Saved by Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald
It was George who first told me about the nudist woman.
"There's no modesty left," he said, as he picked me up after work
at the bookstore. And he was right. Even in the bookstore, a job I liked because
of its slow pace and few customers, women were opening their blouses and
suckling their babies right in front of the Motherhood shelf. George called them
walking chuck wagons. It was enough to keep me from dozing.
The nudist woman's apartment was just a few doors down from mine. We pulled
up in front of it in George's pickup truck. It was a little, foreign truck, the
kind that's now being made in the USA. At the time, George couldn't afford the
full-size American version. He couldn't even afford to put a radio in it. This
was one of the reasons he had become so observant. "See," he said,
pointing, "she's got her curtains pulled all the way back." I looked
at the house and, sure enough, there was a woman sitting there, in the
downstairs apartment, as silent as a fish in a tank. Through George's
binoculars, you could even make out that she was naked from the waist up,
sitting at a table, eating creamed corn straight out of an open can.
"George," I said, "this woman has just moved into this house.
It's been vacant for a month. She probably hasn't even had time to put up her
"That doesn't explain her chest," he said.
"It's hot. Men go topless all summer long."
"Yeah," he said, but I could tell he was thinking. He took his
binoculars back, and took another long look. "You've got to meet her for
me. Tell her you're from the Welcome Wagon or something."
This was how it always started. George would see a woman. Get me to meet her.
Then we would introduce him into the picture in a real natural way. He said it
made them more open to him, more receptive. But it never worked out too well.
The last woman, he saw in the bookstore. She was in the Psychology section,
thumbing through a book on schizophrenia. I was just about to tell her that the
bookstore wasn't a library when George motioned me to meet her. I tried to think
of something nice to say. "My mamma forever told me as a child that it's OK
to be schizophrenic as long as both your hearts are in the right place."
She looked up and smiled a sort of funny smile. Turned out she wasn't nutty
at all. She just enjoyed reading books about people who were ill. Not just books
about mental stuff, but any disease. The bookshelf at her house was filled with
books on everything from Alzheimer's to zoophilia.
Her name was Jackie, and the initial part of George's first date with her
went fine. They drove around in his truck, and she smoked a pack of Virginia
Slims cigarettes. She had this fancy Zippo lighter that had a clear body that
held the lighter fluid. Suspended in the flammable fluid was a pair of miniature
dice. Every time she lit a smoke, she would shake the lighter and call out the
number. "Seven," she'd say, or "Four," and she'd always
follow the number by saying, "that's my favorite number." Then she
talked about her classes over at the Auburn University extension college. She
was in general studies, but she was thinking about changing her major to
nursing. The word nurse was always a green light for George. It meant a
woman knew something about anatomy and other things.
Then she told him how her brother had been run over in the street in front of
her house and how when her mother had seen his body she had screamed that she
had wished it had been Jackie instead. George didn't know how to respond to
that, so he pulled the truck over to the side of the road, real slow and easy.
Then he put his arm around her and tried to touch her breasts.
She took a felt-tip pen off of the dash of his car. It was a pen he had
borrowed from me at the bookstore. She started writing on his jeans. It was too
dark for George to read what she was writing. I would have wondered whether the
ink would come out in the wash, but love makes you stand for funny things.
After he dropped her off, he came by my house and stood under my yellow
bug-away porch light trying to read his pants. When I heard him whistle long and
hard, I opened the door and let him in. "Look at this! Just look at
this!" he was shouting, and pointing at his pants.
He explained to me how he came by the marks. He was forever telling me what
happened to him. Right there emblazoned on his inner thigh in a pretty script
was the word copulation, as plain as day. Above it, as if floating on a
cloud, was the caricature of an intertwined couple that looked a lot like George
He wasted no time in driving around to the open service stations, searching
for an appropriate condom. There was something about all those books on disease
that had prompted him, but, after all, he said, a nurse would expect him to be
professional. The service station choices were limited. The French Tickler, with
its octopus-like extensions, seemed too personal for a couple's first time, and
yet, to George, the plain old rubber Trojan just didn't seem sophisticated
enough. Those were the days before glow-in-the-dark prophylactics or condoms
with miniature batteries and moving parts. He felt optimistic enough to purchase
one of each.
