Jazz, blues, you name it. Bourbon Street never sleeps. Nor for that matter do I. Insomnia. But wait—did the insomnia come before, or after, the figurine? I can’t for the life of me remember. The life of me—that’s rich!
No, my mind is not wandering. Just a trifle muddled. Blame it on lack of sleep. Okay, and too much booze. You’d drink too, in my shoes.
The figurine? It must have been early afternoon. I’d imbibed a few. Who keeps count? Anyhow, on my way back to Canal Street I somehow segued down Bienville or Iberville over to Royal. Drifted so to speak. Or maybe I was pulled. You know, like a puppet on strings. Maybe I’m mistaken about Royal. Maybe it was some other street entirely.
Okay, okay, save your judgment for later. Once you’ve heard the whole story you may think different. We’ll see. The point is I found myself in front of a shop window with my nose pressed against the glass, like a kid drooling at a candy display. I don’t remember approaching the glass, mind you; I just remember being there—as if I’d been placed. You know, by the Puppet Master.
All this conjecture—it’s hind sight. At the time ogling a display case filled with lead figurines seemed perfectly natural. Most of the figurines were toy soldiers. Antiques from various eras: the War of 1812, the Civil War, any number of European conflicts.
The soldiers—infantry, cavalry, artillery—wore an array of colorful uniforms, painted on of course, but the effect was striking. There were other subjects too. Cowboys, Indians, pirates, wizards, warlocks.
Not to mention the piece that immediately caught my eye, the piece I finally walked away with … No, no, I paid for the damn thing. The price was thirty-five dollars. Actually, a little more than that: thirty-five dollars, plus, God help me, my soul.
Of course I didn’t know that at the time! Please don’t interrupt!
I don’t have time for interruptions.
The piece that stood out from all the others, the piece that so transfixed me—don’t ask me why, maybe because it was so hideous—was The Grim Reaper. You know, the skeletal figure, hooded, in medieval garb with the scythe over his shoulder. Why something so grotesque should appeal to me I can’t say. It just did. Maybe because it was so life-like.
Life-like! The Grim Reaper! That’s a contradiction, isn’t it? What I mean is, the details were—are—so precise. It’s only about two and a half inches in height. The robe, hood, and the handle of the scythe are painted black. The bones (skull, forearms, hands, ankles and feet) are, ironically, what used to be called flesh color. The scythe’s blade is silver tone.
His stride, the way he carries himself, are—I don’t know any other way to describe them—true to life (or should I say true to death?). Anyhow, real! And you see, that’s the horror of it.
I don’t remember walking into the shop. I hardly remember the clerk. There were no other customers, just the young woman behind the counter. She smiled. I asked how much for The Grim Reaper; she told me thirty-five dollars. I forked the money over, a twenty, a ten, a five, plus whatever the sales tax came to. She removed the figurine from the display case, placed it in a box, wrote out a receipt, popped the box and the receipt into a paper bag, and wished me a good day.
I stuffed the bag in my pants pocket and walked out. Where I went after that I don’t recall. I don’t remember walking, I don’t remember taking the street car home, or walking the two blocks to my apartment building. All I remember is climbing the stairs, unlocking my door, entering, tossing the bag on the kitchen table, lying on the couch, and waking up five or six hours later. Or maybe it was two, or ten. I don’t remember.
I awoke with a raging thirst and a head that might have been trampled on by a herd of elephants. I went into the kitchen for a beer. The paper bag lay on the table where I’d left it. I sat at the table with my beer and took the box with the figurine out of the bag. Somewhere along the way I must have lost the receipt, because it was no longer in the bag. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but later, when I tried to locate the shop again, and failed, I began to wonder. I’m still wondering.
When I finished the beer, I scrambled some eggs. Only after I’d washed them down with the beer did I remove the figurine from the box and set it on the table, atop a week-old newspaper that happened to be lying there. I’m not a tidy housekeeper, not since my wife left me a year ago. You can see for yourself, this place is a mess.
Creative and creepy story. Very much enjoyed it.