I mean Janos the elder. I've had my eyes and ears open to him half my life. Some day I'll catch him. I know it's outside my jurisdiction," this last bit of information he spoke so softly it was barely audible, "but I'm a man of this world first, a Harford Countian only afterward. I'll get him. Then they'll make a TV series about me. I think it should star someone like Pablo Picasso. Yes, that would be perfect. I want him for the show, I want him bad. My star will rise: mark my word, my friend, my star will rise!"
They had reached the truck. The snow wizard, perceiving Miss Marcie's hands extended from the window, on a sudden if perverse thought walked right into them; they struck him exactly in his crotch. Miss Marcie gave a little scream and effected a hasty retreat; she gave the snow wizard a dirty look. Even so, he couldn't help smiling as he introduced his Miss Marcie Green to the police artist.
"Enchante," she said demurely, blinking her eyes coyly.
"Madam," the police artist expressed himself now in a beaming voice for all the world to hear, taking Miss Marcie's hand in his to press it warmly, "Madam, you can be proud of your son!' She screamed a little at this, withdrew her hand, immediately rolled up her window, folded her arms over her breast, and sat there, unflinchingly till the "horrible creature," as she mouthed under her breath, had gotten gone. The snow wizard tried to explain, the artist tried to apologize, all to no avail. "It's just," the artist was saying as the snow wizard rounded the truck to get in, "she looked so matronly. Mother or not," he suddenly drew to attention, "I salute you and your lady! 'Tention!" He clicked his heels, turned, and walked back to the station house. The snow wizard got in the truck and drove off. For a long while neither of them said anything, except for Miss Marcie's constant, brusque reminders to stop at Sav-a-Lot. They were on Route 40 heading West; up ahead was the Edgewater Shopping Village.
"Now don't forget," she reminded one last time. "Where are you going? You missed it - you drove right past!"
"I'm turning down here," he explained, "it's closer."
"How can it be closer when it's the same distance?"
"Okay, it's not exactly that," the snow wizard was compelled to agree. "It's just shorter - time wise - to go from there to Sav-a-Lot on Route 40 than the same distance in the lot itself. And you know how bad that traffic gets around the Giant. This way we miss it."
"I don't know," Miss Marcie said suspiciously.
"Believe me," he assured her, "I went this way earlier, I ate at the Ponderosa."
"I hate that place! They had the freshest waiter, or cook, or whatever he was. He tried his best to seduce me right there in front of the counter. Well actually," she relented, "it was the girl behind the counter, the cashier. Why he practically had his hand inside her blouse - and me standing right there! Why I was horror struck! I've never felt so near to being raped in all my life! Just being there made my sweat freeze up - I couldn't sweat all night long, I just lay there in bed so flushed I thought my poor hair would catch afire, it was like being under one of those horrible dryers at the beauty shop. That's when I stopped going, when I began to see what was happening to me! So don't for God sake, take me anywhere near that horrible restaurant, I just want to run into Sav-a-Logt and get my poor Popo his covered cherries as a peace offering then I'm coming right out, so don't even stop the engine, just leave it running right where it is! I won't be seven minutes." With this, she got out, went into the Sav-a-Lot, reappeared less than five minutes later carrying a bag of covered cherries, got back in the truck and exclaimed "There! Let's go dancing!"
It was back out onto Route 40 headed West; on past the traffic light at Lakeside, where Route 7 intersected and where off to the left was the Lakeside Motel tucked away behind a small pond, its yellowish lights reflecting in the still waters like distant lights of a small city; past the light at Joppatowne; and straight ahead to the Club 40. The snow wizard's truck pulled into the lot and was parked. "I'll just take a minute to freshen up," Miss Marcie announced as she opened her handbag and spread its contents out on her lap. "No peeking," she admonished. "Women's things," she explained. She opened her compact, took her lipstick and realigned the shape of her mouth, a mouth she had always claimed was too small for a woman but just right for a jar or a bottle. Then she licked the tip of her index finger, patted the moist finger lightly against her lipstick, and applied it to her cheeks, rubbing it in: "Why bring rouge when this does just as well," she maintained. Finally, she spread some powder over her entire face with the little wafer puff in her compact, then put everything back in her purse, announcing herself "As ready as I'll ever be."
There's room to dance at Club 40. Plenty of table space, a substantial bar area, and at the far end a dance floor. The building is long and proportionately narrow; there's something glittering above it. Steps lead up to a landing, outside doors open onto a foyer, a second set of doors admit you to the bar, off to the right is the dining room and at the far end the dance floor, with room for a small orchestra, though much of one would compromise the dance space. This is not the only place there is to dance along Route 40, it's not even the closest to Edgewood, but it's the most popular and has the most varied clientele. It's perhaps the very least a dive of all the many fine places along Route 40 which are not dives; many others, however, perhaps most, are dives. There are those who consider them all to be dives. Miss Marcie is one such. She loves these places, one and all, but in her mind every last one is a dive. "Club 40 is a dive," she explained to her escort the snow wizard, "from the wrong side of town," she added ominously.