He entered her apartment filled with expectation. She had some piano music
playing in the other room. He came right out and asked her if he could sleep
over. At that moment, her daughter came out of the back room. She was waving her
hands and screaming. The girl had the longest fingers George had ever seen. They
were twice as long as normal fingers. She was waving them in front of her like
she was warming them over a fire.
Jackie hugged the girl to her and told her to hush. She took her back in the
other room and the music started again.
When Jackie came out, George was just sitting on the couch. "She's my
daughter Jenny. She's an idiot savant, just like her dad."
"Met him over at the institution. I was doing volunteer work. He liked
to play the piano. He was good with his hands. He and Jenny's one of the reasons
my mom wished I was dead when she saw my brother was the one she backed over in
George didn't know it had been her own mother who had run over her brother.
He wanted to say something about it. He also wanted to ask about Jenny's
fingers, but just then he felt some other hands going to work up and down his
leg. He cleared his throat. "Well, ah, what did your dad say?"
"I only heard my dad speak about once a year. He'd grab his shotgun on
New Year's Day, walk out into the front yard, and fire a shot into the ground.
Then he'd say the words 'Bad earth, bad earth,' over and over, like the lawn was
a truant child."
"Things didn't go too right for him?"
"The earth finally won," she said. "Mom gave me the gun to
keep. It's the only thing I have left of my father's. I keep it right by my bed,
just in case."
Somehow the hand on George's leg felt a bit rough.
"You want to turn in now?" she asked. "Jenny normally stays in
the bed with me, but she'll be asleep in a few minutes. You just wait a little
bit out here on the couch."
Only the fact that she had recently installed one of those double-deadbolt
locks on her door, the kind that takes a key on the inside to open it, kept
George from slipping out into the night. He sat on the couch and decided to pull
the old I'm-Sound-Asleep ruse. He stretched back on the couch, full-length, and
commenced to lightly snoring. As facts often follow fiction, he was soon really
When he woke up, he imagined he was still dreaming. He saw Jenny, the little
girl, waving her long fingers in front of her like she was warming them over a
fire. Only this time he could really see the fire. Then he saw it was his pant's
leg. She had set his pant's leg on fire with Jackie's fancy lighter, and his
flaming pants were setting the couch on fire. "Two," Jenny said,
"that's my favorite number."
When the fire truck came, George drove off without saying his goodbyes. His
leg wasn't burned. Only the hairs had been singed, and his good jeans ruined. He
could see Jackie in his rear view mirror, still talking with a fireman about all
the different types of burn cases that he had seen.
George got me to introduce him to a nice Christian girl after that. She was a
member of my Baptist church family. But that relationship didn't last too long
because of his record collection. He would get a special price at The Record
Shop on albums that didn't sell too well. One Sunday he made the mistake of
playing a new Yoko Ono album on his stereo, just as his Christian girlfriend
came walking up his drive. She told me that she didn't have to listen twice to
know that the moans of ecstacy were coming from an Oriental woman he had in his
house with him.
I pondered the question of how I could meet the nudist woman for George for
several days. Finally, the bookstore answered for me. She entered the store
fully clothed, but I could still tell it was her. She went back and started
looking around in the fiction section. I walked over and asked her something I
rarely said, "Can I help you?"
"I'm looking for a book by Mr. Fitzgerald."
"You know, that author that lived in Montgomery."
I was taken a bit aback. The store's bestseller had consistently been the Bible,
followed a close second by Gone With the Wind. In fact, in front of the
Baptist church there was a sign that proclaimed "Montgomery, Alabama, is #1
in Bible reading!"
"You know, Zelda's husband."
"F. Scott Fitzgerald."
"Yes, he's the one. I live in his house. Well, just the downstairs part.
It's apartments, now."
