It was snowing when he got out of there: not enough to amount to anything, not enough to stick, rather, the flakes were drifting down aimlessly, one by one, as though someone were tossing them from the rooftops. They were little calling cards, he realized, little reminders that no matter how many days of fall were left, winter was on its way. There seemed to be a great deal of space around each flake, each seemed to inhabit its own private atmosphere. In a blizzard, do the snowflakes represent the souls of all the people who have ever lived? he asked himself.
But he resented the ones that landed on him. He had been assaulted enough, from above, for one afternoon, and didn't need new meanings raining down on him; he resolved to try to walk between them and thus negate their efficacy. As he went, he peered among the tiny parachutes for traces of the man in the raincoat, the woman with the dog, the kid on his bicycle; all had disappeared. Around him, people hastened in and out of the police station. He pressed the collar of his coat around his cheeks and headed up the street. Warm and cozy inside his clothing, he had begun reviewing his performance at the interrogation when he came to a supermarket; the weekly specials emblazoned in the window caught his eye. They seemed to him loud, brazen, and overbearing.
With their paper faces pressed against the glass and positively shouting at the world, it was perhaps fortunate they could not see what had happened to their predecessors, crumpled in the trash baskets out front. In its aimless and meandering way the snow had not yet deigned to fall on those bent and hobbled trash baskets, but it would. It would.
Two blocks farther on there was a pharmacy whose window contained such a chaos of shapes and images that they unnerved him. He stopped and tilted his head to the side to see if he could make them shift, or rearrange. But the kaleidoscope would not tumble, the composition remained submerged in its cool, transparent light as though in an aquarium; he half expected fish to swim into view. Nothing moved among the shiny objects and lures that filled the tank, however. The flashy enticements to cleaner teeth, smoother skin, more youthful beauty—the ostensible cures for irritations and rashes, weary muscles, headaches and cramps—reached through the invisible partition to seduce and distract him, to remind him of problems he didn't have. Lies, he thought, contemplating the bottles of perfume and breath freshener and skin cream; lies, he thought, staring at the poster woman whose face was caked in mud, the man whose hair glistened like polished chrome, the teenager exhibiting her blood-red fingernails. Lies, all lies! He gathered his tattered coat about him and walked on.
He had no idea how many blocks he had walked and no recollection of standing back and registering the store's name, but his body, apparently responding to a magnetic field, or exercising homing instincts of its own—or responding to a secret password he didn't know he knew—had passed through the door of a thrift shop. He looked around, startled. His bulky coat slid off his shoulders, his expression relaxed, his muscles went limp.
I have a memory like an elephant, he thought, surveying the guileless, homely things around him. These are my friends.
It was a familiar, consoling spectacle, and ignoring the judgmental stare of a lady in a red apron standing by the cash register, he moved farther into the store. Haunted by all there is, I have a memory like an elephant. He picked up a skillet and thumped the bottom, inspected an antique toaster, turned a pair of shoes over, looked for a hallmark on a once-lovely, now chipped set of cups and saucers. Around the edge of the cups, someone had applied a delicate flower motif and a gold band; he wondered who. He picked up one of the cups and stared into it.
I have memory like an elephant. I am a filter, a mesh , a sieve. I am the cone that holds the cotton candy, the screen that strips the pollen off bees, the pants' leg to which burrs cling. I am a pack rat, a mule loaded for a caravan that doesn't exist, I am a catalogue, an inventory, an archive. Furthermore, this is all I am. A glint of light on the edge of the cup caught his eye and he stared deeper into it. The cup began to spin, and to emit an intense light whose brightness increased with the rate of spin; finally the brightness blinded him. I remember everything. I remember when a cup of coffee cost five cents, and a postage stamp three. I remember the one-cent postage stamp, and the half. I remember when coal trucks dumped coal down sidewalk chutes, and lamplighters climbed the sides of street lamps to light them. I remember when the refrigerator was an icebox, and ice was brought to the city from frozen lakes, and the city was full of stables to accommodate the horses that pulled the sleds that brought the ice. I remember betty lamps and niddy-noddies, otiographs and stereopticons; I remember union suits and thunder mugs, Spatterware, Treenware; I remember pierced-tin lanterns and painted fireboards, screw-barrel pistols, overgaiters, canned dandelions. I remember rope beds and banjo clocks, fuddling cups and posset pots, Hepplewhite and Sheraton. I remember when margarine came with a packet of food coloring to make it look like butter, I remember when the Angry Young Men were still angry, the Beautiful People beautiful. I remember when a certain supermarket chain said We Won't Stop Trying Till You Say WEO. I never said WEO but they stopped trying. I remember the product that was Guaranteed to Grow Hair or Your Money Back. I never got my money back. I remember the ointment that promised Thirty Days to a Clearer Complexion. The thirtieth day came and went. I remember the promises of politicians: they stick to me like burrs. I remember when they said The Boys Will be Home by Christmas, The War Will be Over in Sixty Days, when they said It Can't Fly, It Won't Sell, It Will Come In on Time and Under Budget. I have come upon newspapers piled in the street, with the most recent on the top, and I have read the news backwards. And reading backwards I have seen how rarely the predictions have been substantiated, the promises fulfilled, the bets called. But I have an elephant like a memory, and I remember. And the cars, oh the cars I remember! The Cunningham. The Hupmobile. The Peerless. The Chalmers. I remember Nipper the RCA Victor Dog, and the Cortecelli Kittens, the Bull Durham bull. I remember the Heidelberg Alternating Electric Belt and Dr. Rose's Obesity Powder, I remember Nox 'Em All shoes and Xtraguard Clothes. I remember Liquizone, Vitalitone, Sozodont, Vapo-Cresolene. I remember Dr. Scott's Electric Hair Brush and Dr. Peery's Dead Shot Vermifuge, Dr. Price's Wheat Flake Celery Food, Norka Oats, Cero-Fruito, Monk's Brew. I remember Hostetter's Almanac and the Galvanic Five-in-One Shortwave Oscillotron, Bateman's Pectoral Drops and Daffy's Elixir, Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Oil and Freligh's Tablets. I remember electromagnetic wristbands, uranium tunnels,
radioactive bath salts. I remember Druid Ointment and Carey's Chinese Catarrh Cure, Fay's Canchalagua, Buffalo Lithia Water, Greenough's Tincture, Hood's Sarsaparilla. None of these things can I forget, none of these things can I divest myself of. I tell myself I can't remember—then things come to me in blinding detail. Because I remember what I forget and forget what I remember. An elephant like a memory, yes! I remember Resurrection Pills, Osgood's Indian Cholagogue, Pink Pills for Pale People, I remember Dr. Judge's Oxy-Hydrogenated Air, Bartholomew's Expectorant Syrup, Sheldon's Compound Syrup of Hypophosphites, Robertson's Infallible Worm Destroying Lozenges, and Watson's Great Invincible Birgharmi Stiff Joint Panacea!
He caught himself. Looked up. The light in the store was more muted now, but the woman in the red apron was staring at him.
"I'm afraid it's closing time! she said; "if you have anything you would like to purchase, would you bring it up to the cash register?"
But there is only one thing I can't remember. With all that clings to me, sticks to me—with all the vines and weeds and clinging tendrils, all the trash and clutter that is my life and through which I move—there is only one thing I can't remember. And that is who killed Fairfield Dixon.