"Then -" he started to object.
"But it has a dance floor," she interrupted his objection. She ascended the steps to the landing, her heels clicking every step of the ascension, her escort holding her arm to help steady her. "These steps are horrendous," she complained, "and me with my broken heel."
The snow wizard looked down at her feet. "Is that the same shoes -" he started to ask.
"Yes, of course," Miss Marcie's quick response cut him off, "it's my best pair, I wouldn't dream of going dancing in any other, dangerous as these are. Just so there are no blacks, what with their platform shoes, just made for striking one's head on. I used my Elmer's to bond the heel, it should hold. Oh!" she exclaimed as the snow wizard opened the first of two sets of doors for her, "whatever you do stay away from the bar, let's go the other way and get a table. There's the most horrible woman sitting there. Remember the woman at work I was telling you about? Who's all the time asking about my Barbara and my Victoria? She reads them too, only she insists on discussing them, if you can imagine anything so Philistine as dissecting my darlings just like they were that horrible woman at the toll both - oh it's too awful to even think about! Let's just get on in before she sees me, I just know she'll ear bang me to death about her latest Barbara - as if she could ever be hers!"
Very stealthfully the second, or inner, set of doors was opened, from the left side this time: two doors made up each, the outer and the inner, set of doors, the right hand door of the outer set the the one having been used. From within the foyer, however, Miss Marcie pointed, motioning with her head, to the left hand door; her rationale seemed to be that it would be easier to sneak in and head to the right from this doorway, besides which it would be easier for her escort, coming around most naturally from this angle to her left side, to block her being seen from the bar.
"Ready, set," she muttered under her breath, "go!" With this she made immediately for the tables in the dining room area, hastening to the farthest table she could find still open. The carpeting prevented her heels from giving her presence away; she had apparently succeeded in avoiding detection from the bar. She slowed up only as she approached the table. Her shoes were bright orange, high heeled pumps with a little bow of rhinestones at the front just below where her foot met the shoe: small shoes, for she had small delicate feet. Her nylons were bunched into a few horizontal wrinkles where her ankle carried into the foot itself and again at the knees, in front just below the knees and at the back right where they dimpled. Presumably they were not pantyhose or there would have been less opportunity of wrinkling at the awkward points of her legs. Her skirt was pale orange, solid color, a coarse homespun weave, with a bright orange belt matching her shoes and a delicately honed rhinestone buckle. A white blouse, tucked tightly into her skirt, had become worked loose somewhat, perhaps from the earlier adjustments to her girdle and brassiere, so that a number of vertical folds could be seen rising out of a series of horizontal wrinkles extending the entire circumference of the blouse, a long sleeved blouse, stiff ruffles at the cuffs and at the collar, extending down the front. Sarah Coventry had provided the jewels, except for the rhinestones, which had come from Shoe Town along with the shoes and matching belt. They were a white and orange coral effect, her necklace and bracelet and earrings. Of course only one earring could be seen in its entirety, the other revealing just its bottom most tip: Miss Marcie had trimmed her hair for the occasion, the left side a half to a quarter of an inch longer than the right; the back too was uneven, though not noticeably, as, its pattern more irregular and complex than simply one side longer than the other. She had just ever so little bit of a mustache, but otherwise very delicate features. Her eyebrows were plucked all but clear, so they had to be penciled in: the plucking hurt, so she couldn't bear watching. Her eyelashes were nearly dripping with mascara, which had managed to seep both above and below her lashes, though she did try to correct this deficiency with eye shadow, a deep green which tended to clash with her large blue gray irises, so large they almost filled the orbs of her eyes. Her lipstick, already alluded to, was a piercing red which covered her entire mouth and an eighth of an inch of additional skin all the way around. Her chin was small, with the hint of a dimple; her nose medium but not particularly fleshy, slightly aquiline at its start but almost turned up at its end, and ever so slightly blunted at the tip. To the far end of Club 40 she hastened in order to escape her acquaintance at the bar, who "fancies herself a critic, as if my Barbara or my Victoria would know what to do with one!" The snow wizard pulled out the chair so that Miss Marcie could seat herself, her back turned upon the vast expanse of the dining room separating her from the bar, then he came around and was seated.