This was my chance. I didn't know that Fitzgerald had lived down the street
from me. I guess he had to have lived somewhere. "Oh, yes, I know your
house very well. Yes, the Fitzgerald place."
"My landlord told me that it's the last house left standing in town that
he and Zelda lived in. That's why he doesn't allow tenants who smoke."
After the Jackie incident, I knew that George would be glad to hear that the
nudist woman didn't smoke. "Books by F. Scott Fitzgerald," I said,
trying to remember what I had learned in the freshman English course I took
before dropping out of college, "ah, yes, Gatsby, The Great Gatsby."
My teacher was always going on about that book, something about some doctor's
eyes and a green light. It was still the age of the great literary-symbol
"Yes, he looks something like Robert Redford." Luckily I had seen
the movie. "He's rich. He's got lots of shirts. That's how he attracts the
girls. They like to see his shirts."
"Did he write that book in Montgomery?"
Now it's a shame that people expect folks who work in bookstores to know
something about books. I didn't know where Fitzgerald had written the book.
"The biscuit of it is that critics aren't too sure," I confided.
"He was very secretive. Drank a lot, too." I was losing her interest.
"But I have done my own study, and yes, yes, that's the book he wrote in
your house." Her eyes opened wide.
"Do you have a copy of it?"
The plan came into focus. "No," I said, "it's a classic
work of literature. It's very hard to come by in bookstores. But I'm sure I have
a copy of it in my home library." I lied. Actually, the only reading
material I was sure of having around the house was a Bible and a
two-month old copy of Playboy. George had loaned it to me from his
collection. He had every issue ever printed, cataloged and filed in their own
special cabinet. "Why don't I drop a copy of it by your house on Saturday
"Can you make it Saturday night? Saturday's a busy day. I work at City
Florist. I'm a funeral designer."
"A funeral designer?"
"You know, I make the flower arrangements for the funerals. Blankets of
carnations to go on top of caskets. Broken wagon wheels cut out of styrofoam and
covered in chrysanthemums."
"Now that must be an interesting job." I thought about my dull
"It is, it is. Once a woman came in and wanted me to make an arrangement
to look like a shotgun. I cut out the styrofoam to look just like one. I
spray-painted the flowers brown for the stock and silver for the barrel. It was
"The deceased must have been a big hunting enthusiast."
"No, she told me he was a suicide."
"Oh." I didn't know what else to say. I wondered if she ever went
to funerals, just to see how her work affected people, kind of like how a
playwright might sit in back of a theater during a performance.
"I'd better be going. I'm gonna be late to work," she said, before
I had time to ask.
George couldn't have been happier if I was making him a box of Kraft macaroni
and cheese. George must have said more good things about Mr. Fitzgerald and his
book than a whole room-full of college professors. When he had said his final
"God bless Gatsby and Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald," he turned to me
and asked to see the book.
"I don't have a copy of it," I explained.
His face fell. "But your home library?"
I held up a copy of my Bible in my right hand and Playboy in my
left. "This is the entire contents of my home library," I said.
George looked at the Playboy issue lovingly, the way a student looks
at a test question he had actually studied for and could answer with ease.
"Can't order it in time."
"The other bookstore?" There was a chain store at the new mall.
"It's a literary classic."
George looked downcast, but George was always a thinker. He ran to my phone
and called the public library, not that either of us had a borrower's card. He
waited while the reference librarian checked the status of the book. When she
came back on the phone, his whole body looked like it was sucked down into the
ground all the way to China. He slammed the receiver into its black cradle.
"Out!" George hollered. "Out for two weeks. Why would someone
check out a book that isn't even new?"
"It's OK," I said. "I'll just tell her I couldn't find
"Don't you understand? This isn't just a book. It's the first thing
she's asked of us. It's . . . it's a quest."
