Lorenzo is a quiet, even-tempered man of independent means who has come to accept full-fledged addiction to his playthings. Waking up in the middle of the night, he stares across his moonlit room at the changing assortment of objects and scenes which periodically lights up before him on the floor. Lorenzo does not like to leave his bed, and has not been outside the confines of his high-rise apartment, on East Twenty-eighth Street in midtown Manhattan, for more than a year now, although in recent weeks the thought that he may never give up collecting has made him uneasy.
The dozen or so situations which comprise his collection at any one time resemble dioramas: they materialize without warning and sit glowing in the corners of his room. Although he cannot make them appear, those he ignores eventually fade away. A few, like surviving inhabitants of an eidetic zoo, run back and forth along the big, blank apartment-house windows which look into the sky from the twenty-second floor. Some have been with him for months; others, like the herd of miniature ponies galloping headlong into the wainscoting, vanish moments after he takes notice of them. As he lies in bed on this particular evening, an unseasonably warm and dry one in May, Lorenzo sees:
• A caped and quilted rabbit, over four feet tall, with festive tablecloth eyes, a pink pincushion nose, and aluminum foil ears. It stands holding a volume of Horace securely in its paws, and every so often reads aloud: “Why not beneath a tall plane tree or this pine here recline at ease? . . . They change their sky, but not their mind, who run across the sea. . . .” After an hour has passed the rabbit lays the book aside and makes a tour of Lorenzo’s room, dropping ashes from the sleeves of its cape as it goes. He is certain, after a night spent observing its movements, that this singular creature wanders around the room perfectly at random, returning to take up its book only when its red and white checked eyes happen to come into direct contact with Lorenzo’s.
• A flat-faced, middle-aged man wearing a blue serge suit and sandals who holds a tightly rolled Russian language newspaper, occasionally slapping it impatiently against his open palm. “Sergei!” a frumpily-dressed woman beside him calls out in a hoarse, congested voice. Since she doesn’t face her companion when saying this, Lorenzo can’t determine precisely who is being addressed. She tugs at the black babushka around her head with one hand while balancing, in the other, a large can with the four-color picture of a sunflower on its side. Thick-set figures in shapeless overcoats hurry past the couple on their square of sidewalk, taking no notice of them. The man and woman seem to be waiting for a bus: they crane their necks in the same direction. They are life-size, however, so the red plastic bus circling Lorenzo’s room every fifteen minutes, no bigger than a Pekinese dog, is unable to stop and pick them up.
• A black cast-iron elephant which never moves from its circle of bright yellow light. Around its feet, steam rises from a grating in the floor and evaporates in the air, as from city streets after rain. Originally the elephant was an opaque presence in his room, but soon patches of reddish-brown rust formed on its flanks; they glowed in the spotlight like nebulous masses of floating algae. As oxidation from the steam continued, the corrosion began to take on shapes which stood out more and more clearly, and Lorenzo found himself being treated to a visual primer on evolution. Mutating animal life progressed from simple to sophisticated forms: at present, Lorenzo is looking at a stocky man naked to the waist who wears a crumpled fedora and brandishes a handgun. With the appearance of this man, Lorenzo’s elephant has briefly come alive: the trunk jerks restively, the tail crackles with pent-up energy, he can see sweat on its shoulders and smell its mustiness. The compact man with dusty, sweat-stained body and powerful hands, perhaps the animal’s trainer, raises his revolver and aims it at Lorenzo’s calm, attentive face.