Miss Marcie heaved a big sigh; she had earned it threefold. "Thank God we made it," she uttered in the style of a sigh. "We'll be safe now, that creature does nothing but sit all night at the bar waiting to get picked up, I swear she's a nymphomaniac and I've said so any number of times. Of course all men are nymphomaniacs, so she usually ends up with someone, though God knows she'll probably be murdered some night going on about my Barbara and my Victoria, the horrible creature. Oh my, that reminds me: what did I do with poor Popo's cherries? Did I leave them in the car?" The snow wizard nodded affirmatively. "Good," Miss Marcie said, relieved, "I'd just die if I walked in there without anything. You don't know, you just don't know," she went on to say, lowering her voice as if it might otherwise carry all the way back to Joppatowne. She had a habit of twitching her nose something like a rabbit does when she got nervous about anything, and just in the process of talking generally she made ample use of her facial muscles, quite in excess of what normal talking demands. Some words, like "will" or "good" or most any non-specific adjective such as "the," were said with her mouth drawn to the right side so that the sound emanated from the left corner, while others, most notably titles like "Doctor" or "Mister," came from the right corner as her mouth drew to the left side. A very few key words - "just" and "horrible" prominent among them - evidently demanded a very wide space to get out: she opened her mouth quite wide when speaking these crucial words. All this in addition to the normal range of facial expressions generated in speaking. "You just don't know," she said, "how scared I am sometimes. Oh it's not his fault, I know, my poor Popo, but he gets so frustrated not being able to read. Oh God the way he looks at my books sometimes you'd think he wanted to rip them apart. He never will of course, he knows how important they are to his Miss Marcie. I just wish you hadn't brought that horrible truck of yours around! My God when are they going to play some dance music? I've come all the way here to dance and no one's here playing any music but that awful muzak! I don't care if it's rock and roll or hillbilly or what it is so long as it has a good beat, just as long as it's not soul music. All I need is to slip and fall amidst a bunch of blacks. Oh why can't they stay in their own place?"
"They do," the snow wizard informed her. "They don't like to come around to white places. They stay by themselves."
"Oh I wish I could believe it, but I'm just so scared of those horrible platform shoes of theirs."
"Everybody nowadays wears platform shoes, at least everyone under thirty."
"Are you inferring I'm an old woman?" Miss Marcie asked half coyly, half angrily.
"You?" said the snow wizard, his face lighting up. "Don't make me laugh! You're the youngest, most vibrant - vivacious - woman I know of!"
"Merci," she said. There were one or two words of French she knew and used, and all because of that one word "merci.": she had heard it said and immediately liked it, so clearly did it resemble her own name. Needless to say, it had been pronounced to her and subsequently by her as "mercy," without the French intonation.
Suddenly some people began to collect at the far side of the dance floor, right up against the wall. Instruments were being put into position: two guitars, one set of drums, a couple amplifiers, some kind of keyboard - they seemed to have come from nowhere, as if pulled out of the walls. Miss Marci began clapping her hands and tapping her feet. "Oh goody!" she cried. "They're here! We're gonna dance! We're gonna dance! Lord after this day can I ever use it too! It's just been horrible, what with my poor Popo traumatized by my deceitfulness, and that horrible woman massacred - but I simply refuse to think of it. And poor Janos, I cannot get him out of my mind either ever since that horrible gossip at MacDonald's - why do you know she was so insulting I simply had to slap her face! The very idea, a grown woman like that, and her with grandchildren too, going on about my poor Flora's husband, at least that's what she called him, I don't know if he was, I never pictured Flora as being marriageable frankly she's such a contrary old hag! Oh! Oh! Dear God look: they're starting to play! Oh, Oh, do let's hurry before those horrible blacks with their horrible platform shoes descend upon us! Get up, get up! Hurry!"
The snow wizard arose from his seat, as Miss Marcie had done a few seconds earlier, though not half so quickly. Together they moved the few steps from their table to the dance floor, her heels letting them know with a series of rapid clicks that they had arrived from the carpeted dining area to the linoleum dance floor. They stood, neither of them moving. What Miss Marcie had evidently taken for the start of a song had been only a warm up. "I could have sworn I'd heard that before, danced to it to!" she insisted. "Well it can't be much longer." They waited a moment more; the members of the band seemed to be discussing something, one was lighting a cigarette, another taking a drink. "Do you suppose they're waiting for us to pay them?" Miss Marcie ventured an opinion. "Or for a request? Or both? What is this group I wonder? The 'Juke Boxes' perhaps?" she quipped. She began tapping her foot impatiently. The snow wizard suggested they sit down perhaps. "Never!" she exclaimed. "They're just lazy that's all. Probably dope fiends. If I didn't want to dance so badly I think I'd go call the police on them." She lifted her wrist to look at her watch: a delicate watch, with rhinestones set into a silvered bracelet; delicate wrist too. She pulled out the button, set the hands back five minutes, then pressed the button back in, declaring she would give them "just five minutes to get started then I call the police!" She stood there, at one end of the dance floor, monitoring the hands of her watch while, across the floor, at the far end, the band continued their discussion up against the wall, abruptly leaving off in mid-sentence to take their places within the band. With only seconds to go, they commenced playing. Miss Marcie re-set her watch, took the snow wizard by the hand, and began to dance.
"It was horrible," she confessed as she began kicking up her heels, twisting and turning, gyrating from the waist up, kicking from the waist down, as if two separate mechanisms directed her movements. "And me with my Mars right smack on the cusp! And November of all seasons fast upon us. Halloween. It always falls in Scorpio and I resent that, it's just the Venus in me that resents it! God knows I couldn't be a Scorpio if my life depended on it, not me with my moon so close to Mercury practically right on my sun! Oh that Mars, if only I'd been able to get through to Madame Flora, but of course who can with that river all flooded like that!"