George always liked to use that word quest. He picked it up where he
worked at the King Arthur Burger Court. George had advanced in the last year to
assistant manager, his uniform had the name Sir Lancelot emblazoned over his
pocket, and the word quest was used repeatedly in his management training
manual. He used to be a student at the Methodist College and Seminary in town,
until he kind of snapped one day, dressed up in their basketball team mascot
hawk outfit, and started preaching across Montgomery, saying the words to all
who would listen, "Oh, Israel, that I could gather you up like a hen
chicks . . . ." The hawk outfit was just old enough and in poor, sagging
shape to give George the look of a giant mother hen.
He sat down on my one good chair, a La-Z-Boy. He pushed his weight back all
the way and his feet shot up in the air. Somehow, the way he was sitting there,
all sprawled out like a tire with no air, made that chair look like the world's
Finally, he said the only words he could muster, "We have been betrayed
by Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald." It was a melancholy exclamation, born of
mental exhaustion, and that's the way he sat for about an hour.
I had only seen him like this one time before. We had gone up to the Lake
Jordan Dam, to do some fishing. We waited for hours with our cane poles in the
water, watching the red and white bobbers floating up and down with the wind.
The fish were not biting. We were just drowning one worm after another.
A man walked up to us and asked us how we were doing. I said I hadn't caught
a thing, but George's imagination did not live on a small budget.
He started to tell the man how he had been catching catfish all day, so many,
and so quick, that he had to just keep letting them go. He was just about to go
into great detail about how one was bigger than me, since I'm about a foot
shorter than George, when the man asked to see George's fishing license. He was
a game warden. He wrote George a ticket for fishing without a license, but he
let me go, since I hadn't caught anything.
After the man left, George just sat on the bank, looking the same way he did
about this Gatsby business. Finally, I had to just load all of our stuff
back in the car. George followed along, quiet like, and didn't say another word
on the drive back to Montgomery.
I barely had spoken the words, "I wish I'd finished my freshman English
course and not sold my books back to the college," when George shot up out
of the recliner like Jonah from the whale's belly.
"College!" he shouted.
"But, George, I went to school out of state."
"Not yours, mine. Professor Peter J. Dickinson at the seminary. He has
his own collector's library." George grabbed me by the arm like a fishing
pole on a sunny Sunday afternoon. He deposited me in the driver's side of his
truck and screeched down the street towards the Methodist College and Seminary.
The Methodist College and Seminary parking lot was a busy place to be on a
Friday night, all because of the Red Lady. Years before, a rich woman attended
the college. She was obsessed with her money and the color red. Her room was
decorated in red. Everything she wore was red. She didn't make friends easily.
When she received a letter from her father saying that they had run out of
money, she hung herself in one of the top-floor rooms. It is said that if you
watch long enough after midnight, you can still see her unearthly, crimson image
in one of the rooms on the top floor of the building. It was the traditional
Southern date suicide story. For some reason, women in the South expected you to
tell them a horrifying story before you attempted to unsnap their bras. This was
one of the reasons for the popularity of the parking lot in front of the main
building of the Methodist College and Seminary. It's also the reason for the
proliferation of Southern authors.
The building was laid out simply. The first floor was administrative offices
and the chapel. The second floor was classrooms and faculty offices. The third
floor was the men's floor. And the fourth floor was the women's.
We got out of the truck and walked past a row of cars with fogged windows.
When we arrived at the office door of Dr. Peter J. Dickinson, there were
signs of life coming from it. There were more than signs of life, there was
genuine liveliness, from the smell of burning hemp coming out from under the
door to the giggles of a person considerably younger than Dr. Peter J.
George knocked on the door. There were the sounds of furniture and clothes
being rearranged. Then there was chanting. "Ommmmm."
Eventually, the soft words of the good doctor called to us, "Enter in
The room was heavy with the medicinal smell of Lysol air freshener. Dr. Peter
J. Dickinson was sitting cross-legged on the floor, next to a beautiful,
raven-haired coed, the kind of young woman whose clothes must be grateful to so
perfectly contour her body. Things seemed a bit blurry to me in the room. I felt
funny. They both had their hands raised in the air, as if they were trying to
attract signals from some Far Eastern radio station. "We can continue our
meditation session tomorrow, Mary Lee. The incense seems a bit strong, in here,
but . . ." the professor was saying, until he looked up and saw it was just
us and not some official group of administrators and parents.
