I saw them come out of the bank and just stand in the rain, too saddened by the news even to open their umbrella. Discreetly, I went over and took it from Yossi's hand, opened it, and held it over his head and Carol's.
Without looking at me, he said, ''Thank you, David.''
For several moments we all stood there, Yossi with his arm around Carol, Carol crying softly, and I keeping the makeshift roof over their heads. And as I listened to the rain I thought that even if I weren't virtually rainproof in my sombrero and slicker - my reconciliation of whimsy and weather - even if I got soaked myself, I'd brave it gladly. I loved these two people.
In Yossi's lean, dark-bearded face there flickered a dread of what the future held. For six years in that refuge from the age of technology known as a used book shop, he had shuffled about in old slippers, old clothes, selling books that made the heart sing and the mind soar. Then one night, heaven knows how, a fire had broken out and swept through the shop, and through the little apartment behind it, too. He and Carol had barely escaped. They'd stood in the red glare outside, watching their livelihood, their home, go up in smoke, and no insurance on anything. It had seemed to Yossi that the shadows they cast on the pavement were their very souls swaying there in black to mourn with them.
Carol looked like the child I remembered from our childhood friendship. The same gravity of beauty. The same slight smile, even now, of affectionate concern for me. As if to say, ''You're as out of place in modern times as we bookworms are. You're a little circus bear with a funny hat on, escaped and lost in the woods. You'll always be rolling logs on your paws, or balancing pine cones on your nose, entertaining invisible audiences, because that's all you know.''
People of the Used Book don't necessarily believe in miracles, but sometimes they are put to relying on them. That's why, even though they had no collateral except their hope to begin again, they'd come to the bank to ''make a prayer'' for a loan. The sad news was that their prayer had failed, and now they would have to ''go stay by relatives'' till they could find new work.
Yossi took the umbrella and glanced toward their car, an old Renault whose front end with its cracked headlights, like eyeglasses struck in a fight, looked forlornly bookish. ''We'd better be off,'' he said.
We shook hands. When they'd written to tell me they were going to ''make a prayer'' that day, he said, they'd never expected me to show up at dawn at their motel. It had been ''extravagant'' of me, he said; ''even heroic,'' considering that I lived 900 miles away. In response, I embraced him like a bear.
Carol kissed me on the cheek. Seeing the worry glisten in my eyes, she roundly pulled my nose. I could have someday a real elephant trunk of a nose if my friends don't stop pulling it to restore my equanimity.
I walked with them to the car, and they got in. This was the moment I had come for. Taking an envelope from my pocket, I thrust it into Yossi's hand. It contained half my savings to that point in life. ''A going-away present,'' I explained, almost shouting. ''A gift of love, not to be refused!''
He looked at it, nodding gravely.
''And don't thank me!'' I added. ''I'll be insulted!''
He smiled. ''A heavy purse makes for a light heart,'' he said. ''God bless you, David.''
''Let's hope that's what He has in mind.'' I waved the sombrero as they drove off.
That night in the motel I overcame sadness by watching old movies on TV. One of them, I was sure, must have been based on a book in my friends' lost shop. It was timeless, and an omen, too.
It told about a boy who loved a horse. Near the end, the horse wandered into a marsh and got stuck in the quicksand. He struggled but slowly kept sinking. By the time the boy and other searchers found him, he had sunk up to the neck. They threw a rope around his neck and pulled, but he didn't budge. You could see from his eyes that the fight had left him.
Then the boy, using the rope, pulled himself out to the creature and begged him to fight, to help the people who were trying to save him. ''Don't die,'' he pleaded. ''Don't die like this.''
Those words had magic in them. Slowly, with great heaves and kicks and snorts , and cheered on by all, the horse struggled out, reached solid ground, and then , giving an immense shake to fling off death, whinnied his freedom.
The rescuers threw the rope out to the boy and helped him back to safety, too. The movie ended on a close-up of his face. He was crying, and in his eyes there was such tremendous beautiful belief in what the power of love could do in this dangerous world, and so much hope.