"What?" the snow wizard asked, but just at the wrong time: Miss Marcie had turned all the way around and missed it. He repeated himself. "What? What flood? What flood?"
"I don't mean a flood, for heaven's sake, I just mean the bridge was blocked. Well, to me it was, I couldn't bear the thought of going through those horrible toll booths with that poor dead woman practically right in front of me. It might as well have been a flood! So of course I turned right around. Oh that horrible policeman, stopping me like that when I was so scared. I just had to get away from that! 'Where do you think you're going, lady?' he had the gall to inquire into my personal activities! As if it's any of his business. And giving me a ticket to boot!"
"What for?" But his timing was once again off. "What for?" he repeated when she whirled close to him again.
"For not paying the toll, if you can imagine anyone thinking of money at a time like that with a poor woman butchered to pieces practically in the back seat of your car! So I handed him fifty cents, I said 'Here!' But he refused it - can you believe it? Stopping me for not paying my toll then refusing to take it? He gave me a ticket - oh that treacherous dog! No, he was more like a horse to tell you the truth!"
Miss Marcie let out a scream. "What is it?" the snow wizard called, perceiving her going frantically across the dance floor.
"My Sarah!" she cried. "Oh my poor Sarah!" She got down on her hands and knees and felt around under the amplifiers and all around the band, at the players' feet, at their instruments, everywhere, crying "Oh my poor Sarah, my poor Sarah!" Finally she managed to retrieve her earring from under the drums; it had fallen off in dancing and been flung all the way across the dance floor. She put it back on as she returned, doing a kind of cha-cha step on the way. "There," she informed her dance partner, "good as new." One or two other couples had made their way to the dance floor; now the couples were joined by several others: the band was playing a slow tune, everyone snuggled close to their partner for the slow dance.
"I can't abide this snail's pace," announced Miss Marcie. "Let's take a moment to sit down, maybe have a drink. Oh, I'm exhausted!" she exclaimed once they were seated and drinks had been ordered. She sat there fanning herself, first with the little napkin from the first drink, but it was so wet as to fling beads of water back on her; so she settled for using her hand. "Ooh," she sighed, "I'm burning up. But then who wouldn't be if they'd been through what I've been. The very idea insulting me like that. And even that's not the worst of it. He actually questioned me, can you believe anyone wanting to get information out of me? As if I were some sort of gossip! He asked what I was doing there, where I'd been, did I have an alibi - just as if I had murdered that dreadful woman! Can you believe it? Well I told him he could call Madame Flora, I had an appointment, she'd confirm it. Oh did I give him a dirty look! So we stopped at a filling station and he called, then I had a word or two with her, you know: about my poor Mars all alone up there on the cusp. Anyway, I got so scared I simply hung up on her. Actually the call was up, they just cut me off as if I hadn't paid my bill or something. And that horrible policeman there telling that mechanic all about that poor butchered woman, how the pattern and the - oh what did he call it? - the MO I think it was, at first I thought he'd said BO and of course I do not go for that kind of talk so I nearly slapped his face until I heard him repeat himself: it was MO. It was the same apparently."
"The same?" the snow wizard prompted.
"Yes," Miss Marcie said as she took a sip of her new drink.
"The same as what?"
"As those other murders of course. Oh I told you all about that for heaven's sake, or I told the coke man, or was it maybe old Mr Goodenough? Well, I told someone, whoever it was, one can't be expected to keep anything so frightening to oneself. That horrible ball of twine, oh it's just horrible, too horrible for words. All up and down Cecil County."
"Ball of twine?"
"Did I say ball of twine? Oh mercy, will you listen to me! I didn't mean to say ball of twine, that was merely a mental image so I'd have something to hook my memories onto."
"To wrap them around," the snow wizard interrupted with what he took to be a quip, but he got only a perfectly blank stare.
"Wrap memories?" Miss Marcie inquired a bit condescendingly. "How does one wrap memories? You have to hook them, at least I do. But it wasn't a ball of twine, of course: it was a string of unsolved murders. I trust you see the connection. Sometimes I think my mind is just too orderly for my own good, I get my images mixed up with what they represent sometimes and I don't know if I'm coming or going. All of those murders though: it's enough to make anyone stop at Ames for a BB gun or knife and hatchet! All unsolved, all with the same MO and pattern. If they ever get solved I'm writing right into Police Gazette, I want to be first. Every one the same: all women. Isn't it horrible? And some girls. A few men too, like Janos. Remember that horrible gossip we met at MacDonald's? She told me Janos was my Madame Flora's husband - can you believe it? Well, he too was butchered, cut to ribbons. Dissected. Yes, dissected. He was looking - oh where did I hear this? It must have been Madame Flora - he was looking for potatoes, for evidence of potatoes, to see if anyone had recently eaten potatoes. The murderer. And still at large! Either a neighbor or a father of Janos, I forget which. Worked at Potato Town - you know: along Route 40 in Cecil County? Potato Town? I think they had to close down, so he lost his job or something. Now I'm not one to carry tales, God knows I value a body's reputation like I do my own, but I'm told the man was crazy, the psychopath who killed all those people. Please don't repeat it, I don't want it to go beyond this table, I do not want to get false rumors started. Oh, they're playing my song! At last! Come on!"
