Three Nights, Three Men,
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
“Remember the picture I showed you of my Grammy and Fitzgerald in the lobby. Well, I asked my mom about it. She didn’t deny anything. Guess I had it on my mind when I went to sleep. In my dream Fitzgerald was in my room and this morning I find this cigarette lying there. It’s barely been smoked, just like in my dream.”
The waiter arrived with coffee. “Can’t smoke in this section,” he said, staring at the cigarette.
“Oh, it’s not mine. Neither of us smokes. I found it in my room on the floor,” Beatrice said.
“What room are you in?” he asked.
“Four thirty one.”
“Oh, dear. That’s Fitzgerald’s old room. He must be at it again.”
“At it again?”
“It’s just a ghost story. They say he haunts his old room. One of the maids probably drops cigarettes on the floor on purpose, just to keep the legend going. Good for business, you know.”
“I had this dream. Fitzgerald was there! In my room!”
“Did you go to happy hour last night?” he looked at her like a bartender would look at a ditsy blond.
“I had some champagne at Gatsby’s party.”
Janice cut off the conversation on purpose. “I need to file a flight plan for Raleigh.”
“Could we stay? I want to see the things my Grammy saw as a young woman. And, frankly, I want to look for more information about her relationship with Fitzgerald.”
“I suppose we could. It’s beautiful here. I’d think it would be very flattering to have a grandmother who was acquainted with a famous writer. We can visit Raleigh some other weekend. Besides, I’m dying to get out on that golf course.”
“Thanks for staying,” Beatrice replied as breakfast arrived. “It’s settled then. After breakfast, golf.”
* * *
Beatrice drew a warm bath and stuck her toes in to check the temperature. It had been a beautiful day for golf but Janice always overdid everything. After eighteen holes, Janice managed to talk her into an extra nine and Beatrice had the blisters to prove it! She wondered if she should burst them and let the fluid seep out. She decided to call her Mom later and ask her. She needed to call and tell her the change of weekend plans anyway.
At the golf course that afternoon the girls joined two older gentlemen in a foursome. Beatrice learned from one of them about an F. Scott Fitzgerald museum not far away. They decided to visit the museum the next day.
She looked at the clear blisters across the instep of both feet, scooted deeper into the tub and turned the water spigot on with her toes. She soaked for almost an hour, put on her nightgown and fell asleep watching television.
* * *
A loud pounding noise from what Beatrice thought must be a television program awakened her. She jumped up quickly and grabbed the remote. When she saw the short man completely covered with bandages in the room, she fainted.
When she woke up the pounding noise had gone away, replaced with a pounding headache. The comforter from the bed had been placed over her lower body and a pillow under her head.
“You’re scaring me. What’s that pounding sound?” The slow, deliberate hammering sound returned.
“Aw, cutie pie. I didn’t mean to scare ‘ya. That noise is coming from my story in story paradise, As I Lay Dying.”
“Never heard of it,” she said, hastily. A bit too hastily, perhaps. The bandaged man immediately moved away from her and sat in the chair across the room, pouting.
“On second thought, maybe I have heard of it. What happened to you? Why are you bandaged?”
“Critics. They wound you. But, hell, I don’t care. My story that you’re going to visit tonight showed them all. Yellow bellies!”
“Where is Mr. Fitzgerald?”
“Your phone call cut the visit short last night. Earthly annoyances often interfere with heavenly business. Nothing new. Truth is, he’s manning the switchboard today. There are a huge number of prayers coming in. We all take our turn working. Besides, he messed up.”
“He got physical with Mac Comber. But, he’s really a softie at heart. Boy, I certainly hope you remember As I Lay Dying.”
“I do. Really, I do.” She agreed willingly. How could she insult William Faulkner?
“Now, uncover yourself and we’ll be going.”
Beatrice removed the cover and looked down at the all black clothing on her body, complete with black hosiery, shoes, hat and heavy black veil. As they approached Faulkner’s story in story paradise, a group of people, lifting the body of a frail gray-haired woman into a homemade casket, did not seem to notice that Beatrice and Faulkner flew in via an open window.
Oh yes, she thought. The Mother dies and the family takes a long trip so they can bury her in her chosen place. They also survive a terrible flood during the story. She liked the party atmosphere of The Great Gatsby much better!
Sitting in parlor chairs, she and Faulkner watched and listened.
“Well, Jewel missed his Mother’s death just because he wanted to go fishing,” someone said.