"Dr. Dickinson?" George said.
The mixed emotions of relief and irritation fought to gain precedence over
the professor's facial features. "What? Who? Young men, you have
interrupted a very important religious experience." He paused and looked
right at George.
Maybe it was the incense that was doing the talking for Dr. Peter J.
Dickinson, but he started laughing. Not just an ordinary laugh, but the kind you
laugh when you finally get grape jelly at McDonald's for breakfast, instead of
mixed fruit, or you find real paper towels in the bathroom, instead of one of
those hot air blowers. It was the laughter of small miracles.
"Chicken Boy!" he howled.
George's face went red.
"You're Chicken Boy!" The professor turned to Mary Lee. "This
is Chicken Boy!"
Then Mary Lee started laughing. "Why," she exclaimed, "you're
more famous than the Red Lady. All my teachers talk about you in their
"Everyone wanted to know what happened to you," Dr. Peter J.
Dickinson, said, "after the incident and all."
They were alluding to the chicken-suit preaching incident. George had to go
up to the hospital in Birmingham for a while.
"He's in hamburger," I blurted out.
"I didn't expect him to be at Kentucky Fried Chicken."
"The quest," George threw in. I could tell he did not want me to go
any further into his current occupation.
"Quest?" the professor asked.
"We are in dire need of a copy of The Great Gatsby."
Dr. Peter J. Dickinson's eyes were bright. He tasted a story bigger than a
King Arthur Burger Court Royal Burger, the kind of story professors dream of
finding to one day top those told by their colleagues in faculty mailrooms and
"As it so happens, I do have a rare, first edition collection of
American Authors." He pointed to a fancy, glass-fronted bookcase.
"These books are priceless," he said, more for the benefit of Mary
"We only need to borrow your copy of The Great Gatsby."
"Fitzgerald's masterpiece of preposterous love and the superannuation of
traditional American belief. . . " again, Dr. Peter J. Dickinson waxed a
bit for Mary Lee's sake.
"Right," George said. "About the book, can we . . . "
"I'm sorry, but it's far too valuable to loan out. It's inscribed by the
author, you know."
George looked through the glass at the book the way a hungry dog looks
through a butcher's window. The professor unlocked the case and took the book
out. It was sealed in plastic, so you couldn't open it. He handed it to George
to look at. I had only seen a moment like it one time before. It was an
exhibition of trained German shepherds. These big dogs were made to stand very
rigid and still, while their trainers placed dog treats on top of their noses.
Their look of desperation and anger reminded me of the look in George's eyes.
"Note the dust jacket," the professor said, no longer for Mary
Lee's benefit, but more in the celebration of knowledge itself. "It was
painted months before the book was finished." The cover had a pair of these
big brooding eyes. "The artist thought he was painting Daisy's eyes, but
when Fitzgerald saw it, he wrote them into the book as the eyes of Dr. T. J.
Eckleburg. Hemingway thought it was the ugliest thing he'd ever seen."
I wanted to ask about the shirts. I thought I remembered Robert Redford
throwing an armful of beautiful shirts up in the air and Mia Farrow crying into
the glorious pile because it made her so sad that she had never seen such
beautiful shirts before. I wondered whether that had been in the book or just
the movie. I thought maybe I'd better read the book, it being a classic and all,
and that way the next time someone came into the store asking about it I'd know
something to say, but George's hand on my sleeve interrupted my reverie.
In the background the professor was still talking, something about colors and
symbols and the American Dream. But George was pulling me from the office.
Pulling me from the thing he most desired.
George's heart was breaking into about a million pieces and falling into the
wasteland of accumulated King Arthur Burger Court soda cups and burger wrappers
on the floorboard of his truck. George believed in his quest, but that
Fitzgerald book kept receding before him. To have it in his hands and then . . .
no matter. George was always one to say, "Tomorrow, I will run faster, I
will stretch out my arms farther . . . ."