Miss Marcie jumped right up, spilling her drink in the process. It was only a quarter full, but it all spilled down the front of her skirt. She let out a little scream, dabbed at her skirt with the tablecloth, then grabbed the snow wizard up from his seat and made straightway for the dance floor, where she immediately set to gyrating and kicking and, in truth, stumbling into half the other dancers. "Clumsy oafs!" she cried on nearing her partner, but was off again around the dance floor before he could reply or, as he had intended, keep her beside him. She had rounded the whole dance floor and was on her way back to him when she caught her heel on the cuff of somebody's pants and, letting out a spectacular scream which for its duration drowned out the band, the dancers, everything from one end of Club 40 to the other, hurtled headlong into the center of the dance floor, right in the midst of the dancers congregated there. Still screaming, she managed to scramble to her hands and knees. By the time the snow wizard had bounded to her rescue she was practically in a daze: the very first thing she encountered groping about was a platform shoe, upon which encounter she immediately covered her head with her hands, miraculously remaining upright, balanced only with her knees and elbows. The snow wizard helped her up, holding her very tightly in his arms and very close to his own body; she gave no resistance. He got her to her seat, got another drink ordered, then, ascertaining no apparent injury to her, asked if she was alright.
"I'm just thankful the song's over," she replied. "I'd hate to go back out there just yet, I don't feel so good. But it's my song and I'll dance to it if it's on my own grave. Havah Nagilah: oh how I love it! I just can't dance fast enough to it."
Just then a woman approached and tapped Miss Marcie on the shoulder. She turned around and let out a small scream. "You!" she cried. The woman immediately pulled up a chair and sat down not three inches from her.
"I heard that scream," the woman said in a slow, ponderous voice, "and I just had to investigate. And when I saw it was you, I almost dropped dead." It was the woman at the bar, Miss Marcie's acquaintance from work, whom she had endeavored at all costs to avoid. "I thought to myself: 'Marabel, couldn't you just die that you don't have a Barbara Cartland or a Victoria Holt with you to read to the poor dear, or at least have one fresh in your memory to discuss it with her.' I feel so ashamed of myself, I can only hope you'll forgive me. I can't help thinking if we were allowed to work more hours, things like this would not happen to us. Four hours a day, it isn't enough time away from the home I don't think. Did you get to Madame Flora's: how is she? I called her the other day and told her all about the latest Victoria Holt novel I've read. I can't remember what it was now. Did they ever find her nephew? The one with only one eye, and blind in the other? The poor dear. Witness your uncle murdered then just disappear like that. The grandfather the murderer to boot. Remember that colored boy was tried for killing that little girl last summer? I thought of him today. I've made up my mind he was not the Dalai Lama after all. He was too young. I often think of Tibet: I was living in Havre de Grace when they invaded it. That very day was when I moved to Edgewood: if there's an invasion from Cecil County, they'll take Havre de Grace first: it's right across the river. Janos Principus from Principio Furnace. The scourge of God. I just remembered, Marcie dearest: the novel I was reading: we can discuss it. It was Victoria's 'Keeper of the Castle.' Did you get the overall significance of the castle? Well, it symbolized fructification. And the moat was the eternal verities. The sky was heaven. The earth was us, of course. And best of all the courtyard was Paradise. Then of course -"
She was cut off by Miss Marcie, who slapped her across the face. The woman was stunned. The snow wizard was also stunned. Miss Marcie exclaimed to the woman one angry word: "Philistine!" The woman excused herself, got up and left, returning to the bar, stopping at each table to mumble some or another symbolic significance of Victoria Holt's "Keeper of the Castle" to anyone who cared to listen, eventually working her way back to the bar where she sat the rest of the evening nursing her drink, waiting. The snow wizard said nothing; he just sat there dumbfounded and stared across the little dining table at Miss Marcie, unable to fathom her or to comprehend her motive for slapping Marabel. He felt like asking - wanted desperately to ask - why, but was unable to get the word formulated, as if three simple letters strung together that way were not sufficient to such a purpose; it seemed to need whole volumes to express the full magnitude of his puzzlement, not one meager word.
"I have my principles!" she announced indignantly. Perhaps his eyes, or something in his face, had asked for him. He tried to smile, to see only the absurdity of it, to sift the humor out from the pain, but he was unable to. That was a skill perhaps he didn't possess, or at any rate not impromptu. Perhaps later, thinking about it, he could redesign the scene so that he could manage to laugh. For now, he could still see the terrible - no, he thought: the horrible - look of pain and humiliation and, worse still, the rejection on the poor woman's face. Later: some day, he thought, when we speak of this, and we will, perhaps I'll laugh. Someday.