The pounding noise faded. It was over. The mother died and the long journey to her resting place would soon begin. But another noise filtered through the room from somewhere in the house. A door slammed and Jewel, the son of the deceased, walked into the parlor carrying clanking rods and reels and followed by an older dark-skinned man.
“Hey, this here Porter Reekun can fish like a pro!” Jewel said in an irreverent loud voice. He removed his fishing cap when he noticed the dead body, his own Mother.
Faulkner jumped up. “I knew it. Ernest Hemingway hijacked my story just like he did Fitzgerald’s. This is so not right. Not fair.”
“Who hijacked what?” Beatrice asked. She was confused yet, happy to shift the focus off of the dead woman in the casket.
“I suppose you can’t remember reading The Old Man and the Sea, either!” He replied. He pointed his finger at the Porter Reekun like a small child reporting one of his classmates for putting gum in his hair. “That old fisherman is a character in one of Hemingway’s novels.”
A spirited “Ole!” drifted into the room from outside. It came from the raised window. To complicate matters, a gold colored bear carrying an umbrella burst in, followed by a dark cloud. Bits of his stuffing fell to the floor as he walked. There were splits in the fabric under each of his arms. “Gran pescado (big fish),” the Porter Reekun broke in, spreading his arms wide, adding to total chaos.
* * *
Beatrice awoke, drenched with perspiration. In her dream, Hemingway crawled in through the open window in the parlor, clad in fishing gear, wearing rubber fishing boots. He yelled another “Ole” and put up his fists as though ready to “duke it out” with Faulkner. Faulkner removed his bandages, getting ready for a fight.
Beatrice sat on the edge of the bed. She couldn’t tell Janice about how bizarre these dreams were. Story paradise, where everyone wants center stage! Famous authors fighting, pushing people down! Perhaps another appointment with her doctor when she got back to Dallas might be a good idea. Hallucinations? Bad dreams? Anxiety? Is that all there is to this?
* * *
Beatrice spoke by phone with her Mother about the plan to stay over for the entire weekend. The tension between them thawed. But, when she mentioned going to Fitzgerald’s museum, things froze again. It made Beatrice more interested in going, not less.
At the museum, she found no reference to her grandmother or the summer of nineteen thirty-five. In the museum bookstore she happened to find a book of Fitzgerald’s personal letters and looked in the index. She found two references about letters written to San Antonio, Texas. She paid for the book and followed Janice and the other visitor’s outdoors to have a cup of coffee. Sitting around the table, some of the visitors made comments about their impressions.
“The only woman represented or talked about here is Zelda. Everyone knows there were so many more women in his life. They want to give the impression that he never knew another woman besides his own Mother!” One commented.
Beatrice clutched the book of personal letters tightly. She would find out what her Mother did not want her to know. Grammy was more than just friends with Fitzgerald, she could tell by the way they looked at each other in the picture in the lobby of the inn.
* * *
Beatrice opened the drapes in her room for one final look at the mountains and then opened the book she purchased at the museum. There were two letters mailed to Beatrice’s grandmother, Gloria, by Fitzgerald’s secretary. There must’ve been a prearranged method of passing them secretly. But the crushing blow was his letter to his secretary discussing his affair with Gloria.
“I never knew anyone like her. But, certainly she must’ve known the affair wasn’t going anywhere.”
It was only a summer fling. Perhaps romantic affairs provided raw material for his stories. It seemed disappointing until she thought of how her family’s life would’ve turned out differently. Grammy could have run off to Hollywood, divorced her husband, Beatrice’s grandfather.
She fell asleep peacefully, but awakened to the sound of a cheering crowd followed by, “Olé!” Yet there was only one person in her room, a square-jawed man, wearing matador clothing. He sat at the end of her bed, staring at her with seriously penetrating blue eyes.
“You have some Scotch around?” he asked.
How funny, she thought. A real matador has to move fast to escape the bull and this man was far too large to move fast. Besides, his hat was too small. She began to giggle.
“What’s wrong?” he began to adjust his clothing. He ambled over to the dresser mirror to check his appearance. Beatrice continued to laugh.
He snatched the hat off of his head, returned to her and placed it firmly on her head.
“Oh, no you don’t!” she said, quickly removing it and tossing it to the floor.
“You’re the one that’s going to need the hat. You’re going to fight the bull, not me,” he said.
“In story paradise every visitor can play a character. Finally, it’s my day. Now, come on!”
