The Violet Crab
“I’m afraid you are done for, Mister Crowe,” Fin said. “The wind blows, and the wind swings. Your foolishness has caught up with you, and not even I can help you this time.”
Annie and I sat across from him, the three of us at a table set for six. The booths were red, the walls were pale green, and there was a lot of oak trim. There was a pleasant smell of polite food. Silverware clinked gently against crockery, and light caught the edges of crystal and cut glass. It was a joint that catered to people from someplace back east who wanted to be reminded of it, every day.
There was black tea, poured into delicate white china. I tried mine, and didn’t like it. It tasted like soap. I dropped in a couple of sugar cubes, careful not to break the cup. I tasted it again. It was just as bad, only now it was sweet. Sweet things often fooled me, but even sweet could only go so far. I put the cup gently back onto its saucer and left it alone.
“That’s the trouble with wicked,” Fin said. “It doesn’t do what people imagine it does. It doesn’t hide in the shadows. It doesn’t stand behind doors in dark houses. It doesn’t jump. Wicked feels gently around the edges of things… it pats and caresses with soft fingers.”
He drank a little of his tea, and patted his lips with a linen napkin. He moved a spoon until it was lined up more to his liking. I watched the light catch at a ruby on his little finger. When things were dainty enough to suit him, he looked at me steadily. He had a face that reminded me of grieving statues and candles flickering behind colored glass.
“It sits in the sun like a fat toad, in plain sight,” he said. “It’s happy to see you. It wears a mask that smiles and asks after your mother. When you say she’s not well, the mask cries. It can’t be hurt, because it believes in absolutely nothing. You have no chance against it. I like you, but you’re an incurable fool.”
I fingered the heavy edge of linen that hung beneath the table and took a breath. He held up a hand to stop me.
“The wind blows and the wind swings, Mister Crowe,” he said. “Through sanatoriums and empty bedrooms and bare trees, it blows and swings, blows and swings. You’ve never understood that, and that will be what ends you.”
“Maybe I’m a naturally lucky person,” I offered. “I’ve survived so far.”
Annie watched us. Her face was composed, serene, and her eyes were luminous. She filled the room, the way she always did.
“You’re a child,” Fin said. “Underneath your sneer, the gun and your bottle, you believe in angels. Beneath your exhaustion, you believe and you hope… and that hope makes you helpless. You can’t shake your own belief in what isn’t real.”
Fin pushed his tea away and ordered whiskey. The waiter looked at me, and I nodded, relieved. Annie shook her head, a movement so slight as to be almost invisible. She waited until he was gone, and then she spoke.
“I believe in what isn’t real,” she said. “Am I a fool?”
Fin shifted his attention to her. He sat back in his chair.
“You are different, Miss Kahlo,” he said. “You are made of a fundamental magic. The world only reluctantly mixes its business with yours.”
“I believe in numbers and colors,” she said. “I believe what the cards tell me. I believe in stars and sand. I believe in letters. Most of the time, I believe in the dark. I believe in what waits for me.”
I loved her voice. I could listen to her all day and not get tired. If she read me the dictionary and then an entire cook-book full of recipes, I would want more.
“That might mean I’m crazy, but never a fool,” she said. Her voice dropped. There were spots of color on her cheeks now, rose under honey. “I’m not a fool, and I’m not afraid of your wind. It can blow and swing all it likes.”
“I believe in you,” I said.
She paused, and glanced over at me. She gave a tiny shrug. The corners of her mouth twitched, and then she tilted her head and surrendered. Her smile was breathtaking.
“Yes,” she said. “You do, don’t you?”