"Principles," he echoed, as if he were an etymologist or a linguistic analyst studying a word, "yes, principles: quite correct. Do have principles, yes, all of us, do have principles. Just: go a little easy enforcing them. But then they have no meaning, without the power behind them. On this hand," he noted, extending his left hand, "we have words, principles, names, whatever." He then extended his right hand to balance the left, holding both palm upward. "And on this hand we have power, force, action, whatever," he further noted. "Together: meaning. Don't just disagree with her - slap her! Otherwise it's meaningless. Don't just wonder if a little girl eats potatoes: kill her, if you have time dissect her, find out. There's no substitute for truth."
"How do you know it was him?" Miss Marcie asked calmly. There was a look on her face of something like shame, but leaning more toward puzzlement.
"Janos the elder: how do you know it was him who murdered that poor little girl?"
"Did I say that?" the snow wizard genuinely wondered. "I didn't mean to. I don't know it was him. I don't think anyone knows. I just spoke, that's all. Janos the elder? Is he your Cecil County butcher?"
"It all points to him. Oh let's not quibble, what's done is done. I shouldn't have slapped her, I know, the horrible Philistine, going on like that about my Victoria and my Barbara, as if they intended their books to be analyzed like they were some sort of polluted tap water! But if it bothers you I'll go apologize before we leave, poor dear woman, everyone does seem to have it in for her, poor thing. But if she opens her mouth just once I swear I'll slug her again! Now let's have another good dance and then I simply must be getting back to my poor Popo with his peace offering or else God knows he may not let me back in the house. But he's so sweet when he wants to be, the way he puts his little head to one side and holds those little paws of his out in supplication; oh it's just too precious for words! Oh here we go what a song!"
They danced. Miss Marcie stumbled about the dance floor, weaving amongst the other couples, losing at one point her bracelet but managing to retrieve it just as somebody's platform shoe was about to descend on it, bumping into everyone there, getting into one after another altercation over who was at fault, finally getting enough dancing for one evening, although on the way out she did declare to her acquaintance, after offering an apology for slapping her, that "I can't get enough dancing, can you?" then hurrying on before the woman could say anything. It was eleven thirty by the time they left.
"Do you mind," the snow wizard asked, "if we go by way of Trimble Road? It's dark there, quiet, maybe we could park and just listen to October winding itself down. Soon it'll be Halloween. Pumpkin pie -" A thought came to him which made him chuckle. "- Pumpkin cones: hmm, my favorite! Hey I wish I had one now. That's what I get never leaving my flavors in my truck. Did I ever tell you why I don't?" Miss Marcie nodded yes, he had told her. "I wouldn't tell Tippy," he recalled. "I'll have to stop and see him tomorrow. There's so much going on I don't understand. This whole Janos business -"
"Elder or younger?" Miss Marcie interrupted to inquire.
"Both, I guess. It's got me confused. Makes me think there's some deep dark conspiracy afoot."
"Ah," Miss Marcie endeavored to explain, "that's because your Neptune squares your mercury. Even so you're right, there is a conspiracy, I just know it. Why was that woman at the toll booth killed just this morning if not to keep me from seeing Madame Flora about my Mars? He might have had the decency to kill her yesterday, or tomorrow, don't you think? Early in the morning, that dreadful police interrogator told me, not that I asked, I only wanted to forget all about it, but he had the gall to ask me if anyone could verify that I was in bed at five A.M.! Why he as good as accused me of being a prostitute! The very idea! Wouldn't you like to stop and get some crabs? Or a crab sub from Subway? Doesn't that sound heavenly?"
"Sure," the snow wizard agreed. It required a left at Edgewood Road to arrive at the Subway sandwich shop, then straight across Route 40 on Edgewood Road, one and a half crab subs deposited on the front seat between them. Another five minutes and there was Trimble Road, and just across the street a block or so farther on was Brinkman's, everything closed at this hour, each of the little shops along the arc with a dim night light in its window, utterly deserted, a tiny light at the gas pump and an arc lamp at the far end of the driveway. They turned onto Trimble Road. Just up ahead were flashing lights, red, blue, yellow: all the tokens of emergency were lined up beside the little grove. "Oh my God," muttered the snow wizard, pulling to a stop along the side of the road just below the grove. "I'd better go see," he advised Miss Marcie. "Oh my God." He got out and walked to the grove, quickly disappearing into the crowd of people across whose faces and forms the red, blue and yellow emergency lights rolled, flickered, disappeared, returned to roll and flash then disappear only to reappear all over again, as if the sequence had become implanted on some emergency circuit coiled about the place and could not be halted or altered, so it kept stubbornly repeating the same pattern until someone came along to shut it all down. "Oh my God," the snow wizard said, the lights coating his tongue their alternating flavors, smearing his face, dripping them all down his clothes and in his hair, even on his shoes. The blue: blueberry; the red: raspberry; the yellow: ah, pumpkin - sweet pumpkin! My favorite.
