Three Nights, Three Men, Three Dreams
by Marilynn M. Wilkins
part 1 of 2
It was yesterday’s panic attack, the crying and rage that prompted Beatrice to accept the offer of a weekend trip to Raleigh. On the way to Dallas Love Field, she recalled the scene in her mother’s kitchen as she pounded her fists on the counter and screamed repeatedly. “Why did you take the suit to the cleaners? Why the hell did you have the suit cleaned?”
The suit, besides being a classy black suit, was the one she wore on September 11, 2001. Her mother made a simple mistake. She didn’t know that Beatrice felt cleaning the suit violated the memory of the people whose bodies she watched fall to the pavement below the Twin Towers, that she wanted to preserve the blood and bits of tissue clinging to the fabric, hold in her memory the scene of the first plane crashing into the towers.
On 9/11,she and two business associates from The New York Stock Exchange witnessed the impact of the first jet as they stood on the street a mere three blocks away. A huge ball of flame shot several hundred feet out from Tower One. None of the three spoke for a moment but Beatrice thought to herself, “That’s American Airlines, just like Daddy used to fly. This is no accident.”
They ran toward the Towers, not away. Did they think they could help the victims? Later, they agreed. Yes, they thought they could. When the second plane hit, she immediately dialed her parent’s home in Texas on her cell phone and left a message. It would be some full twelve hours before they would hear from her again.
During those twelve hours the unthinkable occurred. The three interlocked arms and ran, side by side until their energy was depleted and they could no longer run. When they finally stopped long enough to look at each other, the white of their eyes was the only white area discernable. Their hair, matted with debris and heavy smoke was sticky and stiff. Their clothes covered in muck.
They made their way to the ferry, where someone washed them with a water hose and allowed them to board. Beatrice had gone into work early that day, narrowly escaping death. Why.
That night she removed her grandmother’s diamond brooch from the suit before placing it in a plastic garment bag. It stayed there through months of alternate weeping mixed with gratefulness until moving home to Dallas and the ultimate scene that occurred when her mother innocently took the suit to be cleaned.
Still, she thought the decision to move home and pursue a master’s degree in business was the right decision. New York was different and so was she. She never revealed to anyone what the 9/11 had done to her, how depressed she felt. Most of all, she never revealed the suicidal thoughts she harbored. Maybe they would go away.
* * *
Beatrice’s new friend, Janice, whom she met at the university, filed the flight plan to Raleigh and they wheeled out to the runway. It was a smooth, uneventful takeoff. The Texas skyline was beautiful and seemed to promise a weekend of relaxation. The pink, apricot and yellow color of the sky was stunning.
After crossing several state borders, an accumulation of dark clouds threatened an otherwise perfect flight. It was apparent that the Cessna 182 RG would head right into a nasty thunderstorm. As a postscript to what the girls observed, the air traffic controller advised that all planes would have to land at the Asheville airstrip instead of Raleigh.
“Now they tell me,” Janice said, a concerned look on her face. An updraft followed by a sudden downdraft caused the single engine Cessna to lurch as though made of flimsy balsa wood. Bolts of lightning zigzagged like finite, crazing cracks in china plates across the sky. “Secure all of the loose items you can find, will you Beatrice? We don’t want to get hit by flying luggage and handbags.”
Beatrice secured the loose items. Dark storm clouds loomed ahead in the sky. The clouds reminded Beatrice of the smoke and debris of 9/11. She gripped the armrest of the seat, her heart pounding, reluctant to reveal her anxiety to Janice. Her eyes got misty, an occasional tear rolling down her cheeks. Through misty eyes, she realized there was an opening in the clouds. The two girls looked down at the tiny airstrip in Asheville.
* * *
“Don’t underestimate Asheville,” he said. He was the owner, mechanic and maintenance man of the airport. He recommended The Grove Park Inn for their overnight stay and also agreed to drive them into town. “It’s a famous inn. Back in the thirties, F. Scott Fitzgerald spent a lot of time there. His wife was in the mental hospital nearby.”
He rolled the window down a few inches, leaned out a bit, and took a deep breath. “Ah, smell that mountain air?”
They approached the inn, nestled in the side of a mountain. Beatrice noticed a tennis court and swimming pool. Maybe this delay wouldn’t be so bad after all.
Once inside the inn, Janice offered to check them in. Beatrice collapsed into a comfortable chair, a trickling fountain surrounded by tropical plants nearby. She closed her eyes, then, opened them slightly.
