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Only maybe he did know about us. Sadie might have written a friend back in Savannah, and the friend might have told a friend, and the news that Sadie was spending time with a guy—one who didn’t know the imperatives of the broom—might finally have gotten back to her ex. If none of that happened because I wasn’t there, Sadie would be all right.
The lady or the tiger?
I don’t know, I don’t know.
The weather is turning toward autumn.
I went to the drive-in last night. It’s the last weekend for them. On Monday they’ll put up a sign that says CLOSED FOR THE SEASON and add something like TWICE AS FINE IN ’59! The last program consisted of two short subjects, a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and another pair of horror movies, Macabre and The Tingler. I took my usual folding chair and watched Macabre without really seeing it. I was cold. I have money to buy a coat, but now I’m afraid to buy much of anything. I keep thinking about the changes it could cause.
When the first feature ended, I did go into the snackbar, however. I wanted some hot coffee. (Thinking This can’t change much, also thinking How do you know.) When I came out, there was only one child in the kiddie playground that would have been full at intermission only a month ago. It was a girl wearing a jean jacket and bright red pants. She was jumping rope. She looked like Rosette Templeton.
“I went down the road, the road was a-muddy,” she chanted. “I stubbed my toe, my toe was a-bloody. You all here? Count two an three an four and fi’! My true love’s a butterfly!”
I couldn’t stay. I was shivering too hard.
Maybe poets can kill the world for love, but not ordinary little guys like me. Tomorrow, supposing the rabbit-hole is still there, I’m going back. But before I do…
Coffee wasn’t the only thing I bought in the snackbar.
The lockbox from the Western Auto is on the bed, standing open. The spade is in the closet (what the maid thought about that I have no idea). The ink in my last refill is running low, but that’s okay; another two or three pages will bring me to the end. I’ll put the manuscript in the lockbox, then bury it near the pond where I once disposed of my cell phone. I’ll bury it deep in that soft dark soil. Perhaps someday, someone will find it. Maybe it will be you. If there is a future and there is a you, that is. This is something I will soon find out.
I tell myself (hopefully, fearfully) that my three weeks in the Tamarack can’t have changed much; Al spent four years in the past and came back to an intact present… although I admit I have wondered about his possible relationship to the World Trade Center holocaust or the big Japanese earthquake. I tell myself there is no connection… but still I wonder.
I should also tell you that I no longer think of 2011 as the present. Philip Nolan was the Man Without a Country; I am the Man Without a Time Frame. I suspect I always will be. Even if 2011 is still there, I will be a visiting stranger.
Beside me on the desk is a postcard featuring a photo of cars pulled up in front of a big screen. That’s the only kind of card they sell in the Lisbon Drive-In snackbar. I have written the message, and I have written the address: Mr. Deacon Simmons, Jodie High School, Jodie, Texas. I started to write Denholm Consolidated High School, but JHS won’t become DCHS until next year or the year after.
The message reads: Dear Deke: When your new librarian comes, watch out for her. She’s going to need a good angel, particularly in April of 1963. Please believe me.
No, Jake, I hear the Ocher Card Man whisper. If John Clayton is supposed to kill her and doesn’t, changes will occur… and, as you’ve seen for yourself, the changes are never for the better. No matter how good your intentions are.
But it’s Sadie! I tell him, and although I’ve never been what you’d call a crying man, now the tears begin to come. They ache, they burn. It’s Sadie and I love her! How can I just stand by when he may kill her?
The reply is as obdurate as the past itself: Close the circle.
So I tear the postcard into pieces, I put them in the room’s ashtray, I set them on fire. There’s no smoke alarm to blare to the world what I have done. There’s only the rasping sound of my sobs. It’s as though I have killed her with my own hands. Soon I’ll bury my lockbox with the manuscript inside, and then I’ll go back to Lisbon Falls, where the Ocher Card Man will no doubt be very glad to see me. I won’t call a cab; I intend to walk the whole way, under the stars. I guess I want to say goodbye. Hearts don’t really break. If only they could.
Right now I’m going nowhere except over to the bed, where I will lay my wet face on the pillow and pray to a God I can’t quite believe in to send my Sadie some good angel so she can live. And love. And dance.
You never knew me, but I love you, honey.
Citizen of the Century (2012)
I imagine the Home of the Famous Fatburger is gone now, replaced by an L.L. Bean Express, but I don’t know for sure; that’s something I’ve never bothered to check on the internet. All I know is that it was still there when I got back from all my adventures. And the world around it, too.
So far, at least.
I don’t know about the Bean Express because that was my last day in Lisbon Falls. I went back to my house in Sabattus, caught up on my sleep, then packed two suitcases and my cat and drove south. I stopped for gas in a small Massachusetts town called Westborough, and decided it looked good enough for a man with no particular prospects and no expectations from life.
I stayed that first night in the Westborough Hampton Inn. There was Wi-Fi. I got on the net—my heart beating so hard it sent dots flashing across my field of vision—and called up the Dallas Morning News website. After punching in my credit card number (a process that took several retries because of my shaking fingers), I was able to access the archives. The story about an unknown assailant taking a shot at Edwin Walker was there on April 11 of 1963, but nothing about Sadie on April 12. Nothing the following week, or the week after that. I kept hunting.
I found the story I was looking for in the issue for April 30.
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