"Boats against a current," George said, as we slowly drove back to
I wanted to say the word persevere, but it wasn't a word that came
naturally to me. It was a word I had seen in the title of several self-help
books at the bookstore. When I finally managed to speak, I said the word
"With hot biscuits," George said. I guess I couldn't have said
anything better. Food was the small consolation for life. "Or sausage
gravy." George smiled.
Right at that moment it became clear. We were just a few doors down from my
house, and there was the sign. The nudist woman's lights were on. No, it wasn't
her lights. She was sitting in a chair in front of a television set. The
curtains were still not up. Her naked body was bathed in the blue light coming
from her TV. The National Endowment for the Arts couldn't have funded a more
"She is an angel on Earth," George said. Then he hit the gas pedal,
and I knew where we were heading.
If there was one thinking spot in Montgomery for a love-sick man, it was Hank
Williams' grave. It was the place that the local police always visited to drink
beer and celebrate a big drug bust. It was the place George and I always went to
when his heart was falling apart like a dropped jigsaw puzzle.
The songwriter's grave was in the oldest cemetery in town, just behind a row
of Confederate graves. This was actually his second grave. His first plot was
too small for a fitting monument, so they dug up a couple of French pilots who
had died in a crash at Maxwell Air Force Base and moved Hank to their spot.
The monument was a respectful marble slab, and on top of it was a stone
cowboy hat. The titles to some of his songs were etched into the slab. George
always read them out loud like a litany, "Your Cheatin' Heart . . . I Can't
help it if I'm Still in Love with You . . . ." At the top of it, it read,
"Praise the Lord, I Saw the Light." Then there were clouds with giant
sunbeams breaking through them. Beside Hank's grave, there were marble benches
for the weary to sit on and think about life and death.
After George recited the song titles, he would start to sing. As the night
wore on he really did begin to sound more and more like Hank himself, wailing
away. George would sit on the slab and sing, and I would fix the drinks.
I dropped a whole aspirin each into two bottles of Coca-cola, although I
preferred to pour a package of salted peanuts into mine, but it was a Southern
form of dope used since the miraculous invention of the dark elixir in Atlanta.
George finished his bottle in one long gulp, and started singing about a
whippoorwill who felt too sad to sing. I nursed mine along a bit. Hank Williams'
stony white monument shimmered in the night. All was still, giving the place a
kind of serene beauty. The scene was communicating something to us. Something
about how you needed to live life. Thinking about Hank's body reclining on the
ground below me made me want to spend as much time as I possibly could standing
George stood up, too. He touched the red artificial roses that filled the two
marble vases beside the grave. It was one of those swift moments of decision
that would lead him irrevocably towards ruin or salvation.
It was only after we had gotten back to the car that I realized that the Gatsby
business wasn't over. Now I'm a bit gentle-witted, but I'm also one of the few
honest people I have ever known. But what George proposed would end all of that.
I would have to become wise and less than honest. George wanted me to provide a
diversion. "That bookcase, it's right in front of the window. All of those
necking fools out front, waiting for the Red Lady, would see us up there."
"We will need your red dress," George said. I knew what he meant.
It was really Scarlett's red dress in Gone With the Wind. Rhett made her
wear the dress to Melanie's party, after a group of old biddies put the word out
about how she was seen hugging Ashley.
George had entered a Southern Costume Contest at the National Guard Armory.
George wanted to go as Rhett Butler, but his girlfriend at the time had walked
out just as they were getting dressed for the event. She had found a pair of
women's underpants in his laundry basket. George tried to explain that he had
dropped off his laundry at his mother's, that there must have been a mix-up in
the dryer, which was true, but George was never too lucky in his explanations to
women. George pleaded with her not to desert him until after the contest. He had
spent a lot of money on the costumes, but she used Rhett's own words against
him. "Frankly, my dear," she said, "I don't give a damn."
I will not tell you anymore about that night just now. Suffice it to say that
I would be recreating the role of Scarlett for the second time in my life.