A gallery of black and white photos hanging on the wall near a massive rock fireplace attracted her attention. She walked to them, walking from photo to photo, intrigued when she realized they were all photos of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
One photo, taken with a woman wearing a thirties style dress prompted a second and third look. A jeweled initial pin adorned the woman’s lapel. Beatrice’s eyes enlarged in disbelief. The woman was her grandmother, her mother’s mother. The pin on the dress in the picture was one Beatrice inherited. The pin she wore on the black suit on 9/11.
* * *
“Mommy. We’re stuck in a place called Asheville.” Beatrice cradled the phone receiver beneath her chin as she talked, unzipping her luggage at the same time.
“Why are you stuck, Beatrice?”
“We ran into a huge thunderstorm. They re-routed us. Mommy, you know something? I just saw Grammy in a picture in the lobby of this hotel. She’s posing with F. Scott Fitzgerald, the famous writer.”
“Let me know when you get to Raleigh,” her mother replied.
“Did you hear me? A picture of Grammy with Fitzgerald.”
“Amazing how thunderstorms can accumulate so quickly.”
Beatrice retrieved her nightgown from her bag and began to twirl it around and around by its straps. It looped over her forearm and then unwound again. She sat down on the edge of the bed, disgusted because her mother refused to acknowledge what she had said to her. “How come we never talked about that? How come we never talk about anything in the past?”
“That was too long ago. It didn’t seem important.”
“Frankly, she seems to be hugging him in more than a friendly way.” She was happy to be able to challenge her Mom. Her family kept a lot of “secrets.” She had discovered a family secret! She felt more than happy. She felt mischievously delighted!
“Whatever I know, I’ll tell you when you get home. Believe me, I know very little.”
“Okay, okay. I’ll let you know our plans.” Beatrice closed the conversation by giving her mother the physical address of Grove Park Inn and her room number.
She walked to the picture window and opened the drapes. An unbroken double rainbow arching across the sky above the picturesque mountains welcomed her. Grammy always told her that an unbroken rainbow was a very good omen. She undressed, put on her nightgown and fell across the bed without removing the comforter. She fell asleep in seconds.
* * *
“It took forever for you to get here.” The voice startled her. She sat up in bed to locate its origin. The voice came from the man sitting in a chair in the corner of the room smoking a cigarette. “Ouch,” he said.
He threw the cigarette on the floor, stomped it out and began to suck on his finger. “ I’m out of practice. They told me not to do earthly things while I was here. But, I did it anyway. Guess drinking is out of the question, too.”
He picked at the burn holes in his tweed jacket with his finger. “Old holes. How are you, Beatrice?”
She didn’t speak for a moment. “Who are they and who are you?”
“Never mind about that. Better late than never I always say. We put our heads together and created a thunderstorm, just to get you here.”
“You did?” She sat on the side of the bed and looked back over her shoulder. Her body was still in the bed. She lay down and again and then sat up. It didn’t work. There was two of her. “Marvelous illusion, don’t you think? Someone has to be here to answer the phone while we’re away. Come with me.”
“Where are we going? I must change.” She barely finished the sentence when she looked down at her body clothed in a lavender evening gown. Her fingers felt a string of pearls around her neck. Her toes wiggled against the straps of sparkling silver evening shoes.
“Madam?” He lifted a fur stole from the dressing table stool and held it out to her. “They’re waiting patiently, I’m sure.” He grinned impishly and took her by the hand. The smile was very familiar as was his tweed suit. His blond hair was parted slightly off center and his mustache so blond that it resembled beer foam clinging to his upper lip. F. Scott Fitzgerald!
The sable coat felt dreamy against her skin. “Where did you say we’re going?”
“Story paradise, the land of fiction. Destination, your choice. Which story would you like to visit?”
“Cinderella,” she replied, looking down at her beautiful dress. That’s the way the clothes made her feel, like Cinderella.
The look in his eyes changed immediately. He looked down at the floor. “Try again.”
“Winnie the Pooh?” she replied.
He sat on the side of the bed, head in hands. “Fairy tales, fairy tales. People always want fairy tales! That’s not real life. Not a real story. Not literature!”
“For Whom the Bell Tolls,” she replied firmly. What could be more real life or more tragic that lost love during wartime?