They were just removing her body. You'd expect it to be sticky, what with all those lights dripping down onto her black cloak. She lay face down on the ground. Hiding in the bushes a couple dogs strained their muzzles to sniff, then, upon perceiving their presence detected ran off. They turned her over and everyone gasped. Blood ran down the front of her outfit, from a deep wound at her throat. "We think it was an axe," someone was telling someone else in an official sounding voice. "We'll find him." "I hope so," replied another official voice, "because I want him bad, real bad! I'll try and get a sketch of him if I can." Her throat had been slit, evidently with an axe: you couldn't exactly say slit in that case. She would encircle the grove no more, would walk amongst the dead leaves and bushes and trees no more, would mourn at the little makeshift carcass no more: her life had stopped. Exactly as she said it had. The snow wizard returned to his truck. He said nothing to Miss Marcie, assuming she would prefer not to know.
"Well," she asked impatiently, "what was it? Aren't you going to tell me?"
"I don't think you'd care to know," he said.
"But -" she started to object.
"Enough," said the snow wizard. A moment passed, the truck started off, drove past the excitement at the grove on into the dark, and over on the passenger side Miss Marcie rustled about, opening her package. Out came a covered cherry.
"I'll give you one of Popo's treats," she bargained, holding up the candy, "if you'll tell me. Oh please," she added, "I won't tell anyone. Heavens, you know me: they'd have to pry it out of me with tweezers and curling irons. Who was it? It was a murder I could tell that, I'm not blind you know. I can spot a corpse a mile off, dreadful things that they are, I think it's my Neptune in water that does it, makes me hypersensitive to what's going on around me. Who was it?" The snow wizard relented, told her it was the little murdered girl's mother. "Oh dear," she mused, "murder spanning a full generation, just think of it, why it's almost like one of those Hapsburg intrigues isn't it? In the Balkans. I've almost lost my appetite for my crab sub, haven't you?" The snow wizard owned that he had. "Better just take me straight home," she said.
"Of course," he answered. Along the way, he thought: always a chauffer, never a lover. Dance partner, but not a bed partner. He heaved a sigh of resignation. Time hurried on: he even said so out loud, Miss Marcie substantiating the statement with a "How true!" "Soon be Halloween," he pointed out. "Goblins and witches. They'll be right at home, won't they?" Then on toward February the 17th, like a madman rushing headlong toward a brick wall. "Time hurries on."
"You said that," Miss Marcie reminded. "And by the time you're finished saying it, it's already old hat. That's why I'd rather dance. Or read my Barbara or my Victoria - oh do hurry!" she cried suddenly. "Please, hurry! Faster!"
"What is it?" he asked.
"I've just gotten the strangest feeling," she explained excitedly. "And back there - no no no! for heaven's sake don't stop! Don't go back, just keep going, but I saw, or thought I saw, I could have sworn I saw, something lying in the road that looked just like my BB gun! Oh hurry hurry! If anything's happened to my poor Popo I'll just never forgive myself! Step on it will you!" The snow wizard hurried on, coming at last to Joppatowne, to Joppa Farm Road and onto Shore Drive. "Oh my God!" Miss Marcie cried. "No don't stop! But I know, I just know, that was my knife back there! What on earth has happened to my precious Popo?"
"Maybe he took off after us," the snow wizard quipped.
"This isn't funny, it's serious! He may be in trouble. It could be a sneak thief or a burglar or anybody - good God even old Janos himself! Oh do hurry, please please hurry! My Neptune's not soaking in water for nothing! I know it, I just know it!"
At last they pulled up in front of Miss Marcie's townhouse. It was pitch dark, but amidst the dark one thing began to take shape, at first slowly, then more rapidly, finally standing out so clearly it made Miss Marcie scream; even the snow wizard gasped: the front door was wide open. "Oh no, oh no, oh dear God no," Miss Marcie began wailing as she jumped from the truck. "Popo I'm coming, your Miss Marcie's on her way, just hang on, hang on. Oh dear!" she exclaimed, suddenly turning, running back to the truck to grab up her packages, the covered cherries for Popo, the crab sub for herself, something of a reflex action. By now the snow wizard had caught up to her and, though trying, could not overtake her: he sought to enter first, just in case, though in his deepest most hidden heart he found himself hoping the detestable beast had been slaughtered, hacked to pieces by whomever had evidently burglarized the house: the fact that his proximity had not elicited the usual howls and shrieks was, to him, a good sign that maybe his hope would be realized at long last. He entered and, trying unsuccessfully to hold Miss Marcie back, switched on the living room light. A piercing scream greeted his ears almost exactly in time with the temporary blinding flash of light.
"What is it?" he cried in alarm. Another scream.
