The very existence of the town of Gumbo Limbo, based on a murky distinction between land and fog and the grey-green waves, had always seemed diaphanous at best, and in fact Gumbo Limbo may not be there any more, and so far as I can see it probably never was. But in the time I am thinking of—when a frail guest arrived on the shore, and lies spread like smut in a rotten hull, and rains of an impossible duration nearly smudged the village away—a boy did live in Gumbo Limbo. His name was Liam Murgen, born Van den Heuvel. He was the one who befriended the guest. Both of them have long since left. This was all quite a long time ago.
The boy lived there because when he was a very little boy his parents died in the scenic railway fire in Canada, so he was sent to live with an uncle far down south in Gumbo Limbo. It turned out the uncle was dead, but the boy was taken in by the local apothecary Murgen, who’d been a friend of this uncle. In those days the boy had little else than a box of clothing and toys mislabeled “Julius.” He’d harbored a vague notion that his parents were resting in a fancy sanitarium in Massachusetts or Maine, and would return when the fire (which he imagined to be still raging in the remote north) was over. In his mind’s eye he saw a mostly faceless man and woman reclined on a balcony under a canvas awning striped yellow and lime; a nurse or butler pressed cool pink cloths to their foreheads and served them chilled milk in crystal tumblers on a sapphire tray.