Fitzgerald clutched his shirt near his heart. “What a blow. I suppose you heard that, Ernest.” He looked up at the ceiling. She looked up at the ceiling. Fitzgerald crooked his finger at Beatrice, beckoning her to come closer.
She walked over and bent down, her face in close proximity to his. He pushed her blond chin-length hair away from her ear and whispered. “The Great Gatsby.”
She stood up and dutifully repeated. “The Great Gatsby.”
“Excellent choice! Outstanding! Shall we be on our way?” He looked so happy. His pale blue eyes suddenly filled with enthusiasm.
He took her hand and they began to float together towards the big window, his touch as light as vapor. In a spectacular Peter Pan-like maneuver they floated through the glass and into the midst of pine trees.
Music, laughter and the clink of cocktail glasses played like a sonata heralding their arrival in the garden of a two-story mansion. Scores of people dressed in elegant evening clothes milled around, an occasional burst of laughter erupting in the evening air. Yet no one seemed to respond to their arrival.
Fitzgerald led her to a long table laden with ice sculptures and glasses filled with sparkling drinks. “Shall we indulge? Daisy and Gatsby should show up soon. Daisy’s such a beautiful little fool. Gatsby, well, her never gets what he wants even though he’s filthy rich. You aren’t going to cry at the end of the story, are you?”
Beatrice was about to respond when a large man dressed in safari garb, carrying a hunting rifle, walked out of the adjacent shrubs. He walked directly to Beatrice and extended his hand. “Francis Mac Comber. Pleased to meet you.”
Fitzgerald set his glass on the table and immediately stepped between Beatrice and Mac Comber. “Get out of my story! Go back to Ernest’s lion hunt!” He shoved Mac Comber and Beatrice stepped back, bewildered by Fitzgerald’s behavior.
“Ernest, I know you’re in there,” Fitzgerald said, directly his comments to rustling shrubs at the edge of the garden. Mac Comber stood and straightened his clothing, grabbed the rifle and returned to the shrubs as quickly as he had arrived. Low mumbling voices faded in a few moments.
“Watch him run! He’s such a coward!” Fitzgerald again raised the crystal glass to his lips as he spoke. “Oh, yes. I was wondering if you were going to get emotional about the outcome of my story, The Great Gatsby.” He looked directly over the rim into her blue eyes.
“I’ve been crying about everything lately. Really depressed actually.”
“I know. We know.”
“I must ask you about the picture in the lobby of the inn. Did you and my Grammy, well, did you have an affair?”
“I drank a lot of beer that summer. Acted like a fool most of the time. Even tried to kill myself. But, I do recall that she was a beautiful woman. Her husband, the doctor from Texas, showed up and took her home. It was really like a dream. Life is but a dream you know.” His eyes filled with tears and he turned away so that she couldn’t see. “You look so much like she was that summer, I can barely tolerate it.”
“You were concerned about me crying?”
Fitzgerald turned and faced her. “In the end, it’s your choice. Cry forever or be happy. I lived and wrote my own tragedy and, I might add, died doing it. The tragedy you witnessed in New York was totally out of your control. I ‘m trying to help you.”
Beatrice moved toward him to wipe away a stray tear slowly falling towards the rim of the glass.
The phone ringing on the night stand startled her. She expected Fitzgerald to be on the other end of the line. She looked around to try to find a champagne glass or something else from her dream. “Ready for breakfast?” Janice asked.
“I had this crazy dream. It was so real! Give me twenty minutes. I’ll meet you in the dining room.” She removed her nightgown, washed her face and put on a clean pair of khaki slacks. She was about to thrust her arm into a long-sleeved cotton blouse when she noticed something on the floor near the chair by the window. She walked over, bent down and picked it up. It was a cigarette, barely smoked. The tiny lettering on the cigarette read, Lucky Strike.
* * *
“I’ll have two eggs scrambled. Two strips of bacon, no, better make that four. Hash browns and two pancakes on the side, juice and coffee,” Beatrice told the waiter.
Janice shot her a sideways glance. “Hungry, are you?”
“I can’t control my appetite. I’ve gained twenty-five pounds. Guess it makes me feel better to eat.” She took the cigarette from her shirt and laid it on the table. “I found this on the floor of my room this morning. It wouldn’t mean anything if it weren’t for the strange dream I had last night.”
Janice picked up the cigarette gingerly. She hated cigarettes. “You said something about a dream on the phone. Tell me.”
Copyright © 2006 by Marilynn M. Wilkins