"Oh no!" Miss Marcie wailed. "Oh no! Just look! Just look! Oh my God!" She ran immediately to her china cabinet, stopped, and stood there in front of it looking down at her feet, at the hundreds of slivers of paper strewn about the base of the cabinet. Only a precious few remained inside the cabinet, balanced precariously on the edges of the shelves, the rest covered the floor. "Oh my poor Barbara," she moaned, "my Victoria, my precious Rosemary. Where have all my flowers gone? From my garden. My librarium. My treasures, sweet priceless irreplaceable treasures. Oh my oh my." Miss Marcie's paperback library had in a single evening ceased to exist, every last book ripped to shreds, the covers slashed, the pages sliced. "Butchered," she declared. "My precious Barbara, my Victoria, my Rosemary: all butchered. Some Philistine has desecrated my china cabinet. Decimated my books. Like some God awful critic, dissected them page by page. Who could have done so horrible a thing? Surely only a madman!" All manner of lovely heroine lay vanquished in a heap at Miss Marcie's feet; bits of castle and palace and jet set spa and chic rendezvous converged with all manner of broken letters, blue red white green yellow remains of words, titles, names, tantalizing synopses, character descriptions and what not; blazing scenarios scattered at random, indiscriminately confused to where no one knew or could any longer know when one left off, another began; and handsome heroes thrown in a common grave with despicable tyrants and evil counts and horrible devil worshippers; pandemonium, as if all civilization had been reduced to a rubble of sawdust, from which every trace of humanity had been sifted, sprinkled from Miss Marcie's china cabinet like grit and soot from a chimney, to lie at her feet. And in the midst of it all: a single fine hair poking from a letter O into some beautiful heroine's eye.
The snow wizard saw it, reached, took it, his hand firmly grasped it. He lifted it, held it up, let his Miss Marcie see it. She endeavored to turn away; she muttered something about her poor Popo. "Your poor Popo has done this," the snow wizard informed her. She pretended to ignore him, going about the room as if inspecting for traces of the fiend responsible for the mutilation while simultaneously assessing the room for further damage.
"It's horrible," she said, endeavoring hard to perceive something other than her library damaged but without success. "No one but a Mau Mau could have done it," she insisted, picking up one after another vase looking for signs of damage, discarding each as more fruitless than the previous. "Anything horrible like this I always associate with the Mau Mau - don't you?" She seemed to be pleading with him: don't let the blame fall to Popo, please don't. But even she was forced to admit that the blame would fall of its own accord; she could intervene a spell, as if holding it with wires, but it would snap then fall some more, continue falling until it lighted. On Popo. She began adjusting her corset, her bra, her Sarah Coventry jewelry, her nylons, her hair, even her wristwatch. "A Timex," she mused, as if only just now noting the brand name printed on the face. "Now where'd I put my sub?" she peeked into every drawer and shelf in her living room as if it could have somehow fallen into one of the closed drawers. It was on the vinyl mat, right by the front door where she had dropped it; the packaging had come open, a few pieces of crab meat were sitting on the rug. The candy too had been dropped; it too had spilled, a chocolate covered cherry lying between two pieces of crab. She looked over, following the snow wizard's pointing finger to where they lay. "Heavens," she quipped, "looks like an integrated neighborhood at my front door!" Then she turned back to the snow wizard. "I'll get that later," she motioned toward the food on her doormat. She thought a moment, adjusted herself from head to toe once more, then finally came out with this: "He went mad, poor thing."
"What?" asked the snow wizard. "Who?"
"Why my poor Popo of course," Miss Marcie exclaimed. "Poor dear, not being able to read, having to sit and watch his Miss Marcie reading away like a regular professor, how frustrating for him. He went mad - it must have been that, it could only have been that! What else could one possibly make of it? He's gone and ripped all my Barbara's and my Victoria's and even my Rosemary's, poor innocent Rosemary, to shreds! All of them, just look! What a pitiful sight, all strewn about my china cabinet like it was some paper shredder for the C.I.A. or something! He must have been mad! How else are we to account for it? The total destruction of my library - my Barbara's, my Victoria's, even my Rosemary's: he must have been mad! Why else would he do it?"
"I wonder where he is?" the snow wizard mused.
"Oh, he must have taken off after us," Miss Marcie said as if waving away the entire thing as insignificant, "followed our scent, our trail, whatever it is such creatures do to locate someone. Who can say?" She went over to the door, collected her sub from the vinyl mat, leaving Popo's candy where it was. "In case he returns," she explained. "Oh I'm starved, I just don't know how anyone can possibly think of food at a time like this, you'd think they were callous beyond words, but I can't help it I'm simply famished. What are you doing?" she asked in some alarm.
The snow wizard shrugged. "If Tippy can, why not me?" he asked as he began stripping.
"How can anyone think of sex at a time like this?" Miss Marcie inquired haughtily. "I'm going to my room, and I'm going to lock my door, and when you feel you can be a gentleman, let me know. And I'll just take my sub with me and maybe my Bar -" She caught herself in mid-word. "Oh dear." She began to cry. "Don't come near me like that," she warned. The snow wizard retrieved his clothes, got dressed again, then drew alongside his Miss Marcie to comfort her. "There," she said, "that's much better, isn't it?"
The snow wizard grunted some minor affirmation as he consoled his Miss Marcie on her loss. A gleam came in her eye and was caught for one tiny infinitesimally reflective instant inside a tear. "Who is Henry James?" she asked hopefully.
"Henry James?..Is a writer...from the realistic side of life...."
"Whatever that might be."