He pulled her up out of bed with his strong arms, replaced the hat upon her head and adjusted it, just so. He crooked his arm. She put her tiny arm through his as they walked together down a cobblestone path.
“Let’s stop here,” he said, steering her into an outdoor café. She recognized the bandaged Faulkner immediately. He was chatting with Fitzgerald, draped like melted cheese over the shell of a wooden chair. The waiter was taking an order from an old man across the café. Strands of light bulbs hanging from the trees, shed only a dim light on what transpired between the waiter and his customer, but Beatrice concluded that the waiter meant no more alcohol. He ran his finger across his throat in a cutting gesture, picked up the empty glass and walked away.
“Ah, Mr. Hemingway, what can I get you and your friends?” The waiter asked.
“Water all around, with a smidgen of Scotch. Trouble with the old man?” Hemingway motioned toward the old man, still waiting for a refill.
“I told him he should’ve killed himself last week. He can’t hear me anyway, he’s deaf.” The waiter’s evil laugh ended the repartee. He left to get the drinks.
“Some people listen to the voice in their head that says life is not worth living. I listened to that voice myself. I wanted the bells to toll. They did. For me.” Hemingway declared, his words taking on a melancholy tone.
Faulkner put his drink to his lips, took a sip and began to speak of the end of his own life. “Same here Ernest. As I lay dying, pains running through my chest. I began to panic. I wanted to have a part in it, the survival of man. But, it was too late to quit tobacco. It was too late to take care of myself.
“This is just water,” Fitzgerald commented as he took the first sip of his drink. “Not a smidgen or splash of alcohol in this glass. I’m an authority! I’m an authority on half-empty glasses!”
“It’s watered down, eh Scotty? Just like your damn prose.” Hemingway’s eyes sparkled.
Fitzgerald ignored the comment. “When my heart failed, I wanted to get my little black book out and write to everyone I treated badly all my life. I wanted to call and say goodbye to Zelda...”
“We’ve got to run. We’ll be late for the story.” Hemingway said, checking his watch.
The four exited the café as they had arrived and continued on the path. Huge trees, their limbs sprawling over the path, sheltered them from the sun. As Beatrice passed one large tree, she was drawn to it. A p-s-s-s-t sound came from a large hole in the side, beckoning her to come closer.
“Yes?” She stuck her head inside the tree and found the golden bear sitting there, his underarms still split and leaking cotton.
“Want go to the end of the rainbow with me? Come a little closer.”
“Poor thing.” Beatrice leaned in a little farther.
“I have a needle and thread. You could sew me up.”
“Help me through the hole,” she said. The bear grabbed her arms and began to pull. She was half way in and half way out. She could not move. She was stuck.
“Fairy tales, fairy tales. People always want fairly tales. Don’t I always say that?” Fitzgerald said. He pulled her left foot and her shoe came off unexpectedly tumbling him to the ground. He lay still as though mortally wounded.
Faulkner circled the problem situation scratching his head. “How the hell did that bear get into this tree in Pamplona?”
Hemingway, the action-hero of the group, turned around, his back to Beatrice, grabbed both her ankles and announced his intentions. “The production of The Sun Also Rises begins in ten minutes. Now, on the count of three, let her go, bear. I’ll pull her out. One. Two. Three.”
Bear would not and did not let go. He pulled harder than he had in his whole bear life. Hemingway repositioned Beatrice’s feet under his arms as though he was a workhorse pulling an ox out of the ditch and gave one last attempt to keep her in story paradise. She went through to the other side, the rainbow side and the broken fairytale. Broke free from tragedy and headed toward home. Hemingway smiled and let her go.
Beatrice returned to New York and her old job at the New York Stock Exchange. It would take everyone’s effort to restore the city’s bruised soul. She felt that somehow her dreams in Asheville helped to refocus on living, even if the fairy tale was damaged.
As New York began to build the new buildings that were to take the place of the Twin Towers, she watched intact sheets of fiberglass go up just as shards of fiberglass had fallen on 9/11. On dedication day, she pinned her grandmother’s initial pin on the lapel of the old black suit and drove to the airport to pick up her friends from London. It was the group’s first trip back to the scene.
As they approached the dedication they proudly walked side by side, arms interlocked. Blinded by tears, Beatrice looked up toward Freedom Tower, the top so high it seemed to reach all the way to Heaven.
Copyright © 2006 by Marilynn M. Wilkins