The Violet Crab

Lopez and I sat on a bench in the sun and watched the blue-and-gold beach. Somebody nearby had a transistor radio playing. The soft sound of it disappeared every time the breeze rattled the palm fronds over our heads. Out on the sand, a gull found something and flew off with it. There was a flurry of white wings and a dozen more gave chase, in case anything got dropped.

I figured we weren’t far from the spot where Beatrice Stone had been killed. I wondered if her ghost was still hanging around. The idea made me sad. I hoped she had gone somewhere else and had something better to do.

“If we want to get shot,” I said, “sitting out in the open like this is as good a way as any.”

“Probably.” The old gangster didn’t look as though it bothered him much.

“Nice day for it, if it happens,” I said. “We could find a worse place to do it.”

“This is pleasant,” he agreed. “I will tell you something, amigo. There’s a lot more fuss when you come here than when you leave.”

I got up and bought two paper cups of vanilla ice cream from a truck that was parked in the shade. I took them back to the bench and handed one to the old man before I sat down. It came with a little wooden paddle. He held his up to examine it, like he wasn’t sure what it was for.

“What is this?” he asked.

“It’s a spoon,” I said. “Use your imagination.”

He looked at it for a moment longer, and then he shrugged and used it to try his ice cream.

“Life is nothing but a long series of goodbyes,” he said. “I say mine to the world every morning when I wake up. That way I’m ready, and then I don’t have to worry about it for the rest of the day.”

“Seems sensible,” I agreed.

The ice cream was cold and sweet and perfect. I didn’t think there was any way to beat the taste of vanilla when it came right down to it, and the wooden flavor of the spoon went with it just right.

“We all secretly believe that the world ends when we die,” he said. “How could it go on without us?”

A black dog came off the sand. He was wet from playing in the surf, and he shook himself off as soon as he figured he was close enough to get us wet, too. I didn’t mind. He sat down and looked at me happily, as if he was waiting for something.

“The world doesn’t end when we do, though,” Lopez said. “It keeps going, and it takes us with it. We leave the theater, but the movie plays, with us still in it. The good things and the bad things we do live on in other people… in the lives we have changed. Our kindness and our sins don’t die. They grow and grow, even after we’re gone.”

He smiled at me and wiped a dab of pale from his moustache with the back of one hand.

“We don’t get to see the end of our own movie, amigo.” He laughed. “We don’t ever know how we turn out. Imagine that.”

I held out the cup for the dog so he could finish the last of my ice cream. When it was all gone he ran off to play in the ocean again, without looking back.

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