They say that practice makes perfect, but my second performance as Scarlett
was tinged by a certain world-weary quality. I guess I had gained a bit of
weight since I had last suited up. In the dark, inside the Methodist College and
Seminary building, George helped me pull up the zipper. I had to almost
completely hold my breath in order not to bust out of the gown.
George's part of the mission was to climb through the window over Professor
Peter J. Dickinson's door and steal the book. He had a tiny penlight to use to
help select the correct volume.
In the dark, I climbed the stairs to the fourth floor. If the dress hadn't
been so tight, someone could have heard me wheezing. George had told me that at
the center of the floor was a laundry and ironing room that had windows that
looked out towards the front. He gave me a candle to light and carry in my hand,
while I pranced back in forth, up and down, in front of the glass, pretending to
be the ghostly Red Lady.
When I entered the room, I could barely see. The windows were open, so I
walked towards them. I lit the candle and started my distraction. Then I heard a
"Professor? Peter? Is that you?"
I stood as still as death. My heart pounded in my chest. I gasped for a
breath. The restrictions of the tight dress made the quick intake of air
impossible. I did what any other normal, corseted, Southern Belle might do. I
When I came to, I was in the arms of Mary Lee. She recognized me as the
friend of Chicken Boy from our visit to Dr. Peter J. Dickinson's office. She
thought it was the sweetest thing that I had dressed up like a woman to sneak
all the way onto the fourth floor to see her. She also said she found the idea
of making love to a man dressed up like Scarlett O'Hara kind of exciting.
My mother told me that as a baby, she read GWTW, as she calls it, to
me in my crib, but I could not remember anything from the book to prepare me for
the rest of that night.
George waited for me outside, but when I didn't show up, he decided I could
find my own way back. The quest could not wait.
He drove over to the nudist woman's house.
She answered the door wearing a Japanese kimono. George explained how I had
asked him to deliver the book. He was sorry he was so late, but he had seen her
light on. He said it was his own copy. It was a signed first edition.
She invited him in. He sat in the same chair where he had so often seen her
sit. She unwrapped the plastic cover that the professor kept around all of his
collectable books. She touched the jacket cover gently.
She opened the book to the first page, but something was wrong. Something had
changed in her expression. The title on the first page read The Illustrated
Kama Sutra, even though the cover had proclaimed it to be The Great
Gatsby, and, under the title, there was a picture of two people intertwined
in a way that would seem humanly impossible.
George wanted to explain that somehow the cover must have been on the wrong
book, but the woman started screaming something about him being a pervert. Then
she started hitting him with the book. George's hands flew out in front of him.
His hands were shaking. He told me later that his fingers looked real long,
waving out in front of him, defending against the potency of literature.
George went running out into the dark night, his arms outstretched in front
of him. He jumped in his truck and drove all the way through town, back to
He started singing again, a forsaken cry went up among the graves. Then, in
the moonlight, he saw her. She was beautiful. She was the first woman he had
ever met without my help. She was drawn to his song. She was a stripper down in
one of those New Orleans clubs. She said she always did it to Mr. Williams'
music. She was wearing her tiny work clothes. She was on her two-week vacation,
and she said that she just wanted what was left of Hank to see her act, and, by
George's account, it was enough to raise the dead.
George helped her get a job at a local Dairy Queen. Later that month George
was promoted to full-time night manager at King Arthur Burger Court and got to
wear a real crown. Over his uniform pocket, they embroidered King Arthur. You
might say that George and his new girlfriend became the king and queen of
Alabama fast food.
I didn't see George but a few times in the months that followed, but it
didn't matter because I always knew that there were people like him left in the
world, people of honor who would follow their quest to the end, steadfast and
ceaseless. About the others? For understandable reasons, Professor Peter J.
Dickinson never mentioned the break-in or the loss to his extensive pornography
collection, and the nudist woman bought some unbelievably thick curtains.
Me, I'm actually reading that book, The Great Gatsby, and those shirts
are really in there. I'm also thinking about going back to college. Mary Lee has
convinced me that there's a real benefit to education. So you see, in a way, we
were all saved by Mr. F. Scott Fitzgerald.